Old story, lightly edited. Just a sweet and sappy what-if moment between a hanyou and his shard detector, set somewhere toward the beginning-to-middle of the series' timeframe, but with no regards to any particular episode. Enjoy.

His Hands

The storm came up out of nowhere, its arrival heralded by an ear-splitting crack of thunder and a sudden, torrential downpour of water that rivaled Niagara Falls.

Of course, Kagome and Inuyasha were the only two unlucky enough to be caught out in the middle of the wilderness when it arrived; it had come up too quickly for even Inuyasha's keen senses to notice before it was already upon them. The best thing they could do was make a mad scramble for the nearest shelter ... which happened to be a very shallow, cold, and damp cave that at one point might have been inhabited by a family of very smelly boars. Inuyasha was seriously considering braving the storm in search of more suitable shelter rather than deal with the smell; they were soaked through, anyway, and while his fire-rat haori was fireproof, it wasn't nearly as waterproof. But a particularly nasty bolt of lightning striking a tree only feet from where he stood quickly put an end to that particular idea. After all, he reasoned, crispy-fried dog probably smelled a hell of a lot worse than month-old boar, and he wasn't particularly keen to discover whether or not his youkai half was immune to lightning.

So, huddled in the very back of the cave, watching the puddle of water forming at its entrance creep ever-so-ominously toward them, there was really nothing for the two would-be shard hunters to do. Except maybe for the one thing they did best of all.

They bickered.

Sort of.

"This is all your fault you know," Kagome began grumpily as she sought to tug her short skirt down over her freezing legs; a futile task, of course. Not for the first time did she wish that the school's dress code allowed for longer skirts. She was certain the girls' uniform had been designed by a man. A woman wouldn't have been nearly so unreasonable in choosing the skirt's length. "If you hadn't insisted we go off right now to look for that stupid shard I sensed ..."

"Keh," came the grouchy reply. Apparently, even the almighty Inuyasha was too dispirited and wet to argue with her today. Besides, she was right. Right then, he'd have given anything to be back in Kaede's hut sipping hot tea (or even better, slurping hot ramen), and watch Sango whack Miroku over the head whenever he tried to grope her. Maybe even listen to Kagome tell the kitsune brat a story if she felt so inclined.

Well, he'd glomp Sesshoumaru before ever admitting to any of that, but he still wished it.

A heavy sigh from Kagome brought him out of his wishful thinking, and he snuck a quick glance down at the girl huddled against the wall beside him. She was all hunched up and shivering, and he realized that the temperature had dropped a bit, what with the coming of the storm and all. Plus, she was wearing a lot less in the way of clothing, and the material of her strange kimono was much flimsier than his heavy robes, so she was soaked through to the skin. He frowned, trying his hardest not to show concern. He really didn't want her getting sick again, like she had before. "Hey. Are you cold?" he asked gruffly, if not a bit awkwardly.

Kagome shot him a look that suggested he might be a complete idiot, but otherwise didn't respond. Clearly, she wasn't in a very forgiving mood at the moment, and he cringed a bit, deciding that he'd best tread cautiously lest he wind up kissing dirt a few (dozen) times. He cleared his throat. Then, in his best I'm-offering-just-to-be-nice-but-I-don't-really-give-a-crap voice, said, "You can sit here until you dry off and warm up a bit."

Kagome blinked and looked up at him, wondering exactly where "here" meant. Then she blanched when she took note of his hand patting the ground just in front of him. It seemed "here" meant sitting right between his crossed legs, and the poor girl nearly had a nosebleed at the thought before she managed to get herself under control. "I ... I ... I can't do that! " she squawked, looking as though he'd just asked her to do a strip tease for him.

"Well, why the hell not?" he growled, looking offended. His ears flattened with displeasure at the note of panic in her voice. One would think he'd just asked her to bear his child or something, the way she was reacting! Keh! See what trying to be nice got you? Still, her shivering hadn't stopped and for once he was more concerned for her health than his pride, no matter how much it stung at the moment. His scowl deepened. "Look, you're cold, ain't ya? It ain't like anyone's around to watch," he muttered, "and I'm a hell of a lot warmer than that wall is. I'm already just about dry."

