After The End: New Beginnings

By SplendentGoddess

Romance / Erotica

What we've got here is failure to communicate

Kagome was unofficially in the middle of her first lesson with Kaede, listening to the older miko as she showed her the various containers of herbs she kept on hand, explaining what each one was and what it was for, when there was a knock on the door followed by an orange blur zipping inside before anyone even had a chance to answer.

“Good morning, Kagome!” Shippou stated joyously from his perch atop the young miko's head.

Laughing, Kagome plucked the kitsune off her head and sat him back down on his feet, Rin giggling at the sight from her spot over by the water bucket, washing the radishes she'd collected that morning after she'd finished weeding the vegetable garden.

“Good morning to you, too, Shippou-chan,” Kagome stated, smiling down at the boy.

“I hope we're not intruding,” came Miroku's amused voice next, as the door mat was pushed aside to reveal the monk and his wife, plus their kids, all lingering in Kaede's doorway, waiting for a proper invitation.

“I would have been surprised had you not decided to return this morning, Houshi-dono,” Kaede stated, giving the group a friendly smile and wave. “Come in, come in.”

“Inuyasha wanted us to come tell you guys the news,” Sango explained as she had a seat beside the young miko, Ichirou cradled in her arms. “Would you like to hold him?” Sango asked as Kagome smiled down at the boy, and surprised and humbled at her offer, the future-born miko accepted the precious bundle when Sango moved Ichirou over into her arms.

Mizuki and Misaki scampered their way over towards Shippou as Miroku took a seat beside his wife, the kitsune retreating behind Rin for safety, which earned another giggle from the eleven-year-old.

“I'll keep them busy for you if you finish washing the daikon for me,” Rin bargained, and Shippou immediately agreed.

“Deal!”

With the kitsune taking over her current chore for her, Rin rose to her feet and dusted off her knees before getting the two-year-olds to follow her to the back of the hut, where she retrieved a small storage box off a shelf and dumped its contents onto the floor to reveal her collection of unusual and pretty stones, the twins immediately becoming fascinated by all the different colors and patterns the miscellaneous pebbles contained.

Smiling and nodding at the sight, Sango then turned her attention back to Kagome holding Ichirou, and grinning at the thought of how natural the younger woman looked holding a baby in her arms, the slayer then proceeded to explain to Kagome what the game plan was for the celebration in her honor at the headman's compound that evening.

Thinking about what a nice and large family dinner it was going to be, and how she was the guest of honor, Kagome glanced down over herself, wearing yesterday's clothes, her hair unwashed, and realized she needed to get herself cleaned up.

“Guess I'm going to have to get used to cold baths,” she mused with a playful crinkle of her nose, remembering the first time she'd bathed in the river. Of course, her expression of displeasure quickly morphed into a fond smile, remembering yet again how she'd caught Inuyasha spying on her, a quiet chuckle escaping her lips.

Her change in demeanor went unnoticed by the slayer, whose mind had started problem solving as soon as Kagome had first voiced her need to get washed up and changed into clean clothing.

“Why don't you come over for lunch, Kagome-chan? And then afterwards you can bathe in our tub,” Sango offered. “Miroku made sure I could still enjoy a nice hot bath whenever I wanted,” she explained. “So we've got a fairly large wash tub he purchased one Market Day. It's not as fancy as some of the tubs in the nicer bath houses, needing to be filled with heated pots of water every time because there's no way to reheat the water already in the tub, but that still beats cold baths any day.”

“I finally get to watch her bathing without getting slapped for it,” Miroku chimed in, waggling his eyebrows, which earned a blush from his wife while Kagome and Kaede both chuckled quietly.

“No spying if I come to use your bathtub, Miroku-sama,” Kagome warned with a stern but yet amused twinkle in her eyes.

“Absolutely not, or I imagine Sango's lovely tub would gain a dent in the shape of my head, courtesy of our resident hanyou,” Miroku acknowledged, rubbing the top of his head just thinking about it, which earned a giggle from Sango that time before the slayer assured Kagome that her husband would indeed be exiled outside for the duration of her bath.

“I also have a spare yukata and matching wrap skirt I think would look just lovely on you, if you wanted them,” she offered next.

