1I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi

Chapter 15

InuYasha suddenly scooted forward towards Kaede, his ears flattening back."The hell," he said. "A miko?"

"Interesting," Miroku said, resting a hand on his friend's back.

The hanyou swerved to look at the monk. Miroku nodded his head and pointed him back to his seat. Still frowning, InuYasha sat back down next to Kagome, but took her far hand, letting his fire rat sleeve drape across her.

"InuYasha," the monk said, "you cannot deny that Kagome-sama has the powers of a miko - one of the most powerful. Your joining has done nothing to diminish them."

"Feh," InuYasha said. "She's still my wife. Nothing's going to change that. We'll leave first."

Kagome met his eyes and gave him a small, nervous smile, and nodded her head. She squeezed his hand, then turned to the older miko who watched the two of them with patience, untroubled by their reaction.

"You do have the gift, child," Kaede said. "InuYasha, be calm, and let me finish."

He scowled, but nodded.

"I'm confused, Kaede-obaasan. Don't miko have to be unmarried? They do where I come from, or at least normally, even if all they do is help around the shrine or dance the kagura dances. Once they're ready to get married, they give up the work. I have a husband," Kagome said, holding her head up.

InuYasha gave her hand another squeeze.

The older woman nodded. "That is the usual way, yes. But, child," she said smiling, "there are miko, and there are miko. Some are attached to shrines, and are often ladies of the nobility, like at the great shrine at Ise. The nobles choose for those miko ladies who have no partner. Even if their spiritual powers are strong, they very seldom act as miko once they marry."

"I've heard stories about some of the lesser miko at Ise," Miroku said, smirking. "Some of them are very good . . . at entertaining."

InuYasha shot him a dirty look.

"Hush," Sango said, giving her husband an elbow. "That's not the type of women we're talking about here. We're talking about real miko."

"Thank you, Sango-chan," Kaede said, frowning at the monk. With a little sigh, she returned her gaze to the young couple in front of her. "There are wandering miko, who travel across the countryside, stopping from place to place to use their powers where they find the need."

"Like Kikyou did when she was looking to defeat Naraku?" Kagome asked.

"Very much like that," Kaede said. "I don't know much about them, really. Who knows what those women do when they aren't traveling?"

"I have met one or two who traveled with men I suspected were their husbands," Miroku said.

Sango shifted her son in her arms. He was sleeping, and didn't stir. "There was a woman like that who stopped by the slayer's village," She said. Brushing a finger through her son's hair fondly, she looked up at her husband. "Miroku, lay out Naoya's blanket for me?" she asked.

He nodded and reached for the cloth.

"She was skilled with medicines, and our village was always happy to see them coming," Sango continued. "None of us ever thought about her companion."

Miroku spread the blanket out, and she lay her son carefully down. He wiggled a little, and stuck his thumb in his mouth, but otherwise didn't wake..

Kaede nodded. "There are others, like myself, local miko who care for their villages, using their knowledge and spiritual power to take care of their people. Often they stay unmarried all their lives, but upon occasion, they marry, and might continue in their work if their duties allow it. After all, if the power they have to help their people remains, even if they have a husband and family to take care of, why shouldn't they?"

Miroku spread a corner of the blanket over his son, then looked up. "The mountain sages, the yamabushi, they often marry miko," he said. "It's quite common. After they marry, the yamabushi and miko often work as a team doing their spiritual work. The difference there is people know the man is a yamabushi, and that they are a married couple."

"I'm no yamabushi," InuYasha said, scowling and unconvinced. "I've got youkai blood, remember? If I even tried to learn that stuff, they'd be throwing ofuda and spells my way." The hand that not holding Kagome's was clenched tightly. Kagome reached for it, and he let it relax into her smaller hand. There were red marks where his claws had almost pierced the skin.

Sango looked a the new couple thoughtfully. "My father told me a story of a famous miko who was married to a dragon," she said.

"Yes, many miko over the centuries have been married to supernatural beings who were also their protectors, sometimes their connection to the spiritual world," Miroku said. "It was said in an old text I studied that once upon a time, that a supernatural being was the proper husband for a miko, but then the politics at the court and at Ise made the unmarried miko the usual."

Kagome looked at the monk, surprised. "You mean, people thought it was normal for a youkai and a miko to be together?"

Miroku nodded. "Or a miko and a kami. It gets hard to tell sometimes which is which in the old scrolls."

Kagome looked up at InuYasha, who shrugged. "Hell if I know. Before my time." He looked at the monk and the miko. "When I grew up, everybody wanted to chase me and my mother away or kill me."

"Some people..." Miroku said, looking at his son.

The hanyou tilted his head, then looked at Kaede as a thought struck him. "If all this is true, why did Kikyou work so hard against youkai?" he asked. "If I hadn't been hanyou, she probably would have killed me the first time I showed up, no questions asked."

