Disclaimer: I do not own the Inuyasha series or any of the characters.

Summary: Inuyasha likes his space, but he's willing to share. One Shot.


Space

As soon as Inuyasha disappeared to go hunting and Miroku took Shippou with him to gather firewood, Kagome found herself the target of Sango's concerned and far-too-observant interrogation.

"Alright, out with it. What's going on with you and Inuyasha?" the taijiya asked as she cleared a circular patch of ground for their fire-pit. "You've been moping all day."

Kagome busied herself with the minor task of gathering stones to surround the campfire, wondering if there was any way she could avoid having to answer. Finally, when she could take Sango's pointed gaze no longer, she muttered a response.

"Nothing's wrong," she said, reluctantly. But part of her was hoping that Sango would draw the information out of her.

Sango didn't disappoint. "You've been awfully quiet, and not in a good way. Did Inuyasha do something?" she pressed.

Kagome picked up a stick and dug in the dirt, trying to dislodge a particularly stubborn stone. "What makes you think Inuyasha has anything to do with my mood?"

"Ah, then you admit that something's wrong," Sango stated with a note of victory. "And I think Inuyasha's behind it because you keep sending him long stares whenever he's not looking, and then you sigh and frown a little more. And then there's the fact that we all know he went to see Kikyou a couple days ago, and everyone's tiptoeing around the fact, as usual."

Kagome dug a little harder with her stick, scowling. Inuyasha was only the tip of a very large iceberg of stress in her life lately — including, but not limited to: Naraku, the jewel shards, Kikyou, Sesshoumaru, sometimes Kouga, hostile youkai, bandits, facing death on a near-daily basis, school, Hojo, too much exercise with not enough sleep, and worrying about the safety of her friends. However, Inuyasha was certainly one of the most prominent stressors right now.

"Why should I care what Inuyasha does?" she replied. "It's not as though I have any hold over him. Not like Kikyou has. There's no way a person could mistake his attitude towards me for any sort of affection. Inuyasha does as he pleases."

"I think you're wrong," Sango told her. "Inuyasha feeling nothing for you is about as likely as Houshi-sama becoming an ascetic. He certainly treats you much differently than he treats anyone else."

"Yeah, he's a lot meaner!"

Sango let out an exasperated sigh. "Kagome-chan, you should know better than anyone that what Inuyasha says and what he means are two entirely different things. You have to pay attention to the subtle things, the things he's always trying to hide. He shows you how he feels about you in a thousand different ways. They're just not always obvious."

Kagome cast her stick upon the ground and pried the stone out of the earth. "Oh really?" she said sceptically. "Enlighten me, then, because I don't see it, lately. And I've been looking, believe me."

Sango narrowed her eyes with determination. Challenge accepted. "Alright, I will. You'll have to wait until he gets back. Then I'll show you. Keep an eye on his body language."

Kagome gave her a considering look and fell silent. Sango had her curiosity piqued now, reluctant as she was to admit it.

Miroku and Shippou soon returned with the firewood, and a nice little blaze was already burning merrily in the crisp autumn air by the time Inuyasha got back with a couple of plucked ducks. He handed them over to the girls and started eyeing the surroundings, venturing to the edge of camp with his ears and nose working overtime, constantly alert to any threats.

As soon as the meat was spitted and set over the fire to cook, Sango nudged Kagome to make sure that she had her attention, and then got up and walked over to Inuyasha. Kagome pretended to be busy turning the meat over the flames, while she was really engrossed with watching Sango's demonstration.

At first, Kagome found herself straining to hear as Sango spoke quietly with Inuyasha about Naraku, their probable course over the next few days, and the types of youkai they were likely to encounter in this area. But she remembered what Sango had told her, so she forced herself to tune out the conversation.

Okay, body language. What am I supposed to be looking for?

Sango was standing quite close to Inuyasha, Kagome noticed, probably to provoke some sort of reaction from him. Kagome wondered about that for a minute. She could easily predict how Inuyasha would respond. He didn't tend to look directly at people much when he spoke to them, except when he was feeling confrontational. He seemed to be behaving normally in that respect, glancing at Sango's face now and then, but mostly keeping his eyes on his surroundings. Staring someone down wasn't good manners anyway, but Inuyasha didn't seem to care much for manners. His habit seemed to be more instinctual, and Kagome had always suspected that a good deal of his behaviour was influenced by his canine nature. If she was right, then he was basically signalling to Sango that he wasn't looking for a fight. Nothing unusual there.

