Sango was hungry. She had left Kagome and her pups inside the barrier the night before just long enough to ensure Inuyasha's safety before coming back, fearing to leave the young miko alone for any extended period of time without added protection. Inuyasha had been wounded but Sesshomaru had practically barreled over him before heading straight for Kagome and she'd seen the hanyou in worse condition.

She had only gotten a few hours of sleep through out the night, preferring to keep a look out while the others slept and had been up since well before first light. Her eyes ached for sleep but her mind raced when she tried, fearing an attack should she let her guard down.

Sesshomaru would certainly be coming back to take his revenge after Kagome's assault, she was almost certain of it. So, all night up until the present she had watched and waited and listened with no sign of the taiyoukai's return.

She was grateful for the warm cushioning of Kilala's fur and only wished she had something to cushion her legs and bottom, as the cold stone cave was unyielding and uncomfortable after a few hours of immobility. Kagome and the pups had gotten all the furs and she would not even consider taking one for herself.

Her stomach rumbled and at the same time, she felt her child kicking in the womb, protesting the lack of digestion adamantly.

A soft whining sound distracted her from these thoughts as she peered at the pallet housing her charges. The pups were awake, awkwardly climbing up the torso of their mother. With soft whining sounds, they tugged and pulled at the fabric of her horai in an attempt to gain access to their only source of nourishment.

She chuckled as one grew frustrated and bit down on the fabric making soft growling sounds. The other was making more progress, pulling at the white material hard in one direction until, with a victory grunt and a little hop, Kagome's breast was freed.

Looking closer, Sango realized it was Hisato, the boy. He wasted no time in latching on and suckling, the action causing his mother to open her eyes, suddenly wide awake.

Kagome blinked sleep from her eyes and tried to process the sensation of her children taking the liberty to feed off her for themselves. She flashed a surprised smile to the onlooking Sango and a little shrug as if to say, 'what can you do?' before sitting up and positioning Hisato in a way that allowed his sister to feed, as well.

"You'll need to eat after nursing and I'm starving," Sango remarked. Kagome noticed her hands resting on her swollen belly and her friend's tired eyes. No doubt, the slayer had kept watch all the night before as she was prone to do if there was any possibility of danger afoot.

"Of course Sango-chan, thanks for your help. I'm sure we'll be fine here and some food would be wonderful. Why don't you go back to Kaede's and eat, see how Miroku and Inuyasha are doing, then come back here. When you're back, I'll stay up and keep watch while you get some rest, ok?"

Sango nodded in agreement. "Keep the barrier strong and don't leave its protection. I'll be back as soon as I'm able." She took one last, sweeping glance around the cave, feeling like she was forgetting something and, remembering the loss of Hiraikotsu, mounted Kilala and took off.

Kaede was stirring a large pot by the fire when she found her. The rest of the hut was absent her companions and she surrendered to Kaede's insistence that she accept a cup of tea and rest while the old miko explained what she knew.

Once Sango was enlightened to the situation at hand, she thought it best to wait a little longer in order to give them time to sort things out. After all, she was pregnant and without Hiraikotsu; if Sesshomaru some how turned out to be lying and really intended Kagome harm, she wasn't exactly the best candidate to be first in line for her protection.

Judging from what Kaede had had to say, however, she didn't expect that to be a problem and assumed Sesshomaru would want time alone with Kagome to explain himself. She honestly hoped for the Western Lord's sincerity, for the sake of her friend's happiness.

After an early morning of pushing and tugging, shouting and cursing, Miroku had finally bullied Inuyasha into standing beneath the barrier. Sesshomaru had deigned to allow the monk to handle everything, preferring not to sully himself with such juvenile acts, Miroku mused. He glided in front of them, a silent, deadly guide to their friend's sanctuary.

On the other hand, if Sesshomaru were calling the shots, he was pretty certain Inuyasha would just end up beaten to an inch of his life before confessing. In his wounded state, it was his obligation to his friend to encourage wisdom when it sustains the life of oneself and if he had to smack the stubborn hanyou across the head a thousand times with his staff before he understood this fact, he would do it.

