Author's Note: Funny story, actually—this was originally the second fanfic I ever tried to write. I started it in the fall of 2003, right after I finished the first draft of Fortune's Fool, but for various reasons I never got further than a few pages in, and the idea languished in its initial wretched form for years. Then a couple of years ago I was hunting for inspiration for one of the LJ challenges, and I stumbled across it. Making a few significant adjustments to the premise (such as setting it post-manga), I started over from scratch, and this was the result. Anyway, I've cleaned it up a little bit now (I wrote it pretty quickly to meet the deadline, and it's been sitting around since then waiting for me to get back to it), so here it is. Enjoy…

This was originally posted to LJ in the summer of 2008. For awhile I had it posted here in my "Random Inspirations" collection, but I finally decided to move it out on its own because it was so long—it just seemed out of place.

Second Chances

Kagome laughed as Inuyasha nibbled at her earlobe, pressing her up against the outer wall of Kaede's hut. "You know," she breathed, returning the favor by kissing his neck, "you'd better cut that out—cause if you don't stop soon, I'm not gonna let you stop at all."

He groaned softly, dipping his head to her throat for one last, lingering taste before pulling back and looking her in the eyes longingly.

"Hey, it was your idea, not mine," she countered, giving him a half-smile. "You said you wanted to wait until we had our own place finished."

"I know, but—" he said huskily, kissing her lips again, "—it's harder than I thought it would be."

"Mm…I can tell," she answered mischievously, and he raised an eyebrow in response. Flashing a grin, she pecked him on the lips and ducked out of his arms, picking up the basket of herbs she'd dropped when he'd ambushed her and continuing on her way into the hut, Inuyasha trailing after her. "I told you, I'm fine with not waiting—I'm ready whenever you are."

"Feh—what other choice is there? Things are full to bursting around here as it is, so it's not like we can kick anyone out of their place just so we can…you know. What do you want me to do, throw you to the forest floor and have my way with you?"

"Among other things," she muttered.

He groaned again, leaning back against the wall and sliding down to sit on the floor. "Dammit, don't say that. You're not making things any easier, you know. We still have to wait."

Kagome sighed. "Yeah, cause waiting has worked so well for us in the past. Remember what happened the last time we waited? We ended up stuck on opposite sides of time for three years."

"Yeah, well, the odds against that happening again are like a thousand to one at least. Besides, the place is almost finished—it won't be too much longer."

"If you say so. Speaking of which, what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be working?"

"Not tonight. New moon."

"Oh, yeah—I almost forgot. Well, you hungry?"

"Starved. What've you got?"

"Nothing yet—but after you get me a bucket of water from the stream, I'll put the stew on," she said, grinning at him.

He rolled his eyes, suppressing a smile as he got to his feet and grabbed the bucket sitting next to the fire. "Be right back."

By the time he retuned with the water, Kaede, Rin, and Shippo were back as well, helping Kagome prepare the rest of the ingredients for the stew. He poured the water into the pot that was pre-heating over the fire, and before long they were all settling in to a piping hot dinner.

As they sat around the fire eating their meals, Shippo gobbling his down and stealthily sneaking seconds, Rin staring dreamily into space, Kaede and Kagome discussing the herbs Kagome had collected and how hard it was to find certain types in this season, Inuyasha took advantage of the opportunity to watch her over the rim of his bowl. Even after two weeks, sometimes he still had trouble believing she was really here. He'd grown so accustomed to his loneliness, so resigned to the idea that he would never see her again, that ever since the day he'd reached into the well and felt her hand wrap around his, solid and warm, it was like he'd been reborn. For so long he'd thought he'd had his second chance and he'd squandered it, never taking the time or finding the courage to let her know how he felt. Now he'd been given a second chance at his second chance, and this time he was determined to do things right. She had given up everything to be with him, and no matter what it took, he would make sure that she never regretted it.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this, his transformation came over him—he barely noticed it, he was so engrossed in his thoughts. In any case, he had become much less uneasy about his human nights in the past few years, now that there were others around he could depend on, and especially with Naraku out of the picture. Besides, Kagome was with him—nothing could be wrong as long as that was true.

They cleared away the dishes, and Kaede, Rin, and Shippo settled down for the night in their respective bedrolls, tactfully pretending not to notice as Kagome and Inuyasha whispered and kissed their goodnights in a shadowy corner. Reluctantly, Kagome pulled away at last and crawled into her own bedroll, Inuyasha taking up his habitual position leaning against the wall, close enough to listen to her breathing, but not so close that he would be overly tempted to tackle her in the middle of the night. It was a very delicate balance—although being human helped a bit. At least his dulled senses made her nearness a little less distracting.

"Night, Inuyasha," she whispered, still looking at him from where her head rested on the pillow.

Silently he cursed his resolve to wait, as he did most every night these days, and smiled back. "Night, Kagome."

There was a crashing sound from somewhere outside the hut, and Kagome woke with a start. Glancing around to try to get her bearings, she noticed that Inuyasha wasn't where she'd left him. A shout echoed from the direction of the village, followed by an inhuman roar of some sort. Wasting no more time, Kagome snatched her bow and quiver from the corner and dashed out the door, heading for the main square.

"Stay back!" she heard Inuyasha's voice shout, and rounded the corner to find him facing off with three large, serpent-like youkai, trying to draw them away from the villagers who had come to find the cause of the commotion. Miroku was on the other side of the square, standing in the doorway of his family's hut—Sango, still recovering somewhat from childbirth, had no doubt remained inside with the little ones.

Inuyasha swiped at the nearest youkai with the untransformed Tetsusaiga, and narrowly avoided the spined tail-swipe of another.

