After The End: New Beginnings

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Can you feel the love tonight?

The rest of the walk back to Kaede's house was peacefully quiet, but as they neared the elderly miko's dwelling Inuyasha found himself not yet ready to relinquish having Kagome all to himself.

“Do you...uh...wanna take a walk for a while?” he asked her shyly, and Kagome couldn't help the tender smile that curved her lips. Inuyasha was acting like a nervous teenager walking her home after their first date.

In a way, that was kind of how she felt, too. After all, although she wasn't fifteen any longer, she was still a teenager, and this was the first night they'd ever shared together without the threat of Naraku and need to purify the jewel hanging over their heads. They'd each had the last three years to adjust to a calmer, Naraku and jewel-free life, but they'd been years apart. Now, they were together, and would be, for the rest of their lives, in whatevercapacity he would have her.

Hopefully he wants the same thing I do, but even if he doesn't, I'll never regret my decision to come here, she thought, knowing in her heart that even a lifetime of Inuyasha as her best friend would be a thousand times better than life in a world without Inuyasha.

“I'd love to,” she answered then, her eyes honest, and smiling in reply, Inuyasha nodded before gesturing for her to follow him up the shrine steps.

Reaching the top of the stone staircase, it didn't take Kagome long to notice the added buildings; the entire place was much more built up than she remembered it.

“Oh wow, it's so weird seeing things from this side of history,” she commented in wonder as she stopped to take in the temple's appearance for a moment. At Inuyasha's inquisitive look she explained, “I wasn't surprised when Miroku-sama said this temple had been built. It's actually written in my family shrine's history that at one point it was a jigu-ji, a 'shrine-temple', so I'd already known it would happen, but it's just neat seeing it in person. It had to be changed back in the nineteenth century when they made the law separating Buddhism and Shintoism. All jigu-ji had to disassemble their temples and go back to being only shrines, which is why it's just a Shinto shrine in my family's time.

“According to the legend of the Shikon no Tama, which I'd always used to think was just a fairytale, the addition of the Buddhist temple happened shortly after the jewel's destruction, although the details got lost to the ages. I read up on the legends over the last three years, searching for clues as to what might have become of you guys, how you lived out the rest of your lives, but the stories are so vague.”

“No legend about the mysterious girl who came through the well?” Inuyasha asked, his words half playful, half genuinely curious.

Kagome shook her head.

“Not unless Jii-chan kept those scrolls hidden from me my whole life, and secretly my family's known my fate all along but never told me for fear of altering history. I'll never know if that's the case or not, but nothing I found tucked away in the storage buildings spoke about my traveling here or our mission. Only a vague reference to the final showdown, that the jewel grew so powerful in its evil it nearly destroyed the world until the 'Shikon Miko' finally destroyed it with the right wish. But Kikyou is also called the Shikon Miko in the legends, and so is Midoriko-sama, so with different women getting the same title throughout the years it makes it harder to tell who's who or what's what.”

Thinking about it a moment, Kagome said, “I guess it makes sense, though, since the villagers don't really understand exactly where I came from or what all happened while we were out there fighting Naraku, that not too many details about me or our mission would get put into the legends. I certainly don't want to detail it all out for somebody to find in the future, because that would put the well at risk, and the entire timeline for that matter. What if somebody a generation or two before my grandfather saw those scrolls explaining how the well was a time portal, and out of fear had it destroyed? The more I think about it, the more it makes total sense that it was deliberately left out of the history books, for the greater good. The story about you being pinned to the Goshinboku, that already got written into the village's history fifty years ago, so that explains why that part of the legend survived in so much detail. I'm not about to go ask the headman to erase that part, either. That would alter history, too, since that part of the story is supposed to survive to my family's time.”

Inuyasha nodded at that, deciding everything she said made perfect sense. He'd already known that the story about how he'd been pinned to the tree was a legend that had survived to her century. One thing confused him, though.

“Hey, how come you talk about this shrine like it's the same one as yours in the future, even though your family shrine is over there...?” he asked, pointing east, towards the well and Goshinboku.