Once beneath the barrier, Sesshomaru took to his cloud in order to consult with Kagome on the cliff ledge and talk her down. As he came to hover before the shimmering force field, his eyes fell on the sight of wavy, shining black hair and pale skin. Glittering dark blue orbs peered at him, unsurprised at his arrival as she had no doubt sensed his aura well before. Her arms were occupied holding the twin pups to her chest, where they suckled in plain sight before him from her heaving breasts. Her waist was still tiny, as if she had not just given birth and her stomach had once more flattened out to its original form at an astonishing rate for a mortal.

His interest in this curiosity was lost at the sight of her face practically glowing with contentment and in that moment, he suddenly lost all his conviction. His point seemed so trivial compared to all she had been through and he could not find any words that would fix the situation or mend the hurt. His desire to protect her was powerful and just being there seemed to compel him to bask in the relief he felt when her scent was this strong, when she was this close, when he could hear the steady drum of her heart beating in her chest, as if to say, 'I'm alive, I'm well,'. It seemed so right to be constantly assured of her safety, her continuity.

Her gaze turned questioning and he struggled to gather his thoughts, reminding himself why he had come here and what he had hoped to achieve. She was waiting on him to respond, to state his reason for being there and it seemed so wrong to him, so impossible that she would not know, that she did not understand her ability to birth these pups spoke of his desire to protect her, be with her, to make her his. He was not prepared to use his words to express such a thing, as that is not the way of an Inu.

And it was astonishing to him that she could endure all this suffering, that she would remain alone through her burden, even in thinking he had rejected her, so great was her desire to see her children born healthy that she did not even realize that same desire spoke of her wish to be with him. They were caught in this intricate web of misunderstanding that kept them separated and lonely and in pain, thinking the other lacked the desire to be together.

He had to set things right again, give them the fighting chance they deserved. Inuyasha's deception had only made things worse. He wearied of the veil between them, feeling as if they were both just fumbling around in the dark and moved to set an end to their elusive blindness. All this, he thought and felt within the span of a few seconds and gazing at her glowing face tenderly feeding his heirs, he could only say what he was thinking so loudly.

"You are so beautiful."

His tone was soft, like velvet, to match an even softer expression she had never seen him don before. She could practically feel the sincerity of that statement and she knew he would never say anything he didn't really mean, so the compliment took her by surprise. She chose to blush in silence, unable to form a response but not wanting him to think he could disarm her with pretty words.

"There is something I must know," he continued after a pause to admire her flushed countenance. Kagome chose to nod in lieu of words as she was still reeling from his compliment in spite of herself.

"I must know if you are aware of the implications surrounding your pregnancy."

Kagome let out a huff. "That again. I told you I don't know how they both came to be full dem-"

"That's not what I mean," he swiftly interrupted, satisfied with the way her jaw fell open in surprise and her simple answer of "Oh."

"I had assumed that day following our interaction that you would be aware what it meant if I were to sire a child with you and had expected that to speak for itself. It has occurred to this Sesshomaru that you might not be aware of this, after all."

Kagome gaped at him, trying to figure out where this was leading to. "What do you mean, expected what to speak for itself?"

Sesshomaru paused, trying to figure out the best way to go about explaining this fact with as little loss to his integrity as possible. "When a demon couples, they do not always produce offspring; in fact, it is a very rare occurrence. It is impossible to sire heirs with anyone they do not wish to take as a mate."

Kagome let the information sink in slowly. So that meant...she never could have gotten pregnant unless...unless... Gaping, she blinked a few times. "You mean..."

Sesshomaru nodded in confirmation. "I wished to give you a choice in the matter. The curse had altered your state of mind and I had no desire to force you into a union you did not seek."