“Thanks, Sango-chan, I probably need to start dressing that way,” Kagome stated with a warm smile. “Although,” she added, “I think for tonight, under the circumstances, it'd probably make the most sense if I changed into miko robes.” Telling her friends about Kaede's offer at their inquisitive looks, she explained how she'd decided it was the best career move for her, considering her reiki powers and all. “It just doesn't make sense to be born with this gift and not use it to be a real miko, you know?”

“I agree,” Miroku chimed in. “It would seem the kami themselves have arranged for you to become our future village miko. As you have explained it to us before, nobody else from your century has the gift of reiki, at least that you know of. Youkai have also completely disappeared, be they in hiding or truly vanished, and a miko with genuine powers of purification is somebody who is simply not required in the place you came from. For you to have been born, then, with such great power, it seems obvious to me that you were not meant for that world, but for ours.”

Sango, Kaede and Shippou all nodded sagely at Miroku's words, while Rin half-listened to the adults' conversation while keeping the twins distracted, telling them the story of where she'd found each and every rock as they went through her collection one by one.

With the business part of their visit taken care of, Sango and Miroku continued to hang out for a little while longer, letting Rin finish what she'd started with the girls because they knew the twins would put up a fight if they tried to get them to leave without learning about each and every pebble first. Fortunately Rin didn't have a huge collection, and they were already over halfway through it. Continuing their visit, then, the slayer and monk told Kagome a few more stories she hadn't heard yet, of things she'd missed while she'd been away. Just normal, albeit amusing stories, involving one thing or another that had happened in their lives, in the village. It made Kagome glad, and grateful really, to know that life in the village had been peaceful for the last three years, since Naraku's demise. She'd been worried that youkai activity might have risen, like it had done the times Naraku had gone into hiding in the past, but she suspected towards the end there that Naraku had actually absorbed most of his lower insect youkai into himself for the added power, and so there simply weren't the massive numbers of them running loose in his absence as there had previously been.

Of course, more intelligent youkai were always a potential threat, the ones who'd had nothing to do with Naraku but had known to stay in hiding while he was in power because they'd been rightfully afraid of him, but since the jewel was also gone Kagome suspected there was nothing most of those guys would want from them anymore. If one of them were going to cause trouble, like if he'd missed the memo that the jewel had been destroyed and wanted his own chance to claim it now that Naraku was gone, Kagome imagined that such a youkai would've already shown up by now. It was nice that that hadn't happened. Granted, life in the Sengoku jidai wasn't entirely peaceful – it was called the 'Warring States' era for a reason, after all – but it was just about as peaceful as it could get, under the circumstances, and for that, she was grateful. Her friends deserved their 'happily ever after.' Of course, so did she; the thought brought a smile to her lips.

When her mission had first begun almost four years ago she'd wanted nothing more than to return to her old life in the future, but now, that life in the future was in her past, and her future was the past. All she needed for her 'happily ever after' was to be by Inuyasha's side, and she said as much in that moment, confirming what Sango and Miroku had already known. She told them of how, although she really had missed all of them, it had been Inuyasha she hadn't been able to live without. She never wanted to leave his side again, even toying with the idea of sometimes going with the guys on an extermination job, although she realized she probably would have to stay at home most times. She would just miss Inuyasha while they were gone.

Sango sympathized with that notion, unable to accompany her husband herself because of their children, not that she regretted that decision for a second. She did indeed miss Miroku when he was gone, of course, although thankfully he usually wasn't gone for very long. At the prospect of Kagome one day joining Miroku and Inuyasha on an extermination job, Sango put the miko's concerns about leaving the village at those times to rest, explaining how she wasn't out of practice as a taijiya, despite her new role as a mother, and so the village wasn't left with Kaede as their sole defender whenever Miroku and Inuyasha were away. She still had Hiraikotsu and knew how to use it. In an emergency, she knew she could always leave the kids with their neighbors, say if bandits were attacking, or anybody else that Kaede was unable to handle on her own. Nothing bad had ever happened, so far, but it most certainly wasn't as if the village was left defenseless whenever Miroku and Inuyasha were both out of town.