“Oh, shrines often move from time to time, not really designed to be in the same place indefinitely. Newer, updated buildings will get built beside the older ones instead of the old ones getting torn down first to use the same foundation. It'd probably be natural for it to have shifted that much over five hundred years, all by itself, although I have my suspicions it'll make the jump in only one or two moves, all things considered.”

She adopted a whimsical expression, and chuckled softly, before shaking her head and continuing.

“There isn't much information that I came across about the shrine's relocation, although since in my family's century there's also a small shrine building around the Bone-Eater's Well itself, and the Goshinboku is also fenced off as holy, I guess the locals decided to relocate the main shrine over there at some point, probably because of you and me and our legend, yeah.”

She thought about it a moment longer, finger on her chin, and added, “Since most of this area is all built up, what's the village right now all getting completely destroyed and paved over to make way for modern Tokyo, the river underground and everything, maybe at some point this whole area was holy, this shrine still here, but the well and Goshinboku also sacred over there, and then when the wrecking crews came through they condensed the protected, holy ground, so that the rest of the area could get cleared away and built up.”

Inuyasha shrugged, remembering well what the world looked like in Kagome's time, although looking at the peaceful forest around them in that moment it seemed almost impossible to fathom.

“I guess like the bouzu would say, everything happens how it's meant to.”

Kagome nodded to that, deciding there was no truer expression.

Inuyasha adopted an amused look as a random thought came to mind, earning the miko's curiosity, and gesturing to the temple additions from where they stood, he told her, “Miroku and Kaede prayed together to the local kami for a sign if this would displease him, building a temple right next to his shrine, and right in that moment fucking Shippou appeared out of nowhere, the runt having apparently been hiding and listening. Get this...” he told Kagome, chuckling a little under his breath at the memory. “The brat told Miroku he'd make an offering to the future temple site, and held up a small Jizo statue, handing it to the bouzu.”

“He didn't!” Kagome exclaimed with a snicker, hand over her mouth. She remembered that particular statue well.

“Oh, he did, and the idiot monk actually accepted Shippou's offer,” Inuyasha said, laughing as well. “I saw the whole thing from that tree...” he pointed, “...and bam, as soon as that statue hit the monk's hand it grew and down he went. Shippou slapped his ward on it and Miroku was instantly pinned to the spot. Then a fucking paper appeared in front of Shippou's face and he cheered about his new rank.”

“Ahh, that makes sense, then,” Kagome said, still chuckling. “I wonder how many points he got for tricking a monk on holy ground.”

Inuyasha shrugged.

“Dunno, but it don't matter. After Kaede-babaa was done laughing, she removed the seal and knocked over the statue, which shrank back down, and then Miroku got the kit back at his own game, picking it up with an ofuda so that he could handle it. He thanked Shippou for the donation of a Jizo statue and said Shippou's kind act showing how youkai and humans can get along followed the Buddha's teachings, and that it was the sign he'd needed to know that it was okay to have the temple built here. Shippou's score card disappeared in a puff of smoke and a new one that said 'Fail' appeared and the kit ran off pouting. Miroku still has his Jizo statue, too, in a little carved display box with an ofuda on it so the brat can't touch it. It's in the temple, sitting on a shelf on the back wall next to the Buddha statues I retrieved from that old abandoned temple to the east.”

Shaking her head in amusement, Kagome chuckled a little again at the thought of Miroku keeping Shippou's prank Jizo statue, and then what Inuyasha said about the abandoned temple registered.

“Oh yeah, I'd almost forgotten all about that old abandoned temple.” She shuddered at the renewed memory. “I guess it makes more sense for Miroku-sama to have his temple here, though. That one's probably too far away from the village. It took at least a couple of hours for the bandits to drag me there. Took no time for us to get back to the village, but that was with you running.”

“It's in too bad of shape to fix up, anyway. The walls are coming down even worse than just the hole I'd made. Looks like the surviving bandits didn't honor their own with any kind of burial, and scavenger youkai tore the place up when making off with the bodies. I've always ignored the place, but I see it, when doing my rounds. I'd checked, while the temple was being built, if any of those statues were still in one piece, and I dragged 'em here for Miroku once the place was done. Figured it didn't do no good leavin' 'em there, and it saved Miroku from having to buy the same statues.”