Kaede took a deep breath."She was the guardian of the Shikon no Tama," she said. "We know how that pulled all evil things looking for power toward it, but youkai particularly. She had been trained that way, to assume the worst."

"But we know that not all youkai are evil," Miroku said, "just like not all humans are good. Things aren't always that simple. Look at the kami. Some of them do things we humans feel are evil, like bring disease."

InuYasha knitted his brows. "You're sure about that, monk?"

"Shippou isn't evil," Kagome said, nodding.

"Feh," the hanyou said, crossing his arms. "He's a brat."

"Hachi isn't evil. Toutousai isn't evil," Miroku said.

"That old geezer? He's smelly," InuYasha said. "And irritating."

"And Myouga?" Kagome asked.

InuYasha scowled. "A pest."

"But not evil," Miroku said.

The hanyou, letting out a breath, shook his head. "Not evil."

"If you were a normal human man," Kaede said, "one of the farmers, or a merchant, this might be a harder thing for the village to accept, to have Kagome fulfill the role of miko. But you are not a normal human man. You are hanyou, with a very strong youkai side. You helped save the village from Naraku, and have stepped up to protect it since then. Everybody knows you are and have been Kagome's protector. And the proof that this is what should be is the very fact that the magic brought you back together, so you could continue to be just that."

The old miko turned to the younger woman. "I am not asking you to become a shrine miko, Kagome-chan. But if you wish, you can work with me and learn to use your powers the way a miko does, mastering the protective magic, and how to be a healer."

Kagome looked up at InuYasha, but saw no real answers there, but only uncertainty and a little fear. "Do I need to give you my answer now?"

"No, child. Give it some thought. It might not be the only way to protect your position. It was the first real thing that Tameo-sama and I could come up with." She looked at both of them, sitting together, exchanging glances, and feeling rather overwhelmed. The old miko took a deep breath. "But it might be one of the reasons you were allowed to come back. You, too, InuYasha - help her make a good decision, one that you both can live with, and not just one based on your fears."

He gave her a small nod.

She turned back to Kagome. "Also, think about the work itself. Being the healer and protector is a serious task. Be sure before you decide that this is work you feel called to do."

"I will," Kagome said.

"Good. That's all I'm asking you to do. Think about it." Kaede stood up. "I'll head back down to the village now. When you two make your decision, come and tell me, whatever it is you choose."

InuYasha stood as well, shaking his head. "This place is strange. First you want to keep around a married monk with a questionable background. I can understand wanting to keep Sango around, but him?"

"Hey," Miroku said, not quite sure if the hanyou was teasing or not.

Sango giggled.

"And now you want a miko that's married to a hanyou. I'm having trouble understanding all this."

Kaede smiled. "Things change, InuYasha. Did you know that some of the villagers now say that during the fifty years when you were pinned to the tree, your spirit was watching over the village, keeping it protected?" she said. "It was a rather peaceful time."

"Funny how that works," Miroku said.

InuYasha, shaking his head, walked Kaede to the door.

Everybody left shortly afterwards. Not sure of what to say once everyone was gone, Kagome looked at her husband, who sat in the corner, not saying anything, his face a somber mask. She began to gather up the tea cups people had used and put them in a tub to wash.

As she moved, he got up. "We'll need some more water," he said, and grabbed the bucket then headed outdoors.

As the doormat fell back into place, Kagome moved to sit down by the fire pit, where she threw a few sticks on the flames and stirred it back up.

"I wish he would tell me what he's thinking," she said. Her voice seemed to echo in the empty house.

In a few minutes he came back in with the water, and put it in its place.

"InuYasha," she said.

He looked at her, his ear twitching, but his face still guarded, and went back out, not speaking. Not long after, Kagome could hear him chopping wood. She sighed, then washed and dried her tea things and put them away.

Looking at the tub of used water, she said, "That's it. He can't run away from me. We need to talk about this." She picked up the slop water then walked outside. She tossed it, then walked around to the side where InuYasha was working.

He had taken off his jacket and laid it on a log. He stood in front of an old wide section of tree trunk he used as a base, and put a smaller piece of wood sitting on top of it. With one practiced move, he brought the wood maul he was using down on the smaller piece, and it split smoothly into two pieces. Taking one of the splits, he balanced it back on the chopping block, raised the maul up, and let it fall once again.

Perhaps the wind shifted and he caught her scent, or he felt like he ought to say something, because he looked up.

"Hey," he said, giving her the tiniest smile. He bent over and picked up another piece of wood and put it on the block, but then just stood there, resting the maul over his shoulder.

