Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Inuyasha.

A/N: The Lotus stands for Mystery... and Truth. I find that oddly... fitting.

~oOo~

Sesshoumaru stood on the edge of a thousand foot drop-off and tilted his head into the cool night air, inhaling deeply of it. Perusing the brilliant backdrop of deepest midnight blue, scattered by the diamond lights of a billion stars, the daiyoukai pondered the answers he'd gathered – and the questions still to be answered.

It seemed that the more answers he garnered, the more questions that were raised.

Higurashi, Kagome – the once and future Shikon Miko. Supposedly.

From the moment he'd met her in his father's tomb, certain... oddities, so to speak, about the girl had caused a part of him to wonder – though at the time, it was merely in an abstract way. He'd not been curious enough to care whether she lived or died at that time – and when she'd gotten in his way, he'd tried to kill her.

His efforts had been in vain – and that had been enough of an aberration to irritate him. When he wanted something dead, it died.

But not her.

At first, he'd simply assumed that Tessaiga had protected her, because she'd been the one to draw it from its resting place – a feat he himself had been unable to accomplish, to his disgust.

He could remember questioning her provenance at that time.

"What are you?"

That very first question had gone unanswered – another thing that was an aberration. When he, Sesshoumaru, questioned a thing, he expected answers. In this case, however, he had been reduced to actually seeking the answers he wanted, because as time had gone on other things had come to light about the girl that did not fit with what she claimed to be.

There was too much that didn't measure up about the girl who was hailed as a simple human miko.

She was not youkai, that was easy to see. And though she did, at first glance and even second, resemble nothing more than a human, if you took a third look, you began to see things that were an impossibility for a human.

His ruminations were interrupted by Jaken, then, as his gami servant finally returned from the errand he'd been sent on.

With an obsequious bow, he said, "Sesshoumaru-sama, I spoke to Bokuseno-sama as you ordered, and he said that he would not speak with me about this matter. He said that if you wish answers, then you should have enough-" the toad cringed, "-respect to seek them yourself."

Sesshoumaru did not react, his eyes still idly watching the night sky as though he had not a care in the world. After a few minutes when he hadn't been sliced into pieces, Jaken scooted back a little, and quietly moved to curl up with his Staff of Two Heads under the tree nearest his Lord.

So... you wish me to ask you myself? For the sake of what I seek, I will indulge you – for now.

Putting the now-impending visit to the ancient magnolia-youkai out of his mind for the time being, he returned to his previous thoughts.

During the hunt for the hanyou Naraku Sesshoumaru had crossed paths with his brother and the girl many times. However, most of those meetings had been restricted to combat between he and Inuyasha. Because of that, he did not really gain any insight into her that would attract any more of his attention than she had from the circumstances in his father's tomb.

But at the end... the final battle with Naraku... that was when she had burst onto the horizon of his mind like a comet across the night sky, blazing into his consciousness with an indomitable flame that he'd been unable to quench since.

When he'd defeated Magatsuhi, the burst of pure energy that had come from the girl had rid the entirety of Naraku's bloated body of his poison, forcing the dark hanyou to create more in an attempt to destroy them. And while the rest of the group had needed protection from the horrid miasma, she alone of the supposed humans had not needed any – her aura alone purifying all traces of the poison in her vicinity.

Miko she was supposed to be, reiki user – and yet, the monk that had traveled with his brother, a houriki user, had been unable to do the same. He'd wondered then, though he'd put that little matter to the back of his mind to ponder after Naraku's defeat.

And then...

The spider's final act of defiance towards his brother's group had led to the over-sized carcass of the hanyou being set on a collision course with the village that they called home.

Sesshoumaru had been as close to awed shock as he'd ever been as he'd witnessed something he would never have believed possible – the so-called miko completely purifying the remains of Naraku's body – as well as all the shouki that had already dropped on the entire region.

With one arrow. A single arrow.

Every last bit of shouki. was. gone. While the landscape would take time to heal from the damage, what she had done should not have been possible – not for a mere human miko.

After all, human bodies were only capable of channeling so much power before they burned out.

It amazed him constantly that none of those she'd traveled with for so long had ever questioned her provenance. They had all simply accepted her as a human miko that was the reincarnation of the former miko Kikyou.

At that thought, an almost silent scoff passed his lips. It was ludicrous. That girl was no more a reincarnation of a human miko than he, himself was.

What she was, was a carrier. She had carried a soul that wasn't technically hers within her – and that had allowed Urasue to complete her spell.

If it hadn't been for Kagome the spell would not have worked at all – because Kikyou's soul had not been available to the witch to animate her clay recreation. Her soul had indeed been within Kagome – but not as a part of the girl. No, Kikyou was simply a passenger within Kagome because of the Shikon jewel.

But because of the potency of the spell Urasue had used, Kagome had lost her entire soul, instead, though she was not Kikyou born again.

That brought up another impossibility that the woman had accomplished. After the soul had left her body, she should have been dead. Gone. Forever. Instead, she'd pulled her soul back from the witch's spell.

She had basically resurrected herself from death.

And still no one noticed the mystery of her, completely blinded by their own misconceptions.

Of course, he himself had not been aware of the circumstances of Kikyou's return at the time it had occurred. No... it had been through his search for answers after Kagome had gone back to her own era, disappearing from this one, that he had begun to gather some of the pieces of the cipher that was the girl from the future.

The questions that had burst into his mind at her shows of such impossible and seemingly instinctual power had guaranteed that he would begin looking for answers.

He was, after all, a curious being – and he did not like leaving a mystery such as the one that surrounded her untouched.

No... even if it took centuries, he would have his answers. After all, it would not matter in the end, truly – that was another thing about Kagome. Five hundred years in the future or not, he could wait six hundred years... and then go and track her down.

