After The End: New Beginnings

The more things change...

Walking beside Inuyasha as they headed out of Kaede's hut and across the road, past the neighboring houses, Kagome was silent as they attempted to pass by unnoticed, Kaede's neighbors fortunately all still indoors, finishing up their own lunches. A contented smile was on the miko's lips as they strolled on by uninterrupted, a smile that grew larger the closer they got to the treeline. Perhaps it'd been a bit presumptuous on Inuyasha's part this time around, she reflected, his assumption that she'd automatically want to go with him, but he'd presumed correctly and so keeping in time with his steps, Kagome wore a huge grin by the time they entered the forest. His forest.

She didn't even care that they weren't actually following after Shippou and Rin, who'd taken off down the main road through town, straight for the paddy fields. Inuyasha seemed to read her thoughts though as he caught the way she glanced briefly in their direction before continuing to follow him along the beaten path that led straight for the well and Goshinboku.

“There's a reason we're going this way,” he explained unbidden. “I wasn't kidding about wantin' to keep your arrival as much of a secret as possible for the time being, so the fewer villagers that see you, the better. I can already hear the rumors spreading, 'cause some of 'em noticed it when we rushed you to Kaede's, but if the headman sees you then there'll be no getting out of a feast tonight so I don't wanna pass his compound on the way to the paddy fields. We can circle around to where the kids are playin' through the trees, instead, hopefully staying out of sight.”

“Sounds good to me,” Kagome agreed, and she meant it.

After the flurry of activity that had been just getting reacquainted with her few closest friends, she wasn't sure she wanted to even think about what kind of a celebration the village headman would put together once he learned she'd come back to them. Probably close to the entire village would show up to greet her. She supposed it couldn't be avoided forever, though, and decided in that moment to just focus on the here and now. The here and now being about five hundred years earlier than where she'd started out that very morning.

Thank you, Bone-Eater's Well, she thought as they neared the well's clearing, before turning and heading southeast, keeping to the trees as they neared where the southbound curve of the river fed the paddy fields.

The walk was peaceful, the silence between them not awkward in the slightest. A few times Kagome thought of something to say to break the silence, but decided against it because the moment was already perfect. She was walking beside the man she loved, in the forest that was his domain, on a beautiful early spring afternoon. Taking in the tranquility of the moment, Kagome hadn't felt nearly as happy over the last three years as she did right then in that moment, and she suspected, from the few glances she noticed her companion casting in her direction, that Inuyasha felt the same way.

Reaching over, she took his hand in hers, and he glanced her way in mild surprise but then immediately smiled, and closed his fingers around her hand as well, giving it a little squeeze. They continued their walk in silence, hand in hand.

It didn't take long before the miko's mortal ears picked up the laughing, squealing cries of children at play, and the sound quickly pulled her from her wandering thoughts. Nearing the paddy fields Inuyasha released her hand, and peering through the greenery she saw them, a group of young boys kicking a ball around. Shippou and Rin were among them, the kitsune doing a few tricks per some of the children's requests, earning laughter and applause. A few girls around Rin's age had early spring flowers in their hair, and were pointing eagerly, showing Rin where they'd found them growing, and then Rin went off with those girls, sitting down not too far away from the younger children as she began picking some of the flowers for herself. Not long after she got to work on what Kagome assumed would be a crown of flowers the ball some of the boys were kicking around rolled over in her direction, and Rin didn't hesitate to pick it up and throw it back to the others, but then she immediately got back to braiding her flowers.

“She sure does love flowers,” Kagome commented with a smile, earning a soft chuckle from the hanyou on her left.

Inuyasha had been enjoying the silence, but only because he hadn't been able to think of anything to say, everything coming to mind sounding stupid to him and so he'd decided against it, not wanting to risk ruining the tranquility of the moment by saying something stupid that would've then made things awkward. Hearing Kagome speak in that moment, though, he used it as the opportunity it was to reply, quickly deciding he'd let Kagome lead their conversation.

“Yeah, she's always been like that. She's even started showing Mizuki and Misaki how to make flower crowns.”

Kagome sighed whimsically as she watched the eleven-year-old hard at work.

“I used to make them, too, when I was little.”

Inuyasha chuckled again.

“I bet you were a real cute kid,” he said quietly, earning Kagome's attention as she turned to look his way. He turned his head to look her way as well and their eyes immediately locked, the look in hers so full of love he was wondering how he ever could have worried that her feelings for him had changed.

He opened his mouth to say something else, but she beat him to it.

“Inuyasha, I-” she started, before an especially loud scream coming from one of the children startled her and she snapped her eyes back to the kids, worried.

It was just a young boy completely enthralled with Shippou's ability to turn into his giant pink balloon form.

“I really missed you, Kagome,” Inuyasha managed to say, then, earning the miko's eyes back on him. She smiled.

“I really missed you, too. I thought about you every day, and even though I didn't tell the others how often I tried the well, the truth is, I tried it once a month.” She didn't blush or look away at her admittance.