“That was very nice of you,” Kagome said, smiling sincerely.

A light dusting of pink appeared on Inuyasha's cheeks at her praise, but unlike the old him, he didn't try to save face by ad-libbing how he'd only done it to stop Miroku from bitching about wanting the statues, or whatever other excuse he might have given in the past. The truth was, gifting Miroku those statues for the temple had been his idea; the houshi hadn't even known they'd existed until Inuyasha had told him. He could do nice things sometimes.

“Keh.”

Done sightseeing at the shrine-temple they continued on their way, heading northeast through the trees beyond the shrine-temple and around to the right towards the rocky foothills that bordered the village's north end, up towards the small cliff face that overlooked the river below. The part of the river where a certain hanyou had once seen a certain miko bathing, although neither of them chose to comment on the mutually fond memory. Kagome might not have appreciated it back then, no matter how much he'd insisted he was only after the jewel shard, but later on as her feelings for him grew she'd actually found herself hoping he had liked what he'd seen, regardless of his original intention for being there.

He had.

Closing his eyes for a second and ordering himself to banish such thoughts from his head, for the time being, at least, they continued their brief trek in silence, Kagome none the wiser. Following the small dirt path that led down to the water's edge, they took a seat in the grass beside one another, Kagome on Inuyasha's right, the sounds of the flowing river and chirping insects providing a nice, tranquil soundtrack to what was quickly becoming the best night of Kagome's life.

So far... she thought, mentally crossing her fingers. She wouldn't push things too far too quickly, though. She wouldn't.

“It's such a beautiful night,” she said then, glancing Inuyasha's way before tilting her head back and gazing up at the stars.

“Yeah...” he agreed, staring at her for a moment, although he quickly looked forward as she looked back down at him.

“Hey...” she started, feeling butterflies erupt in her stomach as he turned his head to look her way again, their eyes locking.

“Yeah...?” he asked softly, almost sounding...hopeful?

She figured he probably knew what she was about to say, and didn't intend on making him wait any longer. Opening her mouth to speak, Kagome was just about to broach the subject of her feelings, but an untimely gust of wind right in that moment interrupted her as it caused a faint shiver to run down her spine, the night air especially chilly down by the river as they were. Momentarily distracted by her discomfort, she let out a near silent vocalization of her chill in the form of Brrr, tugging on her sweater as she began fastening the rest of the buttons.

Inuyasha's eyes widened.

“Shit, why didn't you tell me you were cold?” he asked, his voice quiet but full of concern.

Kagome continued buttoning her buttons. “I'm all-” she started to say as she looked up once she was done, only to pause in surprise as something large, soft and warm was suddenly draped across her shoulders.

She met his eyes then, and felt absolutely astounded by the level of emotion she could see swimming in their golden amber depths. Why had she even doubted for a second that he still loved her just as much as she did him? Looking into his eyes in that moment, it was obvious, and her worry that it was possible he might not want the same thing she did was completely erased.

“Th-thank you,” she murmured, tugging his fire-rat suikan closer as she tucked up her bare legs, swaddling herself completely in his gifted warmth.

“My pleasure,” he replied softly, the look in his eyes intensifying. “Now, it'll smell like you again. I've missed that.”

He held his breath for her reaction to such an admittance, which was a slight widening of her eyes and faint blush on her cheeks, as she unconsciously licked her lips while meeting his gaze, and he smirked, then, growing bolder. He reached across and took her right hand in his left, not unlike the way he'd taken her hand once before, in her old bedroom, the last time he'd confessed what was in his heart.

And this time, there's no Souta to interrupt us, he thought, remembering what her reaction to his previous confession had been.

“Kagome, I...” he started, leaning closer, only to pause as his ears shifted, picking up sounds his companion couldn't hear yet. “Shit!” he cursed quietly as he jerked his head back, using his grip on her hand to tug her abruptly to her feet as he stood up as well, releasing her afterwards.

“What is it?” she asked, concerned and surprised by his sudden change in demeanor.

“Hideaki and Yumiko,” he answered matter-of-factly, his mood growing more sour by the minute as he glared in the direction they'd come from, up the path that led to the shrine.

