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After The End: New Beginnings

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Sometimes Goodbye is a Second Chance

Lying in bed, Kagome stared up at her ceiling, sighing quietly. With her friends starting college in only a few short days, she honestly doubted she'd see very much of them anymore. She would always have a place for Yuka, Eri and Ayumi in her heart, but their lives were traveling in different directions now. Graduating high school had been a goal she'd wanted to achieve, even though it wasn't mandatory, and since college definitely wasn't she'd made the decision long ago not to bother applying anywhere. She was done with school. She was eighteen now, going on nineteen, and the world at large viewed her as an adult. Her childhood responsibilities were over.

“Kagome, dear, breakfast is ready,” came her mother's voice from the other side of her closed bedroom door, and Kagome grinned wryly to herself.

I suppose I'll always be Mama's little girl, no matter what...not that that's a bad thing.

Sighing again, which turned into a yawn followed by a nice good stretch, Kagome decided she'd better get out of bed. Getting dressed in one of her favorite black and white checkered skirts and matching black top, with a white cardigan sweater over it with the top button fastened to keep some of the lingering chill at bay, she made her way downstairs then, ruffling Souta's hair as she came up behind him at the kitchen table.

“Hey!” he protested around the bites of food in his mouth, earning a giggle from his big sister.

“You excited to be starting junior high?” she asked, taking a seat at the table and graciously accepting the plate of breakfast their mother sat before her.

“Thank you,” she said to her mother before digging in, smiling and nodding as her brother rattled on about how much he was looking forward to being a junior high school student.

Later, after breakfast, Kagome slipped on a pair of shoes and headed outside to help her grandfather organize some of the items in their shrine's gift shop. She supposed she'd better get used to taking inventory and other such mundane tasks, since that would be her job from now on. She honestly had no motivation to go get a job anywhere else, doing anything else, and boring or no she was helping her family this way. It was definitely what she wanted to do.

Besides it being the right thing to do, helping with the family business rather than going off on her own, she also wanted to stay at the shrine as much as possible for selfish reasons, because she didn't even really want to go off on her own; the modern-day hustle and bustle of the world she'd been born into simply no longer appealed to the miko. Yes, she was a miko, and even if it'd only be for show, for ceremony, she would become a shrine miko for the Sunset Shrine. Her mother filled the role on rare occasions, for certain holidays, and so now she'd do it too, and tell the tourists all about the legends surrounding their shrine and the Goshinboku.

Picking up and fingering one of the 'Shikon no Tama' good luck key chains they sold in the gift shop she sighed wistfully, put it back in the box with the others, and then grabbed the inventory sheet her grandfather had sat on the counter for her to go over. It'd be hard, speaking about her friends and the adventure she'd lived through as if they were merely legend, but she'd much rather do that, and keep their memories alive in her own heart, than go flip burgers at WcDonald's or something and pretend her adventures in the Sengoku jidai had never even happened.

Noticing his granddaughter's distraction and mood, Mr. Higurashi grabbed something from the box he was going through before putting the box aside and walking up to her.

“Ah, Kagome, I forgot to give you your graduation present!” he declared joyously, holding up a mummified kappa's hand.

Kagome laughed, the reaction he'd been hoping for, as she accepted it graciously.

“Thanks, Jii-chan,” she said. “I promise I won't feed this one to Buyo.”

“Well I should certainly hope not, that's a priceless artifact!” he stated with faux agitation, mirth twinkling in his eyes. “It has a long history,” he added matter-of-factly, for once not automatically launching into a tale of said history.

Kagome turned the amphibious paw over a few times in her hands, studying it. It actually did look authentic, now that she knew what kappa hands actually looked like.

“I sure hope this isn't Jaken, that'd be awkward,” she murmured with a quirk of her lips, before gingerly setting it aside so she could get back to her inventory.

Her grandfather scratched his chin. He supposed a kappa's hand held different meaning when you actually used to know a kappa. And while he was grateful for his granddaughter's experience and part in history, proving that the old legends really were true and that he wasn't just a crazy old man to believe in things like youkai, he couldn't help but feel sorry for Kagome.