"Inuyasha!" Kagome called out, and Inuyasha whirled to find her coming up behind him.

"Kagome, don't—"

"Inuyasha, what are you doing? Be careful!" she scolded urgently, drawing her bow and firing an arrow at the serpent that had nearly taken his head off a moment ago. The shot missed—she'd been maintaining her archery skills through the archery club at school, partly just because she'd wanted to keep in touch with this life in any way she could; but not having really expected to be able to get back here, she was afraid her spiritual powers and accuracy under battle conditions were a little rusty. She'd hoped to have more time to practice before being forced to put them to the test like this.

Miroku threw a volley of ofuda from his end, and a couple of them connected—but their effect was minimal. The tough scales covering the backs of the youkai seemed capable of absorbing a good deal of the damage.

Inuyasha swung again with the sword as one of the youkai snapped large, menacing jaws at him, just a little too close for comfort. "Dammit," he grunted. "Kagome, can you pick off that one with the ofuda in his back?"

"I'll try!" she called back, focusing her attention on the serpent to Inuyasha's right, who was moving a little more slowly, making him an easier long-distance target. Miroku sent out another batch of ofuda as well, concentrating his attacks on one of the other two in hopes of decreasing their number.

Kagome had just managed to land a shot square between the serpent's eyes when she heard Miroku yell, "Inuyasha, look out!" She turned just in time to watch in horror as the leftmost serpent swung its spiney tail around and barreled it straight through Inuyasha's back, lifting him six feet into the air, where he hung grotesquely as though suspended in time, except for the horrible twitching of his limbs.

"No!" she screamed, racing forward without a thought for her own safety. It couldn't be happening—he had to be alright. He'd survived worse than this before, hadn't he?

Not when he was human.

Every inch of her skin crawled with cold sweat, but she didn't stop moving. The serpent flicked its tail and sent Inuyasha's body flying into her like a stray water droplet flung from a fingertip. His weight knocked her to the ground, and she tried very hard not to think about how still he was, or how much of his blood oozed between them as she rolled him off to the side and scrambled to her feet again, standing between him and the last two serpents. Her eyes flashed with murderous rage, adrenaline pumping through her veins as she nocked an arrow and fired, then another at the second youkai left standing, and another at the first, and another, until her quiver was empty, and both had fallen at her feet with a thundering heaviness that shook the ground beneath them.

Her entire body shaking with anger and fear, her breath coming in deep heaves, she lowered her bow and turned away. There behind her, lying utterly still where she had left him, was an all too human Inuyasha. "Inuyasha," she said desperately, tossing the bow aside and dropping to her knees beside him, smoothing back from his face a lock of his dark hair, sticky with blood. "Inuyasha…please…" Throat tightening painfully, tears slipping over onto her cheeks, she swallowed, stroking his face, trying to coax him back with willpower alone. There was nothing she could do—she wouldn't even know where to begin, his injuries were so severe. She doubted even a team of surgeons from her time could have saved him—but somehow she had to. She couldn't lose him again, not now, not when they'd finally found each other. "Inuyasha," she whispered, dropping her forehead to his shoulder. She couldn't hold the sobs back anymore.

Dimly, she felt a gentle, comforting hand on her back, a voice she recognized as Sango's speaking to her incomprehensibly from a great distance. Miroku was there too, and others, voices she couldn't distinguish. None of it mattered. There was only one voice in the world she wanted to hear at that moment, and with each second that passed in silence, it became that much more certain that she would never hear it again.

Somewhere several feet away, Inuyasha blinked into the darkness trying to bring the world back into focus, a slight ringing in his ears. He lifted a hand to his face to rub at his eyes, and it took a moment for him to notice that it was no longer the blunt-nailed hand of his human form, but the clawed, calloused hand of his hanyou body. But—how could that be? It was still pitch black out, not even close to dawn—he couldn't even smell the dew yet.

He froze—he could definitely smell something else, and it was a great deal less pleasant: Blood. Lots of it.


He whirled around in the direction of the scent and found a sight of utter devastation: three corpses of giant serpent youkai, bits of debris from crushed and damaged houses—and there, off to the right, amid that cluster of villagers, was where the scent of blood was strongest. How it could be his blood was completely beyond him—although there was something familiar about the snakes. To be totally honest, he was having a bit of trouble remembering exactly how he'd gotten to this spot and what he'd been doing before. Everything was a little hazy, as though he'd just woken up in the middle of a strange dream, and wasn't quite sure how much of it was real. Could he have been sleepwalking?

That still didn't explain why he was hanyou in the middle of the night on the new moon.

"Hey, guys," he called out, approaching the crowd of villagers. They ignored him, continuing to speak to one another in mournful murmurs, making him frown.

"Terrible, isn't it?" one man whispered to his wife.

"Yes, the poor dear," the wife replied, "and so soon…unimaginable…"

He hadn't the foggiest idea what they were talking about, but whatever it was he was sure it wasn't good. "Hey, can somebody tell me what's going on here?" he asked a bit louder, stepping closer—but yet again, he was ignored. There was something very strange about all this. Yeah, sure, everybody seemed pretty engrossed in whatever was going on, but there was no way they couldn't hear him at this close range. Why wasn't anybody answering him?

"Hello?" he said, a little more annoyed now, and waved a hand in front of the nearest guy's face. No reaction.

Definitely weird.

His patience worn out, Inuyasha resolved to muscle his way in and get to the bottom of all this. When he stepped forward to nudge his way in between a couple of women near the back, however, he was shocked to find that he met no resistance at all. None. And yet, the women were still standing in his way—he just couldn't touch them. His body passed right through theirs, as though they weren't even there.