It took Kagome a moment but then recognition dawned in her eyes, as she remembered the names of one of the local farmers and his wife.

They live across the road from Kaede-baa-chan, she remembered, just as she started to make out the sounds of approaching footsteps over the steady flow of water, followed by the quiet rustling of nearby bushes. Sighing, she tugged Inuyasha's suikan a little tighter around her shoulders, disappointed by the interruption as well.

“See, I told you it was her!” Inuyasha heard Yumiko whisper to her husband.

“Quiet, woman! He'll hear us for sure,” Hideaki stress-whispered back in reply.

“I already heard you before she spoke, so you may as well come out,” Inuyasha called out then, glaring at the shrubbery as the two villagers slowly stood up, wearing matching embarrassed faces.

“Ah, I beg forgiveness, Inuyasha-sama, Kagome-sama,” Hideaki spoke up without hesitation, bowing respectfully.

“Kagome-sama!” Yumiko beamed, unable to conceal her excitement. Bowing as well, she passed an apologetic glance in her husband's direction. “Please forgive our interruption, and cast no blame on a loyal husband accompanying his foolish wife for protection from the night. After Akane-chan told me after lunch today that she had seen Inuyasha-sama, Houshi-sama and Sango-chan walk with you to Kaede-sama's from the direction of Inuyasha no Mori, I just had to find out if it was true! When I noticed you and Inuyasha-sama head up the shrine steps I just had to follow and see for myself.” She bowed again. “Please forgive us, Inuyasha-sama,” she requested, addressing the hanyou directly that time.

Inuyasha rolled his eyes. He knew what Yumiko was like, and quite easily believed that she'd begged her husband to let her go snoop until he'd reluctantly caved in. That he had come with her, he'd let Hideaki off the hook for that one. He was a good man for not wanting to let his wife go wandering off into the woods alone at night, no matter how safe the area was.

“Keh...it's fine,” he said, waiting until she stood back up again and looked his way before continuing, Hideaki also meeting his eyes, and with a look of gratitude for him not being angry.

“So you know...” he continued then, “...Kagome just got back today, and after all that happened we just wanted a day to ourselves so she could settle in with Kaede before worrying about announcing her return to the rest of the village. I was going to personally tell Haruto first thing in the morning.”

“I'm here to stay,” Kagome added, sending a warm smile to the two villagers she now remembered quiet well. She remembered Yumiko being among the nosiest of the village women, but in a friendly way, that had always made Kagome laugh rather than take offense. She wasn't one for spreading nasty gossip or talking badly about anyone behind their backs, she was just the type who always needed to know what was going on.

Hideaki and Yumiko both bowed again at Kagome's words.

“This is excellent news!” the farmer's wife stated excitedly as she stood back up again. “Welcome back, Kagome-sama!”

Kagome did her best not to giggle at the older woman's exuberance. “Thank you,” she said, bowing a little in return.

As if finally realizing that they might have interrupted something, noting the way Kagome was draped with Inuyasha's jacket, the hanyou doing his best to look as regal as possible in only his hakama and kosode, Hideaki bowed again before quickly ushering his wife away, voicing additional apologies for their intrusion as they disappeared into the foliage.

“Feh...” Inuyasha grumbled once they were gone, looking out over the river with his arms crossed.

Watching him for a moment, Kagome knew she wouldn't mind picking right back up where they'd left off, but she could sense that the mood had been ruined for her companion and wouldn't force things if he was now feeling closed off again. It was only her first night back, after all. There would be plenty of time to discuss their feelings and talk about plans for the future. Tomorrow was probably going to be pretty crazy, but even more so because of that, she'd probably want to get away from it all once the festivities were over, so maybe she'd suggest tomorrow night that they could escape to somewhere deep in the woods, just the two of them, and camp out all night under the stars, like they'd done back when the mission had first gotten started. Kagome knew she'd like that, and she could bet her hanyou companion would like it as well.

“I guess...I guess we should probably be heading back, before it gets too much later,” she said after a moment, to break the silence, and Inuyasha noticeably sighed.