Back in the beginning he'd wanted nothing more than to seal the well and protect her from those monsters, but he'd realized soon enough that Inuyasha hadn't been one of the bad youkai, and that like it or not the youkai who really were bad were his granddaughter's responsibility. She'd been on a sacred mission; traveling into the past had been her holy duty, to vanquish evil and rid the world of the real Shikon no Tama, forever. She was the chosen one. He felt honored to realize that his precious granddaughter was somebody deemed so important by the kami themselves, but he also didn't think that she deserved the way things had ended. After such a triumph, to be forced to go on as if nothing had ever happened? To be ripped away from her friends, and somebody who'd meant even more to her than mere friendship?

“If you ever want to talk about it, granddaughter, this old man is just as good at listening to tales as he is at telling them.”

Surprised by her grandfather's words, Kagome looked up, her eyes shimmering suspiciously although she blinked and it was gone, no tears falling.

“Arigato, Jii-chan. That...that really means a lot to me.”

He nodded, and then turned and got back to work, going through his own box of inventory while Kagome did the same. The next few hours were passed in peaceful silence broken only by the occasional small-talk comment about some piece of merchandise or another. Kagome's grandfather could tell that the teenager's thoughts were still five hundred years away, but her lips were upturned ever so slightly with a wisp of a smile, and that was a vast improvement, he knew, thinking back over the last three years and how utterly miserable the poor girl had been in the beginning.

Oh, she'd tried to shove her nose in her books and drown out her misery with her studies, allowing herself no time to think about the past as she concentrated fully on her schoolwork, but he'd still been able to see how sad she was, despite her best efforts to hide it. Now, looking back on all she'd achieved, he did appreciate her work ethic and was proud of her for her accomplishment, but he knew the poor girl was still hurting deep down inside. This separation was worse, in a way, than if Inuyasha had died. In that case, he knew his granddaughter would mourn, but would eventually move on, with help from her mother, bless her heart. He still remembered the pain she'd gone through when his own son had died, but that sad business was behind them now, and life was happy again. For Kagome, though, her friends in the past were not dead, merely locked away from her.

He scratched his head.

Though, I suppose, in a way they are dead, now... Bah, time travel's too complicated for this old man.

The knowledge that, in a way, everyone had been dead and buried for the last five centuries probably only made everything worse. He supposed it was possible the hanyou boy was still around, although he'd certainly no longer be a boy, and anyway, there was no telling where he was or if he'd ever show himself, assuming he was even still alive. Any youkai still alive had to be deep in hiding, he supposed, and five hundred years was a long time; he probably wouldn't even remember her. If the hanyou was still alive and did remember, then surely he would have shown himself by now, which was probably yet another reason for Kagome's melancholy, assuming that thought had crossed her mind as well.

Glancing over in his granddaughter's direction, he resisted the urge to sigh out loud.

“Why don't you take a break, Kagome? Your mother should have lunch ready before too much longer,” he stated then.

The miko started at the unexpected sound of her grandfather's voice, Kagome having been lost to her own thoughts for the last half hour or so, the silence having been unbroken for at least that long.

“All right, Jii-chan,” she agreed, making one final check mark on her paperwork before setting the sheet down and heading outside.

Kagome intended to head into the main house and see if her mother needed any help with lunch, but she paused as she exited the shrine's gift shop, shifting her gaze in the direction of the well-house.

I've tried the well once a month, every month, for the last three years, and nothing.

It was like the kami were mocking her, using her as their puppet to do their bidding with no concern to her own feelings on the matter.

I'm just a plaything to them, she thought bitterly. But you can't put a doll back in the box after playing with it so much and expect it to still look brand new. It'll have damage, it'll show the wear and tear of all it's been through.

Letting her feet be her guide, Kagome suddenly found herself staring at the closed door to the well-house, and glancing at the sign off to the side that explained the legend of the Bone-Eater's Well she couldn't help but think that it needed to be updated. All it talked about was how, hundreds of years ago, the shrine keepers had discovered that if they tossed the remains of slain youkai into the well their bodies, including the bones, would eventually disappear, hence the name. It was believed at that time that a spirit dwelling within the well actually ate the youkai's remains, but now they knew that wasn't the case. That wasn't the case at all.

I'm lucky Mistress Centipede was the only youkai that regenerated back then, she thought, remembering the events of her fifteenth birthday.