Because she would still exist. Death would never lay its dark, cold hands on her – at least, not by any natural means... and most likely not even by unnatural means.

That had been one of the first answers he'd gained after starting this quest – that the girl was timeless – though she did not seem to be consciously aware of that fact.

He'd been understandably taken aback when he'd learned of the false celestial maiden Kaguya... and her desire to swallow the dark-haired female that seemed so... human. The youkai Kaguya had wanted Kagome's immunity to time.

That tidbit of information had caused him to truly wonder about the intelligence level of the group that traveled with his half-brother. He couldn't understand why none of them had noticed such a glaring and impossible fact.

Humans were not immune to time. No exceptions. Even those that maintained youth and beauty by merging with lower youkai, such as the dark miko Tsubaki, were not immune to time. The only thing such a merger could give was an extended life – sooner or later, the being would still age and die.

Kagome would not.

He watched silently as the sky began to lighten, night turning to day as he wandered through the maze in his mind that was named Kagome. Even after almost three years of traveling and searching out answers, he had only gathered such a meager store of facts.

She had more power than any human could rightly claim. She used it with no training – it was completely instinctual. And she was not subject to time or death.

That was all he had gained.

And while he had those simple facts, he still did not have a conclusion to his ultimate question.

What is Kagome Higurashi?

Perhaps Bokuseno would have some answers for him – after all, as the oldest amongst all the beings currently living, he knew much of what mysteries still existed in this realm.

At the very least, he could set Sesshoumaru's feet on the correct path.

For that, he would tolerate the old tree's demands.

This time.

~oOo~

Sesshoumaru watched calmlyy as Bokuseno's aged bark rippled and his face appeared to greet his visitor.

"Ah, Sesshoumaru. It seems that you truly desire these answers your retainer was seeking, if you were willing to come to such a summons as I sent with him."

"Your words were a test?" Sesshoumaru asked coolly, eyes narrowing minutely.

The tree chuckled, branches creaking with the vibrations. "Oh, yes. For why should I impart my wisdom to one who does not truly desire it?"

"That would imply that you actually have wisdom to impart on this topic, Bokuseno," Sesshoumaru countered, and the ancient Magnolia laughed aloud.

"And you have caught me out so neatly, proud warrior. Let us say that I do, indeed, know somewhat of what you seek. What then? What are you willing to give for my answers?"

"You offer an exchange, then," Sesshoumaru said thoughtfully. "What is it you wish from this one?"

"The same thing you wish from this one. Knowledge." A curious look crossed the tree's face, then. "That is, if you even have an answer for what I would ask. Perhaps you do not – but it is a risk I am willing to take."

Sesshoumaru's eyes narrowed just slightly as he considered the youkai before him for several moments – it was apparent that Bokuseno was playing some sort of game with him. After thinking about it for a few seconds, though, he decided that it did not really matter – let the tree play his games. As long as he gave him something of what he was seeking, he could walk away the winner of this skirmish.

"Very well. What is it you wish to ask, old one?"

"I have known you for centuries, Sesshoumaru, and never have you cared for anything that did not directly affect you. This girl does not. She is not even in this era any longer – and yet you spend three years and endless travels searching for answers to the Lotus. Why is it that you so determinedly seek the answers that you do?"

Sesshoumaru's lids slid to half-mast as he considered the tree's question. Lotus? After a time, he said, "This one seeks to know what Higurashi Kagome is in the scheme of things. Just because she is not here now, does not mean our paths will not cross again later. It is best to know your enemy – even when you are not entirely certain that they are an enemy. I would know the girl – knowledge is power, after all, and I seek power in all forms."

Bokuseno stared at him for quite a while, and then shook himself, an amused expression creasing his face with laugh lines. "I am pleased that I have gotten at least a partial answer from you, Sesshoumaru. But you should continue to ponder that question, as well, while you are thinking on the origins of the girl – because your answer was not complete." He held the daiyoukai's gaze for a moment longer, then sighed and closed weary eyes, the smile fading. "It is your turn. Ask what you will."

"It is the only answer there can be to your question, old one. Do not hold any expectation that there is more to hear, for you will surely be disappointed," Sesshoumaru said coldly, wondering just what the tree was really digging for, and then deciding it didn't matter. It was time for his answers, and that was all that counted in his eyes.

"What is the power that she wields? It cannot be true reiki, such as miko and houshi use – they are trained from a young age in the spells and prayers and chants that allow them to borrow and use the power of the kami. This girl has no training, uses no chants, prayers, or spells – and yet, she has more power than any supposed human has ever had. More than almost any youkai, as well."

Bokuseno laughed knowingly at that last qualifier as he opened his eyes up again. "Are you so sure that she is less powerful than some youkai? Perhaps she is more powerful than any youkai – in which case, your search for knowledge about her may be dangerous to your person. It is, after all, not wise to hunt something that is stronger than you," he finished mockingly.

Sesshoumaru narrowed his eyes warningly, but did not answer, and Bokuseno sighed once more, then, with a shake of branch and bow, settled deeper into the earth. "The power that the girl carries is her own, Sesshoumaru, just as your youki is native to you. You are correct that she doesn't wield true reiki, which is simply the borrowed power of the kami watered down for human usage." With a peculiar intensity, he reiterated, "Her power is her own... it is not borrowed."

At that, Sesshoumaru's gaze burned with all the intensity he was capable of as he turned those words over in his mind. There are four main sources of power – that of youki, the power of youkai, reiki, the human-wielded borrowed power of the gods, the power of the gods themselves, and sorcery, which is magic. She is not youkai, so that cannot be her source, and she does not use reiki...

Sorcery? The only other answer is untenable. She cannot be one of the kami.

Bokuseno watched quietly for several minutes and then prompted the daiyoukai. "Is that all you wish to ask, Sesshoumaru?"