That much was true, considering how he'd violently shaken the water from his body (in what Kagome had thought was a rather amusing impression of a drenched dog) as soon as they'd set foot inside the cave. Which also accounted for the slightly-less-than-dry condition of said cave, if truth be told, but that didn't really matter, now did it?

What mattered was that Kagome had apparently decided Inuyasha wasn't going to jump her after all, and was currently shifting over to settle herself between his bent knees, turning so that her back was facing him and ducking her head to further hide her burning cheeks under the soft sweep of her hair. "Uh, thanks," she mumbled, by way of apology. Still, she wasn't entirely comfortable with her new position, given how she insisted on sitting ramrod-straight, her back an inch away from his chest.

Inuyasha rolled his eyes. Since when was Kagome so shy around him? Huffing softly, he reached out to lay a clawed hand on her shoulder and pulled her against him, where he then proceeded to put her into cardiac arrest by wrapping his haori around her, to warm her even further.

This wasn't anything new, Kagome desperately tried to reassure herself. She'd been in his haori plenty of times in the past. Same old, same old, right?

Disregarding the fact that Inuyasha hadn't still been wearing it at the time, of course…

She had to admit, though, that she was plenty warm now. With his chest against her back, and the haori covering her front, still heated from his body, and his arms resting at either side of her so that the trailing sleeves blanketed the upper half of her bare legs, it created a rather cozy little nest. True, her butt was already starting to go numb from the packed-dirt floor, but who was she to complain? He was right; his chest felt a lot better to lean against than that cold wall.

Kagome firmly squashed that thought before it could mutate into anything else, and proceeded (for lack of anything better to do) to watch the rain that continued to pour in a gray sheet outside the entrance. It rather gave her the impression of being trapped behind a waterfall, and she said as much to Inuyasha, who gave her the usual "Who cares?" grunt in reply.

She rolled her eyes at his typical attitude, but decided she couldn't really begrudge him his mood, considering she felt rather the same way. Although, if she was willing to be perfectly honest, she was beginning to feel that perhaps her situation wasn't quite as dire as she'd first believed. After all, how often did she manage to find herself in this rather unique position of having Inuyasha practically wrapped around her whilst sitting quite comfortably in his lap? Now that her maidenly embarrassment was fading, she couldn't help but think that she rather liked being wrapped up in his haori (with him still in it), and sitting almost cuddled against his strong chest with her legs draped rather intimately over his crossed ones beneath her. The soft fur of his hakama tickled the underside of her thighs, where her skirt had ridden up, and she was hard pressed to keep her blush at bay. Now ... if only he'd move just a little more and wrap his arms around her waist, instead of just draping them across his knees. Kagome felt she could then die a happy woman.

I wonder if Kikyou ever sat like this with him, she thought somewhat smugly, then immediately winced and gave herself a mental smack for thinking bad thoughts. Kikyou wasn't all that horrible. The last two or three times they'd met, she hadn't even tried to kill anybody. Under different ( much different) circumstances, Kagome thought she might even like the undead miko. And she was fair enough to admit that, if she was the one being forced out of her nice, cozy, reincarnated body to live in a walking pile of mud held together with nothing but hate and vengeance and a little spit, all thanks to some old hag with too much time on her hands ... well, she supposed she'd feel just a little bit disgruntled about that, too. Not that it meant she was going to give in and let Kikyou succeed in dragging Inuyasha off to hell with her, of course. Kagome was forgiving, but she wasn't stupid.

After a few minutes of silence, Kagome decided she'd much rather listen to Inuyasha talk than listen to that incessant rain. "Hey, wanna play a game?" she asked eagerly.

"Like what?" Inuyasha's reply held a rather bored tone that suggested he wasn't nearly as interested as his question led him to be. She chose to ignore it.

"Ummm … maybe a guessing game?" she suggested. "Okay. I spy with my little eye, something that's … uh … red."

"Your neck ribbon," he replied in the same dull voice.

She blinked. "How do you know it's not your sleeve? Or your pant leg, for that matter?"

"Too obvious." He was beginning to sound like one of her science teachers, speaking with that monotonous drone. If he kept it up, he'd probably put her to sleep.

She sighed. "Okay, fine. I spy with my little eye something that's … um…" She looked around for something suitable to spy, realized that, aside from themselves, the cave was pretty much empty of so much as a twig, and huffed a defeated sigh. "Well, it's a dumb game, anyway," she grumbled to herself. Had she been facing him, she would have seen the small, amused smile tugging at Inuyasha's lips, flashing a little fang. But when she turned to glance up at him, it had already fled, leaving his usual perpetually bored scowl in its place.

