"A dog reflects the family life. Whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family, or a sad dog in a happy one? Snarling people have snarling dogs, dangerous people have dangerous ones."

-Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes


The Good Dog

Chapter #16


For the next few days things were awkward - if that's even the right word for it. The normally loud, exuberant household seemed smothered by quiet concern. Souta, the only one in the house who wasn't privy to the encounter with the witch, seemed to feel the change with more clarity than Yusuke would have expected in a boy his age. But then the kid knew about his sister's adventures in the past, how could he not understand what the suffocating silence meant? He stilled played his video games religiously after school, but Yusuke noticed that it no longer held his full focus. Kid always had an ear tuned to whatever conversation was happening in the other room, no doubt listening for any information on what had caused the gloomy mood in the house. Mrs. H at least attempted to smile and act normally but Yusuke would often catch her staring out into nothing, deep in thought and elbows deep into laundry or dishes - whatever it was that she doing at the time. Gramps seemed to occupy himself with cleaning out one of the few shrine storage houses most of the day and would only come back into the house, covered in hundred year old dust and cobwebs, for meals and sleep. Kagome was, to his annoyance, just silent.

Where she had once confided every little detail of her life to him, now in the face of a danger that even he didn't know of, she wouldn't say a word. She just sat there, her thoughtful stare alternating from the vial of jewel shards and him. He'd be lying if he said that her long, soul searching stares didn't cause him to fidget uncomfortably. Between that and being forced to piss with someone else on the other end of a leash, the word 'awkward' seemed to sum up his life these days. On the other hand - er, paw ... whatever the fuck it was now- the awkward was more welcome than the nagging anxiety that sometimes snuck up on him when it was quiet. Especially at night when the girl slept and he was alone with only his thoughts.

While she studied him during the day, his nights were spent studying her. The irony that they were both looking for the same answers in each other wasn't lost on him, but even if it was he doubted it would have made a difference. He couldn't stop searching for answers any more than she could - even if he did only end up finding more questions than real answers.

Going by the frustrated pull of her brow that was steadily growing deeper over the last couple days, Yusuke guessed that she was having the same stupid luck.

Figured that Hell Bitch would give him such a vague mission. 'Protect her'. Yeah, that was just fucking great. Not like he needed details or anything. Not. He had no fucking clue what he was suppose to be doing. He followed her during the day, played guard dog at night, and even scared that spineless bastard off the grounds. Somehow he didn't think that the kind of protecting she needed included chasing off horny little boys who thought they could win a girl over with a bunch of smelly herbal remedies for a rash that she didn't even have.

Not that he had been looking.

He just made a point to check for injuries when she came back from the well, that's all. Besides, girl would probably suspect him even more if started ogling her. Then again, she already seemed suspicious that he was being a 'gentleman'. Fucked if he did, fucked if he didn't. Apparently that was the story of his life at the moment...

He was getting really irritated with this shit. He was tired of stressing out trying to figure out what the fuck he was suppose to do. Pissed off that he couldn't talk, couldn't curse, couldn't punch anything because he was a fucking dog. And damn it all but he was still a man, underneath all that fucking itchy fur and annoyingly floppy ears he was still a guy. A young guy. With needs. Needs that he could no longer provide himself with thanks to Hell Bitch. Because, hey, wouldn't it be fun to watch him struggle without hands? Right, of course it would. What sadistic bitch in her right mind wouldn't find that fucking hilarious? So, really, when Kagome called him a gentleman she had no fucking clue.

He should get an award for this shit.

When he got his body back the first thing he was going to do was blast through that fucking toddlers doors and demand a raise and a fat paycheck for all this bullshit. Hell, with all the over time he'd probably be clocking by the end of this he would probably be able to buy that new motorcycle he'd been eyeing. In cash. Huh, that was a nice thought. Maybe he'd try to focus on that for the next few weeks . . . or months . . . or -

He stopped that particular train of thought before it could properly develop. Thinking about how long this mission was going to take just gave him indigestion in a bad way. Best to focus on the present at the moment; at least until the future didn't seem so depressingly unclear.