"One more thing. Is there any other way to reach her era save the old well that sits in Inuyasha's forest?"

"Not that this tree is aware of. But I will tell you this – it is very possible that she will return to this time again. For one who has enough patience there will be rewards - whether you measure that in knowledge, or in the presence of the girl herself," he finished slyly.

To his disappointment, Sesshoumaru did not take the bait, simply eyeing him one last time and then turning on his heel and leaving the glade without another word.

While the old tree's last words were irritating, Sesshoumaru decided, he was, overall, pleased with the answers he'd gotten. Now to go consider what he'd been told.

Afterward, he would decide a direction to take in his continuing inquiries – there were, after all, many other sources of information still left untapped.

He would leave no stone unturned in his quest for answers.

~oOo~

A month had passed while Sesshoumaru lost himself in thought, turning over every fact he knew, and every thing he only suspected before placing it in order, much like a jigsaw puzzle in his mind.

He had just this morning decided his next course of action – he would seek out a sorcerer, and question him on his power... and its capabilities. He needed to know if sorcery could, indeed, be the wellspring of Kagome's abilities.

With that goal in mind, Sesshoumaru headed for the most powerful sorcerer he knew of – a kitsune youkai known only as Kijutsu, or magic.

Not very inventive, but I suppose sorcery does not require a strong imagination. I am sure that he can nonetheless answer my inquiries acceptably, as my questions should be simple to answer for one of even meager magical knowledge.

The trip, taken by air was short, and before long Sesshoumaru found himself landing in a small, sheltered dell, where a modest appearing hut was nestled quite comfortably.

He was not fooled.

"Do not attempt to use your petty illusions on this Sesshoumaru, kitsune," he said, his baritone voice even, though edged sharply with threat.

"Ah, ha, ha, Sesshoumaru-sama," came the almost instant reply, "what can this lowly Kijutsu do for you?"

Sesshoumaru said not a word, instead raising his youki enough to show that the threat in his voice could quickly become reality, and within moments a nervous looking kitsune appeared a few meters away from the daiyoukai, bowing respectfully – and fearfully.

"You will answer my questions. If I deem the answers acceptable, you will live."

Kijutsu swallowed heavily, and nodded. "I'm at your disposal, honorable Sama."

"Would a being knowledgeable in the ways of sorcery be able to use it to become immortal?"

The kitsune looked startled at that question and frowned, his nervousness jumping. "No," he said slowly, "true immortality cannot be granted by any spell, Sesshoumaru-sama. Did someone tell you such could be done?"

The daiyoukai cocked a brow. "No. Could you use your sorcery to raise yourself from the dead?"

"Again, no," he said. "A sorcerer could use a spell to call someone else back, but not himself. It would be difficult to perform the spell if you were already dead, honorable Sama."

Silence fell in the little clearing for a moment, then Sesshoumaru turned and headed out. "You will not die today, kitsune."

Kijutsu just stared after the daiyoukai, completely unable to decide what to make of that visit – or the questions he'd been asked.

Odd, he thought, but then shrugged, breathing a great deal easier now that such a threatening presence was gone from his home.

Oh, well... I'm just glad to be alive. None of my business what he was after.

~oOo~

Sesshoumaru had come to the conclusion that he needed to speak to his brother and his companions. Only they, after all, knew all of what had happened on the spider hunt, and what other things might have happened during it that might add to the puzzle that was nowhere near finished.

Much as he disliked the idea of having to deal on such a close basis with his hot-headed brother, he was not willing to forget his all-consuming obsession with discovering everything there was to know about Kagome Higurashi.

For the first time in his long life, Sesshoumaru was interested enough in another being that he actually desired to be able to see into her very mind. He frowned as this thought crossed his own mind, followed by the memory of Bokuseno's words – had this, then, been what the old tree had been speaking of?

"I have known you for centuries, Sesshoumaru, and never have you cared for anything that did not directly affect you."

A slight, self-mocking smile touched his lips, then, and he had to admit that the old tree was correct. He never had cared for anything that did not directly affect himself... or anything beyond his quest for Supreme Conquest. But for all the centuries that he had wandered and sought out the most powerful youkai still in existence, he had yet to be defeated – and he already stood at the pinnacle of power.

There were no other youkai still out there stronger than he – and that left a rather large hole in his life to fill. Frankly, before Kagome had caught his attention, he had been bored.

Boredom, to a being that was as close to immortal as possible, was the absolute worst thing to be exposed to. Some youkai actually lost their will to live over such things – and Sesshoumaru had no intentions of being one of them.

Jaded, full of ennui or not, he would live – by finding something worth turning his most formidable intellect loose on. And he had.

So far, he had not been disappointed by the depth of the mystery surrounding her, and if the truth were known, the more he learned, the less it seemed he could say he knew. Because of that, this little, seemingly uncomplicated onna had pulled him into her, something that no female had ever been able to do before her.

As he'd admitted to himself earlier, he was obsessed.

For one such as him to be so, was, in and of itself, a dangerous thing.

When a being such as he became so entirely focused on one thing, they began to see it as something exclusive to themselves – in other words, he had long ago begun to think of the dark-haired woman-child as his possession. His.

He hadn't realized it until now, but that made the realization no less true, no less valid.

And that would definitely mean that he and his hard-headed brother would end up clashing again. This time, even more aggressively than they ever had over Tessaiga, he was certain.

Absently, he reached up an idle hand and stroked his pelt, the fleeting thought that he would stroke the girl's hair in just the same way flashing through the depths of his mind and disappearing, without ever rippling the placid surface at the front.

In his subconscious a certain ideal had been reached, and a desire had been born.

But it was still new... and his conscious mind was fully unaware of the true depths of his obsession.

That innocence, however, was not destined to last very long. For very soon his conscious knowledge and his subconscious desire would clash and mold into one...