He chuckled again.

“I got you beat. Shippou will probably let it slip at some point, anyway, like he already did this morning with Kaede-babaa, so you might as well hear it from me. I've been trying the well every three days.”

Kagome's eyes widened at his words, and began tearing up, much to Inuyasha's surprise and mild horror.

“Shit, don't cry, Kagome,” he pleaded, his eyes begging as he reached up with his right hand and used the back of his right index finger to carefully wipe away the single tear that rolled down her left cheek. “It's all right,” he assured her gently. “I'm just glad you're back now. I didn't think I'd ever see you again.”

“Oh, Inuyasha...” she said, reaching up with her left hand to touch her cheek for a moment, touched by the tenderness of his gesture. “I'm so sorry. Sorry that my stupid childish fears kept the well closed. I didn't know-”

“Baka...” he interrupted affectionately, glancing in Rin's direction again for a brief moment just to make sure all was well before meeting Kagome's eyes again. “I was right there as you explained it, and what you said made perfect sense. I might not have really understood why your school stuff was so important, but I understood that it was, and that it was a matter of honor. If you'd been ripped away from that before you were ready? Ripped away from your family without even saying goodbye? No...”

He shook his head, gazed back out over the children again, and continued to speak with his eyes remaining fixated on Rin's form. “Kagome, you have absolutely nothing to apologize for, and I won't accept it. You gave up everything to come here. I won't forget that.”

He took a deep breath, exhaling slowly, and turned his head to the right just enough to shift his eyes enough to meet her gaze again.

“You don't know what it means to me, that you actually chose to come back.”

“I think I do,” Kagome replied, smiling up at him softly.

Unhesitantly, he immediately wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into a hug, resting his chin on the top of her head, inhaling the scent of her hair. Kagome sighed at the action, feeling completely content in his embrace as she wrapped her arms around him in return. She could stay like that forever.

He had other plans, though.

“Brace yourself,” he warned after a moment, and feeling her muscles tense up in preparation, he launched the two of them straight up and into the tree they'd been standing beside, coming to rest on a sturdy branch.

After some light maneuvering, Inuyasha had Kagome sitting with her legs curled up in his lap, leaning back with her back against his chest, his back against the truck, their spot a perfect vantage point for both of them to keep an eye on the children below, hopefully without being seen by any of the nearby farmers. An arm wrapped around her stomach kept Kagome secure so she wouldn't fall, although the miko suspected that was just an excuse to hold her, but either way she wasn't about to complain as she snuggled into his embrace as much as she dared.

“This is nice,” she murmured tenderly.

“Yeah...” he replied, wanting to say something more but again deciding against it. He just wasn't used to spilling his guts; it was something he'd have to work on.

They sat like that in silence for the next several minutes, Kagome marveling at the fantastic view while Inuyasha marveled at the feel of Kagome in his arms, the scent of her filling his nose. He wasn't privy to the miko's naughtier thoughts, unaware of how tempted she'd been for a fleeting moment to 'accidentally' rub against him in a bad way as she got herself settled, before she'd quickly slapped that thought out of her head and made herself behave, but if he had known the direction her thoughts had momentarily traveled he would've only chuckled at how good minds think alike, as he willed a certain part of his body to not react to the feel of her pressed up against him. He'd have to take a cold dip in the river later that night, that was for sure.

First we've got dinner with the bouzu and slayer, he remembered then, mentally sighing. It was going to be a long night.

Soon enough, though, he managed to tug the remaining parts of his mind back out of the gutter, focusing instead on the playing children below, like he was supposed to be doing. Most specifically, the eleven-year-old who was now wearing a fairly impressive flower crown as she sang and danced with some of the other girls, while Shippou and the boys continued to kick the ball around. All good things had to come to an end, though, and as the various village children all started to disperse at their parents' calls Shippou and Rin headed back to Kaede's. Wrapping his arms tightly around Kagome – something he closed his eyes and savored for as long as he thought he could get away with it – Inuyasha dropped the two of them back out of the tree, and they then made their way back to Kaede's the way they'd come, through the forest.

“See ya later, Rin! Bye Kaede!” Shippou said as soon as he walked Rin back to Kaede's hut, turning and scurrying along to Sango and Miroku's house.

I hope he appreciates me giving them that time to themselves, the kitsune thought smugly, having previously not cared about the other playing children what with Kagome's return and all, but then having gotten the brilliant idea that him wanting to take Rin out to play would be the perfect excuse to get Inuyasha and Kagome alone, away from Kaede for a while. Just because he was still just a kid himself didn't mean he was stupid.

Kagome and Inuyasha arrived back at Kaede's just in time for Kagome to notice Shippou's departure, and glancing Inuyasha's way questioningly, he explained how the kitsune had always preferred staying with Sango and Miroku.

“Probably 'cause I prefer staying with Kaede-babaa, and he knows that he'll get on my nerves if we're together too long,” the hanyou added with a chuckle.