Alright, so what was Sango trying to show her? Inuyasha's posture looked fairly relaxed, though alert. That wasn't out of the ordinary. When Inuyasha wasn't actively responding to a threat or bristling over some irritation, he tended to lounge, even standing up. It was similar to the kind of loose-limbed slouch that teenagers in her era seemed to use to aggravate authority figures.

Sango stepped a tiny bit closer to Inuyasha as they spoke, and he shifted his weight to his other foot, maintaining his personal space. Again, normal. Inuyasha didn't like to let people too close, even people he knew well. He tolerated proximity to an extent, and he could handle contact when he was the one who initiated it, but that was about it.

Sango turned to walk away, and as she did, her hand patted Inuyasha's crossed arms, just once, in an absent-minded, comradely way. Sango wasn't very touchy-feely either, and the motion was the most contact she generally had with Inuyasha. Inuyasha didn't shy away, but he did tense, ever so slightly, and one of his ears flicked as though to dislodge a fly.

"Shippou-chan, can you take over turning the meat? Kagome-chan and I want to have a bath in the river while the sun's up and it's still relatively warm out." Sango said as she returned to the fire. "And can you keep an eye on Houshi-sama for us, too?"

"Your mistrust wounds me deeply, Sango-san," Miroku interjected, but no one believed him.

"Take Kirara," Inuyasha spoke up. "The river's too far to be within easy hearing range."

"Come on, Kirara," Sango called as Kagome collected her bath things.

"I don't get it," Kagome said a few minutes later at the river, safely out of earshot of camp. "What were you trying to show me?"

"Did you notice how skittish he is about being close to people?" Sango asked as she washed her hair hurriedly in the cold water.

"Well, yeah," Kagome answered, splashing the soap off her skin as quickly as she could. "You didn't need to show me. I could have told you that. That's how he acts towards everyone."

"Not everyone," Sango replied, pinning Kagome with a meaningful look. "Not you."

"…Yes he does," Kagome responded uncertainly.

"Oh no, he doesn't," Sango declared, before ducking under the water to rinse her hair, which meant that Kagome had to delay her argument until Sango resurfaced.

"He does," Kagome insisted, when Sango could hear her again. "He only lets me close to him if there's a specific purpose, like carrying me on his back, or yanking me out of the way of an attack. He doesn't even like to let me close to help him when he's hurt."

Sango made a dismissive noise as Kagome passed her the bar of soap in exchange for the shampoo bottle. "That's just because he's male, and men are idiots. They think that if they let anyone see them in pain, it'll make them seem like less of a man, or some stupid notion like that. I'm telling you, Inuyasha lets you close when he doesn't have to. I've seen it."

Kagome lathered her hair as she considered Sango's words. "Are you sure you're not talking about Kikyou?" she asked sullenly, recalling several incidents when Inuyasha had let the undead miko touch him — or even kiss him, once. "He lets her get close."

Kagome dove beneath the water to rinse, and while she was under, she took the opportunity to squash the impulse to cry, or break something, or scream. When she came back up, Sango was watching her thoughtfully.

"Inuyasha may go to Kikyou," Sango started slowly, "But lately, he looks like a doomed man when he does. It's you he shares his space with. It's you he wants to be near. And I can prove it. When things settle down tonight, call him down from his tree to talk. He may moan and complain about it, but he'll come down, and he'll let you close. He won't flinch if you touch him." Sango smirked a little. "And he won't flee unless you scare him with feelings."

Kagome snorted at the truth behind Sango's last statement. If there was one thing that freaked Inuyasha out, it was the softer emotions. But she did feel a little more hopeful now, thanks to Sango's words. Maybe she'd try it, just to see what happened. Maybe Sango saw something that she didn't.

They dried off and dressed quickly before returning to camp. All throughout supper, Kagome was quiet, preoccupied with Sango's words. Her hopeful feeling hadn't lasted long, and the longer she brooded on the matter, the more disheartened she felt. Was it even worth trying? The disappointment would be brutal if Inuyasha didn't respond the way Sango said that he would. Did she dare to set herself up for such a fall?