And then the heavens help anyone who would think to stand between he and the fulfillment of that desire.

~oOo~

"Sesshoumaru-sama! Welcome, my Lord!" came Rin's excited voice, and the daiyoukai eyed his ward, pleased to find her happy and well-cared for.

"Rin," he murmured as she came up to him. "I trust you are content?"

"Oh, hai, my Lord, though I miss you and Master Jaken. But Kaede-sama teaches me many things, and the village keeps me busy, too," she exclaimed cheerfully.

Sesshoumaru acknowledged her words with an inclination of his head, and then addressed the elder miko who had come out of her hut to greet him.

"This one wishes to speak to you – as well as Inuyasha and the slayer and monk," he said politely enough, though Kaede took it exactly as it was meant – a command.

Nodding, the elder miko turned to Rin. "Child, will ye go find Sango-sama and tell her that her presence, as well as her husband's, is required?"

"Oh, yes, Kaede-sama!" the girl exclaimed as she scrambled off, and Kaede smiled as she shook her head, then turned to look at the daiyoukai speculatively.

"Inuyasha will be here in mere moments – he sensed ye, no doubt," she said wryly as she motioned for him to follow her into her modest home. "Please, sit. Would ye care for some tea?"

With an enigmatic glance, Sesshoumaru inclined his head. "That is acceptable," he said shortly.

Eyeing the Lord she knew would get to the point of his visit only when he was ready, she sighed inaudibly and set about preparing a pot of tea. Since he had ordered that his brother and friends be present, she figured it had to be something of importance – he never subjected himself to his brother's presence more than was necessary.

It was, however, a very welcome change from the way things were before – the two of them bound and determined to kill each other.

Kaede glanced at her doorway as the matting crashed back and an impatient hanyou burst into the room. "Yes, Inuyasha?" she asked blandly, noting with interest that the daiyoukai did not even turn to look at his brother.

"Oi, Sesshoumaru, what'r'ya doin' here? Isn't it a little early for your Rin visit?" Inuyasha stepped over to Kaede's side and sank down, folding his hands into his haori sleeves and eyeing his brother narrowly.

After a few moments of silence, Sesshoumaru deigned to answer his brother's still uncouth speech. "This visit is not about Rin. Once the slayer and monk arrive, I will enlighten you as to the reason for my presence."

The silence that fell in the room, then, was neutral, and Kaede was well aware that was due to Sesshoumaru himself. He was projecting a non-combative aura, which helped to keep the rather excitable Inuyasha calm enough. She found she was grateful for that – she had no desire to lose her home to a battle between siblings.

She was more pleased when Sango and Miroku arrived, stepping into the hut with slightly wary expressions, obviously wondering why the dangerous Lord was requesting their presence.

"Kaede-sama?" Miroku questioned as he settled next to his wife, leaning his shakujo against the wall behind him.

"Now that ye are all gathered, who wants tea?" she asked calmly, and with increasingly mystified looks, the spouses nodded in acceptance while Inuyasha snorted a no. She filled the requested cups, passing Sesshoumaru his first, then pouring the rest out. Once done with her simple task, she picked up her own tea and sipped it, then set the cup down.

With a placid smile, she nodded at Sesshoumaru. "We are listening, Sesshoumaru-sama."

Sesshoumaru sipped his tea for several long moments, then also set his cup down. In a contemplative tone of voice, he let them all in on the topic he was interested in.

"Higurashi, Kagome... this one wishes to hear everything each of you know about her."

To say that the group in the hut were all stunned would be an understatement. There was a shocked silence for some time, broken eventually by Inuyasha's irate stuttering. The first to break the surprise and be coherent about it was Miroku.

"That is... a rather large request, Sesshoumaru-sama. May I ask why you are so interested in a human miko?"

With a cocked brow, Sesshoumaru considered the monk. "Tell me, how is it that as her companions of so long, ones that claim to know so much about her, no less, still insist that she is human – and a miko?" he asked blandly.

Now the group was so taken aback that even Inuyasha was completely silent, unable to find his voice. Sesshoumaru waited patiently enough, knowing that sooner or later someone would find their way through their shock and answer.

Finally Kaede shook off her stunned daze, and brow furrowed, asked, "What do ye mean, Sesshoumaru-sama? Do ye believe for some reason that Kagome is not human?"

"Do humans typically live forever, then? Would you have me believe that your race has suddenly become immortal?"

Miroku shook his head and sighed. "Perhaps if you elaborated, Sesshoumaru-sama, on your meaning?"

Eyes narrowing contemplatively as he became totally focused once more on his favorite topic, he ran idle fingers through silver hair, brushing it back over his shoulder. The group in the hut watched him with hypnotized stares.

"Hn. Enlighten me. What was the reason that the youkai that absorbed the celestial maiden Kaguya gave for wanting to absorb a so-called human miko? Did none of you find that strange? What youkai would wish to swallow a being that could purify them from the inside out? If she were truly a miko... that would have been tantamount to suicide. And yet... that is exactly what Kaguya wanted the girl for."

Inuyasha blinked, then said slowly, "I asked Kagome that, later..." he swallowed hard at the memory of the arrow hitting her, "... you know, why Kaguya had taken her instead of letting her die with that arrow in her back. Kagome told me that the bitch told her it was because she was immune to the effects of time, and Kaguya wanted that ability."

Kaede and Miroku, equally taken aback at Sesshoumaru's words, both pondered on the reason none of them had ever considered that question. What youkai would absorb a miko? That would be deadly to them.

They both came back to the discussion when Sesshoumaru answered Inuyasha's words. "Exactly. And what are the effects of time?" he asked silkily.

"Aging, and eventually, death," came Sango's soft voice.