Her mind reeled as she went over the conversation they'd had that day again in her head. She had been so shocked when he handed her the herb, knowing already what it was before he offered an explanation, that she had hardly heard what he'd said. But there was one thing she did remember.

"You called it an 'abomination,'" she said, shaking her head as if to clear it of his claim. When she looked back up at his face, his brows were furrowed slightly.

"I said the world would see it as an abomination," he corrected, looking slightly offended.

Absorbing the statement was like having a bucket of ice cold water dumped over her head. It had all been a huge misunderstanding. She pictured the moment he held out the plant and realized he wasn't offering so much as asking...he had been asking her to choose. To take the plant and leave him forever take him. She had been so upset, she had thought his expression at the time spoke of a kind of grim victory and only now she realized that as she took that plant from his hand, he had been truly hurt. He had thought she had rejected him!

With a 'pop' the barrier was nullified and Sesshomaru strode into the cave. Kagome watched him silently as he kneeled before her and the pups, bringing them to eye level. Her heart was pounding out of her chest as one magenta-striped arm reached up to run his hand through her hair and stroke her cheek with a clawed thumb.

His gaze was so intense and unmoving on her's, just his proximity seemed to make her dizzy, pulling, tugging and begging all her senses to just relent. His fangs engorged and lengthened before her eyes and knowing that she had such on affect on him made her think for a second the curse had returned for another round.

"Mine," he whispered vehemently and that one word seemed viscous in its need to sustain that claim and she shivered involuntarily. It was not a question, merely a statement of unmovable fact that was followed up by his lips swiftly taking her's. She melted into the embrace, leaning forward to bring him closer until Hisato and Hisoka let out simultaneous light whines of protest, as the union left them slightly squished between their chests and had interrupted their feeding.

Kagome chuckled, breaking the kiss as they both gave their undivided attention to the now-full pups, who seemed more than a little interested in their father, blinking and staring at him hugely in silent awe.

Sesshomaru leaned forward and swept them both up in his powerful arms, looking from one face to the other with pride and approval as Kagome redressed herself in a fresh horai and hakama. She couldn't stop the grin from tugging at her lips as she watched him fall into a rhythm with the twins, striding back and forth across the cave and patiently untangling their tiny hands from fisting in his hair.

He made soft rumbling noises, low in his chest, some of them distinct reprimands and others soft approval or praise. The pups seemed to understand this 'yes' and 'no' system quite well and Kagome, while silent, paid close attention to the differences, already planning to practice on her own some time.

"There is the matter of Inuyasha," he finally said as she was finished arranging herself.

"Inuyasha?" she said and even as she worded the question the gears in her mind were turning towards the answer. Sesshomaru seemed to sense her close proximity to this awareness, his only answer a nod of confirmation as he waited for her to sort it out on her own.

She had avoided thinking about that day for so long and now it was in her face, dredged up from the recesses of her mind. It was hard to reanalyze the memory for what it was, to separate it from what she thought it was.

For so long, Sesshomaru had been the enemy but slowly throughout their struggle with Naraku they had come to trust him as an ally. He had saved their lives in battle, rescued a small, human child, altering their opinions of him being a human hater forever.

But that day had changed everything for her, the day he had rejected her and the fruit of their union. On that day, she realized he really did hate humans and still carried a disdain for hanyous.

So, it was with a broken heart that she once again sought the protection of Inuyasha but never quite could accept him as more than a friend. With a shock, she remembered how gentle and patient with her he'd been, how he'd given her the attention she'd always wanted upon her return. He'd been protective and sweet and so compassionate... Now, she realized it was only because he knew. He could have told her at any time of Sesshomaru's true desire but he had intentionally kept the information away from her to keep her with him.

Her stomach turned as she remembered his look of panic the day before when he heard Sesshomaru's roar and came sweeping into Kaede's hut to hide her. 'Sesshomaru will kill her and the pups if I don't do something to stop him' she remembered him telling Sango. Now, she realized what it was all about. He was so afraid of loosing her to his older brother that he was willing to lie to her and his companions, willing to fight his brother in a battle that could have been to the death had Sesshomaru not been so hell bent to get to her at the time.