He huffed out a sigh and rested his head on his paws as he watched in mild interest as Johnny Cage pulverized the four armed Goro on the television screen. Johnny Cage was never really Yusuke's top choice when it came to Mortal Kombat - he was more of a Liu Kang man - but for some bizarre reason the kid seemed to like him. Souta gave a cheer as 'Johnny Cage Wins' flashed across the screen, "Yes! Next we get to fight Freddy Krueger I think!" Yusuke's attention was successfully caught. When the hell did Freddy Krueger make it into a Mortal Kombat game? More importantly why the hell hasn't he bought it yet?

Oh yeah, because he was still a dog.

Best to just add that to the rapidly growing list of things Koenma owed him when this was all over.

The sound of Kagome coming down the stairs had him turning away from the television screen and his ears perked as he listened to her footfalls. He tried to justify the fact that he could tell it was her coming down the steps just by the sound of her socked feet against the wooden treads with the thought that the way she bounded up and down those steps truly was unique. She was the only person Yusuke had ever known, or at least had ever noticed, that traveled stairs by putting all her weight on the ball of her foot – her heels never touching the ground. How she managed to bound up and down the steps on tip toe without eating it face first remained a mystery to him.

When she reached the last step she paused, her eyes immediately landing on him as if she had actually been looking for him. Weird . . . she had been pretty much avoiding him as much as she could the past week. There was this stubborn little pull of her eyebrows as she looked at him though, as if she was steeling herself for something but still wasn't exactly sure she wanted to. It was gone in a moment though, replaced by a look that pretty much screamed determination. What the hell was she -

"Mom," her voice rang out, but even as she addressed the older woman in the kitchen her eyes remained glued to his. "I'm taking Dog out for a walk."

He blinked. Really? Well that was unexpected. And here he thought she was going to continue to ignore him and the little issue of him being her so called protector. Now she was actually going take him out again?

Wait. Was this a test? Fuck, this felt like a test.

He hated tests.

Mrs. H's head peaked out from around the corner. "Are you going to the grocery store?"

Kagome nodded, already grabbing her coat from the closet and pulling her arms through the heavy fabric. "Yeah, I need to stock up on Ramen so Inuyasha won't throw a fit." Yusuke scowled at the unpleasant reminder that she would be going back through the well in the next few days. The dog demon had already been there once to try to convince her to go back early – Yusuke suspected that it was only the incident with the Hell Bitch that convinced the girl that she should stay home longer. Kagome, oblivious to his dark thoughts (as always), pulled her second arm successfully through the sleeve and began buttoning up the front of her coat. "Would you like me to pick up anything while I'm there?"

Mrs. Higurashi shook her head, "No thank you dear. I think I have everything we need for dinner tonight." She offered her daughter a soft smile. "However, if you would like to pick up the ingredients for Oden then we could have it for tomorrow night before you leave?"

Kagome answered with a dazzling smile. "Mom, you're the best."

"Oh, I know," Mrs. Higurashi said with a teasing wink, but the light mood quickly dissipated as she gave her daughter a somber look. "Just come back safely."

Yusuke watched as Kagome's grin hardened into a determined frown. Somehow, Yusuke knew that she hadn't for an instant forgotten the possibility of danger once she left the safety of her home. Neither of them had. The grim lines around Mrs. Higurashi's eyes had been the only honest expression on the worried mother's face. "Yes Momma."

The leash was attached to his collar with a solemn click and they made their way out with only a goodbye thrown over their shoulders. The subway ride (in which he still refused to sit on the floor of because damn it he still had some semblance of respect) was awkward. Not only was Kagome silent by his side, but the entire of the car full of people felt the need to stare at them both the entire way. He could see the heated embarrassment rise to Kagome's cheeks as she avidly avoided any eye contact and tapped her fingers on her jean clad thigh absently. Despite her obvious discomfort, she didn't try to force him out of the seat he had staked out. Which was good, because he sure as hell wasn't going to get out of it. Still, it was a relief when they came to their stop and they were able to walk in the open air without a dozen eyes ogling them.