Besides, it wasn't as if they were constantly on the road. They only went out on extermination jobs whenever somebody came seeking their aid. Word had spread far and wide of the hanyou and houshi pair by that point, and so it wasn't as if they'd go out for weeks at a time, wandering aimlessly in search of work. Work came to them. As Sango explained it, while most of the time Kagome would probably stay behind when somebody came seeking the pair, it certainly wouldn't hurt anything if she wanted to go with them on occasion, especially if the youkai sounded especially troublesome.

Discussing the various possibilities, Miroku also spoke up and said that for some of the longer missions, that were further away, it'd probably be better if Kagome and Inuyasha handled it themselves, just the two of them, since he never liked being away from Sango for that long, either, and so that way the village would also have the added protection of his presence to make up for her absence, if they worked it that way.

“Plus, days on the road alone with Inuyasha can get rather, shall we say, trying,” the monk added.

“You mean you're always 'trying' his patience, and he's always 'trying' not to hit you,” Shippou chimed in from his place beside the water bucket, setting the last daikon in the bowl to dry alongside the others.

Sango and Kagome both giggled.

Saying how relieved she was that they were all thinking along the same lines, since she'd rolled those very scenarios around in her head already, Kagome then added how it was all stuff she knew she still needed to discuss with Inuyasha, himself, and how she did not want any of them – she sent a knowing look Shippou's way – to say anything to Inuyasha before she'd had her chance to talk to him first.

“It's not like my feelings for him are a secret or anything, so you wouldn't really be blabbing anything he didn't already know, but some things should just be between the two of us, you know?”

Miroku opened his mouth to say something, his eyes twinkling with amusement, but before he could say anything Sango beat him to it, cutting him off with a reply of, “Of course, Kagome-chan, we completely agree and will not...” She sent a knowing look at her husband. “...meddle in your and Inuyasha's private affairs.”

Miroku gulped at the serious look in his wife's eyes.

Kagome chuckled.

“Thank you for being so understanding,” the miko stated, and it was at around that time that Rin finished up with the girls, so carefully handing Ichirou back to his mother Kagome bade her friends goodbye-for-now as the slayer and monk headed home with their three children.

“I'm taking you up on that offer for lunch and a bath!” Kagome called out, and Sango turned around from her place in the doorway.

“I'll make sure the food and water are both ready,” she said with a warm smile, and then they were gone.

All but Shippou, who'd stayed behind and was talking with Rin, but Kagome paid them little attention, getting back to her lessons with Kaede until it was time to break for lunch.


Man, that took longer than I wanted... Inuyasha mentally grumbled with a sigh as he made his way southwest through his forest back towards the village with a gutted doe slung over his shoulder. “And I still ain't done yet,” he added aloud. “Feh.”

During his border check he'd picked up the scent of a foreign, low-level youkai. Just a brainless thing, really, but he hadn't wanted to put off dealing with it and let it wander too close to town. Besides, some brainless youkai had a tendency to multiply quicker than you'd think, and so it was definitely better to take care of one sooner rather than later, before that one turned into twenty.

That done, it'd been time to go deer hunting. At least that part hadn't taken as long, the childless doe much easier to track down and much easier to kill.

That lower youkai had been a pain in the ass.

Now, carrying his prize, Inuyasha headed through the trees until he came upon the river, and staying on the east side of the river for the time being he followed it south, towards the southern most edge of town, where Riku the leatherworker lived. Coming upon the spot where the river curved westward and headed out of the shelter of the trees, where it had been manipulated by humans to feed the paddy fields before continuing on its way southeast, Inuyasha stayed within the forest to stay out of sight, hearing all of the farmers at work and not wanting to deal with any of them spotting him and gossiping about what he was up to. Continuing to head downstream until he came upon his destination, the very last house at the village's southern border, he emerged through the treeline, then, and hopped across the river to the other side, forgoing the use of a bridge.

“Oi, Riku! Got a proposition for ya!” he called out as he literally descended upon the middle-aged man's property, his nose crinkling at the lingering stench in the air.

At least leather tanning didn't stink as bad as fabric dying. He stayed as far away from those houses as possible.