Apart of her could almost understand him choosing to keep quiet about Sesshomaru wanting her as a mate because it raised his chances to succeed. Although despicable, it was understandable, though she realized with a heavy heart a true friend never would have withheld such significant knowledge, knowledge that held the potential to bestow happiness on someone you loved.

But taking the lie to the next level and accusing Sesshomaru of illegitimate intentions knowing that under that assumption, any one of the group could have launched an attack meant to kill, was going too far over the line. Any number of things could have gone wrong, one of their group could have been killed or even Sesshomaru could have been killed, although she doubted that wryly.

Realizing that Sesshomaru was still waiting for an answer, she straightened to her full height. "I will deal with him," she answered fiercely and there was a glint in the taiyoukai's eye when he looked at her she could not define. His voice was low and soft as he said, "Very well."

A stream of dark cloud erupted under his feet and Kagome, familiar with the sensation already, allowed it to lift her from the cave ledge and carry her alongside Sesshomaru to the forest floor beneath them.

As they neared the ground, she sighed heavily looking back up over her shoulder to the sanctuary she'd taken. "I'm so done with caves," she commented and Sesshomaru let out a huff of amusement, or agreement, or both, she wasn't sure.

Inuyasha and Miroku had been bickering until they noticed the arrival of three, full blooded demons and Kagome slowly descending before them. The silence was like a sudden thunderclap as Inuyasha saw the miko's face and paled. Even the pups in Sesshomaru's arms were quiet, sensing their mother's ire. Hisoka hid her face in his hair while Hisato refused to look away, chewing on his fist and drooling but interested.

The pair looked so regal, standing together as they were even as the mist from the demonic cloud swirled and faded around them. They weren't even touching but the the new-found strength of their unity could be detected in their almost identical expressions, both looking forward with the same confident, near indifferent expectation.

The tension was sudden and heavy as the hanyou and priestess squared off, Kagome's glare piercing Inuyasha's expression of shame and remorse. Sesshomaru supervised with sharp attention, ready to intervene at the slightest provocation.

A sudden shrill chiming sound brought everyone away from this focus to find them all staring at the smiling, cheerful face of the monk, Miroku, who had pushed his staff in the ground quite forcefully, causing the rings to collide in a loud, distracting way.

He bowed politely, the grin on his face never wavering. "Kagome-chan, I believe Inuyasha has something he would like to say," he drawled, placing one hand on the hanyou's red-clad shoulder and giving him a little shove of encouragement.

"Oh," Kagome responded coolly, every facet of her expression speaking of calm politeness. "I would be very interested to hear what he has to say," she finished with a sparkle in her eye that pierced Inuyasha's heart like an ice pick.

Silver bangs fell over his eyes as he managed to force the air forward required to mutter "I lied," just softly enough that they could hear it.

Kagome let his confession wash over her, allowing herself to acknowledge in spite of her anger how hard those words were for him to say. With a sigh, she rolled her eyes skyward, forcing back the sting of tears that wanted to emerge from her hurt at his betrayal to their friendship. Still, the kindness in her yearned for her to guide his confused soul, to feel pity for the constant torment of his own mind. He was probably scarcely aware of the full implications of what he'd done.

She knew what she had to do, her resolve was tangible in its strength but still, the next few steps she took were the heaviest of her life and her arm felt like it held the weight of a thousand cities as she reached up and placed her fingertips on one of his subjugating beads. The shiny black surface shone white as the others took form within seconds, before the beads fell uselessly to the forest floor.

Inuyasha looked as if he'd been stricken, his eyes wide and uncomprehending. His hands came up to feel blindly for the necklace that had connected them for so long, his heart sinking when they grasped only the fabric of fire rat.

Miroku looked pityingly at his friend as he scrambled on his hands and knees, trying to regather the pieces. "Kagome, no, please, I'm sorry, don't do this-" he rambled with a strained, gruff voice on the verge of tears.