“I would have thought you'd prefer staying with Sango-chan and Miroku-sama, too,” Kagome said as they entered Kaede's hut and Kagome slipped off her shoes before they stepped up onto the raised wooden floor, heading towards their favored side of the room while Rin enthusiastically showed the cooking Kaede her crown of flowers.

Inuyasha snorted as Kagome took a seat near the fire. “Why would I wanna shack up with newlyweds?”

She laughed at that.

“I suppose you do have a point there,” she agreed.

“So you two shall be dining with the others this evening, correct?” Kaede asked with an amused grin as she glanced in their direction from her place adding ingredients to the soup.

“Yeah, just make enough for you 'n' Rin, we're good,” Inuyasha said as he pulled Tetsusaiga from his obi and leaned it against the wall before sitting down beside Kagome. “Thanks, though,” he added in passing, getting settled and glancing the younger miko's way, only to pause at the look she was giving him.

“What?” he asked, only mildly flustered by the future-born miko's obvious approving look since at least their other friends weren't there to poke fun at him about it in that moment.

“Nothing,” she replied teasingly. “I'm just surprised. I don't think I've ever heard you actually thank Kaede-baa-chan for anything before.”

He snorted.

“Can't a guy choose to be nice to the ol' hag that guards his human ass once a month?” he asked with a playfully defensive tone to mask his embarrassment.

Rin looked up at his words, her eyes wide with surprise and worry, but Inuyasha waved off her concern.

“Kagome was actually the first to know, Rin. It's all right.”

He and Kaede had drilled it into the girl how the moonless night was a secret he did not want the entire village finding out about. Even Miroku and Sango's children wouldn't be told until they were old enough to keep the secret.

As Kaede continued dinner preparations for Rin and herself, Kagome took it upon herself, with Kaede's permission of course, to go dig through her old belongings inside the storage chest the elderly miko had tucked them away within in the back of the room. Grinning as she spotted her sleeping bag at the bottom of the chest, she left that be for the time being, and taking a deep breath, she pulled out her backpack.

Inuyasha watched, unsure of how to feel, as Kagome, sitting on her legs, delicately ran her hands over the old yellow backpack in her lap before finally, slowly zipping it open, as if it were a sacred artifact containing treasures untold. One treasure it was noticeably lacking, of course, was any of her old schoolbooks, since she'd actually graduated from junior high right before the final showdown with Naraku. Primarily all she'd brought back with her on that final trip had been an extra load of medical supplies, knowing things were going to be getting dangerous, although a few fundamental necessities had always remained in the bag throughout their entire mission no matter what other items came and went. Because of that, she now had among her various possessions her utility pocket knife, a small metal nail file, a compact pocket mirror, a hairbrush, a toothbrush, a razor, a couple changes of underwear which would actually come in very handy, a nearly full box of waterproof matches, which she probably wouldn't need but you never knew, plenty of first aid supplies of course, which she hoped she wouldn't need but again, you never knew, and perhaps the least essential at the time of fighting Naraku but she was sure glad to see them now, some pajamas.

Shaking her head at herself in bemusement, Kagome remembered her thought process at the time, that after they defeated the dark hanyou and they were all curled up around the firepit in Kaede's hut resting and/or recovering, she'd wanted to make sure she'd have something comfortable to change into. She supposed that did make sense, and now, she didn't have to worry about adjusting to wearing a sleeping yukata. Or at least, not just yet. She supposed she'd eventually have to ditch the pajamas, but if she took good care of them the material should last for several years, and even when they did eventually start to fall apart she could use the pieces as a pattern to make new ones.

Provided I learn how to sew...which, I suppose, I will definitely have to do, come to think of it..

There were a lot of things she was going to have to learn how to do when it came to adjusting to life in the Sengoku jidai, she knew, but she wasn't going to freak herself out about it now by thinking of them all as daunting challenges to overcome. Instead, learning each new life skill would be an adventure, and she'd tackle learning them head-on.

And one at a time. No sense making myself crazy.

Nodding to herself, Kagome folded her pajamas properly and sat them aside, since she'd be needing them later. She was going to handle living in the Warring States era one day at a time, and for tonight, she was just going to bask in the knowledge that she'd successfully made it through the well, and try not to think about what life in the village long-term had in store for her. What would or wouldn't become of her life one, five, and even ten years down the road was a worry for one, five, and ten years down the road. She knew where she wanted her life to end up, but before she could really start daydreaming about the details she and Inuyasha would need to have a very serious, and very private conversation. She'd wanted to broach the subject while up in that tree with him, and for a moment she'd been tempted to, but then she'd decided against it, since she hadn't wanted to distract him while he was supposed to be babysitting Rin.

Admit it, you chickened out. Coward, she scolded herself. Frowning at the thought, she got back to digging around in her bag.