"Just sit still and wait for the storm to pass," he told her lazily. "The thunder's already fading."

She slanted him a dry look; normally it was her telling him to stop fidgeting, not the other way around. Something was obviously wrong here. Was he getting sick or something?

The fact was, Inuyasha was feeling quite comfortable. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so relaxed and peaceful, after so many months of charging through the countryside in search of Naraku and battling one evil, undead psychopath after another. This was a very different change of pace that he was rather enjoying. Especially the part that had Kagome sitting so close to him, her soft, warm body relaxed against his and her scent - something he could only describe as "delicious" - surrounding him in a cloud of soft fragrance. He felt lethargic, listening to the steady splatter of rain against the ground and the distant roiling of fading thunder, the monotonous sounds creating a hazy sort of aspect in his drowsy mind. He was aware, faintly, that Kagome was speaking to him, attempting to gain his attention. One ear flicked forward, focused on her sweet voice, but he'd barely uttered a sleepy, "Hrmmph?" before sleep finally laid claim to his senses; in another moment, he was dead to the world.

"Inuyasha?" Kagome felt a twinge of annoyance when the hanyou continued to ignore her, and she scowled and turned around in preparation to lecture him on the importance of good manners. Again.

Imagine her surprise when, instead of his usual scowl, she was greeted by the quiet and peaceful countenance of one who was deeply asleep, his golden eyes hidden beneath heavy lids and thick lashes, features lax and sweet as he slumbered on, oblivious to the world. His head rested against the wall behind them, tilted a bit to the side, and her frown immediately softened into a sweet smile as she gazed at him, wondering if he'd get a crick in his neck for sleeping in that position. He always looked so innocent when he slept (not that she'd seen that very often or anything). His face looked so charming and boyish without his favorite grumpy expression, as if he didn't have a care in the world. Completely unlike the Inuyasha she knew.

She decided it was his eyes that made him seem so old. She loved his eyes; their color was so beautiful, holding depth and dimension that normal human eyes just didn't have. But they always seemed so sad to her. Well, at least when they weren't snapping with anger or burning with the lust for battle. He wasn't all that old, was he? The fifty years he'd spent pinned to the tree didn't really count, since time had stopped for him then, but even before that he couldn't have lived for a horribly long time. Not that she'd ever bothered to ask him. She wondered if he'd even know. But his eyes, they seemed so ancient, as though he'd lived long enough to see a hundred lifetimes pass before them, all of them filled with nothing but pain.

Kagome knew very well that the life he lived had never been easy. A reject from society, declared a freak of nature by both humans and youkai, he'd never been accepted for what he was. Not until now. It was obvious he was so adamant to become a full youkai because he never had been accepted, but she was just as determined to make him realize that at least one person loved him just the way he was, no matter how stubborn and thick-headed he was about it. He didn't need to be full youkai, full human, full anything for her to accept him, even if she didn't have a prayer in heaven of him ever accepting her in return.

Besides, she'd really miss those ears of his.

Smiling at the whimsical thought, and without thinking twice about it (or even once, for that matter), Kagome took the opportunity to lean up and press a soft kiss to the line of his jaw, reaching up to lightly trace a finger along the edge of a softly-furred ear. It flicked beneath her touch and she was forced to stifle a giggle; in response he stirred slightly and muttered, and she quickly drew away, fully prepared to deny the entire episode if he woke up and started asking questions. Instead of that, however, she abruptly found her earlier wish being granted as his arms slid off his knees to wrap in a slightly more comfortable position loosely around her waist. His hands rested on her thighs, dangling just a little too close for comfort to a rather private area of her anatomy. Her eyes went wide as her cheeks turned roughly the hue of a fire engine, but she didn't remove them.

Rather, she stared at the clawed hands resting against the dark green fabric of her skirt, examining them with a curious eye. She'd never really studied his hands before, never having been given the opportunity to do so. But now that she had one, she intended to use it. Besides, she reasoned, it isn't like there's anything else to look at in this miserable cave.