Theoretically, a massive horde of youkai could have woken up, but all the other youkai remains had remained, well, remains.

I guess it's because she's the only one who had already been in possession of the jewel beforehand, and so there was a connection there.

And speaking of connections, it looked like her connection to the past was closed. She'd tried the well so many times with the same result, and she knew it wasn't just because the jewel was gone, because she no longer had a jewel shard. Yes, there had been that one time early on when it'd seemed like she hadn't been able to get through without a shard, but there were other times when the well had worked just fine without a jewel shard, and looking back on it, she'd realized the whole jewel shard thing at that time had just been a coincidence. She hadn't needed a shard to get through after graduating junior high, after all, when she'd returned on her own right before the final showdown with Naraku. Her powers had even been sealed back then, but the well had decided to let her pass anyway. Probably because even it had known the final battle with Naraku was fast approaching, and that she would be needed.

The well's magic was all its own. It decided what it wanted to do, whom it wanted to let pass, and the jewel shards had never been what'd made it work for her. Not really. If so, then both Shippou and Souta should have been able to pass through the well when they'd tried it, and they hadn't. The time Inuyasha had taken her piece of the jewel and tossed her down the well, to protect her, she hadn't been able to get back through at first not because she didn't have any jewel shards, but because of the tree he'd shoved down the well immediately afterwards, blocking it off. Perhaps his frame of mind had even cast a seal of sorts over the well, with the power of his desire for her to remain away. He was a magical being, after all. The well could have heard him, felt his emotions, and had been granting his wish.

Either way, Kagome knew he hadn't taken her piece of the jewel to prevent her from returning; he'd taken her piece of the jewel because if he'd wanted her to stay forever in the future then he'd obviously needed to keep her piece of the jewel with him since he'd still been after the jewel himself back then, duh. And yes, she'd been able to sense the jewel shard when Shippou had taken it down into the well with him, but it hadn't really come through into the future, and it hadn't really been what'd enabled her to pass through into the past. It had been an attention grabber, for sure, making her realize how desperately she needed to get back there, but it had been her intense desire to get through that had enabled her to make the journey in the end, and then suddenly the piece of the jewel had been in her hand because she had been transported into the past.

Kagome remembered now. It had been right after she'd thought about how she'd wanted to see Inuyasha again that the well had let her through. Perhaps his strong desire to keep her away had originally sealed the well, but then her strong desire to return had made the well decide to let her pass again. She supposed it was also possible the jewel's presence had given her a needed power boost with her miko powers still so new and untrained back then – and apparently partly sealed, too – but now, with the seal Magatsuhi had placed on her powers completely lifted, including the original, weaker seal that she'd been born with, Kagome could feel her reiki humming throughout her body. Her miko aura was an almost tangible thing, and she knew she had the power to make it through the well all on her own, yet it was still denying her entry. But that was just it, wasn't it? The well's magic wasn't gone, she could feel it. It was literally denying her entry. It still functioned, and was choosing not to, but why?

Sliding the well-house door open, Kagome took a few steps inside, standing on the ledge that overlooked the Bone-Eater's Well.

Three years ago, when I first braved trying the well, I....I was afraid, she remembered then, coming to a realization. I wanted to see Inuyasha again, but I was also afraid of becoming trapped in the past. I'd been praying for the well to please let me through, but also, for it to please let me come back home again afterwards.

At that time, not even sixteen yet, she'd been far too shaken up by the prospect of never seeing her family again, especially after all the hell she'd so recently been through. The idea of never seeing Inuyasha again had been tearing her up inside, but she'd wanted to have her cake and eat it too.

That's such a stupid expression; of course you'd want to have your cake and eat it too. What good is cake you're allowed to have but not eat?

She snorted at the random thought.

Even so, stupid expression or no, Kagome knew she'd wanted to have it both ways; she'd wanted both Inuyasha and her family at the same time, without being forced to choose between the two worlds, and maybe...maybe that simply wasn't an option anymore. Still, the possibility of getting trapped in the past hadn't prevented her from trying the well, in case it had just been overloaded and had needed time to recuperate before it'd work again, or something. Every month on the first day of the month she'd checked it, always with the same prayer beforehand, for the well to please once again function as it'd used to, as a back and forth portal.