Or as though he weren't.

A cold shiver creeping over his skin, he edged his way through the rest of the crowd, suddenly dreading what he would find when he reached the center. The first faces he recognized were Miroku's and Sango's, both terribly troubled, both focused on something on the ground at their feet—then he caught sight of Kagome on the ground, huddled over something, her shoulders shaking with sobs. Reluctantly, he tore his eyes away from her back to focus on the face of the man she was crying over, confirming his fears: It was him.

"Shit…" he breathed. Time stopped as he took in the surrealness of the experience, standing there watching Kagome cry over his own corpse. Slowly the details began to fill themselves in, his short-term memory returning—the sound that had woken him in the night, the battle with the serpents, Kagome and Miroku coming to join him, the sight of the serpent's tail protruding from his torso. That was where it all ended—where life left off, and this strange dream began.

Kagome's sobs lessened somewhat, her breath still hitching in her chest, and she lifted her head and gently stroked the human Inuyasha's cheek. "Inuyasha…"

His heart broke at the sound of her voice, and he strode over and knelt down before her, looking into her eyes, willing her to see him, hear him somehow. "Kagome, I'm here—I'm right here." But his voice had no effect. She continued to stare at the corpse through eyes like shattered glass.

And then her brow twitched inward, ever so slightly, her eyes flicking away in thought—for a moment he thought maybe she had sensed him somehow, but her gaze passed through him as easily as before, and she didn't speak to him. Then, after a moment, she whispered, "Sesshoumaru…"

Inuyasha frowned, looking slightly askance at her. "Uh…what was that?" Yeah, sure this had to be hard for her and all, but wasn't this just a tad fast for her to be moving on to his bastard older brother? Jeez, his body wasn't even cold yet…

"Miroku, Sango," she said, a little more loudly and urgently this time, turning to face them. "We have to find Sesshoumaru, right away."

"Kagome," Inuyasha repeated, unable to conceal his irritation even though he knew she couldn't hear him, "I'm right here."

But Sango's eyes widened in apparent understanding, and she breathed, "Tenseiga…"

"Huh?" Inuyasha mumbled, not registering the word at first—and then, as everything fell into place again, "Oooh… Okay. That makes more sense."

"Kagome," Miroku said gently, "we can look for Sesshoumaru, but…"

"But what?" she demanded.

He exchanged a look with Sango, who glanced away, looking troubled again. "I'm sure he'll do whatever he can, Kagome," Miroku continued, "but we know very little about the Tenseiga and how it works, and Inuyasha's injuries are so severe—"

"What are you saying, Miroku?" she asked coldly, and Inuyasha noticed her hand tighten convulsively in the fabric of his human self's shirt.

"I'm just saying that—you need to prepare yourself for the fact that this may not work. It may turn out that he's simply beyond saving."

She shook her head fiercely. "I can't accept that. Inuyasha has never given up on me—and I sure as hell won't give up on him, not while there's anything I can do to save him. It'll work—it has to."

"It's alright, Kagome—we'll find him," Sango said soothingly. "He was just here to visit Rin the other day, so he can't have gone far. You and Kaede stay here and tend to Inuyasha, and the rest of us will search for him."

"Thanks, Sango," Kagome replied quietly, nodding, her attention once again focused on the still figure beneath her—but she seemed calmer now, at least, some measure of her hope restored now that there was something she could do. He knew the feeling.

As Sango and Miroku set about organizing the able-bodied villagers into search parties, Kaede and Kagome—with the help of one or two others—carried Inuyasha's body back to Kaede's hut, where they laid him out on Kagome's bedroll. They did the best they could at cleaning him up, though there wasn't much to be done about the injuries except to cover them. In any case, if everything went as they hoped, those would be taken care of by Tenseiga. By the time they'd finished with him, and had him lying peacefully on the bedroll in a fresh linen yukata, the sky was just beginning to lighten at the edges. Inuyasha, meanwhile, sat quietly in the corner, observing.

It was definitely a strange (and occasionally slightly embarrassing) experience, watching Kagome tend to his own dead body, but he was sort of starting to get used to it. Being invisible, inaudible, and incorporeal, however, was another matter. The more he watched her work, the more times he saw her look at his pale, motionless face and swallow her fear, the more desperate he was to reach her. He wasn't used to being ignored. Taunted, reviled, and chased with torches and farming equipment, sure, but never ignored—especially not by Kagome. Of course, it wasn't like she was doing it on purpose—but there was something terribly frustrating about having her so close, and yet still not being able to touch her or speak to her or reach her in any way. She was in pain because of him—and no matter what he did, he couldn't make it better. All he could do was watch.

Kagome was standing in the doorway, watching the sun peak over the horizon. As the sky grew light in earnest, she cast her gaze over her shoulder towards Inuyasha, half hoping that he would have transformed, that maybe his demon blood would have reawakened in time to save him as it had so many times before. But no such luck—he was still as human as ever.

Releasing a breath she hadn't been aware of holding, she wandered back across the room and took a seat beside him once again, brushing his bangs out of his eyes unnecessarily and taking his cool left hand to hold between both of hers. "Inuyasha, you idiot," she sighed.

Inuyasha frowned, slightly affronted. "Hey. What kind of a thing is that to say? I'm dead here, bitch."

"Why did you go out there alone—on your human night of all nights?" she continued. "Why didn't you wake me, or at least Miroku or Sango, before you ran out there like you always do and tried to take them all on by yourself?"

"I was trying to protect you!" he protested. "I didn't want you to get hurt…"

"Dammit, Inuyasha—after all these years, you're still as stubborn and reckless as ever. Don't you trust me? Don't you think I can take care of myself? Don't you know I want to help you?"