“Inuyasha-sama?!” Riku asked, surprised by the hanyou's sudden appearance, as he looked up from tending to his humble but functional vegetable garden. His eyes widened even further at the sight of the deer held casually across the hanyou's shoulder.

“I need you to do me a favor, and you'll be well compensated,” Inuyasha stated, setting the deer down carefully on its back.

“You...you need my help?” Riku asked in awe. He was still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that the inu-hanyou was even on his property, talking to him. Him! The leatherworker!

Inuyasha rolled his eyes at the man's reaction.

“Here's the deal. Usually whenever I bring in a catch for Miroku 'n' Sango or Kaede I gut 'n' skin it for 'em, but I let them handle the butcherin' part. I don't got a knife, and frankly, I don't give a shit what my own cuts of meat look like. But this deer, it's for a special occasion, for the headman's feast honoring Kagome's return-”

“Kagome-sama has returned to us?!”

Unperturbed by the interruption, Inuyasha grinned broadly, showing off his fangs.

“Yeah, she's back as of yesterday, and I told Haruto this morning I'd bring them deer meat for tonight. Just the meat, so that his wife and kids don't gotta deal with the butcherin' part. But I don't wanna screw up with improper cuts and have it look like I just ripped the meat apart, which is what I'd end up doin' if I tried it, so since I know you know how to properly butcher a game animal the human way I figured I'd let you do it for me, and as payment, you can keep the rest of the deer for yourself. Plenty of usable meat after the best cuts are gone, 'cause I don't need all the meat for tonight, plus I'm sure you'll get paid well for the hide on Market Day. I made sure to keep it nice for you.”

Absorbing everything the hanyou said, Riku felt both humbled and exuberated that Inuyasha was asking such a favor of him, and didn't feel put out by the unexpected request in the slightest. Quite frankly, he felt the hanyou's payment in return for a simple butcher job was very generous. Almost too generous. Just cut out the best pieces of meat for the headman's family and then he got to keep the scrap meat and the hide to tan and sell for his own profit? It was too much. But, on the other hand, it was for Kagome-sama's return, and he knew how important that was. These cuts of meat had to be perfect. He really was the best qualified.

He bowed low.

“I am most honored, Inuyasha-sama, that you would entrust me with such an important task. I shall get to work at once.”

Inuyasha nodded his head some in return when Riku met his eyes, and then he let the man tell him where he wanted the animal placed, moving the deer to Riku's workstation for him as a courtesy. Once the deer was where Riku wanted it Inuyasha backed off to let the man work in peace, as he immediately went to work skinning the animal. Heading back to the river, Inuyasha used the time to get cleaned up after his multiple kills, shaking himself dry afterwards. He then headed back within the treeline so as not to disturb the man as he worked, observing casually from his perch in a tall tree on the other side of the river. Inuyasha supposed he could have stayed and watched, maybe even learning a thing or two, but it wasn't really that important and to be perfectly honest, he was a little embarrassed.

If it were just the group of them in Kaede's hut, Inuyasha knew his butchering skills would be overlooked, even if he were the one who'd prepared the meat. After all, the most important thing was that he'd provided the meat in the first place, right? He didn't feel that the cuts had to be perfect for Kagome's sake, knowing she didn't care about such trivial things, and so for that reason he didn't feel inadequate in that regard, as if he'd needed Riku's help where Kagome was concerned. He just didn't want to embarrass himself in front of Haruto and his family by showing up with something that looked like a dog had ripped it to pieces.

He hadn't thought about it at the time, when he'd made his offer to the headman that he'd provide the cuts of meat already butchered; he'd realized on his way back to Miroku's house that he'd put his foot in his mouth and had immediately started formulating a plan to get himself out of the corner he'd backed himself into. He had openly asked his friends about it that morning, unashamed nowadays to at least admit it to them whenever he needed help.