At first she'd been rather optimistic, thinking that perhaps it really was only that the well had needed to rest or recharge or something of the sort, and that one day it would work again. Once it had finally become apparent that that wasn't the case, though, she'd been too paranoid to stop trying, because what if, just what if, the well actually opened back up again one day, but she'd stopped trying it by that point and never knew it? No...no that wasn't an option, and so once a month every month she'd continued to try it, hoping for the best but prepared for the worst.

As she stared at the well in that moment, knowing it wasn't her scheduled time to check it again yet, a possibility she'd never thought of before finally dawned on her.

“I've always begged the well to work as it did before, as a back and forth portal, but what if that's simply not possible anymore?” she asked herself aloud, as if the wind would whisper its secrets.

Has it really taken me three years to realize...?

Heading down the steps that led to the well, she peered down at it then, no longer feeling resentment for its failure to comply with her wishes. The reason it hadn't granted her wish was probably because it hadn't been the 'right' wish. She'd learned all about that hocus-pocus the hard way.

She snorted again, before sighing, her eyes softening as she gazed at the well with understanding.

The reason the well won't connect...is probably because of my feelings, she admitted finally.

When the Bone-Eater's Well disappeared, and I was plunged into that darkness, I was so scared and sad, but I didn't know I had been in that darkness for three days, and that made Mama, Jii-chan, and Souta scared and sad as well. I felt terrible, and was so happy to return home...and then the well closed.

Leaning forward and placing her right hand on the edge of the well, she exhaled slowly, closing her eyes and caressing the wood like it was an old and trusty friend; a brave steed who had carried her into battle more times than she could count.

Even though she had braved trying the well, it had been her fear of being torn away from her family that'd been holding her back; she understood that now. Perhaps the well wasn't really trying to be cruel, but if it really would only be a one-way trip, then she knew she hadn't been emotionally prepared for that outcome back then. The well had actually been doing her a favor, then, in not letting her through when she hadn't really been ready for it yet. If it would have trapped her in the past she knew she would have freaked out, not about the idea of being in the past in and of itself but simply over the idea of never seeing her family again.

At that time, I know I wasn't ready to honestly think about having to choose between the two worlds, and that's it, isn't it? I can't seriously expect the well to allow me back and forth passage forever, because how is that fair? What makes me so special that I get to live in two different centuries? I had a mission to fulfill in the past, but I still had to keep up appearances in this world, too, and so that's why I was allowed to go back and forth at that time, not to mention we needed supplies from this time to make our mission easier, but now, the mission is over, school is over, and I do have to choose.

Thinking back over the last three years, she knew she'd just been going through the motions, forcing herself to cram for her tests for the sake of getting good grades and graduating with honors, but it hadn't really meant the same to her as it'd used to. And her family, yes, she loved them with all her heart, but...but most girls her age were moving on, moving out, either getting married or going to college for a future career. It wasn't still a lingering childhood fear of leaving home that was holding her back those days, it was her lack of desire to go out into the world.

She didn't want to stay at home and work on the shrine simply for her family's sake, or even just because she had no ambition to do anything else. If she were to be trulyhonest with herself, being at the shrine, by the well and the Goshinboku, was the only connection she had left to Inuyasha, and she wanted to stay for that reason above all else. Theoretically, she could be a little birdie leaving the nest, now, and she would be fine. She knew she could move away and being away from her mother wouldn't traumatize her. But to leave the shrine? To leave her last remaining connection to the Sengoku jidai? To Inuyasha? That was not an option.

Inuyasha... she thought whistfully, peering into the well's depths. I've thought about you all the time since then.

Finally, she understood.

The reason I went to the Sengoku jidai, the reason the Shikon no Tama disappeared and the well stopped connecting...

Yes, yes it all made perfect sense now. She'd had a mission to fulfill, and now that that mission was over, she couldn't just go fluttering off into the past on holiday. It wasn't right, it wasn't natural. The well had to protect the fabric of time. It was a very sacred portal with a very sacred duty, and while she'd had a sacred duty of her own, her mission was over now, and with it, so was the well's.

What I had to do is done, and now I am forever in my-...this world. A world without Inuyasha.