"That's not it, Kagome, and you know it—of course I trust you. I just didn't think—"

But she spoke again, interrupting him, this time more softly. "Don't you know how much I love you? God, Inuyasha, how could you be so careless? When are you going to realize that when you throw yourself in harm's way like that, you're not just throwing away your own life—you're throwing away mine too…"

Inuyasha swallowed, lost for words. Truth be told, he'd never really thought of it that way. He'd spent so much time focused on protecting Kagome and seeing that Naraku and the jewel were destroyed at all costs, and then so many years alone, just trying to get by and satisfy himself with the knowledge that she was safe. When she'd come back to him, he'd promised himself that he would see that she remained as safe and happy in this world as she would have been in her own, no matter what, for as long as he lived. It had never occurred to him that in order to ensure that, he had to make sure he stayed alive too. "I'm sorry, Kagome," he murmured at last. "You're right—it's my fault."

"Inuyasha," she whispered, pressing her lips gently to the back of his hand. "Just…please come back, okay? I'm not ready to let you go." Then she laced her fingers with his and slid down to lie on the floor beside him, her head resting on his shoulder.

"I'm right here, Kagome," he replied, as her breathing evened out into sleep. "I'm not going anywhere."

Hours passed, and he stayed beside her, as promised. Watching her sleeping face, he couldn't help remembering the taste of her kisses—and how few of them he'd managed to steal so far. Two weeks. They'd spent a year hunting jewel shards, bickering, being torn in opposite directions by dead ex-lovers and obnoxious egomaniac wolf-youkai, getting interrupted, escaping death by a hair's breadth, and always, always setting their feelings aside for later, subordinating their own selfish happiness for the sake of the greater good—or even just for each other's sake. After three long years apart, knowing they might never see each other again, two weeks wasn't nearly enough—and yet, even that small stretch of time had been squandered. He'd taken it for granted that they would be together forever, that time was something they had in abundance, that waiting a little longer was no big deal. And, yeah, maybe he'd been a little scared—scared of hurting her, or worse, disappointing her. But then, like an idiot, he'd run out and gotten himself killed, separating himself from her more absolutely and more cruelly than the well ever could have. He wished he could be solid just long enough to bash his brains out for being such a moron.

Well, actually, if he could be solid, he was sure he'd find a much more constructive way of taking advantage of the opportunity.

Finally he got himself so frustrated—in every sense of the word—that he just couldn't bear to sit still any longer; so he got up, striding towards the door. In the doorframe, he hesitated, glancing back at Kagome uneasily. "Uh—I know you can't hear me, but…I'm still here. I mean, I'm going out for a minute or two, just because I'm going nuts and I've gotta do something—well anyway, what kind of trouble can I possibly get into? I'm already dead. So…yeah. But I'm not going anywhere for good—I'm not leaving, I swear." She slept on, as of course he'd known she would—but in any case, his conscience assuaged, he continued out of the hut and into the forest.

It wasn't long before he tracked down Sango and Miroku (not having to dodge any trees or bushes really cut down on his travel time, he noticed), who were wandering around the perimeter of the village, presumably searching for Sesshoumaru.

"…still can't believe it," Sango was saying as they walked along, hand in hand. "I mean, the irony of all of us spending that whole year fighting Naraku, risking our lives every day, and then Inuyasha spending those three years pining for her morning noon and night like a little lost puppy—"

"Hey!" Inuyasha protested. "I wasn't that bad. Okay, so I hung around the well a lot, but it wasn't like I was sobbing into my pillow every night…"

"—and after all that time, she finally comes back and bang—two weeks later, he's dead. It's just not fair. Out of all of us, I never expected him to go first—not by a long shot."

"Well, he does take a lot of risks," Miroku pointed out grimly. "That martyrish streak of his was bound to catch up with him one of these days."

"Who're you calling a martyr, mister 'don't come near me, lest you be sucked into my treacherous curse of a wind tunnel'?" Inuyasha sniped—though he noticed it was a lot less fun to act petulant when no one was able to react to it. Might as well have been talking to himself. Which he supposed he sort of was.

They rounded a small cluster of trees, appearing in a grassy knoll and coming face to face with the object of their search. "Sesshoumaru," Miroku said in surprise. Sesshoumaru's lack of a reaction suggested that he had been looking for them as well.

"The humans of your village have been wandering about this forest all night—why?" the demon deadpanned, cutting to the chase as effectively as ever.

"It's Inuyasha," Sango explained. "He tried to hold off three serpent demons single-handedly on his human night—"

"Don't tell him that," Inuyasha grumbled.

"—and he was killed. We've been looking for you…to ask if you would use Tenseiga to save his life."

The demon stared at them, expression unchanged, giving no sign that he had even heard the request—though they knew he had. Inuyasha growled his frustration. "Come on you bastard—how many times have I saved your ass now, huh? It's not like it's any great effort for you to swing the damn sword once."

"My brother is still a fool, too arrogant for his own good," Sesshoumaru remarked.

Furious and more frustrated than ever, Inuyasha turned away and started marching back into the forest. "Screw you—I always knew you didn't really have a heart under all that armor and fluff."

"But I will revive him," the youkai finished, and Inuyasha stopped in his tracks, turning back in surprise.

"Thank you," Sango breathed, and Inuyasha could see her hand tighten around Miroku's in relief. Sesshoumaru, for his part, had already swept past them, walking straight through Inuyasha and continuing into the forest, leaving the other two to tag along in his wake. Inuyasha followed them with his gaze until they were out of sight among the trees, and then, coming back to himself, took off at top speed back toward the village and Kaede's hut.