With a predatory smile, Sesshoumaru pounced on her words. "Exactly," he purred. "And if the girl is immune to the effects of time, that would then mean that she is not going to age and die, correct? So, once again, I ask – what makes you think that she is human?"

Every single person in the hut stared at him, mesmerized by his glowing gold eyes.

After a few minutes, Kaede shook off her confused state, and said in a no-nonsense tone, "I would like to know what brought Kagome to your attention in the first place, Sesshoumaru-sama?"

"Yeah," his brother's brash voice came, suspicion rife within it. "Why would you be curious about Kagome at all – even if she is immune to the effects of time?" he finished sarcastically.

Picking up his cup of tea and taking an unhurried sip, he waited for a few moments, and then asked, "Do you not find the woman a curiosity, as well? There is so much mystery there," he said with an odd kind of relish. "This one did not understand Bokuseno's words at first, when he referred to Kagome as the 'Lotus'... but with a little thought it became apparent. After all, the Lotus represents mystery – and oddly enough, truth."

Inuyasha growled at his brother, not liking his words, expression, or the tone of his voice at all. And he really didn't like his brother's apparent fascination with Kagome, either.

"You went to Bokuseno to ask about K'gome? What the hell? And what could that old bastard even know about her, anyway?"

"As usual, halfbreed, you show your ignorance," Sesshoumaru responded loftily. "Bokuseno is the oldest living thing still in this realm. He knows more than you would expect about your so-called miko – such as the fact that, unlike a true miko, Kagome's power is not borrowed from the kami by right of purity to be used in endeavors that they would deem necessary. Her power is innate – in other words, just as my youki is mine, Kagome's power is hers."

Miroku's eyes widened, and he met Kaede's thoughtful gaze as something occurred to him. "Kaede-sama... Kagome's use of sacred arrows without any real training is easily understood. But some of the other things she did... she was never trained in the spells and chants necessary – yet was able to do things that only a most highly skilled miko should have been able to. How do you explain this?"

"There is also this, monk," Sesshoumaru added, "what miko have you ever witnessed with the amount of power that Kagome wielded so effortlessly once unsealed by my defeat of Magatsuhi?" He turned golden eyes on Kaede. "Could you, yourself, have done what she did to Naraku's corpse?"

Kaede shook her head. "Nay, I have not the power."

"Oi," Inuyasha broke in, "some miko are stronger, and some are weaker. I bet Kikyou would have been able to do that!"

Again, Kaede shook her head, more slowly this time, thoughtfully. "No, Inuyasha, not even Kikyou could have done so. Not even with months of preparation and prayer could she have mustered the sheer power that Kagome herself did in an instant. Remember, Kagome was purifying not just Naraku's huge corpse that literally swirled with shouki, but all that had already fallen on the land around us. With one arrow. And she was not just taking on Naraku's power when she did so – but his power, augmented by all the power that the Shikon was able to bring to bear, as well. In effect, she defeated the power of Naraku, and the Shikon jewel, by herself. Ye may have all helped destroy his body, but..." she trailed off, and Sango finished with an apologetic look at Inuyasha.

"...it was something that Kikyou couldn't have done. And Kikyou was the most powerful miko around at the time, so if she couldn't even do it... how did Kagome?"

Inuyasha shook his head frustratedly. "Keh! You people are all stupid to be listenin' to this bastard about Kagome. If she isn't human and isn't a miko, how could she be Kikyou's reincarnation?" he growled out.

"She is not a reincarnation," Sesshoumaru said softly. "She is only herself."

At that, Kaede shook her head. "Inuyasha brings up a good point. For that spell of Urasue's to work as it did, taking all of Kagome's soul, she had to carry Kikyou's soul."

An oddly amused smirk tilted the corner of Sesshoumaru's mobile mouth. "Tell me, slayer – when the clay miko finally returned to death, what happened?"

Sango frowned as she thought back to that sad night. They had all been sitting atop a hill, while Inuyasha was holding Kikyou's body lower down the slope so he could have some privacy with her before she passed. "It was beautiful," she murmured. "When she passed, all the souls breaking free lit up the night as they spiraled into the heavens."

"Enlighten this one, miko," he addressed Kaede, "if Kagome was truly your sister's reincarnation, would not the portion of soul supposedly taken from her, be returned to its place within her once Kikyou passed again?"

"Hai," she said. "And..?"

"Did not the slayer just say that every soul your sister's clay shell contained ascended? Nothing returned to Kagome – because no part of Kagome's soul was actually missing."

Again, a stunned silence filled the hut as everyone there stumbled all over that little tidbit. Sesshoumaru sat back, completely content to watch as they all absorbed the things he was telling them, and tried to reconcile them with what they had always considered was true about the girl.

Inuyasha looked the most dismayed – no doubt by the fact that Kagome did not share the same soul as the woman he'd loved so much. It was apparent that the hanyou had been drawn to her because of that very misconception.

Take it in, Inuyasha. She is not who you thought. Can you still say that there is nothing to interest me there? I would know who she is. What she is.

He was interested to see that all of the people in the hut with him were beginning to look as though they were waking from a fog – and realizing that they had been extraordinarily blind to reality.

Perhaps that is the truth of the matter – that they were all... encouraged by some outside force to remain complacent, and not question the status quo? An... interesting idea. It is certainly possible.

After the silence had held for several minutes, Sesshoumaru held out his cup, and waited for the miko to recall herself and pour him some more tea. Watching the tea leaves swirl in the water, he said slowly, "Do you still find it odd that I wish to know more, Inuyasha? Do you remember the question I asked when she removed the Tessaiga from its pedestal inside father's remains?"

Inuyasha frowned for a minute, then his expression cleared. "Yeah," he said quietly. "You asked her, 'What are you?', didn't you?"

The daiyoukai inclined his head.

"And that question still has not been answered. That is why I am here, wanting to know everything you can tell me about the girl. I want to know what she is."