As Inuyasha observed her quietly from his place sitting cross-legged against the wall, he wanted to ask her what was wrong as he noticed the sour expression cross her visage, but they weren't completely alone and he just couldn't bring himself to fully lower his guard with Rin and Kaede in the same room. With Kagome, if it were just the two of them, with no distractions like needing to keep an eye on Rin while she played with the other kids, then he'd kick his walls down so fast and yank her inside their perimeter she wouldn't know what'd hit her, and then suddenly there she'd be, right beside his unprotected heart, hers to do with as she pleased. But he could only do that for her if they were completely alone, no risk of getting interrupted.

Keh...I should just grab her and run off into the forest. Doubt she'd complain.

He mulled the idea over, but ultimately chickened out. He didn't want to risk coming off too overly aggressive. What if she got the wrong idea? He'd never live it down! The last thing he wanted was to seem like some brainless brute, a caveman manhandling her and grunting 'mine' as he made off with her like a barbarian. He just wanted to talk. Well, okay, maybe a little manhandling and grunting would be nice, too, but later, after their talk.

Gah! I've been hanging around the bouzu too long, he thought then in self-disgust, shaking his head to hopefully rid it of such nonsense.

“Don't forget about your bow,” he said then for something to say, needing to break the silence because he didn't trust his thoughts to not wander off into no man's land again if left unchecked.

Running her thumb gently over the bar of soap in her hand, having been quietly contemplating just how one went about making their own soap in the Sengoku jidai and wondering exactly what it was made from, Kagome was pulled from her musings as Inuyasha spoke, and she looked his way, eyes sparkling.

“Ah, right!” she said, dropping the soap back into its zippered sandwich bag before putting it back into her backpack.

Setting the pack aside and standing up, she looked her old weapon up and down, the bow from Mt. Azusa propped innocently against the wall in the corner, right beside the storage chest.

You chose to come back with Inuyasha, didn't you? Waiting patiently for my return all this time.

After all, had she originally kept the bow with her in the future, then in the heat of the moment when the well had decided to open up for her it was likely she would have forgotten it. While not disastrous, that would've certainly been a disappointment. As it was, the fact that she now had it with her there in the past was definitely a good thing. It was a very special bow, after all.

Wrapping her fingers around it at that thought, Kagome jerked in surprise as a jolt of power rushed through her. It was a blast of reiki the other occupants of the hut could not ignore; even Rin felt something odd.

“What was that?” the girl asked, although her question went ignored as Inuyasha immediately rushed to Kagome's side.

“Are you all right?” he asked her, his worry apparent in his tone of voice and the look in his eyes. Even Kaede was giving her a concerned look from her place by the firepit.

“I think...I think that was just the bow saying hello,” Kagome answered, holding the weapon out in front of her, examining it. “I never knew just how much spiritual power this bow contained before. I guess I couldn't feel it because of Magatsuhi's seal, the first one I mean, the one from birth that hindered but didn't completely block my powers. As soon as Magatsuhi was slain I could feel my powers rushing back to me, all of them, but at the time everything was too crazy for me to realize what was my own power versus the bow itself. It'd taken both of us to defeat Naraku, after all; the bow and I, we'd fought as one.”

“So now that all of the seals on your powers have been lifted, you can feel the bow's true power, as well as your own?” the elderly miko asked, intrigued.

“Oh yes, ever since Magatsuhi's seals were broken I haven't lost my ability to use my powers. They're very much alive and well.”

Kagome demonstrated her point in that moment by closing her eyes and concentrating, and a bright purplish pink glow started to form around both her and the bow in her hand. The feel of her reiki was so intense that for a split second Inuyasha flinched, starting to back away on instinct before he stopped himself, confident that her powers wouldn't hurt him, that she wouldn't let them hurt him. He stared at her in awe.

When did she become so freakin' powerful?!

He hadn't noticed it before. Apparently, Kagome could flare her powers at will, like a stronger youkai could do. Sure, he'd felt her reiki when she'd first returned, but he did remember the feel of her aura right after Magatsuhi's death. He'd already known the seal on her powers had been broken and had known what her stronger aura felt like. He hadn't known she was quite this powerful, though. Apparently, what he'd felt from her all this time since her return was just her power at rest; that was a scary thought...for their enemies. Grinning broadly, he'd never felt more proud of her.

“Damn, wench, remind me not to get on your bad side,” he joked to break the ice, wearing a smug grin of satisfaction. Opening her eyes, Kagome's power immediately receded back within herself.

“Wow, Kagome-sama is very powerful,” Rin complimented as well from her place sitting beside Kaede.

“I agree, child, that was quite impressive.”

Kagome looked over at Kaede and Rin, before glancing back at the nodding hanyou standing beside her, a confident smile forming on her lips at everyone's praise.

“Thanks,” she replied to everyone, clearly proud of herself, and rightfully so.

Gingerly setting her bow back in the corner, then, Kagome knelt back down before the storage chest and pulled her sleeping bag out before then setting her backpack back inside the chest and closing the lid, placing her rolled up sleeping bag and folded pajamas on top of the chest for easy access later before then rising back to her feet.