They walked together in silence and Yusuke took the time to observe what was around them. It was the familiar feeling of spiritual energy that caught, and held, his attention. Across the street, he saw the Kurama sit at a small bistro table, a small forced smile on his face. Seeing his comrade made his pulse jump and for the first time in nearly a month and a half he felt the excitement that comes with seeing an old friend. Then he saw who he was sitting with and his heart stuttered in his chest.

Keiko was leaning her elbows onto the little metal table that sat between them, her head cradled in her gloved hands. Even from across the street, Yusuke could see that her eyes were red rimmed and puffy from crying. Something deep in his chest ached with what he could only describe as regret. He wasn't sure if it was his heart or conscious.

Stupid girl. Didn't she know by now that he'd always come back?

"Dog? What's wrong?"

Kagome was staring at him. Between them the leash was as taut as a tightrope but he couldn't remember ever feeling the pull on his collar. Sometime between seeing Keiko and hearing Kagome's voice he had frozen on the sidewalk without thinking. He looked between the confused, almost anxious pull of Kagome's brow and back to Keiko's painfully bitter grimace. For an excruciating moment he was reminded of what it felt like to be torn apart. Keiko was right there – a quick bolt across the street and he'd be right there by her side. But Kagome . . . Kagome was by his side now, and she needed him. He didn't know why or when, or any of those stupidly important details, but he knew that she needed protecting. He knew it like he knew the feeling of bruises on his knuckles – no amount of denial would take away the aching in his bones.

Why was it that there was just always something standing between him and Keiko? How many times would he be forced to choose between her and the rest of the world?

Why couldn't things just work out for once in his fucking life?

Hadn't he earned it by now?

"Dog?" Kagome was fidgeting, eyes darting across the street at any and every little thing that could possibly be holding his attention. Her eyes seem to focus on Kurama – no doubt the shock of red hair probably caught her attention like a dog to a bone. Crap, was she able to feel his energy? Her knuckles were turning white with how hard she was griping his leash and he could practically see her body tensed for battle even underneath all of her layers of clothing. Fuck, she was worried now. He fucking scared her. Gently, he nudged her hand and effectively brought her attention from their surroundings back to him. She stared at him expectantly, those wide electric blue eyes tearing into his heart with a force that made him stutter. She looked looked so helplessly lost.

It wasn't fair – life wasn't fucking fair. Kagome was too young, too good, to have to live a life so hard. If anyone in this world deserved happiness, it was her. He had chosen this kind of life for himself – they all had. His service was an exchange for a second chance at life, Hiei and Kurama in exchange for a pardon, and Kuwabara … well Kuwabara was just an idiot and signed himself up. But Kagome? Kagome didn't choose any of this for herself.

She was at Fate's mercy. And maybe, if he were to look at the whole situation through Kuwabara's idealistic view of the world, Fate had brought them together to even out the odds in her favor.

He gave one last parting glance to the bistro table across the street. Kurama was laying a comforting hand on Keiko's, his mouth moving around words Yusuke couldn't hear. Keiko was wiping away the angry tears that spilled across her cheeks with her spare hand. With a long, painful exhale Yusuke turned away from the sight of them and began moving forward. His steps only paused when he felt the leash go taut and he turned back to look at the girl at the other end.

She licked her lips, looking one last lingering time at red haired man before nodding and following him. "Ok," she whispered, nervousness still causing a tremble in her hands, "Yeah, ok. Nothing to worry about. Just my imagination." Yusuke walked silently by her side. The temptation was strong to take one last look at two of the people he held closest to him, but he fought it. Keiko would be fine, maybe unhappy but she would be safe. Kagome didn't have that luxury. It was time to look forward now. Kagome needed him to be at his best.

She deserved that much at least.

AN: Thank you all for being so patient with me. And thanks to everyone who has offered their condolences and their similar stories of loss. It means the world to me. Writing has been more difficult lately but I promise that no matter what this story will be finished. It may take a while, but we will get there. I haven't come this far to just drop it.

As always, thank you for your support.