~oOo~

Evening came, almost unnoticed by those in the hut save for the children that were now crowding the adults almost from the room. With a sigh Sango looked at Kaede, and said, "As fascinating as all this is, I think it is time to prepare dinner."

Kaede eyed the milling children and then the light coming from outside, and nodded. "Hai. Will you stay, Sesshoumaru-sama?" she asked lightly.

The big Inu stood smoothly. "I will not, however, I will return after you have eaten your meal. There are other things I wish to ascertain."

"We will wait, then," she said politely, bowing slightly, and he tilted his head in acknowledgment before sweeping from the hut, leaving a rather tense silence behind.

Stopping for a long moment on the edge of the village, he looked up and inhaled deeply, taking in the evening scents of the forest. Then he turned and eyed the still visible path that Kagome had always taken to get to the well from the village.

The fact that, after three years, the path was still open and in good repair suggested frequent use – he was certainly not under any misapprehensions. It would appear that his little brother spent much time at the well.

Eyes narrowing thoughtfully, he began his own trek to it. He had decided earlier in the day that a visit to it would be worthwhile. There was a certain question that he had, that may be able to be answered by a simple visit to the place where she had entered his world – and left it.

After all, speech is not always necessary – sometimes objects can tell as much of a story as a person can. And in a much more concise fashion, he thought ruefully, thinking back to the hours long discussion that had already taken place in the village – and the doubtless many more hours that would be required.

A sacrifice on his part, to be sure... but one which he was willing to make.

He stopped on the edge of the clearing that the well sat in, and just stood there for a time gaining a feel for the place, before finally moving to stand at the side of the only man-made structure in the area.

The wood was surprisingly worn yet still strong and healthy, as though it were still part of a living tree, yet he could see where parts had been repaired in the past. He cocked a brow when he put a hand out to touch it, and found it just slightly warmer to the touch than it should be.

Closing his eyes he pushed out his aura gently, wanting to see what the well would do; he was not disappointed – the magic still existed within. The well was still active... so, if Inuyasha was unable to get through, it was undoubtedly Kagome's doing. Whether she consciously realized it or not, she was the reason no one could get through.

He remembered Bokuseno's words.

"But I will tell you this – it is very possible that she will return to this time again."

He was inwardly pleased to decide that yes, Bokuseno was probably correct – it looked as though, once she were ready, Kagome would indeed return.

Taking a seat with his back against the well, he drew a leg up and rested his arm over it in his preferred position, and then let his mind wander back to the things that he had learned this day.

He had been intrigued by the events that had occurred just after the clay miko had been resurrected, when his brother and his pack had been drawn into the illusory death vines. All of them had fallen victim to the illusions – all except Kagome. While she had apparently seen some sort of vision, she had, in the end, not been fooled.

According to Inuyasha, Kagome had never fallen victim to any attempt by person or magic to fool her.

Perhaps she is more the Lotus than even Bokuseno knows – since it also denotes truth.

The group had all been surprised again when he had asked Kaede about Kagome's odd trick of making her so-called sacred arrow disappear midflight – and then reappear behind whatever barrier was between her and her target. Kaede had never heard of such a thing, and was able to say with certainty that Kikyou had never had benefit of such a skill.

Another surprise had been delivered by Inuyasha, when he'd brought up the chain of events that had occurred during the aftermath of Menomaru's awakening and bid for his clan's power. When Kagome had been flung back down the well and the Tree of Ages had overtaken the well's power, sealing her away from this era, she had fired one of her ubiquitous arrows into the well – and overcome on her own the sheer power of the Tree of Ages... which was no mean feat.

It seemed to Sesshoumaru that Kagome used her power sparingly, giving no real true glimpse to anyone of just how much there truly was of it. Strange. After all, most with power tended to flaunt it. Even he, himself, who wasn't one to indulge in pointless shows of power, used his more than she did. That said something about her... she was comfortable with who she was, and felt no need to try to impress anyone.

He had to admit he liked that.

With a furrowed brow and a small sigh, he took note of his brother's presence nearing the clearing and stood, adjusting his armor and stepping forward to meet the boy.

"Inuyasha," he murmured. "I take it you and your companions have finished your meal?"

"Feh, 'course we have. Doesn't take that long to eat, ya know." He stared at his older brother for a few seconds and then looked away, folding his hands into his sleeves almost defensively. "She's really caught your attention, hasn't she?" he asked, and Sesshoumaru was well aware that it was really a rhetorical question.

Nonetheless, he answered. "She is a puzzle. It... intrigues me." He studied his brother's form for a moment, then looked up at the stars. "This one has very little anymore to hold his attention. She saves me from boredom, to put it bluntly."

Inuyasha rolled his eyes as he started walking back to the village. Knowing his brother was following, he continued the conversation. "That ain't the only reason, Sesshoumaru, so don't try to hide nothin'. I ain't that stupid, even if you'd like to think I am." He sighed. "Figures you'd go and find the only human that ain't human – if your theory is right, anyway – to get all interested in. But did you really have to go after my Kagome? Couldn't you find some other anomaly to target?"

Sesshoumaru cocked a surprised brow at his brother. "And where did someone like you learn a word like anomaly, Inuyasha?" he asked, his tone lightly disdainful, ignoring every other part of what his sibling had said.

"Oh, forget it, bastard, let's just go finish this big discussion you were so intent on so that you can leave. I don't want my village to start stinkin' like you," he said grouchily.

"Of course not, whelp – then it might actually smell pleasant."

Inuyasha growled and flung back the matting on the door to enter, leaving his brother on the outside. "Whatever, Sesshoumaru. I'd rather sniff an outhouse."

"I am sure you would, Inuyasha," he said dryly, and the hanyou flushed, aware he'd put his foot in that one as the others chuckled.