“I'll need to get a new quiver,” she said, thinking out loud. “That, I'd been wearing when I ran out of the well in my time, and I left it in my closet in my room.”

“Keh, not a problem,” Inuyasha replied before Kaede could say anything. “I've actually got some money, since Miroku and Sango insist on saving my half of the coins he and I collect on the occasional extermination jobs that pay us with actual money. Never did ask him to or figured I'd need it for anything, but now I'm glad he saved my money. Next Market Day's in four days, and we'd already been plannin' on going; you can come with us and order your new quiver, my treat.”

Kagome sent him a huge smile at his offer, and grinning to herself, Kaede nodded approvingly at Inuyasha's idea as well.

“A splendid solution, Inuyasha,” the elderly miko complimented, before turning to address the eighteen-year-old. “And I will have Akio-sama begin production of new arrowheads. Do you still remember how to make arrows, Kagome?” she asked.

The future-born miko nodded, still smiling.

“With as many times as I sat by our campfire making them during the quest?” she asked back, shaking her head at the fond memory. “Might take me a minute to get the hang of it since I haven't done it in three years, but yeah, I still remember how.”

Kaede nodded. With that settled, she told Rin to go wash up since dinner would be ready before too much longer.

“Inuyasha, thank you so much for offering to buy my new quiver. That's so nice of you,” Kagome stated in true appreciation, before Kaede's words about dinner almost being ready drew her attention. “Guess that's our cue,” she said then. “Speaking of Miroku-sama and Sango-chan...”

“Yeah,” Inuyasha agreed. “I guess we'd better head over there.”

Following Inuyasha to the doorway, Kagome paused and looked back Kaede's way one last time as she slipped her shoes back on. “Thank you again, Kaede-baa-chan, for letting me stay here. I'll make sure not to come back too late.”

“Do not fret, Kagome. This old woman sleeps soundly,” Kaede answered, sending the pair a smile.

Kagome nodded her understanding, and grinning Inuyasha's way, they were out the door.

The walk to Sango and Miroku's house from Kaede's didn't take very long, and fortunately, since it was around dinnertime for the entire village, they didn't pass anybody as they made the short trek southwest down the main road to the first westbound cutoff, headed for the first house built on the right. Kagome remembered the area, and how it'd previously been empty field, the next house down originally the first house along that particular stretch of road. It was a good place to build.

About to make a casual comment to that effect, Kagome noticed her companion's serious demeanor and decided to let it go. Inuyasha's ears were fixed forward, his attention on a couple of people in their yard a few houses down that he could hear expressing their wonderment at Kagome's form walking beside him, questioning each other on if what they were seeing was real. Hearing the way they went on about it, he rolled his eyes.

Tomorrow's going to be crazy, he realized, sighing. Hopefully the monk's neighbors would at least let them have dinner in peace.

“Something wrong?” Kagome asked at the sound of his sigh.

“Keh, just nosy neighbors. Don't worry 'bout it,” he answered honestly, casting her a sideways grin as he allowed the tension to flow out of him, deciding to take his own advice and not worry about what would or wouldn't happen later on and instead focus solely on the here and now. Kagome was back. Nothing could dampen his mood too much.

Said miko nodded her understanding at his words, sending the hanyou a grin of her own as they approached the monk and slayer's house.

Raising her hand to knock on the door frame, Miroku's voice calling out “Come in!” sounded before she could even knock, and chuckling to herself that she supposed her and Inuyasha's auras combined were louder to the houshi than any doorbell, she pulled the reed mat aside and entered, holding it open for Inuyasha to enter behind her.

“Doggy!” Mizuki squealed in delight right away, running up to them, Misaki quick to follow. “Inu play!” the younger twin said, holding her arms out for Inuyasha to pick her up.

Inuyasha groaned under his breath, and Kagome chuckled.

“Not now, girls, it's almost time for dinner,” Sango said, saving the day.

“Come in, sit down,” Miroku said from his place sitting beside his wife near the firepit, holding an alert and curious Ichirou in his arms while Sango worked on dinner's finishing touches.

Inuyasha didn't hesitate to step up onto the raised wooden floor, and slipping off her shoes Kagome was quick to follow, hiding her smirk behind her hand at the openly giggling twins as they walked with Inuyasha, almost underfoot. As soon as he took a seat they both climbed into his lap, although this time they refrained from reaching for his ears.

“Girls...” Miroku said in a calm but yet equally threatening tone, and with duel cries of “Awwwww...” in disappointment they climbed back out of Inuyasha's lap and took a seat on the other side of the firepit.

Kagome looked Inuyasha's way with laughing eyes, the mildly blushing hanyou meeting her gaze with a sheepish grin.

“What can I say?” he asked, shrugging. “The girls are crazy about me, for some odd reason.”

“It's not odd. They have good taste,” Kagome replied, earning a darkened rosy hue on the hanyou's cheeks as he quietly mumbled an embarrassed “Keh” under his breath.