Kagome bent down until she was eye level, effectively halting him in his mission to rebuild the necklace. "You spend too much time fretting for something that never came into being. You put all your energy into what you can't have, reaching for the impossible. It allows you to succeed in things no one thought you capable of, even yourself. This is a very admiral quality. You reach for the moon, so you will land amongst the stars. But it also brings you constant turmoil and unhappiness because you are never satisfied with your victories or content with your growing levels of strength.

"Look at us, here," she gestured to all of them and the cave above them. "This mess, this...struggle," she managed, concentrated on finding the right words. "All of this and for what? You were happy with Kikyo, don't deny it."

Inuyasha floundered to look offended and shocked but Kagome only shook her head sadly. "You were only interested in me beyond my duties to the jewel as her potential replacement until the day we met Shoki. You were her's before, seeking her out in the night when you thought I was sleeping. Oh yes, I've always known," she confessed at his wide, gaping look of surprise and realization. "I gave up gaining your love a long time ago and eventually I was strong enough to take my love back. Do you know how I managed to get through all that without you even knowing? Without reaching out for help or support? With the knowledge that, even once I had stopped loving you, you didn't even notice. I was just happy to have our friendship and thought at least to preserve that. I didn't really need Shoki's help with that revelation after all, though I am grateful.

"I am sad because I wonder how Kikyo must feel, being thrown aside for me when I returned to Edo. I must have seemed unattainable and that was challenging to you. Now, you are blinded by this want so much that you have forgotten the worth of our friendship, as clearly it is currently at stake. You've injured my trust in you, Inuyasha and it will not be soon forgotten."

Inuyasha reeled with shock as the understanding of her words hit him, strike after deadly strike, as if he were in a battle he had no desire to protect himself from. All the dreams he'd had for them, their hut by the river, raising the pups with Shippo, long nights by the fire with Miroku and Sango and endless days of peace and children and love shattered before his eyes as he realized it was all lost, just like that, gone within the blink of an eye. Was it true? Had it really never been a reality, after all? He'd sensed a change in her ever since that day with Shoki but he'd come to rely on her unconditional love, even when it wasn't exactly faithful love on his part but he thought Kagome had always accepted that. He thought she'd chosen to be with him despite those circumstances.

Kagome was the one who'd taught him how to love, how to trust, how to make friends and allies. She taught him what it meant to smile, to laugh, what it meant to protect those you love. She was the reason he would never be alone again in this world. She had accepted him for who he was and never gave up on him, even when it caused her pain. He thought of all the nights he'd gone to see Kikyo, all the times she must have known and kept her silence. He wondered if she was ever lonely then and some deep part of him cried out at the thought that during the time she was pining the worst for his affection, he had scarcely talked to her because of his involvement with Kikyo.

That had been the end of her feelings for him, he realized. Some how he knew by some unknown instinct that if someone's love for another caused enough pain, eventually that love would die, like cherry blossoms in a sudden frost. He had done that, he was responsible. But he couldn't loose her altogether, he realized.

"I was wrong," he managed to rasp between his sobs and swift intakes of breath. "I beg your forgiveness."

Miroku gasped at the sentence, having never witnessed Inuyasha relenting. Even Sesshomaru's eyebrows had raised in surprise for a moment before sinking back into indifference.

"Please," Inuyasha continued, "Don't let this be the end, Kagome," he took her hand as Sesshomaru came to full attention, training his gaze on his brother's every move. Inuyasha ignored him. "We are friends, we have to always be friends, at least," he was begging and Kagome couldn't help the pity that filled her face.

"You taught me how to make friends, how to be happy, how to smile, how to laugh, how to to love. You taught me what it means to protect, what it means to be there for the people you care about. I can't loose you, I can't loose all of you. Our friendship, at least tell me you'll try to trust me again one day and I swear, I swear it, Kagome! I will make this up to you," he finished in a whisper of extreme conviction, the tears making swift tracks down his face.