Holding her breath, she lightly gripped a wrist and drew his hand further into her lap, holding it lightly between her own as she studied the strong, lean sinews that chorded the back of it, the veins faint blue lines beneath his lightly-tanned skin. She trailed her fingers lightly across the back, feeling warm, firm flesh gliding beneath her fingertips, and watched as the fine, white hairs sprinkling it raised slightly and lowered again in a chill of gooseflesh. She smiled as she realized that he was slightly ticklish there. How fascinating . She briefly wondered where else the hanyou might be ticklish, then gave her head a quick shake to clear that thought out of it before studiously continuing her examination.

Now here was a study in contrast, she decided. His fingers were long and lean, actually quite graceful in appearance. In any other life, on any other person, this might have been the hand of an artist or a musician, creating something beautiful on a canvas, or something equally beautiful in song.

And yet, in sharp contrast to the elegant shape, his knuckles were thick and rough from the countless punches he'd thrown in the many brawls he'd gotten into. His fingers and palm were hard and calloused from wielding Tetsusaiga; even before he'd attained the sword, he'd already spent most of his life using those hands for fighting and killing, trying to survive by any means necessary. In place of thin human fingernails were the sharp, deadly talons of his youkai half, thick and almost brittle, tough enough to pierce even the thickest youkai hide or the strongest armor.

Inuyasha was definitely no artist. He was an experienced warrior who gloried in the thrill of the fight, of the hunt and the kill and the blood. He was someone to be feared, and yet Kagome unabashedly traced one deadly claw with her finger, touching the tip of it, unafraid. The point wasn't all that sharp, she realized. Not like a cat's talon so much as a dog's toenail. It was the power, the unbridled strength of Inuyasha's strikes that made them so deadly to his foes, but otherwise, she didn't find them particularly terrifying. She wondered if they'd be more deadly were he a full youkai; remembered the destruction he'd left behind during those times when his blood had taken over his mind, and promptly decided she'd rather not know. Besides, it didn't really matter. Even at his very worst, she loved him anyway.

So intent was she in her examination that she nearly went into convulsions when Inuyasha's chin abruptly came to rest against her shoulder, his chest heaving against her back in a long sigh as his warm breath drifted past her neck, tickling a little. She yelped sharply in surprise and jumped, her heart pounding in her throat as she waited for him to start yelling at her for taking advantage of him during his moment of vulnerability. She only realized that he was still asleep when his only reaction was to sigh again, then turn his face further in, muttering a little as he nuzzled at her neck. She bit back a little squeak when she felt him inhale, snuffling the area around her ear like a curious puppy, his breath warm and moist against her skin. It tickled like the dickens, and she hunched her shoulder a bit in reaction, bringing her face down so that his lips brushed softly against the side of her jaw, unknowingly returning the kiss she'd earlier given.

Kagome blushed fifty shades of scarlet and froze, hardly daring to move as she chewed on her lower lip, trying not to squirm as he continued to snuffle at her skin. Good grief, if he started licking her or something, she thought she'd have to die on the spot! Eventually, he seemed satisfied with whatever he'd discovered in her ear, and settled down with another sigh. His chin was draped quite comfortably across her right shoulder, the side of his face in firm contact with hers. His breathing began to even out, but Kagome thought she might never breathe again. His hair tickled her cheek and the corner of her eye, and she thought dazedly to herself that the unkempt mop was so much softer than it looked. One of these days she'd have to talk him into letting her brush out all those tangles, and then she'd bet he'd really be a sight for sore eyes.

Minutes passed, and as Inuyasha didn't appear to be waking up, Kagome forced herself to relax again, her head resting back against his shoulder and slightly against his, her embarrassment fading beneath the feeling of contentment that slowly flooded her body. She smiled and closed her eyes, thinking that the only thing to make this moment even more perfect would be Inuyasha waking up to share it with her. Then again, were he awake, they most likely wouldn't be sharing it in the first place. She sighed gloomily and opened her eyes, once more turning them to the strong hand still cradled between her own.

It was so much larger than hers; the hand of a person who'd worked all his life to achieve his desires, his right to live. Despite the ancient sadness in his eyes, Inuyasha's face still seemed so much like a boy just entering into his adult years, but his hands were those of an adult man. Just like the rest of his body, she recalled, as the image of a wet and very naked hanyou barging haphazardly into her bedroom abruptly asserted itself in her head. She hastily shoved the memory away—Curse her traitorous brain, anyway!—and determinedly resumed her inspection. Spreading her fingers against his, she pressed their palms together to compare size. As she'd suspected, his hand dwarfed hers; the tips of her nails barely touched midway between his first and second knuckles, and she softly smiled at the sight.