Thinking to spare him any further embarrassment, although she thought it was ridiculously adorable how much Sango and Miroku's daughters loved to cling to him, Kagome decided to change the subject and was just about to ask where Shippou was, but the kitsune beat her to it in that moment as he suddenly entered the hut, water bucket in hand.

“Thank you, Shippou,” Sango said appreciatively, as she began serving up dinner.

Miroku graciously accepted his tray of fish stew and rice after gently setting Ichirou down on his tummy on the cushion beside him, and he waited before beginning to eat as Sango then served Inuyasha and Kagome, Shippou and their daughters.

“Thank you,” Kagome stated genuinely, picking up her bowl of stew and inhaling the fabulous aroma of the broth.

“Thought you were gonna go hunt something for Kagome,” Shippou said to Inuyasha in a teasing tone, causing the hanyou to look up from his food with a glare sent the kitsune's way. Before he could say anything, though, Kagome beat him to it.

“I had only said in passing that he could go catch something if he wanted to, Shippou-chan, but that was before Sango-chan told me we were invited here for dinner tonight. There will be plenty of opportunities to go hunting, I'm sure.”

“Keh, you want meat so bad, go get it yourself. You're plenty old enough to catch your own game,” Inuyasha grumbled as he began eating his rice, letting the stew cool a minute.

Shippou opened his mouth to retort, but then Inuyasha got a twinkle of inspiration in his eye and spoke back up again, cutting Shippou off.

“Some of the villagers already know about Kagome's return, and there ain't no way the headman won't want to throw a feast. I'll talk to him 'bout it in the morning before doing my rounds, and take down a deer if he agrees. I'm gettin' kinda bored of small game, anyway. It's the perfect excuse to kill something much larger.”

After the words left his mouth his eyes opened wider in realization of what, exactly, he'd just said, and he cast a nervous glance in Kagome's direction, afraid he might've just stuck his foot in his mouth big time.

Shifting his eyes back and forth between hanyou and miko, Shippou decided to stay quiet and see what would happen, also hoping the hanyou hadn't just blown it.

Kagome, of course, immediately noticed Inuyasha and Shippou's worried expressions, and realizing what Inuyasha was probably fearing, she quickly put his mind at ease.

“I'm not the same naïve fifteen-year-old I used to be, Inuyasha,” she assured him. “I'm not the same girl who couldn't stand the thought of innocent animals having to die in order for me to eat, who insisted you come back to camp with the rabbits you caught already skinned and gutted so I wouldn't have to see them looking like 'cute little bunnies.'”

Finishing her sentence with air quotes, it was a gesture he didn't understand the origin of, but the gesture itself was still understood, as he vividly recalled the one and only time he'd come back to camp, back when it'd still been just the two of them, with a whole and intact dead rabbit in his grasp. She had freaked, to put it mildly, which at the time had upset him, of course. Here he was trying to provide her with something to eat, and instead of being grateful she'd gotten upset.

Kagome continued, remembering that same incident.

“It was a lesson I learned long ago, while eating a hamburger at WcDonald's. It doesn't matter how fresh the meat is. Meat equals animal, no matter what, and realizing this, I didn't become a vegetarian. I think, so long as we bless the deer's spirit, then we're honoring its life and its sacrifice. It's the circle of life, plain and simple, and genetically speaking, humans are designed to eat meat. If we were also designed by the kami, then the way I see it, it's the kami's will that we are meat eaters, and who am I to argue with the kami?”

Honestly, Kagome didn't care either way and could just as easily go without the meat, but she could see how important the idea was to Inuyasha, and if he wanted to provide meat for her, then she was definitely not going to turn down his offer or insult his desire to do so. Even though she didn't personally think it was necessary, it was appreciated, and she would gladly eat whatever he caught for her, to make sure he knew just how appreciated it really was.

Inuyasha noticeably sagged in relief at her words, which let her know she'd definitely made the right call. He sent her a grateful nod and smile, which she returned, and then he got back to his food.

He'd really been worried that Kagome would take offense to his desire to use her return as an excuse to kill something, but the fact of the matter was, it wasn't about the kill, it was about the actual meat itself, and his desire to provide good meat for her was something he simply couldn't ignore. If it hadn't been for Sango inviting them to dinner that night then he would have went out and caught something for Kagome to eat. He knew it was his canine half, an inu-youkai's need to provide for their loved ones, but so what? He didn't feel he should try and ignore his inu-youkai instincts when it came to such things. Besides, it wasn't just his youkai half. Knowing the world she'd come from, and everything she'd given up in order to return to them, his human half wanted to provide for her, too. He knew that in the world she'd come from good meat was always available at those giant indoor never-ending markets any time you wanted it. Just say the word and it was yours. He wanted, no...needed to show her that he could give her that as well.

“Well I think it's a fabulous idea,” Sango spoke up in that moment, earning a grateful smile from the hanyou. Being a taijiya, she knew very well how important it was to Inuyasha, and why.