His right ear twitched. Sunlight glinted off his silver hair, and he gazed at her with solemn amber eyes, wary and unsure. Kagome studied him, how he looked both otherworldly and perfectly belonging right where he was, and something in her ached.

Putting her slop tub down, she walked over to him and rested a hand lightly on his free arm. He dropped the maul, and clasped the other hand over hers.

"I feel..." he said, swallowing. "I...I don't know what to do. What you should do."

"What we should do," Kagome said, and leaned against him. "I never expected this."

His arms pulled her closely to him, and he tucked her under his chin. "We could leave, or just stay like we are now, and see what happens, or whatever. I'll do whatever it takes."

"I know," she said.

"Maybe Kaede was right. Maybe you were meant to come back here, maybe not to be with me, but because you have work to do." He sounded lost.

"InuYasha," Kagome said, reaching up to kiss his chin, "I didn't come back across time to be a miko. I came back because I wanted to be with you. That's what made the well open."

He rested his forehead on hers. "But Kaede-babaa . . . "

"I don't know what all is involved here. I promise you I will never do anything that would interfere with us." She rested her hand over his heart. "I could have been a miko and stayed in my time, working with my grandfather. I could have even been a priest. A woman priest. I could have gone to school to become the keeper of our shrine after Grandfather retires, not just as a shrine maiden. Women were beginning to be allowed to be priests before I came back."

She looked up at him. It was a look that he had seen before, when she had made up her mind about something. "If that's what I wanted, I could have had it without any magic. But that's not what I wanted. I will never let anybody keep me from being with you."

He pulled her closer into the circle of his arms. "Kagome," he murmured, kissing the top of her head.

"But," Kagome said, pulling back a little so she could see his face, "now that she's asked, I think I would like to work with Kaede."

His eyes went wide a moment, then he took a deep breath. "I thought you'd say that. I just wonder if they'll really let you do that and be with me?" He gently cupped her cheeks in his hands. "I know she said they would deal with it, that miko marry, and marry people . . . like me." He leaned forward and gave her a brief, tender kiss. "But sometimes people expect different. I just found you again. If I had to give you up . . . "

She tiptoed up and returned his kiss. "Giving you up isn't going to happen, InuYasha. Sometimes the usual rules just don't work. How can Miroku be a monk and be married to Sango?" she said. "Don't tell me how it proves he's just a bad monk. I know monks in this time don't normally get married. But he fell in love with Sango and did it anyway, because that matters more. We can be like them and just do it. I think I would like to be a healer. I would hate for this village to be without someone to help once Kaede can't manage the work herself."

"They'll call you a dark miko," he said. His eyes narrowed.

"Who, the villagers?" she said, with a soft laugh. "I doubt they'll tell the woman who treats their illnesses and delivers their babies that she's evil."

InuYasha sighed. "I don't know. Strangers. The daimyo down in Odawara. People who'll want to give you grief." He brushed his lips lightly over her cheek. "I don't want anybody making you sad or hurting you. It's going to be hard enough to explain you being with me even without you in miko clothes."

"How do I explain you? How else? You are my protector. That isn't a lie," Kagome said. "You've always been there for me. Are you worried they'll think you're an inugami?"

He laughed at that. "Been calling me that since you released me from the tree and collared me."

The seriousness of her look brushed away his laughter.

"Please, InuYasha. Kaede-obaasan's been so good to us. I like this village and don't mind living here, but that's not the real reason. We couldn't have defeated Naraku without her help. Let me try to give something back," Kagome said, her blue-gray eyes searching his face.

"You're asking me?" he said, surprised.

"Of course." She picked up one of his hands and placed it over her heart. "I came here to be with you. You call me your wife. You have a say-so in this."

"Feh. Since when have I been able to stop you doing anything you wanted?" he replied. "But Kaede-babaa has been good to me, even after you left. If this is what you want . . . "

He kissed her forehead. "Promise me one other thing. Kaede's right. It's hard to be the village healer. I know you have the talent. But if you find it makes you unhappy, don't hide it. Tell Kaede. Don't get trapped into something that makes you wish you could escape."

"Like Kikyou?" she asked.

"Yeah," he sighed. "Like Kikyou. She really didn't have a way out that wouldn't have destroyed her life. But you do. Don't forget it."

"I promise. I promise if it's more than I can handle, I'll tell Kaede-obaasan. You'll probably know it before I even know it myself. I promise something else: if anything that they want me to do interferes with us, I will stop. If we have to, we will leave. I don't need to live in a village. I'd live in a tree in the deep forest if it meant I'd be with you." She wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly.

"Koibito," he murmured, running one hand through her midnight hair. "If you're sure, we'll go tell Kaede tomorrow."

"Why not today?" she asked.

He picked her up and cradled her in his arms. "I've got something else to do first."

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