Since Sango certainly also knew her way around large game animals he'd originally figured that she could save his butt by doing the butchering for him. It'd actually been the slayer who'd recommended he go with Riku, instead, as a favor to the lonely man who could certainly benefit from the hide but was much too proud to accept the gift of a hide outright as an actual act of charity. He'd have felt insulted if Inuyasha had had Sango butcher the deer and then he'd brought him the hide just as a present, without having earned it. They definitely wanted the hide tanned, too; it would have been disrespectful to the deer itself to let some of its body go to waste, and while Sango also knew how to tan leather, it just hadn't made sense to the slayer for her to do it when they had a resident leatherworker who actually tanned hides for a living. This way, they could help the poor man out while letting him do them a favor in return, to save his honor. Riku didn't have much, but he had his pride, and that was something Inuyasha could definitely understand.

It didn't really take that long, although to the impatient hanyou it felt like an eternity. Finally, when Riku called out that he was finished, Inuyasha reemerged from the treeline and hopped back across the river. Riku's eyes widened at how effortless he'd made such a feat appear, but refrained from commenting, and Inuyasha gratefully accepted the small collection of tightly wrapped bundles he presented him with. Lacking the refrigeration he had learned about in Kagome's world, Inuyasha knew he couldn't dawdle, and so thanking Riku for a job well done he then quickly took his leave, heading straight for the headman's compound.

Kazue was delighted to accept the packs of meat from the hanyou when he arrived, already having thought of a few slow-cooking recipes that would work out perfectly for that evening's celebration. She'd get to work on them right away.

Getting out of there as soon as he could, with the promise of returning with Kagome at the scheduled time, Inuyasha excused himself then and made a mad dash for Kaede's house, sighing in relief to finally be finished with his morning tasks, knowing he'd probably missed lunch by that point. A quick stop outside the elderly miko's dwelling told the hanyou's nose that Kagome wasn't there, and following her scent trail he was unsurprised to find that it led him right back to the monk and slayer's house. He was surprised, however, to find said monk sitting outside, looking bored as he leaned against the side of his house like he was waiting for something, Shippou sitting beside him, doodling Kanji in the dirt with a stick.

“How's this?” Shippou asked as Inuyasha approached.

Miroku looked down at the symbols the fox kit had just drawn.

“Very good, Shippou,” he complimented seriously.

Inuyasha gazed down at the Kanji in question and rolled his eyes. He didn't know very much Kanji, but he recognized those symbols. They were the purifying blessing Miroku used on his ofuda. The words themselves were harmless to youkai without a reiki charge to back them up, which explained why Shippou could draw them without incident. It was just like how Kagome's grandfather's ofuda were also harmless. He mentally chuckled at the memory. But thinking about it in that moment, there was only one reason he could think of for why Shippou needed to learn to write such scripts.

“Feh, what're ya doin', bouzu? Teaching the runt how to make ofuda so that he can use his fox magic to trick people with fake exorcisms? Didn't think even you'd go that far.” He snorted at the thought, half disappointed, half amused.

Shippou's eyes lit up.

“What a great idea!” he chimed in.

Miroku met Inuyasha's eyes with a deadpan expression at the hanyou's look of confusion.

“For your information, Inuyasha, I was merely teaching Shippou how to draw ofuda so that he could assist me with making a stockpile of new ones, seeing as life as a busy father has taken away from the many uninterrupted hours in which I could have previously put ink to paper.”

Inuyasha didn't know what to say to that, but before he could think of something, a snickering Shippou ran up to him and jumped up on his shoulder.

“That's what he thinks,” Shippou said, voice too low for the human man to hear. “Sure I'll help him out, but I was totally already gonna do what you said, too. Like I really wouldn't have already thought of that,” he laughed.

With that, Shippou jumped down from Inuyasha's shoulder and ran into the hut, Inuyasha shaking his head with an exasperated sigh. He moved to follow, then, but Miroku, who'd risen to his feet, held out his hand in a friendly gesture to stop.

Inuyasha met his gaze, the silent question coming off loud and clear.

“Alas, but I'm afraid only women and children are presently permitted within my four walls,” the monk explained.

Inuyasha raised an eyebrow at that, and took a long, deep sniff. Kagome was definitely inside, as were Sango and the kids. There was also a good deal of water. Much more than just the normal water bucket. Ah. The bathtub.

“Keh,” he said then, moving to lean against the house beside Miroku.

“Kit said he'd already thought of that, by the way, and was already going to trick people with the ofuda. I didn't give him the idea,” Inuyasha said for something to say.

