A/N: This is it, pplz…
Yawning hugely, Inuyasha rolled over as he stretched and opened his eyes. Noting the still-warm empty space on the straw mat beside him and the slightly open reed door covering, he concluded that Kikyo had left not to long before, at most a few minutes. How she'd done that he had no idea—the riotous celebration the village had held over the Shikon no Tama had lasted far into the night. He and Kikyo had slipped out in the middle of them to perform a small bonding ceremony, the only spectators to that event being themselves and Kaede. It had been quiet and solitary, but Inuyasha had enjoyed it far more than the noisy revelry of the townsfolk. He glanced at Kaede's slumbering form by the hearth, stretched, and then quietly let himself out.
"Ow!" Inuyasha yelped as he placed weight on his left leg. Wincing, he rubbed the cramp there and grumbled unhappily. He was still getting used to his new form, and some of the changes were definitely for the worse.
But it's not as bad as it could be, the former hanyô consoled himself. While nowhere near the strength of his hanyô form, Inuyasha's new body was not quite as weak as a human's, either. As he jogged along, he explored the sensations from this body.
Unlike the transformation during the new moons, Inuyasha's sight, hearing, and smell hadn't dimmed completely. Pulling a lock of hair in front of his eyes, he confirmed that it was a normal black color. But…he'd seen his reflection in a still pond last night, and his eyes hadn't changed at all. Inuyasha frowned, mulling over the oddity of the Shikon-induced transformation but just as quickly dismissed the thought as something unexplainable.
"Mmmmm…" Sniffing the damp morning air experimentally, Inuyasha relaxed as Kikyo's scent drifted toward him on the breeze—muted by his weaker senses, but still unmistakably hers. Bounding ahead a few more meters, he cleared the line of trees and saw her in a small patch of flowers, her back to him. A jolt went through him as he realized that she still wore the unmistakable red and white clothing of a miko. What…does she still have her powers? Does that mean something went wrong, that the Shikon…? Heart in his throat, Inuyasha rushed forward.
Turning with that special sixth sense that she'd always possessed, Kikyo spotted Inuyasha running towards her. Seeing the anxious expression on his face, she asked, "What is wrong?"
"Kikyo!" Slightly out of breath, he grasped her free arm and hurriedly let words spill out. "Was something wrong? Your clothes—the Shikon no Tama—is—?"
"Oh…was that it?" Laughing softly, she shook her head. "Nothing like that."
Inuyasha plopped down in the grass at Kikyo's feet. "That's good," he said, blushing slightly at his overreaction. "Uh…so why are still dressed that way if you don't have your powers anymore?" he quickly added, trying to gloss over his mistake.
"The villagers wanted me to continue on protecting them. And…they also asked me to train the children. I am glad that I can still be of some help to them," Kikyo answered, carefully setting her bunch of flowers aside as she sat beside him.
Snorting, Inuyasha responded, "Feh. You just wanna be near those brats you like so much."
Her eyes sparkled mischievously, and the former miko didn't deny his accusation. "Perhaps. You should get to know them better, Inuyasha."
"Wha?" Staring at the girl in disbelief, Inuyasha gawked in mute disbelief before replying, "Me? Why would I want to get near the brats?"
"It could be good experience."
Inuyasha let that idea sink in. Hmm…brats…little pups of our own someday. He decided that he might actually like that idea. "Fine, fine. But I'm not letting them climb all over my hair."
They sat in peaceful silence for a while longer, watching as the fog slowly lifted and a few piercing rays of sunlight illuminated the village below their viewpoint. Inuyasha stole glances at Kikyo every few seconds. She's really changed, he realized as he soaked in the features of her face. She's so…different. And in a good way. She seems…content.
"You seem so happy," Inuyasha spoke up, voicing his thoughts.
"Why should I not?" Turning her attention to picking stray leaves off of a flower stem, Kikyo concentrated on her work. "Since my powers have left me…I…I feel free. I am no longer different from anyone, no longer singled out. It is a wonderful feeling." Her peaceful expression mirrored her words perfectly. "Perhaps you do not understand. You have always enjoyed your power, but…I loathed mine."
Shooting Kikyo a strange look, he softly stated, "Maybe we're not that different." Sure, he'd loved that feeling of being stronger, of being able to protect himself, but all that he would have given up for one day of being normal. Of escaping the stares of demons and humans, the suspicious glares and jeering smirks. "I'm not sure that this isn't better," Inuyasha added.
"Mm." Kikyo leaned against his shoulder and sighed.
This is perfect, Inuyasha thought as he dozed with Kikyo's warm weight on his shoulder. Wouldn't it be so wonderful if this moment could just last forever? But… A thought had been nagging him, an ugly thing that grew and fed on his fears and doubts. He felt he had to express it, but…to spoil this? Sighing, Inuyasha knew that he had to get it off his mind.
"Yes?" Kikyo probed.
"Naraku," he finally spilled out. "You know we aren't…safe…not yet. He's still out there, and he's probably still waiting for us." He could feel his body tensing up as he waited nervously for Kikyo's reaction.
"I know that."
"But aren't you worried? I…I can't even use the Tetsusaiga now…it can't be used by a human. I can't even protect you now!" Wincing at this final hard fact, Inuyasha clenched his fists.