She couldn't think of the future world as her world any longer, she just couldn't. Her home was with Inuyasha, and she hadn't been home in three years; it'd just taken her those three years to realize it. Remembering again that other time so long ago when the well had locked her out, and what had made it work again, her thoughts at that time of needing to see Inuyasha again above all else, Kagome knew if she removed all doubt from her heart the well would grant her wish this time, too. She couldn't use it as a back and forth portal anymore, and she accepted that now. That wasn't what she wanted any longer. Finally, she made her decision, closing her eyes and concentrating.

Inuyasha...I want to be with you.

Heading to the shrine's gift shop, Mrs. Higurashi poked her head in and grinned as she saw her father-in-law hard at work. “Lunch is ready,” she said with a warm smile, before glancing around the room and inquiring, “Where's Kagome?”

Kagome's grandfather had nodded at his daughter-in-law's words about lunch and was already heading out when she asked about Kagome, and mildly confused, he paused and scratched his head, before asking, “She didn't go inside? I sent her in about twenty minutes ago.”

Mrs. Higurashi furrowed her brow, but then glancing around the yard, she immediately noticed an opened door that she knew had been closed before.

“I know where she is,” she stated, gesturing to the well-house. “You go on ahead, Otou-san, I'll go get her.”

He nodded at that and headed into the main house while Mrs. Higurashi made her way over towards the well-house, pausing in the open doorway to watch with a heavy heart the way her daughter was just standing there, hand on the well, head bowed.

Kagome, unaware of her mother's concerned gaze on her back, snapped her eyes open in surprise as a tingling sensation came from the well and brushed up against her aura. It was nothing she'd ever felt before. She gasped and leaned forward, peering into the well's depths.

That earned Mrs. Higurashi's attention, and concerned, she called her name.

“Kagome, what's wrong?” she asked.

Kagome could hardly speak; she was almost in shock.

“Mama...” she managed, and in an instant her mother was by her side.

Peering into the well herself, Mrs. Higurashi couldn't believe her eyes.

“The sky...” Kagome said slowly, knowing her mother saw it too from the way her arms had tightened around her as soon as she'd gazed into the portal.

What did it mean? The well had never looked like that before. Was it a sign? How much time did she have? Would she lose her one and only opportunity if she dawdled two minutes too long?


Choking up with a sob, the miko couldn't speak.

“Kagome...” her mother murmured tenderly, immediately realizing the true gravity of the situation.

Hugging her daughter in a fierce embrace, Mrs. Higurashi cried out loudly, “Otou-san, Souta, the well, hurry!”

“Mama...?” Kagome questioned, and Mrs. Higurashi pulled back, meeting her daughter's eyes.

“You do what you feel you must, Kagome. I've always trusted you to follow what was in your heart, and I'm very proud of you and will always love you.”

Brushing Kagome's hair away from her eyes, the two Higurashi women shared a tearful look of understanding. This was it. A few brief seconds later a frantic Souta ran into the well-house, followed shortly by their grandfather, the former asking a bit out of breath, “Okaa-san, what...?”

“It's...it's time,” Kagome managed to explain to the male members of her family. “The well...it's opened for me, it's waiting for me right now, and I don't know how much longer it'll stay open. I...I don't even feel like I have time to pack anything. This is all so sudden.”

Kagome's grandfather met her eyes critically, nodding his agreement to what he saw there, reflected in her soul. He headed down the steps, Souta by his side, and wrapped his arms around her. “Have a safe journey, granddaughter, and a happy, prosperous life. Become the legend you were born to be.”

Kagome couldn't stop it as a few tears slipped free, tracing their way down her cheeks. As soon as her grandfather released her she was nearly tackled by a sobbing Souta, who murmured into her shoulder how much he'd miss her but also how happy he was for her, knowing that this was what she wanted, and that for her sake, he wanted her to go, go and be happy with the man she loved.

Kagome blushed a little at her brother's bold words, loud enough for everyone to hear, but she knew there was no point denying it. As she pulled away from his embrace, her face, though tear streaked, was lit with a happiness her family hadn't seen in a very long time.

“I love you all, and I'll never forget you.”

“Tell Inuyasha he has our blessing,” her mother stated warmly, her grandfather nodding his agreement, and Kagome blushed again, but nodded back, smiling even brighter.