“Oh, it hadn't been lost on me that the thought might cross Shippou's mind, but I had certainly not condoned such an act, nor had I agreed to help the boy for that sole purpose.”

“So long as you can sleep at night.”

“You know Shippou means well. He would never take a prank too far.”

Inuyasha reached up and rubbed the back of his head.

“I suppose that's true, unless I'm his target,” he said. He sighed.

How much longer was this going to take? He wanted to be with Kagome, damn it!

As if reading his mind, the miko's lovely voice called out to them in that moment.

“Okay, you two can come in!” she said from inside the hut.

“Finally,” Inuyasha grumbled quietly as he turned and made his way inside, not even waiting for Miroku.

Inuyasha paused for a moment in surprise at the sight of Kagome in miko robes, but quickly brushed it off. She'd just bathed, after all, and she only had the one outfit, which was dirty and needed to be washed. This wasn't the first time she'd changed into miko's robes from necessity after a bath.

Damn it, why does everything keep reminding me of that time at the river?

If they were alone, he'd have been half-tempted to walk up to Kagome and tell her to take the robes off, and when she made a grab for her futuristic clothes, he would've said in a sultry voice, 'I didn't say get back in your weird clothes, just get naked.'

Yeah...that would've been a smooth line, especially after last night. Oh well...like I would've really had the balls to say that, anyway.

Sighing almost inaudibly, he made his way the rest of the way inside and plopped himself down by the firepit before politely – for him – asking Sango if there was any leftover lunch.

While Sango prepared the leftovers she had indeed sat aside for him, Kagome chewed nervously on her lower lip while going through the motions of brushing her hair, her concentration elsewhere as she watched Inuyasha accept his food and begin to eat. She hadn't missed his initial shock upon seeing her in miko clothing, and wondered now if maybe just up and changing into the robes without telling him about her decision first had been a mistake. Did seeing her in miko robes still bother him as it once had? She'd been so caught up worrying about whether or not the local villagers would be okay with her being their miko while also being with Inuyasha that she hadn't even considered how he'd feel. Would it bother him if she were to take on the role of village miko? Would it trigger too many unpleasant memories?

As if reading her mind, which he probably had in a way, since his nose and ears had both informed him of how nervous she suddenly was, Inuyasha looked up from his rice bowl in that moment and rolled his eyes at Kagome's obvious discomfiture.

“Keh, if you're worried all of a sudden that seein' you in those robes gave me a Kikyou flashback, knock that shit off right now. I got over her a long time ago,” he emphasized, meaning to remind Kagome of how he'd resolved his feelings for the dead miko even before their three-year separation. “I ain't stupid...” he continued then, “...and know damn well that you had to change into something clean after your bath. We'll work on getting you some regular clothes, but in the meantime, you look fine, so quit your worryin'.”

Kagome relaxed tremendously at his words and sent him a grateful smile, concentrating on the task at hand a little better, then, as she got the last few tangles out of her hair.

“I'm so glad to hear you say that,” she said. “I hadn't been sure at first if it would bother you, me wearing the robes, but since it doesn't, now I'm not afraid to tell you the news.”

That said, Kagome immediately turned and put her hairbrush away in her backpack, missing the momentary look of nervous confusion that flashed across Inuyasha's visage. With Sango and Miroku tending to their children, neither of them noticed his momentary look of worry, either.

“Kaede-baa-chan asked me what I wanted to do with myself, career-wise,” Kagome began as she took a seat near Inuyasha by the firepit.

She wished she could be more in-depth regarding how Kaede had assured her the villagers wouldn't object to them being together with her also functioning as a miko, but she knew how embarrassed Inuyasha got around their friends if things became too emotionally charged, so she'd have to tread lightly. She hadn't exactly asked the guy to marry her yet, anyway, although if last night was anything to go by, they both knew where their hearts resided. The words were still unspoken, but she knew that he still loved her very much, and she was sure he must know that she felt the same way. She had come back to be with him, first and foremost.

“I told her the truth,” she said then. “I told her that I hadn't really given it much thought.”

She took his blank expression for merely listening to her reasoning, and so she continued, as if giving a sales pitch regarding why it was the right decision.