The meal was soon done, and everyone prepared to sleep. Sango threw Kagome a meaningful look as she settled in against Kirara's furry side, clearly trying to urge Kagome to follow through with the plan, but Kagome shrugged off her gaze and got into her sleeping bag instead. She'd made up her mind. She didn't need any extra heartache.

Before long, the others were asleep, but Kagome could find no rest. The situation with Inuyasha was eating away at her, but there were plenty of other issues keeping her awake too. So much had been going on lately, and things seemed bleaker and darker with each passing day. And it was hard to shrug that off when she was filled with doubts concerning her protector, her rock. It felt as though a wall stood between her and Inuyasha, and as much as she wanted to pull it down, she was afraid to try to breach it.

She wasn't going to get any sleep tonight. Sighing in resignation, Kagome pushed off the top layer of her sleeping bag and got up, taking care not to disturb Shippou's softly snoring form. She moved the kettle into the heat of the fire and rummaged through her bag in the dimness as she waited for the water to heat up. It was easy enough to find one of the tin cups by feel, and the cold metal of a spoon was only a little harder to locate, but the packets of hot chocolate powder were more elusive. By the time she had found them, the water had come to a boil.

Emptying a packet into the cup, she added the water and reached for the spoon to stir.

"Where's mine?"

Luckily she wasn't touching the cup or the kettle at that moment, because she jumped severely. Whipping her head around, she found Inuyasha sitting cross-legged beside her, peering closely at her with his arms folded and his hands hidden in his sleeves. She knew he could be quiet when he wanted to be, but how had he gotten so close? She stared back mutely for a moment, then began to turn back to her bag to look for another cup and a second packet of hot chocolate mix. But before she could, he unfolded his arms and held out the very items she was looking for.

How did he get those out of the bag? She hadn't heard a thing!

As she made a second cup of hot chocolate, she could feel his eyes on her, watching her in that unblinking way he had. He was making her incredibly nervous, but he didn't say anything, so she continued to pretend that she didn't notice. He didn't take his eyes off her face until she handed him back the filled cup.

It was her turn to study him then, watching him out of the corner of her eye as he sniffed the air over his cup in an appreciative way. To her surprise, he didn't immediately knock back a swig of the scalding liquid. He usually did, and then he usually complained about it being too hot. He usually complained about it being too sweet as well, denouncing such things as being for children, but it never stopped him from demanding some every time she made it. She'd only refused once, citing his complaints as her reason, and after seeing the surprised and wounded expression on his face, she'd not had the heart to refuse again.

Turning back to her own cup before he could catch her looking at him, Kagome blew on the drink and then took a careful sip. She'd worried a little the first time she'd given Inuyasha chocolate, wondering how his system would handle it. It hadn't been an issue. Apparently he could eat almost anything. As a child, he had eaten almost anything, out of sheer desperation. He didn't share details like that very often, and tended to regret saying anything on the rare occasions when he did.

Beside her, Inuyasha took a drink of his hot chocolate before saying, "You should be asleep."

He wasn't looking at her now, instead staring into the fire, so she felt safe in turning to look at him instead.

"I can't sleep tonight."

It was a moment before Inuyasha spoke again.

"You worry too much. I can smell it on you."

"I can't help but worry," Kagome muttered into her cup. "There's a lot going on that needs worrying about, and I can't just switch off my brain." She lifted her head and spoke with a bit more self-assurance. "Anyway, it's not like you never worry. I know you do."

"Keh. Do not."

You do, Kagome thought. You might be able to read my scent, but I can read your expression, the tone of your voice, your posture. I can read you like a book.

The thought startled her, because it went directly against everything she'd been feeling about him. What happened to the wall between them?

"It's normal to worry," Kagome answered back. "It's just what happens when you care about people."

"I don't worry," Inuyasha announced, his voice taking on a boastful tone. "If there's a problem, I just do something about it. Worrying doesn't solve anything."

If there's a problem… just do something…

Suddenly recalling Sango's plan, Kagome summoned her courage. She paid close attention to Inuyasha as she shifted her sitting position, deliberately settling a little closer to him. He had been close to begin with, and now they were so close that there was only a handbreadth's space separating her thigh from his knee.