“Tell Yuka, Eri and Ayumi the truth. They deserve to know,” Kagome stated as she sat on the edge of the well, swinging her legs around so they were dangling inside.

Taking a quick moment to wipe her face with her sleeve, she then turned and looked at her family from over her shoulder to see their sad but smiling faces, the three of them all holding each other as they silently nodded for her to continue. Grinning, she gave a 'victory' sign that earned a small chuckle from Souta, and then she jumped, the blue lights of time immediately engulfing her.

Mrs. Higurashi stepped forward after a moment to peer back down into the well's depths, confirming what she already knew, that it was once again dark and Kagome was gone.

She's where she belongs, Mrs. Higurashi thought, a single tear slipping down her cheek as she made her way out of the well-house behind her son and father-in-law.

“Inuyasha! Hey, Inuyasha!” Shippou called, searching for and then spotting the hanyou up in a tree.

Momentarily turning into a squirrel, Shippou scurried up the trunk of the tree the inu-hanyou was lounging in, Inuyasha rolling his eyes at the sight. Deciding to stay put, he waited for the youngster to reach him to find out what was so damn important.

Reaching the hanyou, Shippou leapt away from the tree trunk, bouncing off of Inuyasha's head to land in his lap, popping back into his standard kitsune appearance.

“There you are!” he stated exasperatedly, as if he'd been searching for him all over.

“Yup, here I am,” Inuyasha replied sarcastically, uncrossing his arms to rub the top of his head in an obvious show of displeasure with the kitsune's chosen method of arrival. “What do you want, Shippou?”

“Sango and Miroku asked me to find you; they said to tell you they want you to come by for lunch.”

He sent the hanyou a pleading look.

“It's Mizuki and Misaki,” he elaborated. “When I showed up this morning to let them know I'm back, the girls started asking for you. You're their favorite, you know. I tried to turn into you once, but it didn't fool them for a second. I can hide my youki to feel human, but I can't duplicate the feeling of yours; they could sense I wasn't you and yanked on my tail, calling me 'Bad Shippou' for trying to fool them. My tail still hurts just thinking about it.”

Inuyasha chuckled a bit at that, shaking his head in amusement. It'd been apparent since almost day one that the girls had inherited their father's spiritual powers. So had their baby brother, in fact.

“Keh, ain't got no qualms 'bout a free lunch,” he said then, grabbing a hold of Shippou before leaping out of the tree, the kit prepared for the maneuver and not startled by it.

When they landed Inuyasha immediately let go of the kitsune, Shippou unceremoniously dropping to the ground. Grumbling about it under his breath, he quickly bounced back up onto Inuyasha's shoulder, and rolling his eyes again, the hanyou left him there as he headed west through the trees and village proper towards Sango and Miroku's house, doing his best to ignore the almost awestruck looks he got from the few farmers he passed along the way, nodding his head only a small amount in return to all their deep bows.

Fortunately he didn't have too far to go, the couple's hut built relatively near Kaede's hut, although it was thankfully not so close that he could hear their goings-on from the elderly miko's dwelling, for the occasional drizzly nights he actually stayed with the miko while in hanyou form. That'd be awkward. He did not want to listen in as those two worked on expanding their family. It was bad enough that he sometimes inadvertently overheard the occasional young couple sneaking off into the woods for some privacy, but when they were strangers he at least didn't have to worry about looking them in their faces the next day.

He shook his head a little at the memory of Sango and Miroku's first month together as a married couple, and the number of times they'd snuck out into the woods while their house was being built. They had done their best to go into a different part of the forest than where they knew he liked to hangout, but that didn't mean he hadn't been aware of what they were doing. He wasn't sure if he was disgusted by the thought, or amused. It was yet another reason why he greatly preferred staying with the miko whenever he needed a roof over his head, because even though he knew his friends obviously wouldn't 'do' anything with him in the house, he could still smell the evidence of their previous activities. He'd prefer smelling that as infrequently as possible, and besides...he was sure they appreciated not having their nights 'interrupted' by his presence.