“She told me the choice was mine, but that if I wanted to, she wanted to train me as her apprentice. The more I thought about it, the more it just didn't seem right not to, you know? I mean, I've got all these powers, so I should use them, shouldn't I? I mean obviously I will if the village is ever under attack, that goes without saying, but why not learn the rituals while I'm at it? I was going to be a shrine miko back at my family's home, anyway. I was born to be a miko. I was born to be the Shikon miko, and I think the villagers already see me in that light, anyway, so it should be official, I think. Would that be all right with you? Kaede-baa-chan assured me there's no conflict of interests.”

She blushed as she said that last part, looking away shyly, completely missing the confused, pained look that flashed in Inuyasha's eyes. Sango and Miroku had ushered the kids and Shippou into the back room by that point to give the couple some privacy, so nobody was witness to the misunderstanding that was quickly forming in the hanyou's mind.

There's...there's no conflict of interests...? What the hell does that mean? I...I thought she...

Trying not to panic, Inuyasha did a quick mental inventory of the last twenty-four hours. Was it possible he'd misread her this whole time? He could have sworn he'd seen that look in her eyes, that look of love, that reflected the love he felt for her in his own heart, but...but miko couldn't be married. That couldn't be what she'd meant by conflict of interests. Kaede wouldn't have sanctioned Kagome being a miko if the two of them were actually together, there's no way. No, she must have just been referring to their friendship, as it'd always been. Kikyou had kept him at a distance, feeling that even too close a friendship with him would have been improper, but Kagome wasn't Kikyou and she wasn't going to let being a miko hurt their friendship, that was what she'd meant. Had to be. There was no way she... If she was so openly discussing her decision to train under Kaede as an official shrine miko then she couldn't have been thinking that they would... She couldn't have wanted...

I'm a fucking idiot.

Still, though, he had already sworn to himself that even if she didn't feel that way about him anymore, even if all she wanted from him was friendship, it was still a thousand, no, a million times better than life without her at all. He had gotten his hopes up after last night, but originally, his plan had been to tread lightly until he knew where her heart resided. He'd known it was possible she didn't feel that way anymore, and he'd wanted to make sure he knew where her heart lied before saying or doing anything that could have embarrassed him. He was glad he now had his answer. The old him might have gotten hurt to the point of getting angry, of cussing her out and storming away, but he wasn't that childish or foolish any longer, and he would definitely rather have her as a friend than not at all. It would be hard, but he would do his best to remain grateful of the simple fact that she had returned to him. Them. She had returned to them. Apparently it really had been all of them together and her life here that she'd simply wanted to return to, choosing life in his world generally speaking over life in her birth time, but for that decision he would be eternally grateful.

If what she wanted to do in his time was be a shrine miko, then who was he to tell her no? Sure, she had asked him if it would be all right with him, but he knew she was probably just thinking about whether or not she'd look like Kikyou to him, whether or not seeing her as a miko day in and day out would be too weird, bringing back bad memories. That certainly wouldn't be the case, and he wouldn't let her think otherwise. It would be too easy to pretend that that was the reason he didn't want her to be a miko, but pretending she looked like Kikyou to him was only guaranteed to blow up in his face, and erase any possibility of her falling for him again as time went on. If she'd fallen for him once, then she could do it again, right? And he'd been such a dick to her in the beginning, yet she'd fallen for him anyway. Getting her to fall in love with him again would be easy.

Maybe.

One could hope.

I was such a selfish bastard back in the beginning, he thought then, remembering the countless times they'd argued, fighting over how many times she could return to her world, or how many days she could be gone. Fighting over whether or not her schooling was more important than the jewel quest. Fighting for the sake of fighting, really. That was all they'd ever done, back in the beginning, but that was years ago and he wasn't that same selfish bastard anymore. He was a bastard, but not quite that selfish, and her happiness really was more important to him than his own. She'd given up so much. She'd given up practically everything.There would be no more going back to her world, now; no more bartering for how many days she could remain there. There were no more tests, and most importantly, no mother for her to run home to, no shoulder to cry on when he pushed her buttons too far. So he wouldn't argue with her over this. He wouldn't demand that she not become an official miko of the village. He would have to go kick Shippou's ass later in private, but he would never let Kagome know how much this tore at him.