He didn't react. But he did seem pretty wrapped up in his hot chocolate, so maybe he hadn't noticed.

"What are you worried about?" Inuyasha surprised her by asking all of a sudden.

Kagome answered truthfully. "Everything."

Inuyasha snorted. "I can't fix everything. Narrow it down."

Typical male. She admitted there was a problem and he automatically saw it as a plea for him to solve it, rather than a tacit request for him to just empathize. But his intentions were good, and it was kind of endearing, even if she really didn't need to be rescued right now.

So she played along to humour him. "Naraku."

"Working on it."

Her lip quirked upward slightly at his response. "School."

"Still don't know why you need it."

She rolled her eyes. "How about this? That Naraku will get the whole Shikon no Tama, gain unimaginable power, and make a wish that throws time and space into such chaos that school will be the least of my worries because the world as we know it will come to an end, taking us all out with it and leaving us with no chance of a do-over because we are all at the mercy of the whims of fate and fate is a bit of a bastard."

Inuyasha blinked. Still not looking at her, he seemed to consider her words as he drank the last of his hot chocolate and set the cup on the ground in front of him. Finally, he spoke.

"Like I said, you worry too much."

Kagome smiled ruefully. "I know."

She finished her hot chocolate too and set the cup aside. She brought her legs out from underneath her and stretched them out towards the fire, feeling the warmth seep in through her socks. Her front was roasting from her closeness to the fire, while her back felt icy. It was turning into a cold night.

Inuyasha didn't really have a reason to stay now that he'd finished his drink, but he didn't seem to be in a hurry to return to his tree branch. He sat very still beside her, not speaking, but the silence was a comfortable one. Kagome slanted her gaze sideways away from the fire to where his knee and her leg almost touched. He was sitting with his arms uncrossed now, a fact that made her suspect that he was more at ease than he had been when he'd first approached her. He often seemed slightly defensive when he was hiding his hands in his sleeves. His wrists were currently draped loosely over his knees, his hands relaxed.

Kagome focused on the hand nearest to her. Such a little distance… if she could only work up the courage to bridge the gap. Her arms felt heavy, like they were pinned by lead weights. No matter how much she wanted to, she couldn't seem to move. It was as though an invisible barrier was preventing her from acting.

Then, as abruptly as the feeling had come over her, it passed. All of a sudden, it was so easy to reach out and slide her hand under and into his.

He let her.

Oh, he looked sharply at their joined hands the moment she touched him, of course, but he didn't flinch, or tense up, or pull away. There was a long moment where they both stared at their hands but very carefully did not look at each other. Then he adjusted the position of his hand to get a more comfortable grip on hers, and went still again.

Kagome could feel her cheeks warming, while inside her head something composed entirely of emotion did a victory dance and laughed with giddy delight. Sango was right!

"I thought you were worried," Inuyasha stated a few minutes later, sounding confused and slightly suspicious. Her rapid emotional shifts always baffled him. "Now you're smiling."

"I'm happy," Kagome answered truthfully, keeping her eyes fixed on the campfire as she gave his hand a little squeeze.

He returned the gesture after a moment, hesitantly. "Oh yeah?" he replied, obviously trying to sound casual, and failing miserably as he usually did when he made an attempt at subtlety. "Happy 'bout what?"

Kagome ducked her chin and felt her smile widen into a shy grin. She gave him the truth, which just happened to be the answer she knew he was looking for.

"You."

::Owari::


Translations:
Taijiya – demon slayer
Youkai – demon(s)
Houshi – Buddhist monk
Miko – Shinto priestess
Shikon no Tama – sacred jewel

A/N: The first half of this piece has been on my computer since last Christmas. I finally found a way to finish it. It's another that was originally intended to be much shorter and simpler than it turned out, and it was supposed to be another chapter in Collected Works. But by the time I finished it, it seemed strong enough to stand alone. To be honest, the line between my stand-alone vignettes and some of my Collected Works pieces is beginning to blur. I suspected from the start that this would happen as I had not made any firm rules for myself regarding Collected Works, which was originally intended to house anything under 1000 words (with lots of exceptions creeping in). Meh.

Still working on some other short pieces as well as a couple longer pieces. Might be a while before the longer pieces ever see the light of day, but they do exist, for those of you who've may have been wondering why I only seem to write one-shots thus far.