"Kagome," he called out, landing on the porch and skidding across the doorjamb. "Kagome?" He knelt beside her and reached out to touch her shoulder, forgetting for the moment that he wouldn't be able to. "Kagome, please—I'm right here. I need you to hear me, Kagome. I need to be able to talk to you. Kagome…Kagome…"

Somewhere, echoing in the grim, hollow darkness, she could hear his voice calling to her, a point of warmth in a harsh, cold ocean. She wanted to follow it, but she didn't know how—it surrounded her, coming from everywhere and nowhere all at once. Finally, slowly, she felt herself rising to the surface, trying to hold onto the voice and carry it with her as she did so. When her eyes slid open, blinking into the brilliant sunlight, it took her a moment to realize that the golden flecks in her vision were Inuyasha's eyes looking back at her. "Inuyasha," she gasped, frozen at first, and then: "Inuyasha!" She sat up quickly to throw her arms around him—but to her surprise and confusion, she met only empty space.

"Kagome," he said urgently, shuffling back a foot so that he was looking her in the face once more. "Kagome, you can see me?"

"Of—of course I can see you. Inuyasha, what's going on? Why can't I touch you?"

"I'm…" he hesitated, teetering on the edge of the word "dead," but thinking better of it, "not sure, exactly. One minute I was fighting the serpents, and the next I was some kind of ghost or spirit or something. I've been following you around since the battle, trying to get somebody to hear me or see me, but nobody could. You can really see me?"

"Yes," she nodded, smiling tremulously, "I can see you. Are you okay?"

"I guess so. As okay as you can be when you're wandering around without a body, anyway. Are you okay, Kagome?" he returned seriously.

"Better, now that you're here," she replied, reaching out as if to stroke a lock of his hair, though her fingertips made no contact.

He desperately wanted to kiss her—but of course that was impossible. And in any case, there were more important matters to tend to. "Kagome, I was just with Miroku and Sango—they found Sesshoumaru. He's coming."

"With the Tenseiga?" she breathed, hope lighting in her eyes. "He's going to revive you?"

"He said he would—they should be here any minute now. They weren't too far away." He paused, quirking his head slightly as he noticed her staring at him. "What? Is there something on my face?"

She smiled, laughing a little. "Nothing, just…I'm happy to see you."

He returned a half-grin. "I'm happy to be seen."

There were footsteps outside, and Sango trotted in, panting slightly. "Kagome, we—"

"You found Sesshoumaru," she finished for her. "Is he here?"

"Just walking up the path—how did you know?"

"Inuyasha told me," Kagome replied, glancing at his incorporeal self, and then back to Sango—whose eyes had widened slightly, her expression uneasy.

"Inu…yasha told you?" She flicked her gaze to the corpse in concern.

"No, not that one," Kagome clarified, shaking her head. "He's sitting over here, beside me."

"Kagome…there's no one else here."

"Look, I know it sounds strange," she continued, "but he really is here. Apparently I'm the only one who can see him. Even I couldn't see him until just a minute ago."

"Kagome, have you…slept at all tonight?" Sango asked, kneeling before her friend.

"A little—but Sango, I'm telling you, that's not it. He's here—he's right here." She stuck out an arm, waving it through the space where Inuyasha was sitting.

"Hey, cut that out, will ya?" he grumbled, edging back a bit.

Sango glanced over at the apparently empty space, still looking concerned. However, her next reply was interrupted by the arrival of Sesshoumaru and Miroku, who came to stand on the other side of Inuyasha's body. Inuyasha got to his feet, watching them as they came in.

"Thank you, Sesshoumaru-sama," Kagome said, addressing him rather more formally than she otherwise would have to demonstrate the depth of her gratitude.

"Hn," he replied by way of a "your welcome," and drew the sword at his belt. With swift, sure movements, he slashed away at the body several times, banishing the pall-bearers of the underworld, while the others all watched with bated breath. When he had finished, returning the sword to its sheath, Kagome and Sango exchanged a nervous glance, which Sango then passed on to Miroku as Kagome ran her fingertips over Inuyasha's face.

For a moment, everything was still—and then they felt the pulse of power in the air, and before their very eyes, the corpse transformed from the body of a human to that of a hanyou, his chest expanding with his first breath.

"It worked," Kagome whispered, hardly daring to believe it. "It worked…" Then she turned and leapt to her feet, looking the incorporeal Inuyasha in the eyes and beaming at him. "Inuyasha, it worked! You're alive!"

And then she froze, glancing from the now healed, revived, hanyou body on the floor back to the incorporeal hanyou spirit standing before her—and they both realized the same thing at the same time.

"How can that be?" she asked. "Why are you still here, like this? You should be…"

Inuyasha frowned down at the body on the floor. "I don't know…"

It was at that moment that Kagome realized that everyone else in the room was staring at her like she'd just displayed a taste for human flesh (well, except for Sesshoumaru—he was looking at her pretty much the same way as always).

"Kagome," Miroku said in a rather falsely soothing voice, "is everything alright?"

"No," she replied, looking sadly back down at Inuyasha's body. "I don't understand it, but—it didn't work."

"What do you mean it didn't work?" Sango asked. "He's right here, back to normal—he's alive again."

"I know," she said, shaking her head slightly and settling back to her knees. "His body is alive, but—he's still here. I mean, the spirit Inuyasha, the one only I can see—he's still here, standing right there. Somehow his soul is still separated from his body."

"Spirit Inuyasha?" Miroku questioned.

"Kagome says she can see his…his ghost or something. That he's here with us in the room."