“Yeah,” he agreed, still angry, not at the farmer and his wife personally, but at the whole damn situation. He'd just wanted a few measly minutes alone with Kagome. Was that too much to ask?

But he was too wound up now, and he knew it. If they stayed at the river for a while longer he still wouldn't be able to lower his guard again the way he previously had, and Kagome must have figured as much for herself. He was just glad he'd been able to hear them coming, so that they hadn't walked in on something he really wouldn't have wanted anybody from the village to see. It reminded him, again, of that time in Kagome's room, when Souta had barged in on them.

He'd heard it when her family had gotten back home, of course, entering the house downstairs, and he'd even heard it as Souta had climbed up the stairs, approaching her room, but since the boy's room was right next door to Kagome's he hadn't thought much of it at the time, used to hearing the boy coming and going while he'd be with Kagome in her room as the miko studied for a test or something. He hadn't thought that the brat was going to suddenly walk in on them like he'd done, and so knowing that Kagome was unaware of their return he'd pressed forward, saying what he'd wanted...needed to say. Looking back on it now, Inuyasha wasn't even sure which was worse: if Souta would have been a few seconds later and had actually caught them kissing, or the fact that he hadn't gotten to feel Kagome's lips pressed softly against his own. While he felt he needed to keep a certain level of mystery between himself and the villagers, Kagome's brother had been closer to him, and if he had it to do all over again, Inuyasha knew he'd stop Kagome from shoving him down at the last second, grabbing her and kissing her and not giving a shit about Souta gaping at them from the doorway.

He sighed again, and turned, giving Kagome an apologetic smile. The look she gave him in return betrayed her curiosity, the miko no doubt wondering what he'd been thinking about over the last few minutes, but she didn't ask, and he didn't volunteer any information.

“Come on, then, let's get you indoors before you freeze,” he said at last, his tone gruff, but still with a hint of gentle caring, like he was angry at the cold itself, but not at her for being a 'weak human' susceptible to such things.

He turned, then, and offered her his back, and grinning broadly, Kagome quickly fiddled with the fire-rat suikan she'd had draped over her shoulders like a blanket the entire time, running her arms through the sleeves and tying it shut the best she could do, her petite form swimming in all the extra fabric. She quickly climbed up onto Inuyasha's back, and found that the sensation wasn't foreign or uncomfortable in the slightest.

Just like riding a bicycle, she thought, as he reached behind himself to grip the backs of her thighs, securing her in place.

Her face tinted a smidgen, and she was glad he couldn't see it, as more adult thoughts than what had ever previously crossed her mind made themselves known at the action. For some reason, she'd just never put two and two together before, her fifteen-year-old self not really having had sex on the mind at most times. Sure, she had had the occasional thought, but for the most part, she hadn't really been ready to have serious thoughts on the subject, and besides that, they'd usually always either been chasing an enemy or were being chased by an enemy whenever she'd rode on his back before, and so where he'd been gripping her legs had honestly been the farthest concern from her mind at those times.

Now, in that moment, she couldn't not focus on where he was gripping her legs. Her bare legs.

“Ready?” she heard him ask as he stood up a little straighter, and the sound of his voice pulled her from her wandering and somewhat naughty thoughts.

She cleared her thought.

“Ready.”

Aware of how rapidly her heart was suddenly beating, Inuyasha tried his best to keep calm, honestly feeling just as excited to feel her on his back again after all this time, his hands cupping her bare legs tenderly. He wasn't sure if her excitement was just from anticipating the exhilaration of the ride, or something more, but he wouldn't ruin the moment by questioning her about it. He knew he'd be embarrassed as hell if she called him out on being 'excited' by her presence.

Quickly tamping down those thoughts, because running while 'excited' wasn't something he wanted to deal with at the moment, he turned and faced the rocky foothills that stood between them and the village, immediately deciding against taking either the path that went left towards his forest, that exited near the Bone-Eater's Well, or the path that went right, back the way they'd come, through the wooded path that'd take them back to the shrine-temple. Instead, he crouched down and launched them straight up and over, heading due south as the bird flies. What did he need with a human's beaten path, anyway? This was the most direct route back to the village and Kaede's house, and while on the one hand he didn't really want to cut what precious few minutes he had left alone with Kagome down even shorter, the sound of her gasp, and the feel of her tightening her arms and legs around him as they sailed high into the air, were totally worth it.