When his fingers suddenly shifted and threaded themselves between hers to close tightly yet gently over her palm, she barely held back another startled yelp. He's still asleep. Relax, she reassured herself, attempting to tug her hand from his firm grip. He didn't let go.

"Do you find something particularly interesting about my hand, or are you just bored to tears?" came the low, slightly amused growl in her ear, and this time Kagome did yelp.

"O-oh! Y-you-you're awake," she stuttered, blushing madly as she struggled futilely to free herself from his grasp. "Um, I was just—Uh, that is—See, I was curious about … uh … how big your hand is compared to mine and … yeah…" She trailed off into a defeated mumble and refused to look at him, her cheeks burning so hotly that even he could feel the blush, his face being as close as it was. Why hadn't she noticed that he'd woken up? She was never gonna hear the end of this!

But rather than breaking out with the ridicule as was his normal inclination, Inuyasha simply stared down at their joined hands, then slowly spread his palm again until her fingers rested limply against his own. She was still in shock and didn't even think to snatch it away, and he was perfectly okay with that. He rather liked the way his hand seemed to dwarf the delicate palm that rested warmly against it. Compared to his ugly, calloused fingers, hers were smooth and pale and soft; the hand of a well-bred lady or a princess.

Feeling ridiculously self-conscious, he let his palm fall from beneath hers, resting it limply on his knee again. "Dunno why you'd wanna stare at something like that, anyhow," he muttered, fighting back a blush as he realized that his other hand had draped itself quite comfortably across her lap, hanging downward almost between her thighs despite the skirt separating her flesh from his. He gulped and hastily removed the offending limb, wondering why she hadn't sat him into the ground yet, even if he had been asleep during its apparent relocation.

Kagome seemed to sense his unease, turning her face to look at him. He remembered suddenly just how close their faces actually were when her lips brushed across his cheek with the delicacy of a butterfly's wing, and he jerked his head up in surprise, golden eyes widening at the soft contact. Kagome dropped her gaze again, muttering a sheepish apology as the blush darkened in her cheeks. "S-so why were you lookin' at my hands?" he stammered out, trying to get his breathing back under control. But it was so hard when she looked at him like that, when her scent was so enticing, when she was so soft and warm cuddled up to him.

Biting the inside of her lip, Kagome pondered her answer. Seeing the distress on his face that he was clearly trying to hide, sensing that he was more self-conscious about her scrutiny than he'd ever admit, she smiled gently and once again took his hand between her own. "I was just thinking to myself," she began shyly, "how much I like your hands, Inuyasha."

He jerked in surprise and stared at her with wide, childish eyes. "Y-you've gotta be jokin'," he choked out, clearly disbelieving of her statement.

She shook her head resolutely. "No, it's true," she insisted. "I like your hands. I like that they're bigger than mine. I like that they're so capable of defending you when you're in danger. I like that they've defended me when I'm in danger. I like that they're so strong … but when you need them to be, they're so gentle, too. They show your true character, Inuyasha, better than anything else."

He stammered for a bit, trying to come up with some kind of retort, or an insult, or even just a denial, but she'd shocked him nearly speechless. And that angered him, that she could fluster him so easily with just a few kind words. "They're the hands of a monster," he snarled, snatching his fingers from her grasp and baring his claws at her, fingers crooked and so tense that the tendons stretched at his skin. "They're the hands that've slaughtered hundreds of people without a moment's regret. They're the hands that could one day turn on you, slaughter you! Would you like 'em then, when they're rippin' yer heart outta yer body? You should be afraid of what they could do to you. Of what I could do to you. You should hate these hands!"

But instead of being afraid, instead of getting angry as he wanted her to, Kagome merely reclaimed the clawed fingers and held on tight, turning her earnest, honest gaze to meet his. "Maybe that's true … but how can I be afraid of or hate something that always makes me feel so safe?" His eyes widened, and she dropped her gaze, embarrassed at his obvious astonishment. "They're not the hands of a monster. They're the hands of Inuyasha, who always keeps me safe. You always say that you want to change who you are, become stronger, but … I like you just how you are. When you hold me, the way you're doing now … I feel like there's nothing in the world that could ever hurt me again. I feel invincible. I don't see how anyone can be stronger than that."