"I am here, you morons," Inuyasha grumbled. Kagome shushed him, and Miroku raised a curious eyebrow.

"Kagome, you say you can see him—can you also communicate with him?" Miroku questioned.

"Mm-hm," she said with a nod. "Why, do you have any idea what might be going on?"

"Not exactly—but first we have to determine that he's actually here, and not just a figment of your imagination."

"Why you—" Inuyasha said, starting toward the monk—but Kagome rolled her eyes at him.

"Inuyasha, what are you planning to do—walk through him really fast?" she sighed.

He glared at her, but stayed put.

"He didn't like the 'figment of your imagination' comment," Kagome explained to the others.

"I see," Miroku muttered. "Well, how can we prove that he's really here?"

"Oh, this is ridiculous," Inuyasha grumbled. "I'm here! How do you prove that?"

Kagome ignored him this time. "He was with you when you found Sesshoumaru."

"That'll work," Miroku said. "Ask him what we were talking about just before we found him."

"What they were talking about?" Inuyasha mumbled. "How do I know? I wasn't listening…"

"He says he wasn't listening," Kagome translated, giving Miroku a flat look. Sango and Miroku exchanged a glance and Kagome sighed, turning back to Inuyasha. "Come on—you must remember something."

"I don't know—they were holding hands, I guess. And they were talking about me. Oh—Miroku called me a martyr. And Sango called me a little lost puppy!"

"A little lost puppy?" Kagome repeated bemusedly. "Why'd she call you a lost puppy?"

He glanced away shiftily, muttering, "Don't remember…"

Letting it go for the moment, Kagome turned back to the others. "He says you were holding hands, and that Miroku called him a martyr and Sango called him a little lost puppy."

"Wow…" Sango murmured. "He really is here, isn't he…"

"Looks that way," Miroku concurred.

Apparently having grown bored with the conversation, Sesshoumaru turned to move back to the entrance. "I've done what you asked. Don't bother me again," he said evenly—and with that, he disappeared back into the forest from whence he'd come.

"Friendly guy," Miroku commented wryly.

"He's a jackass," Inuyasha agreed.

"He saved your life," Kagome pointed out.

"Well he didn't do a very thorough job of it, in case you haven't noticed."

"So? It's not like it's his fault."

"How do you know that?"

"Don't mean to interrupt," Miroku said, cutting in on Kagome's conversation with empty space, "but I'm guessing our friend would like to be returned to his body as soon as possible."

"Damn straight," Inuyasha said, crossing his arms over his chest.

"So," Miroku continued, "I suggest we go find Kaede and see if she has any insights."

The others all agreed, and got to their feet to head for the door—though Kagome hesitated slightly in the doorway, glancing back at Inuyasha's newly-revived body.

"What's wrong, wench?" Inuyasha asked, stopping beside her.

"It's just—I don't know if we should leave you alone like this."

"Oh come on, I'm tough—what could possibly happen?"

She rolled her eyes at him. "It's thinking like that that got us into this mess in the first place."

"I was human before—that's totally different. Short of getting trampled by a stray herd of poisonous scorpion youkai, not much could hurt me in this state."

"I know, but…I just don't want to lose you again."

"You won't," he said gently, giving her a soft smile. "Don't you trust me?"

She smiled back and turned to continue towards Miroku and Sango's hut where Kaede was watching over the children, Inuyasha falling in step beside her. "You were listening earlier, weren't you," she commented, "when I was talking to you, before I fell asleep."

He nodded, looking slightly sheepish. "I wasn't trying to spy on you or anything. I only…wanted to make sure you were alright."

"It's okay," she reassured. "I was talking to you, after all—I'm glad you were there. I don't have any secrets from you."

He glanced over at her, watching her profile as she walked, and falling even a little further in love with her—although he wouldn't have thought that was possible. "You know you really are amazing. I don't know if I've ever told you that," he murmured, making her glance over at him with a smile, and then look away. "And…I am sorry for putting you through all this. You were right, before—it is my fault. I shouldn't have gone out there by myself."

She stopped walking and turned to him, looking him deep in the eyes. "You're worth it," she murmured.

He looked back at her, love and longing rising up inside of him again like a physical ache inside his non-existent chest. "God, I wish I could touch you," he whispered.

"I know," she replied. "So do I. With any luck, you will be able to, soon…"

They continued on their way, arriving at Miroku and Sango's hut just as Miroku was finishing explaining the situation to Kaede. Kaede nodded slowly as he conveyed the last details, a glimmer of understanding in her expression.

"You've seen something like this before?" Sango asked. "You know what's happened?"

"I think so," the elder miko replied. "But I wouldn't have guessed it was possible for someone whose training was so limited."

"Training?" Kagome said, frowning. "Are you saying…I did this somehow?"

"It looks that way," Kaede replied, and there was a slight grimness to her tone that concerned Kagome. "You see, there is an advanced technique through which a miko can capture the soul of one whose life is coming to its end, holding it here on earth. The idea is for the soul to be prevented from slipping into the afterlife for long enough for the body to be healed and the two to be reunited."

"But that still doesn't explain why the Tenseiga didn't work properly," Sango said. "Doesn't it usually recall the dead soul back to the body being revived?"

"I'm not well-versed in sword lore," Kaede admitted, "but as I understand it, Tenseiga is a sword of the underworld. It can heal a maimed body and recall a soul that has begun its journey to the afterlife—but if the soul has not traveled the proper path, it cannot reunite it with the body. Because Inuyasha's soul is trapped here on earth, the Tenseiga did not know where to look for it."