"Look at me." Backing away slightly, Kikyo turned until she met his eyes. "Shhh…do not worry about all that now. I place my trust in you." Seeing he was about to protest again, the miko placed a finger over his lips. "I shall be standing by you."
Even as the warmth of her words washed over him, Inuyasha was hit by a wave of nostalgia. Ka…Kagome… he thought as his heart gave a painful jerk. He didn't doubt his decision, and yet…there were times when a little thing would bring her back. Her smiles, her voice, her scent…he wondered if he would ever be rid of Kagome's lingering presence, and most of all if he wanted to be. While he knew that his choice had been, and still was, to stay by Kikyo's side, a tiny fragment of his mind wanted to remember Kagome, to wonder how she would have acted, what she would have said, how she would have looked. To bring her to life in his dreams.
But I can't, he chastised himself, biting his lip. I can't.
"…should return. Kaede will be…"
Distantly, he could hear Kikyo's voice. She was saying something, something about going back. Inuyasha forced a stiff smile on his face and jumped up, grabbing Kikyo's bouquet. "Yeah. Let's go."
As they reached their hut, Inuyasha brushed the reed door-covering aside, preparing to step in. He paused then moved back towards Kikyo, who had stopped by a flowering tree. "Hurry up!"
Kikyo complied, walking up behind him to place something in Inuyasha's thick black mane.
"What the…" Plucking the item out, Inuyasha stared at the white blossom in his palm. "What is this?"
"Dogwood," she said with a smile.
He gazed at her happy expression, and his eyes widened with shock. At that moment all of Inuyasha's doubts, his second-guessings, the dark questions that lurked unsaid, all melted away as he stared at Kikyo's radiant face.
Hmph. Inuyasha breathed out a deep, relaxing breath and gently tucked the dogwood blossom in Kikyo's dark tresses. Smiling, he took her hand and walked back towards their simple dwelling, content at heart at last.
Her smile was Kagome's.
Higurashi Kagome stopped abruptly at her front door, slowly turning a full circle. Dropping her backpack on the steps, the teenage girl headed towards the mini-shrine on her family's property. She paused at the shrine doors, and then shook her head. The girl's gaze roved around the large grounds and finally rested on the giant Shinboku tree. Like someone in a dream, she headed towards it.
Why am I doing this? She'd never been interested in any of the ridiculous tales Grandpa told about the items in her home, never been interested in his spells and chants, his claims of the power of the spirits. So why, why now, was she here? I should just get back in and start my homework. But the girl didn't move. Slowly, hesitantly, Kagome lifted a hand and stroked the smooth, barkless patch about five feet up on the trunk of the ancient tree.
An intense wave of emotion hit her suddenly, shockingly, and so abruptly that she felt as if she'd been punched in the stomach. An all-encompassing melancholy that bespoke of a loss so great that her whole being ached. The pain of something precious gained, and then gone again, of something indescribably important…raising a hand to her cheek, Kagome was surprised to find a single tear rolling down.
Kagome backed away as if she'd been stung, clutching the offending hand to her chest. Stupid. Ridiculous, really. I've been having too many late-night study sessions. And yet…that single unexplainable moment had been more poignant, more real somehow than anything the girl had ever experienced. She reached once more for the smooth wood, feeling something about the tree tug at her.
Spinning around, Kagome glanced downward to the source of the voice. A boy stood by his bicycle at the base of the steps leading up to the shrine, a boy with a familiar school uniform and silvery white hair…
"You all right, Higurashi? You looked kinda…y'know…weird."
"Um…yeah, I'm all right. Perfect," Kagome said quickly, blushing furiously as she rubbed her face dry. Of all the people to have caught her crying…! Okuda Hanyoki…the boy she'd had a crush on for so many years… Hanyoki was a strange character at school, with his white-colored hair and ears like…well, a dog's. He preferred to be alone, rarely joining in on any school events except for sports, which he excelled at. Some people called him stuck-up and arrogant, but Kagome was fascinated by the solitary, reclusive boy. Had been fascinated ever since he moved to her school in fourth grade.
"That's good. Yeah." Throwing one leg over his bicycle, the boy started pedaling away, and then stopped and looked back. Was it her imagination or was he blushing slightly…?
"Hey, Higurashi, one thing…"
"Yeah?" Brilliant comeback. A stroke of genius.
"Well…I was wondering if you were…uh…busy on Friday? After school?" Hanyoki was definitely blushing now, a deep crimson shade as he picked at his handlebars nervously. Kagome's mind whirled giddily and she could feel her own cheeks darkening. Can he be…?
"…cuz if you aren't, then, uh…would you…"
…asking me out?!
"…come with me to see a movie!" Hanyoki blurted out in a rush.
"Yes! Oh, yes, definitely!" Was it possible to be happier than this?
"Great! Then I'll see you!" Pedaling off in earnest this time, the boy shot back one stunning grin before turning the corner and riding out of sight.
Heart thumping joyously, Kagome turned and ran off past the Shinboku tree without a second glance, past the closed shrine doors, and whirled, laughing into her house, still carrying that sweet grin with her.End Second Chance