"Keh!"

Dropping to the floor, he flicked his brother a rude gesture. "Let's get this over with."

~oOo~

Six weeks later, just as summer ushered itself in, Sesshoumaru shifted position in the top of the tree he was lounging in as an alien pulse of energy erupted from the area of Inuyasha's village – and the well that sat on its outskirts.

As the feel of that energy swept over his body, he shivered, and instantly he had launched himself into the air, heading at speed for the well.

It seemed that the wait was over, and the woman who defied everything that Sesshoumaru had ever thought he'd known about her in the beginning had decided it was time to return.

He could deal with that.

Landing in the top of another tree just outside the clearing, he watched as his brother sped into the clearing and came to a halt at the edge of the well. He seemed nervous – can't he tell she's inside? Even from here I can here her breathing and scent her own nervousness.

He stared, rapt, as Inuyasha pulled her from the depths of the well.

She had changed.

Taller than she had once been, her curves had also become more pronounced. Her face had also undergone a change – whereas when she left she had still looked like the young girl she was, now she looked like an adult. Her eyes... they hadn't changed. They were still the same glowing blue they always had been. If he were to be strictly honest with himself, those eyes of hers had always fascinated him.

They were not a natural eye color for the humans of this land.

But it was her smile that caught his eye this time... it held a deeper knowledge within it – as though she had finally come into her own.

Very possibly she has.

He scowled to himself as Inuyasha drew her into a hug, holding her softly with a relieved expression on his face. But he did nothing to give away his position, simply watching as her other friends appeared and greeted her excitedly. He realized that he was not quite ready to confront her – instead, he decided to watch her for a time, first.

Keeping his aura and scent shielded, he trailed them as they all moved back to the village, listening as the slayer chattered a mile a minute at the young woman. He was a bit surprised that Kagome herself was so quiet – she simply listened and smiled, apparently taking in the friends she hadn't seen in so long.

She seemed to sense something off, though, once in a while sending rather searching glances into the trees around her, and he wondered if she somehow sensed him. He wouldn't be surprised if she did.

The thought pleased him.

Settling in for a long evening of standing silent sentinel over the celebration of her return, he made sure to hover close enough to the elder miko's hut to be able to listen to the conversation. He was nearly certain that one of her friends would bring up his visit – and his interest in her – to warn her. It was no odds that no matter who brought it up first, Inuyasha would be the one to throw the biggest fit.

Not something Sesshoumaru wanted to miss – he greatly enjoyed his brother's discomfiture.

But he was most interested in hearing her reaction to the situation.

~oOo~

Kagome was getting a bit tired, truth be told – as lovely as it was to see her friends again and be surrounded by the clean, sweet-smelling air and beautiful landscape she'd missed so much, it had been a long day for her, and her energy was winding down.

All she wanted now was a bit of peace and quiet, maybe a nice walk in the woods. That would use up the last of her energy, and then she'd be able to sleep better than she had since the last time she'd been here.

Fidgeting slightly, not wanting to offend anyone with her wish to leave the hut, she glanced around and caught Inuyasha's eyes on her. Flushing a bit, she looked down at her lap, and only smiled when she heard Inuyasha's voice making their excuses. She looked up after a moment to find his hand in front of her face, and with no hesitation, she took it.

"Where are we going?" she asked as he pulled her to her feet, and then gestured for her to precede him from the hut.

"Keh. Just a little walk, woman, that's what you wanted, right?"

Kagome chuckled as she waved at the rest of the group and stepped outside. "Yeah. You still know me so well, Inuyasha. Even after all this time."

He blushed, folding his hands into his haori nervously. "Feh. It's not that hard when ya got a nose like mine – I can figure out lots about you before ya'd even know it."

"Of course," she murmured, gentle amusement clear in her voice. After a few minutes of easy silence, she spoke again. "So... what's eating you, Inuyasha?"

He flashed a startled glance at her. "I think it's you that knows me too well, wench. You always know when something's up – and you don't even have a nose to blame it on."

She cocked a brow at him and waited, and he sighed.

"Something strange happened a few weeks ago, Kagome, and I don't know what to think about it. But since it's about you... well, you need to know."

Kagome nodded encouragingly, and he continued. "One day out of the blue, Sesshoumaru showed up. I came running, because even though he visits Rin from time to time he has a pretty solid schedule for that, and it wasn't anywhere near time for a visit. When I got to Kaede's, the bastard had requested my presence – like that's ever happened before – and Sango and Miroku's. When they all arrived, we got a shock. Do you know what he wanted?"

A shake of an ebony head, and Inuyasha stopped walking and turned to look her in the face. "He wanted to know everything we knew about you! He's developed some kind of an interest in you, Kagome, and that's not a good thing. Things that Sesshoumaru get interested in usually end up dead at some point. Rin's about the only thing that's survived his interest in his life."

Kagome blinked. "Well, what's he wanting to know?"

"Like I said – everything. Apparently, he's been trying to learn everything about you he could since you've been gone. From what I gathered from him, he's been traveling and puzzling over you for three years, wench. And he's got some really out there ideas about some of the things he's found out... though I have to say, he does make a good case for some of it." He shot her an odd look, and Kagome frowned.

"Like... what?" she asked, almost warily, and the figure hidden in the trees leaned just a little closer, golden eyes gleaming with interest.

"Like the fact that he's positive that you are 'immune to the effects of time'. Recognize that little statement, Kagome?"

She tilted her head and stared at him dubiously. "Sure I do. Kaguya. So, what's the problem?"

He glared at her incredulously. "How can you even ask that? Is it true?"

She shrugged, a bit taken aback at his surprise. "Yeah... wait... you mean to tell me none of you figured that out? I mean, I know we never really talked about it, but..." she trailed off at his growl.