Kagome allowed a pregnant pause where she looked deep into his eyes and saw there, the hurt and sincere determination to make amends. His genuine remorse stifled her anger enough that she allowed herself to remember all they had been through and found him worthy of that, at least. "With time, Inuyasha. Perhaps," but she gave him a half encouraging smile and though he still felt crushed inside, she had given him a ray of hope to follow through the darkness and it was enough. She was too kind to shut someone out completely, he realized and that fact only brought him more pain knowing what he'd put her through.

Miroku laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder, giving it a little squeeze from where he stood behind him. The monk's sympathy was somehow uplifting in spite of the heavy sense of loss he suffered and even despite the reminder that Kagome was the reason he had Miroku's friendship at all.

Overhead, the sky darkened as thunder rumbled distantly beyond the hills. Sesshomaru looked at Kagome and she seemed to sense his expression meant he was ready to leave. She walked up to Miroku and threw her arms around his neck. "Tell Sango I'll be back before the baby's born, ok?"

Miroku returned the hug warmly after forgetting his surprise, making no attempt to grope her for once. ( Which had nothing at all to do with the taiyoukai starting daggers behind Kagome's back.) "We'll miss you terribly in the mean time," he promised, squeezing her for emphasis.

Pulling away, her gaze grew distant and then shocked as realization struck. She turned to Sesshomaru with panic suddenly written across her face. "We have to get Shippo."

Sesshomaru let out a huff of amusement and her eyes grew wide, thinking he must find the idea of adopting her kit laughable. In the second before her temper flared, he answered her, his tone calm, smooth and clashing with her impatience. "You haven't noticed the kit's absence since the birth of my heirs?"

Her eyebrows shot up into her hairline. "He's off playing with the village kids..." she trailed off, unsure.

"Is he?" Sesshomaru drawled and Kagome's eyes grew wide with realization.

"You kidnapped him?" she exclaimed and at that, the Western Lord chuckled out right. Kagome forgot her anger listening to the sound, a deep, booming laugh of his tenor that was both alien and beautiful to her ears. "The kit met with my ward and retainer sometime during our first confrontation. He made the decision to return to the Western Citadel on his own. It is this Sesshomaru's belief that he assumed you would be close to follow."

"What?" Kagome gaped dumbly. "How is that possible? You came here in light form or whatever."

"My ward, retainer and mount take it upon themselves to follow me wherever I go, despite my orders."

"How would he just know something like that?" she wondered, confused on every level.

Sesshomaru tiled his head slightly in his own version of a shrug. "Fox youkai are very intuitive, clever beings. They rely on scent almost as strongly as the Inu and it is likely the kit understood by sheer instinct the implications of our mating. It is also likely that my ward encouraged this decision."

Kagome couldn't help chuckling picturing Rin talking Shippo into coming back with her. The two had always loved to play with each other and Shippo always hated when they had to part. She took Hisato from Sesshomaru's arms as he continued holding Hisoka, her tiny little fist curled around one of his long fingers.

The cloud lifted them into the air and she waved one last farewell to Miroku as they lifted towards the gray of a rainy and clouded sky, trying to ignore the way Inuyasha tearfully stared up at them. She felt like she was finally doing the right thing and headed in the right direction after so long of being lost and unsure, off the beaten path of her fate. Looking over to Sesshomaru, she felt a swell of excitement and joy at the sight of him holding their daughter so tenderly and carefully. She flashed him a dazzling smile and let the joy she felt reach her shining eyes and Sesshomaru slipped his other arm about her waist, pulling her fast against his side. She rested her head in the soft, white silk of his attire, loving his scent of fire and ice he exuded as she held Hisato in her arms.

In the distance, the sun peeked through royal purple clouds ahead of them against a gray sky. Beams of golden sunlight were spilling over the landscape and Kagome breathed a sigh of appreciation for the beauty before her, considering it an omen of wonderful things to come.