Miroku nodded his approval of this theory. "But if, as you say, this soul-catching technique is designed to revive the dead, there must be a way to reunite Inuyasha's soul with his body."

"Indeed there is—but that's just the problem. For an experienced and fully-trained miko with the necessary talents, it would be quite simple—but without that training, and without even knowing precisely how Kagome managed to execute this technique in the first place, it will be much more difficult, and much more dangerous. I myself have never mastered it—and in any case, the soul must be returned to its body by the same miko who captured it."

"What do I do?" Kagome asked, undaunted.

Kaede smiled at the young woman's determination—none of them would have expected any less of her. "Well, first of all, am I correct in assuming that you had your bow with you at the time of the battle?"

"Yes, of course. Why?"

"I'm not certain, but I have a theory: If you recall years ago, when you first retrieved that bow from Mount Azusa, I instructed you always to keep it close so that it would forge a connection to your heart."

"I remember."

"Well, it seems that you have done that—and I suspect that when you saw that Inuyasha's life was in danger, your desperation to save him resonated within the bow, and you instinctively used your powers to capture him with it. In essence, you turned the bow into a sort of spiritual fishing net."

"Inuyasha's quite a catch," Miroku said with a smirk.

"Oh fuck you," Inuyasha replied.

Kagome glared at him, scolding, "Inuyasha."

"What? Tell him."

She rolled her eyes and turned to the monk. "He says 'fuck you,' Miroku."

Miroku grinned. "Good to know death hasn't damaged his sense of humor."

"Getting back to the matter at hand," Sango interrupted, silencing her husband with a look, "what can the rest of us do to help?"

"Unfortunately, beyond lending moral support, not much," Kaede replied, that grim tone returning. "Kagome will have to be the one to perform the ritual—she will have to act as a sort of bridge, guiding the spirit back to its body. It's not a terribly complicated process, mostly relying on one's spiritual strength and force of will, both of which Kagome has in abundance—but there will only be one chance at this, and if anything goes wrong, the consequences could be dire. Inuyasha's spirit could slip through the net, in which case he would be forever separated from his body, wandering the earth for eternity as he is now—and it's even possible that Kagome's spirit could be torn away from her body in the process, leaving both of them adrift, with no way to return."

"What?" Inuyasha said sharply. "No—no way. Absolutely not."

"Inuyasha—" Kagome began, getting up and turning to him.

"No, Kagome," he interrupted, panic warring with urgency in his voice, "there's no way in hell I'm letting you go through with this. I don't care if I'm damned for all eternity to wipe Jaken's scaly green ass—I'm not gonna let you take that risk."

"That's not your decision," she countered.

"The hell it's not! It's my life, isn't it?"

"But it's mine too! Inuyasha, even if it all goes wrong, the only person who will be any worse off than they are now is me, and I don't care—I won't sit by and let you wander around like some sort of ghost forever, not while there's anything I can do about it. I want you here with me, can't you understand that? I don't care about my life if you're not in it!"

"But Kagome—"

"No! I won't hear another word about it. You started this mess by throwing your life away to try to protect me, and I'll be damned if I'm not going to do the same thing in order to bring you back. Besides, it won't come to that—I know it won't. I can do this, Inuyasha. I know I can do this."

He looked back at her, trying to think of some way he could get her to change her mind—but he could plainly see that it was made up. She wouldn't budge.

When he lifted a hand to stroke her cheek, she closed her eyes, and swore she could almost feel his fingers grazing her skin. He was so close, just beyond the veil of existence—all she had to do was bring him from one side back to the other. She knew she could do it—she had to.

They left the children in the care of one of the other village women and returned to Kaede's hut. Hoping to create conditions that were as favorable as possible, Miroku and Kaede set about placing protective ofuda and performing simple cleansing rituals, Sango assisting them in any way she could. Kagome, meanwhile, knelt beside Inuyasha's body with her bow resting upon her lap, trying to center herself and draw together all of the spiritual power she could muster. Inuyasha knelt across from her, watching.

"What are you looking at?" she asked after several minutes, cracking an eye open and smiling at him.

He smiled back. "You. What else?"

The others came to join them. "We've done all we can, Kagome," Kaede said. "The rest will have to be up to you."

"Okay," she replied, nodding and tightening her grip on her bow as she turned her gaze to Inuyasha. "Are you ready?"

He nodded—then glanced around at their friends, reassuring himself that they couldn't see or hear him. "Kagome," he said softly, looking into her eyes with just a hint of his old cocky grin, "look, not that I don't trust you, but just in case…something goes wrong—I want you to know that I…I love you."

She smiled back, giving a quiet nod and whispering, "I know. Me too."

He held her in his gaze for a long moment. Finally, taking a breath, he asked, "You ready?"

"As ready as I'll ever be," she replied.

She closed her eyes, holding the bow out over Inuyasha's prone form, and Inuyasha closed his eyes as well after a moment. Soon, he could feel the waves of power flowing through him, similar to the way it felt when he transformed or drew on his youki in using the Tetsusaiga, but different as well. The power was foreign, yet familiar—as familiar as Kagome's face—and it pulled him gently forward, guiding him through the weightless darkness that seemed to exist within his own mind. At times he felt the urge to try to control it, try to use his own power to help her somehow—but he resisted, afraid it would only disrupt her and send them both careening off into the space between this world and the next. The air around him grew warm and heavy, the muscles and sinews of his phantom body weighed down by it, detached from his control, and he could no longer tell if he was in the world at all, or if he was already adrift in nothingness. But he trusted Kagome. He put all his faith in her, just as she had in him so many times before.