"K-Kagome," he breathed, and a fine trembling overtook his limbs as her heartfelt words wrapped around his heart and settled deep in his soul. Nobody had ever, ever said such things to him before, and he could hardly believe how hearing them now soothed a deep ache of loneliness that had become so much a part of him, he barely acknowledged its existence anymore. When Kagome's arms wrapped about his waist, slipping around him beneath the fire-rat haori, he didn't protest or shove her away. Rather, he drew his own arms slowly about her in a full embrace, lowering his face to hide it against her neck as she pressed her own face into the warm, bare chest revealed by the deep V of his neckline.

"I love you, Inuyasha," he faintly heard her murmur, and the soft brush of her lips over his skin sent a small shiver of desire trembling through his body. He opened his lips, wanting more than anything to return the dear sentiment, but something stilled his words. Whether it was his pride, or the reminiscence of another girl who forever haunted his mind, he couldn't bring himself to repeat the precious words. All he could do was tighten his embrace, by way of acceptance or apology, or perhaps both, and Kagome's answering squeeze told him that she understood, just as she always understood.

Even if understanding was the last thing he deserved from her, he thought with a flush of guilt. "Looks like the rain's finally stopping," he muttered uncomfortably; he was reluctant to end such a treasured moment, but he didn't feel nearly worthy enough to allow it to continue, no matter how good, how right, she felt in his arms.

She slowly lifted her head to gaze at the cave entrance, where a few drops of rain were still pattering lightly onto the earth outside, and he didn't miss the disappointment in her eyes as she slowly untangled herself from his embrace. "I guess we should keep looking for that shard," she whispered. "Maybe the storm drove whatever's carrying it into shelter, too, so we won't have to look far." She stood on stiff muscles, feeling the painful tingling in her backside and legs as the blood began to flow again, and when Inuyasha gently held her waist to help steady her, she shot him a grateful smile, conscious of the strong hands branding their warmth into her sides.

"Thanks," she half-whispered, feeling remarkably shy and self-conscious after such a heart-to-heart conversation. A conversation that was unlikely to ever repeat itself, she thought sadly. She would miss the utterly peaceful expression that Inuyasha currently wore. When they eventually met up with their friends again, everything would go back to normal and this would be nothing but a memory. A very cherished memory on her part; perhaps a bit of a burden on his. She tossed him one last smile, a bit wistfully, and turned to leave the cave, but a hand coming up to grip hers stilled her movement, and she turned to face him again with slight surprise.

She was even more surprised when he drew her closer to him, his golden eyes as unwavering and serious as she'd ever seen them when they locked onto her in a deep and penetrating gaze. His free hand came up to softly cup her face, his thumb caressing her cheek lightly, feeling it heat beneath his touch in a soft blush. "I won't forget," he told her quietly, as though he'd been able to read her mind, and her blush deepened further. His smile was soft as he gently tilted her chin, warm breath ghosting against her cheek, and she had hardly realized what was about to happen before his lips were closing over hers in an infinitely tender kiss. She stood frozen, too stunned to even think of reacting, but as the kiss continued—soft and slow and sweet—she began to melt into him, delighting in the way his lips caressed her gently, like the softest, warmest silk she'd ever had the pleasure of touching.

After long, heady moments he reluctantly drew away, leaving her dazed and bewildered and nearly giddy with pleasure. His smile was almost loving and his eyes were dark with banked desire as he rested his forehead gently against hers and softly murmured four words that held more meaning than anything else he could have told her.

"I'll wait … for you."

And she knew that she would no longer need to worry about Inuyasha's future, for any reason.

Her tremulous smile was beautiful to behold as she gazed up at him through a mixture of tears and relief. They turned together and stepped out into the open air to continue onward with their search. Their fingers met and intertwined as they drifted away from the shelter, a gentle embrace, content with what they had shared, while those final words faded like a memory into the misting rain.

I'm aware Inuyasha is a bit OOC in this fic, but I rather like the sentimental side of him and wish it had been displayed more prominently in the actual series. This is just my little attempt to make that happen. :)