Looking back on it, he was now extremely grateful that Hideaki and Yumiko had interrupted them last night, or else he'd have made a total and utter fool of himself when he would've moved in for the kiss only for Kagome to have to politely let him down, explaining with pity in her eyes that she only wanted to be friends. He never, ever wanted to see her looking at him with that expression.

That thought had him realizing he had better say something fucking quick or else she'd realize he'd been way too quiet for way too long. Noticing he hadn't yet finished all his rice, he quickly shoveled in another mouthful, both buying himself some time as well as trying to articulate aloofness because he typically didn't eat whenever he got too upset.

“Keh...sounds like a good idea to me,” he answered at long last, after swallowing his rice.

Trying oh-so-hard to ignore the pain in his heart at the thought of never having Kagome the way he wanted her, he allowed himself to feel genuine pride in regard to the girl's accomplishments and abilities, as he finally gave her the honest praise she'd deserved three years ago.

“Fuck, Kagome, your spiritual powers are the strongest I've ever felt. Ever. You totally kicked Naraku's ass, not to mention the jewel itself. You're right that you were born to be a miko, and no, it won't bother me seeing you in those robes.”

It'll be a reminder of what I can't have, but let her think I'm talking about Kikyou.

“You are Ka-go-me, the Shikon miko,” he emphasized then. “You have the biggest heart, the kindest soul I know. The villagers will be lucky to have you as their miko.”

She beamed at him at his words, the look in her eyes the happiest he could recall seeing in a very long time, if ever.

Even happier than yesterday.

Of course, that was because the miko thought her future husband had just given her his stamp of approval regarding her career choice. She was completely unaware of the sacrifice he believed he had just made.

“Come on...” she said then, rising to her feet. “There's so much more we still need to discuss...in private.”

Missing her mischievous smirk and therefore not really looking forward to discussing the details, but also not about to argue with her because it would go against his silent vow to remain friendly towards her, Inuyasha rose to go with her in that moment, but their would-be moment of privacy before tonight's celebration was interrupted before it even began when, as Kagome pulled the door mat aside to exit Miroku and Sango's hut, she was greeted by the sight of a few happily waving neighbors heading rapidly in their direction.

“Oh boy...so much for alone time,” Kagome muttered dryly, sighing loudly, although outwardly she kept her smile firmly in place, waving merrily in return.

Inuyasha didn't have time to comment before they were accosted.

“Oh, Kagome-sama! Kagome-sama!”

And so it begins... Inuyasha thought, sighing as well as he followed Kagome outside while she greeted the villagers. He wouldn't be a very good 'protector' if he didn't at least keep an eye on her, after all.

He sensed Miroku coming up behind him but didn't respond, even as the houshi clapped him on the shoulder.

“This too shall pass, my friend,” Miroku said as he observed with sympathetic eyes the way his neighbors had just latched themselves onto their precious Kagome, verbally if not physically, asking her question after question and making it very apparent they had no intention of letting up any time soon.

“Feh, it's just gettin' started,” Inuyasha complained. “In a few hours there's the feast.”

“True, but then after that, the newness will start to fade, and then I'm sure you and Kagome-sama will be able to find ample time with which to escape, just the two of you.”

To do what, discuss her miko training? Inuyasha thought bitterly, although he thought better of saying such a thing out loud.

“Keh.”

Satisfied, Miroku headed past the hanyou to intercept the next wave of locals making their way up the road. Kagome, seeing where Miroku was headed and who was approaching, had to force herself to maintain her smile. She didn't begrudge the villagers their desire to see her for themselves, but couldn't the universe have done her a tiny little favor and let her escape with Inuyasha for their much-needed talk? Then again, she supposed the universe had just done her a huge favor, letting her return to the past and all.

Beggars can't be choosers, she told herself then, as she mumbled a quick blessing for the elderly woman who just asked her to give her a blessing.

At least having some of the villagers come to her now meant that things would be less hectic at tonight's feast...right?

She suppressed another sigh.

It was going to be a long night.


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