He had no idea how much time had passed. Light filtered through his eyelids before he could bring himself to open them—and when he did finally manage to pry them apart, he found he had to squint against the harsh, orange brightness flooding through the open window near his feet.

"Inuyasha?" It was Kagome's voice—and something warm touched his cheek. A hand; Kagome's hand. Her face came into focus above him, and he squinted and blinked a few more times to clear the remaining fuzziness from his vision.

"Kagome?" His voice creaked like a rotting floorboard, but nonetheless it made her smile.

"Inuyasha, are you alright?" she asked, stroking his cheek again.

He smiled back. "Never better. A little stiff, maybe…"

He pushed himself into a sitting position, and she rested a hand on his back to help him. The others were all seated around him, watching him like a time bomb, and he glanced around, feeling a little awkward. "I'm okay. You guys can quit staring at me anytime now, you know."

Immediately, the tension was broken. They laughed, and Kagome threw her arms around his neck, hugging him so tightly she was in danger of strangling him to death and starting the whole mess over again. "Inuyasha," she whispered, "Oh thank god, Inuyasha…"

He hugged her back, vowing never again to take for granted the feeling of having her in his arms.

When she started kissing his neck and his jaw and pretty much everywhere else she could reach without letting go of him, he decided it was time he took the lesson of this experience to heart. Waiting was for the birds—he wasn't going to waste another second of whatever time they had.

Tightening one arm around her waist, he pulled them both to a standing position and scooped her up bridal style, making her squeak in surprise. "Sorry to cut the party short," he said to the others with a sheepish grin, "but, uh…I think we have other plans…" He was out the door before they had time to respond with so much as a smirk.

The hut he'd been building for them was a little way out from the village, just at the edge of the forest, a small copse of trees shielding it from plain sight. It was nearly finished, really, with the exception of most of the roof and a part of one wall—not exactly a veritable dream house like the one she'd grown up in, but it would do.

Once inside, he put her back on her feet facing him, his hands resting gently on her waist—and all at once he felt a wave of shyness wash over him. Sure, it was one thing to kiss her and touch her when he knew he'd have to stop himself before things went too far—but this time things were different. This time there would be no more barriers, no more waiting, and his old insecurities were trickling back in to haunt him.

Sensing his hesitation, Kagome decided she'd better take the initiative, leaning up to kiss him gently, slowly, until she could feel his shoulder muscles relax beneath her hands, his arms sliding around her waist to draw her in. The kiss intensified, and she slipped a hand beneath the neckline of his yukata, easing it aside to expose the warm, gloriously whole flesh underneath. When she trailed kisses down his throat to explore that same flesh with her mouth, she could feel his breath become shorter, more uneven. His hands fisted in the back of her shirt, and she still felt like he was restraining himself for some reason, so she worked her way back up to his lips, kissing him again and whispering, "It's okay. Let go."

He pulled back a moment to look her in the eyes—and then he took her advice, kissing her passionately, sliding her shirt from her shoulders and delving in to taste her soft skin. They found their way to the floor, peeling off clothing inch by inch and discovering each other in the fading sunlight. When he finally slid into her, it was like nothing he could have imagined, and though his eyelids threatened to drift closed and his body urged him to give himself over completely to sensation, everything else be damned, he refused, keeping his eyes on her the whole time. After spending a day as a wandering spirit, he wanted nothing more than to watch her reconfirm his existence in every way possible—which she did quite nicely, much to his appreciation.

Afterwards, when both were sated and exhausted, he shifted himself to lie beside her, tucking her into his chest and pulling his discarded yukata around them for warmth, as night had fallen in earnest now.

Kagome smiled into his chest, eyes closed, and murmured wryly, "Bet there aren't many other people who've had sex wearing a funeral yukata."

He chuckled. "Forget that. Probably aren't many people who've had sex with a dead guy either."

"Good point. At least I'd hope there aren't," she joked back—though he noticed her arm tightened around his waist marginally as she said it.

"Hey," he said softly, and she opened her eyes to look at him. "Are you alright?"

She nodded. "I'm fine. Just…I was so afraid of losing you. I don't know what I'd do if I lost you for good."

He kissed her forehead, tightening his arms around her as well. "I know," he soothed. "I promise, I won't let it happen again—not if I can help it."

"Good," she sighed, adding wryly, "cause if you die on me again, I'll kill you."

He gave a soft laugh, just as a roll of thunder rumbled in the distance. Soon, spots of water began to appear on the wood floor at the other end of the hut, where there was no roof, and another quiet rumble sounded as the raindrops increased their frequency.

Kagome glanced back over her shoulder to where the rain was now falling freely into their little house, dampening the edge of the yukata spread over the pair of them, and then turned back to Inuyasha with a laugh and a playful sigh. "Is life with you always going to be this problematic?"

He thought for a moment. "Probably."

She grinned. "Okay. I can deal with that."

He smiled, leaning down to kiss her again. As the storm picked up, the little bit of protection they received from the half-finished roof over their heads became more or less obsolete, but neither of them felt the chill. They found other ways of keeping warm.

A/N: Part of the reason I initially posted this to "Random Inspirations" was because I've never been completely happy with the way it turned out. The mix of drama and gallows humor I was going for never quite seemed to gel, the pacing isn't perfect, and some of the themes/devices seem forced in places. I've come back to it several times, but I've never been able to fix it to my satisfaction—so I figured I'd go ahead and post it, but leave it in the "Random Inspirations" pile. But once I got a couple of reviews from people who really liked it, I decided maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought, and that it should have its own place. Plus, it did sorta bug me to have a 9000-word fic in the middle of my drabble/short-oneshot collection…it chafed against my obsessive-compulsive side… ;)