They were young and healthy and still acted like newly weds, not that he could really say he blamed them, and while he wanted to give the couple their privacy as much as possible, it was honestly more for their own sake than because of his discomfort. He wasn't so disturbed by the lingering scent of sex that he couldn't even stand to be in their house, after all, and an invitation for lunch was definitely not something he'd turn down, even if he was perfectly capable of feeding himself. They might fuck like rabbits every child-free opportunity they got, but they were still his friends. In fact, he'd actually agreed to help Shippou babysit from time to time just so they could have some 'alone' time when they needed it, because they were his friends.

Arriving at the monk and slayer's dwelling, Inuyasha braced himself as twin two-year-olds immediately tackled his legs, sitting on his feet and forcing him to walk very carefully into the house as they held on for the ride, tight fistfuls of fire-rat hakama preventing them from falling off. Openly laughing at the sight, Shippou bounded off the hanyou's shoulder and scurried on all fours towards where Sango was stirring the rice over the firepit. He tried to make a grab for one of the vegetable skewers cooking off to the side, but immediately had his hand swatted by the cooking chopsticks for his troubles.

“Nice try, Shippou, but I've had lots of practice fending off would-be snack stealers,” the taijiya stated with a critical eye. Glancing at the struggling hanyou barely out of the entryway, Sango chuckled at the sight and said, “Girls, let Inuyasha come in, lunch will be ready soon.”

“Awww...” the twins whined simultaneously, while Inuyasha tried to hide his amusement at both their reaction and Shippou's reprimand.

Disappointedly, the girls dismounted their hanyou steed, and then stepping up onto the raised wooden floor and setting Tetsusaiga aside before settling down by the fire, Inuyasha sat in his traditional cross-legged position, trying not to laugh as Mizuki and Misaki both mirrored him, sitting on either side of him cross-legged as well.

“Now now, we've discussed how proper ladies are supposed to sit,” came Miroku's voice as he entered the house and slipped off his sandals before stepping up onto the raised wooden floor to join the rest of his family.

Sighing overdramatically, the two-year-olds shifted themselves until they were sitting properly on their legs.

As if sensing how much attention his big sisters were suddenly getting and feeling jealous over it, little Ichirou started fussing in that moment, and Miroku volunteered to serve up the rice and skewers for his wife while Sango tended to the baby's needs. Sending her husband a grateful look, she scooped Ichirou up and began nursing him.

Inuyasha was unfazed by the sight, used to it at that point. It wasn't even like he could see anything, Sango very skilled with the way she handled loosening her yukata just enough, but he'd still turned bright red the first time the slayer had done so in his presence, after the girls were born. Miroku had teased him about it for weeks.

“Keh, boy knows it's eatin' time. Good to get him on the right schedule,” he commented then, as he accepted his lunch from the houshi.

“Now if only he could learn when sleeping time was,” Shippou grumbled under his breath, earning a chuckle from the slayer.

Unlike Inuyasha, Shippou felt drawn to the family atmosphere and greatly preferred the company of Miroku, Sango and the kids to Kaede and Rin, and so he almost always stayed with them whenever he was back in town in between excursions to the Kitsune Inn. He'd known enough to give the newly married couple their privacy in the very beginning, of course, but once they'd announced Sango was expecting, and they'd seen the unmistakable sparkle in Shippou's eyes at the thought of a new baby, they'd actually been the ones who'd told the kitsune that they didn't mind him staying with them when he was in town if that was where he'd rather be.

He had actually been a blessing in disguise for the couple, because even though he was a child he understood fully about adult things, and so he had no qualms with them kicking him out for a few hours from time to time when they wanted to be 'alone', and after the girls were old enough, he'd actually been the one who'd first volunteered to give the couple their opportunities to be alone, even in a non-sexual way but just to simply enjoy some peace and quiet for a while, by using his kitsune magic to watch the babies for one or two hour intervals. Of course, Inuyasha had supervised those occasions, but it'd been Shippou wearing Sango's face who had changed the twins and rocked them back to sleep when the moment had called for it. He loved those little girls. But now, it seemed even a chirping insect was enough to set the new baby off in the middle of the night; Shippou didn't remember the girls being such light sleepers when they were that age.

Everything got quiet as the group began eating, aside from Miroku complimenting his wife's cooking, a sentiment Inuyasha seconded with a softly murmured “Keh.”

After they were done eating and Sango washed the dishes, she announced that there was dry laundry outside that needed to be collected and brought in, inviting Inuyasha to hang around if he wanted because they certainly appreciated his company.