He wasn't stupid; he knew that humans also needed other foods, like rice and vegetables, but as Sango had pointed out earlier, she considered half of their rice really his, anyway, since he'd helped Miroku to earn it. That meant that at least in part, this was his rice Kagome was eating. Now, he wasn't about to go and demand his half, in reality, intending on letting Miroku and Sango keep it all, especially since he didn't have any place to put his share, anyway, but the fact that he'd helped earn it certainly made him feel better about Kagome eating it in that moment. He also wasn't as stubborn as he'd used to be, and knew damn well that he didn't have his own vegetables, so if Sango and Miroku, or Kaede, had to help him keep Kagome properly fed in that regard, then so be it. They were his friends, after all, so he didn't take offense, as if them fixing Kagome a meal was insinuating he was incapable, or a failure. They were all in this together; they were family. He didn't take their offers of feeding him as an insult, as if they believed he wasn't capable of feeding himself. He knew they knew he was perfectly able, which was why he wasn't about to turn down a free meal; that'd just be rude. So as long as he could provide Kagome with good meat then he was at least doing his part. His meat, and their vegetables. She'd given up everything to be with them; he was damn well going to make sure she was well fed.

Picking a piece of fish out of his stew with his chopsticks, Miroku didn't comment during the exchange, as everyone resumed eating their dinner in silence. He supposed he should have found the topic disturbing, in a way, but instead all he could think was that he agreed with his wife; it was an excellent idea. Anything that went along the lines of Inuyasha showing his affection for Kagome was a good thing in his mind, and providing her with meat...that was the inu-youkai version of showering your sweetheart with beautiful gifts, he knew, and he was relieved Kagome had so readily accepted his offer, knowing that rejection would have hurt Inuyasha dearly.

He'd found himself in that same predicament once, the first time Inuyasha had hunted something for their group after he'd first joined them, but at that time he'd quickly banished the thought of rejecting his offer, and to be perfectly honest it hadn't had so much to do with sparing the hanyou's feelings, either. He'd been hungry. Granted, monks were supposedto be vegetarians, but he'd long ago gotten used to breaking that rule while out on his own hunting Naraku, even prior to joining Kagome and Inuyasha, and after joining them he'd always eaten whatever Inuyasha had caught for them without complaint. Even when they'd had Kagome's ramen he'd known that either chicken or beef was an ingredient in the broth, and he'd never said a word.

Plucking out and eating another piece of fish in that moment, Miroku quirked his lip in amusement. Monks weren't really supposed to eat fish, either, but Sango had wanted it, and he wasn't about to condemn his wife's viewpoint on such things, even though he knew it made him very unorthodox. But so did being married in the first place, and he wouldn't trade his family for the world. He'd give up being a monk before he'd give up being Sango's husband, and in fact he hadn't necessarily been planning on acting like a monk to the local villagers to begin with, but they were the ones who had insisted, and so then he'd been happy to oblige. Otherwise, he would have been just as content to keep his robes for exorcism jobs only, and be a normal husband and father in his home town.

Doing what he and Inuyasha did, sure, it was a little deceiving as he was sure most people were unaware of his wife and kids back home, but honestly, what did that matter? He was legitimately helping people, purifying real youkai that had been causing real problems. So what if he had a wife and kids to go home to? He already knew he had more lifetimes to go before achieving enlightenment; he'd given up that path when he'd first begun his quest to slay Naraku. Revenge and vengeance, no matter against how great an evil, was an unholy desire to hold in one's heart. But he'd given up his chance at enlightenment this time around for the greater good, in his opinion, because Naraku had needed to be stopped, and it had been his duty, as his grandfather's descendant, to participate in stopping him. Now, Miroku felt that enjoying the rest of his days with Sango and their children was his reward, before starting the struggle all over again. He'd become a vegetarian in his next life.

“More tea?” Sango offered in that moment, pulling Miroku from his thoughts, and nodding with a warm smile, Miroku held up his teacup for his wife to refill.

She then refilled Kagome's tea, and their daughters', Shippou and Inuyasha both politely declining.

The rest of the meal was finished in silence, and then after they were all done eating, the twins occupied themselves with their toys while the adults sat back and got comfortable, Sango and Miroku taking turns telling Kagome a few stories of things that'd happened while she'd been gone. Inuyasha chimed in a few times, too, like when Sango told Kagome about how, after she'd gotten pregnant the first time, he had informed them before the girls were born that she'd be having twins, so they'd had some time to panic, and then prepare, as the slayer jokingly explained it. He'd been able to hear the girls' separate heartbeats, Inuyasha elaborated upon Kagome's inquisitive glance.

“Keh, my nose is good but not that good,” he explained. “I can tell by scent when a woman's carrying, but not how many or what gender it is.”

“I had actually been afraid Miroku was disappointed when the girls were born, having thought he'd hoped they'd be sons,” Sango admitted softly, glancing at their quietly playing daughters in the corner of the room.

