A/N: Minor problem. Lately, it's been frankly difficult for me to write in my current projects, and I am seriously considering putting them all on hiatus and just focusing on one or two until they're complete. It's hard to decide which fics to use for this, so I kind of need feedback if any of you have a preference.

But for now . . . YES, finally finished this chappie! -^__^- This is one of my favorite fics- I just love the reincarnation plotlines. Yes, it's done to death, but . . . I don't CARE! XD *basks in joy of finished chappie for one brief and shining moment*

Now, where'd I leave that last chapter of "Things Worth Dying For" . . . *mumblemumble*

Note to warriorGL: If you DO draw that picture, send me a copy, yah? ^_^ I would love to see it!

415o, |\|o73 700 KevinEC: j35, mj 1337 ]5 qu]73 horr]d, ]5|\|'7 ]7. -^__^- Mw4|-|4|-|4. R34d o|\|, mj c|-|]1d!
"The Heroes of the Story"
Hojou was politely puzzled.

To be honest, he spent a great deal of his time in a similar state- especially whilst in the presence of one Higurashi Kagome- but this was a different sort of puzzlement. This was the sort that comes with seeing two little boys and their kitties sneak into an old wellhouse in your crush's backyard and not come out again.

Admittedly, this might've been less troubling if said wellhouse's doorway weren't currently glowing electric blue.

On the back porch of the Higurashi home, Hojou was sprawled, all angles and the sort of burning curiosity that often renders those of the feline persuasion inert. He was even cutting class. If it weren't for his remarkably innocent eyes and neatly buttoned shirt and jacket, he would've made a perfect bishounen pin-up for the title page of one of those shoujo manga with heroines who tend to wear a lot of pink and have very perky . . . pigtails.


But sadly, this was not to be. Instead, Hojou and his cat- killing curiosity decided that it might be fun to go see where those boys and their kitties had gotten off to and why the wellhouse was currently lit up like a . . . well, like an ominously lit-up wellhouse, for lack of a more suitable allegory. Hojou was not known for his creativity, except when thinking up new and unusual cure-all gifts for Kagome.

So off trotted Hojou to have a look-see. And with drama being so darn dramatic, and the universe being what it is, he quite promptly discovered the well as the source of the glow and hopped right in to see why.

Now, we all remember what the universe is like, don't we? How everything balances out in the end; how there's always one last chance? How something pure and good always seems to stumble across something dark and wicked, or at least always exists with the possibility of stumbling across them?

Almost everything in the universe has at least one natural enemy, no matter how kind or naïve they may themselves be. A hungry wolf will snap up even the fluffiest of bunnies if it doesn't watch its back.

Yet, Hojou Akito had yet to encounter such a creature. Somehow, over the years, he had slipped past the bullies and avoided the gossips on an instinctive level. He was moderately popular- enough so that none of the really "with-it" kids teased him- and at the same time, not popular enough to get dragged into the animosity that existed between the in-crowd and their natural enemies, the school punks and the "normals."

He would've fit in anywhere, to be honest, if it weren't for that odd hair . . . Most people assumed he dyed it for some semblance of rebellion in the perfect student and son.

They were quite wrong.

First of all, Hojou was a natural redhead despite his purely Japanese ancestry.

Secondly, he was far from the perfect son. Oh, he acted the part well enough, but lately . . . lately . . .

He had been Thinking. Not just a mere observation of events, but really and truly Thinking.

And he was starting to see the value of taking a mental health day from reality every now and then- among other things.

And it just so happens that Hojou Akito is getting closer and closer to meeting that natural enemy of his, and it is not going to be a pleasant experience- mostly because he's going to find out that it is, quite literally, himself.

But to be honest, his current situation is more Kagome's fault than the universe's (meaning that nothing could be proved, though one might suspect its indirect involvement). Normally people can't just pass willy-nilly through the well unless there's a damn good reason. And when I say damn good, I mean DAMN good- simple things like matters of life and death cut no ice with the Bone Eater's Well.

But Kagome is the one who dropped a shard of the Shikon Jewel at the bottom of it the last time she left the Warring States Era and Inu-Yasha told her something that she really didn't want to know. So if it weren't for her, random members of the cast wouldn't have been switching time periods for a lark all day, Souta and Kirara wouldn't be trapped in Sesshoumaru's fluff, Shippou and Buyo wouldn't be trudging after an unusually-cheery Kikyou, and Hojou most certainly would not be about to find himself cast in the role of the Hero of the Story, complete with Perky Sidekicks and a Disagreeable-But-Beautiful Love Interest.

Maybe if we're lucky, he'll get really sweaty and lose his shirt in a fight like Inu-Yasha always does.
Inu-Yasha was impolitely puzzled.

Which is a nice way of saying, "confused and pissed as hell."

"Are you telling me," he began slowly, "that there are Shikon shards here, that you have known this for a week, and that you never bothered to TELL me?"

"Well, if you want to blunt about it . . ." Kagome muttered.

Inu-Yasha twitched. "You bitch. Where are they?!" he demanded.

Kouga shrugged lightly. "Here and there," he said dismissively. "No one really looks for them anymore, but most of the more powerful youkai know where the larger collections are."

Inu-Yasha looked ready to gut somebody. Indecision over which of the two people sharing his table ought to die first was the only thing that kept him from doing so.

"Why did everyone stop looking?" Kagome asked.

"You would be amazed by how fucking quickly a youkai showing off all his pretty Shikon shard-granted powers gets dead in this era," Kouga told her, sipping at his lukewarm coffee. "Nowadays, one miko can easily kick the shit out of almost any one of us. They've gotten so much stronger while we've had to hide and fade away. I'm one of the oldest lords left now."

"Are you joking?" Inu-Yasha stared at him. "You're only, what, five or six centuries old?!"

"Personally, that seems like a while to ME," Kagome said dryly.

Inu-Yasha shook his head. "Not for a youkai lord, idiot," he replied irritably. "It's a title you come into if you survive long enough to get strong enough to defeat another lord. And you have to live pretty damn long to pull that off."

"Not anymore," Kouga said, looking slightly wistful. "There are hardly any full-blooded youkai left in Japan . . . In fact, in a few cases, even half-breeds have risen to the rank of lords."

Inu-Yasha bristled slightly. "What's that supposed to mean?!" he demanded angrily.

"That we youkai are so weakened that even a bastard child without so much as a magic sword to his name can defeat us," Kouga retorted flatly. "I wasn't trying to insult you personally, I was just saying that logically, most half-breeds shouldn't be able to outfight a pureblooded youkai- and certainly not a lord."

"He is right, Inu-Yasha," Kagome pointed out. "I mean, you're really strong, but surely not every hanyou had parents like yours. Some of them must've come from . . . well, you know- ordinary woman and lesser youkai."

"You mean rape," Inu-Yasha translated flatly.

"Well, yeah," she confessed, wincing slightly. "I mean, it's not like a lot of the humans who hate youkai don't have a REASON to."

"Mm," Kouga replied neutrally, retreating to his coffee cup again. "Imagine that." A slightly awkward silence descended over the table as Kagome ran out of things to say and Inu-Yasha tucked into the ramen again.

"So," Kagome said finally. "Sixty-three kids, huh?"

"Yup," Kouga answered, nodding slightly.

* tbc . . . *
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