“Especially since you help Miroku with his exorcisms,” she said. “I feel like we owe you so much, since you never accept any payment, so stay, and let me feed you dinner tonight as well. We have plenty of rice, and I feel like rightfully, half of it's yours. That job you guys did last month will keep us fed for a long time; there's plenty to share.”

“Keh, if you wanna feed me I ain't gonna complain, but I don't need no payment besides food. What do I need with coins?”

He was referring to the occasions when Miroku had been paid for their services with actual money instead of rice or other goods. Money always worked for the houshi; there were several things at the market that one needed actual money to purchase.

“Even so, I have a large purse of coins set aside for you, should you ever change your mind. It is your fair share of the earnings and I will not spend it on myself,” Miroku declared as he assisted Sango with strapping Ichirou onto her back.

Inuyasha snorted.

“Since when are you so honest?” he jibed, slipping Tetsusaiga back through his obi before following the others outside and around to the back of the house where the clothesline was.

Miroku pretended to look hurt.

“Inuyasha, have I ever cheated my friends?”

“Let me think...”

The monk laughed.

“I'll answer your question. It was my idea to save your coins,” Sango stated as they reached the clothesline and she sat her basket down before making a grab for the first article hanging up.

“Now that makes more sense,” Inuyasha agreed, plopping down and immediately getting tackled by the twins.

“Yay, Uncle Inu!” Mizuki said.

“Inu-Oji!” Misaki chimed in, both of the girls squirming to get into his lap.

Sending a glare at the snickering kitsune, as Shippou tried and failed to hide his amusement, Inuyasha crossed his arms within his sleeves and let the twins climb all over him as if he were a mountain to be conquered. Without any assistance from him, after a few minutes they both managed to get up onto his shoulders; he knew what they were after.

“Uncle Doggy!” Mizuki said. “Doggy! Doggy!”

“Fun ears!” Misaki stated, giving his right ear a tweak as Mizuki reached for his left.

Why they were both so fascinated with his ears he'd never understand; he only hoped they'd eventually grow out of it.

Shippou was no help, openly laughing now. “You're a toy,” the kitsune stated, sounding way too pleased with himself.

“Doggy!” Mizuki said again, giving another tug.

Okay, that's it...

“Hey, do something about the twins,” he griped, irked that his so-called friends were just letting it go on. He could hear their quiet chuckling, even over the girls yanking on his ears.

“Not the ears, kids,” Miroku stated then, amusement in his voice.

“Sorry, Inuyasha,” Sango added, sounding at least partially genuinely apologetic.

He was just about to open his mouth with a retort when an unexpected scent on the wind caught his attention.

It...it can't be...

Tilting his head back and taking a deep breath, his heart started pounding in his chest. It was a scent he hadn't gotten a good whiff of in years, but he'd know it anywhere. It'd faded from her sleeping bag and backpack long ago, but there was no question, no doubt in his mind...

Quickly uncrossing his arms and grabbing both girls by their robes, he pawned them off on Shippou. Brat deserved it anyway for the way he'd been laughing.

“Go slay the kitsune,” he stated before rising to his feet, a determined look in his eyes.

“Hey, Inuyasha, what's this all of a sudden?!” Shippou complained, but he didn't get a response.

“Shippou!” Mizuki said.

“Slay!” Misaki added, the girls unfazed by Inuyasha's treatment of them as they pinned Shippou down.

Sango and Miroku both glanced over to see what was going on, but Inuyasha was long gone.

“He went that way,” Shippou stated, pointing northeast towards Inuyasha's Forest as he managed to wiggle out from underneath the twins.

“Do you suppose there's a threatening youkai nearby?” Sango asked, sounding worried.

“I don't sense any encroaching demonic auras, but we'd better go check it out,” Miroku stated.

Inuyasha had heard the beginning of their conversation but quickly got out of earshot as he raced through the village and back into his forest as nothing more than a red blur.

Kagome's scent...?!

It could only mean one thing, and the pounding of his heart only increased as his nose led him right to the Bone-Eater's Well.

Standing at the well, he could hear somebody shuffling around inside, even over the rushing of his blood in his ears. A quiet gasp from within the well kicked him into gear and he leaned over it, reaching his hand inside.

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