“Nonsense,” Miroku commented, sending his wife a fond smile. “I plan on having many more sons and daughters with you; the more the merrier.”

Sango sent her husband a loving smile in return, and then blushed and smacked his arm as he waggled his eyebrows at her lecherously before adding, “Making them is so much fun, they can all be girls from here on out and I wouldn't mind it one bit.”

Inuyasha rolled his eyes, but glanced Kagome's way in surprise when the miko just laughed instead of taking offense at his lewdness.

“I bet your first two were girls for karmic balance, Miroku-sama,” she teased the monk in return. “With as much of a flirt as you used to be? Now you'll get to experience what it's like being the protective father, fending off boys like you when they come of age,and with two girls' honors to defend.”

Inuyasha and Shippou both openly laughed at Kagome's prophecy while Miroku adopted a mock look of horror, Sango hiding her snicker behind her hand before moving to pick up the increasingly fussy Ichirou, the baby having rolled over onto his back before whining, ready for his own dinner.

“I dare say, husband, that Kagome-chan makes a valid point,” Sango stated as she loosened her yukata enough to start nursing their son. “Don't think the same thought hasn't crossed my own mind.”

“Or mine,” Inuyasha agreed, sending Kagome a playful smirk that the miko returned.

“Or mine, I'm afraid,” Miroku admitted then. “Even so, it is a penance I will gladly pay, to have been blessed with such lovely daughters.”

Sango sent him another warm smile at that, her look indicating that he was back in her good graces again.

“Feh, kiss ass,” Inuyasha grumbled good-naturedly, earning a quiet giggle from the miko at his side, which caused another smirk to form on his lips as he glanced her way again.

Observing the playful little glances hanyou and miko kept casting at each other, Shippou mentally rolled his eyes, but chose to bite his tongue. A part of him was tempted to throw caution to the wind and blurt out how they all knew they were in love with each other and that they needed to just kiss already, but he knew it would only embarrass them, and probably hinder their progress more than help it. He believed those two were meant to be together just as much as everyone else did, so he didn't want to risk doing anything that would inadvertently hurt their chances. He'd continue to nudge Inuyasha, but subtly, in a way that wouldn't publicly humiliate Kagome in the process. He remembered how angry she used to get whenever she got embarrassed; he did not want her anger directed at him.

Keeping that thought in mind, Shippou joined the conversation harmlessly, peppering in amusing anecdotes involving his various excursions to the Kitsune Inn. Tales of the various random travelers he'd fooled one way or another, and the amount of points it'd gotten him.

Once Sango was done feeding Ichirou, it became apparent the little one was ready for bed, and the twins were no longer playing with their stick dolls very enthusiastically, either, their eyelids growing heavy.

“I think it's probably about time we headed back to Kaede-baa-chan's for the night,” Kagome said then, glancing Inuyasha's way, not wanting to seem rude by overstaying their welcome and putting their friends in the awkward position of actually having to ask them to leave.

“I'm afraid it looks that way,” Miroku agreed as he watched Sango put Ichiro down before tending to their sleepy daughters.

He rose to his feet, as did Kagome and Inuyasha.

“Perhaps we need to follow the young ones' examples, because I have a feeling tomorrow is going to be quite the day,” he added.

“Keh, don't remind me,” Inuyasha grumbled in reply, although his expression wasn't all that displeased. All the hanyou could actually focus on in that moment was the thought of getting to sleep in the same room as Kagome, of getting to smell her lovely scent all night long. He liked their other friends, but he was actually eager to get out of there now that things were winding down.

“We'll talk tomorrow, Kagome-chan,” Sango said as she sat back down with her daughters and started removing the ties from Mizuki's hair, brushing it out, while Misaki sat next to her sister quietly waiting her turn.

“Definitely,” Kagome agreed with a huge grin and wave sent Sango's way. The twins both drowsily waved back, murmuring goodbyes to the 'pretty lady' and 'uncle doggy' as miko and hanyou exited the hut.

“Goodnight, Kagome,” Shippou said as he walked the pair out, watching them leave from the doorway.

“She came back for you, you know. It's obvious. Don't screw it up,” Shippou added far too quietly for anyone other than the hanyou to hear.

Inuyasha had been glancing Kagome's way with a pleasant smile on his lips, but at Shippou's words he flushed darkly and quickly looked away, grumbling something under his breath about nosy fucking foxes who needed to mind their own damn business.

Hearing his grumbling but not making everything out, Kagome asked him what was wrong.

“Nothin',” he mumbled in answer a bit louder than his original grumbling had been, clearly flustered, and it wasn't hard for the miko to guess that Shippou had obviously said something she hadn't heard.

“Shippou-chan only teases because he knows it'll affect you, too. Whatever he said, don't worry about it,” Kagome said then, flashing Inuyasha a brilliant smile, and he immediately relaxed, lost again in the simple pleasure and wonderment that was being in her presence, as she walked beside him on their way back to Kaede's.

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