"So you mean to tell me that you aren't gonna get old and die, and you didn't think to tell any of us that?" he yelled.

"Like I said, I didn't really think about it!" she said defensively. "And I'm just as surprised that none of you caught that. I mean, I told you about it afterward, and you never said anything about it, so I just assumed you felt it didn't matter – which is the way I feel about it, too. Obviously, I am what I am, so worrying about it won't change anything."

She seemed exasperated, and Inuyasha was beginning to wonder – if his brother was right about that one... could he be right about the rest of it, too?

"Well, he brought up an interesting point about that. Since humans aren't immune to the effects of time... that leaves you out as part of that species, now doesn't it, Kagome?" he pointed out sarcastically.

At that, she blushed a little and looked away. His eyes narrowed on her.

"He was right to ask you that question so long ago in our father's tomb, wasn't he, Kagome? What are you, really?"

She sighed and wrapped her arms around herself as she started moving forward again. "Does it really matter, Inuyasha? I am what I am, like I just said a moment ago. Like I kept telling Kikyou – and everyone else, incidentally," she said sarcasm strong in her voice, "I am Kagome. That's all."

He stared at her for a few moments, then his shoulders slumped a little and he looked away. "No... it doesn't really matter, to me, anyway. You will always be Kagome in my eyes. But Sesshoumaru... that answer ain't gonna work with that bastard, woman. So what are ya gonna tell him when he comes askin'? 'Cause he will. The guy's seriously obsessed."

He was totally surprised when she giggled. "Wow. Really? I caught that much of his attention? I'm flattered," she said, to Inuyasha's consternation and Sesshoumaru's near shock. Of all her possible reactions, that one had never occurred to him.

Flattered, is she? Interesting...

While Inuyasha spluttered, Kagome's thoughts turned to the male under discussion, and she smiled a little. It was so odd – even when he was standing surrounded by others and was forced to speak with people for whatever reason, he still seemed so untouched. It was as though he were above everything else, and, being so much larger than life, life itself couldn't even touch him. It was certain that death could not.

Even the guardians of the underworld bowed to Sesshoumaru.

And that wasn't even talking about how seriously gorgeous he was. She hadn't forgotten one thing about how he looked in the three years she'd been gone. Okay, sure – the guy had tried to kill her a few times, though he'd saved her several times, too, but, come on, she was a normal, red-blooded woman. You would never be able to convince her that any normal, red-blooded woman wouldn't notice Sesshoumaru... anytime he was around. And even when he wasn't.

How could she not be flattered by the interest of such a being?

Despite the few oddities about her, she'd never thought of herself as particularly noticeable. Okay, sure, she wasn't going to age and die. While that was cool with her, it didn't make her better than anyone else. And so she wasn't exactly what you could call human and have it mean the exact same thing as everyone else... but so what? There were a few other things about her that were different – but those things were extraneous to who she was. What mattered wasn't what she was, but who.

That was why she'd never answered that question when Sesshoumaru had originally asked it.

She still wouldn't if he asked now, either. Flattered or not, she wasn't an object – she was a person, and until he could ask her the right question, he'd be left curious.

Pulled back to her surroundings by Inuyasha impatiently calling her name, she shook herself free of her thoughts. "Yes?"

"I got a question, K'gome," he asked slowly. "If... you knew that we thought you were just a human miko, and you really weren't, why didn't you just tell us what you were? Did you think we'd hate you or something?"

Kagome blinked, startled. "No... that actually never occurred to me."

Her brow furrowed as she thought about it.

"Okay, let me see if I can explain it. At the time I came through the well, I hadn't really realized the differences between me and other people. If you've noticed, most of them aren't visible differences," she said dryly. "I always sorta knew, but it was way in the back of my mind, buried deep – because it really wasn't important. And I was so young, too. Only fifteen. You've seen my world – because it's such a complicated world, a person isn't considered an adult until eighteen. Here it's different, I know – but I wasn't raised here, so I wasn't as mature in some ways as someone raised here would have been. My conscious mind just wasn't ready to deal with my differences... so I just didn't think about it. Do you understand?"

Inuyasha thought about her words, and, having experienced her world for himself, had to agree – he could understand what she was saying. Still... "What other secrets do you have, Kagome?" he asked softly.

She shrugged. "I dunno... my mind will open things up to me as I become ready. In the meantime I don't worry about it." She shook her head and smiled at his wary look. "Don't worry, Inuyasha – I'm not going to turn into some weird sort of creature. I'll always be just Kagome. I mean, did you become someone else as you grew into your hanyou strengths?"

He had to admit she was right about that, and somewhat eased, he smiled back at her and let out a rather relieved breath. "So... what now? Why did you come back, anyway, Kagome?"

"That's an easy answer," she said cheerfully. "One, this is where I'm supposed to be. And two – I like it better here, anyway!"

Up in the treetops, Sesshoumaru eyed the young woman speculatively through the darkening gloam. While he was frustrated at the lack of answer to his eternal question about her, he had gained some valuable insights into her. He watched as the two friends walked peaceably back to the old miko's hut, and then turned and made his way to his favorite spot to spend the rest of the night thinking over the things he'd heard.

And despite the things he'd learned of her this night, she was still ever the Lotus to him.

That had not changed – and he was beginning to think it never would.

~oOo~

A/N: Welcome to my new Sess/Kag, everyone. I'm truly not sure where I'm going with it, or even how long it will be, but its really an exploration for me of some of the very large gaps in reasoning that became obvious to me in Rumiko's story. As you can see from the above chapter, a strong case can be made for Kagome not being quite what she was portrayed to be. As things occurred to me, I started this story, asking those very questions that came to me about Kagome. At any rate, I hope this piece does at least one thing... I hope it makes the readers also question exactly what Kagome is.

Just a warning – this one will most likely move slowly.

Amber