Just about every villager aside from the night watchman were indoors by that point, Hideaki and Yumiko included, and so nobody witnessed the pair as they soared high above the trees, coming in for a near silent landing on the other side of the rocky slope. It was just a quick dash to Kaede's house from that point, and coming to a stop outside the old miko's door, Inuyasha remained silent as he crouched and allowed Kagome to dismount him before straightening. She remained silent as well, giving him a questioning look that was easy to read, as she tilted her head towards the reed mat in gesture, and nodding in understanding, he flicked an ear, listening to the occupants of the hut.

“They're asleep,” he whispered in confirmation, and she nodded as well, wordlessly untying and removing his suikan to hand back to him.

“I'll wait out here while you change,” he murmured quietly as he slipped his jacket back on, and she offered him a teasing smile.

“That's okay, I trust you not to peek,” she replied in a quiet whisper, her eyes laughing. There was a privacy screen, after all.

But I'm not sure I trust myself, Inuyasha thought, and she must have read his mind from the look in his eyes because she blushed a little and looked away. It was only his advanced night vision that allowed him to see the tinting of her cheeks, and she quickly looked back his way again, clearing her throat nervously.

“W-well...whatever you'd prefer,” she whispered then, and he chuckled quietly, the naughtier part of him wondering if she wasn't just giving him permission to peek.

After all, it wasn't like he'd never seen her naked before; far from it. Hell, they'd just been relaxing at the place where he'd seen her naked for the first time, and it had only been the first time. He remembered the other occasions just as vividly. But he really didn't want to be tempted like that around her right in that moment, with so much still left unsaid between them, and with them not currently having the privacy needed to say, or do, what he really wanted to say and do. He was relieved, though, that at whatever heated look he'd accidentally given her she had only blushed, rather than getting angry and clobbering him one, calling him indecent. Her reaction was definitely a good thing. She was right, she had done a lot of growing up over the last three years, both mentally and physically.

He bit back the urge to groan aloud at the thought of the various ways she'd grown physically, as he found himself realizing that those vivid memories of his were outdated.

“Go on and change already; whisper for me when you're ready,” he said then, unable to keep all of the strain from his voice, and she blushed again before nodding and quickly darting inside.

Were...were we just flirting...? Kagome thought as she entered the hut, her cheeks flaming, as she slipped off her shoes and stepped up onto the raised wooden floor as quietly as possible, the low flames dancing lazily in the firepit giving her just enough light to see by as she made her way over to where she'd left her sleeping bag and pajamas out on the top of Kaede's storage chest.

The look in his eyes when she'd made her comment about trusting him not to peek at her...she'd never seen him look at her quite like that before. Even back in the very beginning, when he'd looked at her a few times while seeing Kikyou's face and she'd been able to see that love, that longing in his eyes that he'd once held for the deceased miko, he had never once looked at her quite like that. Even when she'd made that joke about him always looking at her like he 'wanted' her he'd never looked at her quite like that. Before, it really had been more of a longing type of look she'd seen in his eyes, and she'd just said what she'd said back then when Kikyou had first been brought back to life to get a rise out of him. To get him to look at her again and see her, Kagome. But she didn't have any of her old insecurities where Kikyou was concerned any longer, and she knew he did see her when he looked at her...and in that moment he had most definitely looked at her like he wanted her.

The thought had her heart threatening to fly right out of her chest, but at the same time, she couldn't wipe the smile from her face, as she ducked behind the changing screen and quickly slipped into her pajamas as quietly as possible before unrolling her sleeping bag and placing her folded day clothes up on top of the storage chest.

“Okay, you can come in now,” she whispered much too quietly for a human standing outside to have heard her, knowing he'd hear her just fine, which he demonstrated in that moment by immediately entering the hut at her cue.

He silently stepped up onto the wooded platform, and pulling Tetsusaiga from his obi to lean against the wall near her bow, he took a seat against the wall as close as he dared to where she'd placed her sleeping bag, on the other side of the firepit from the peacefully slumbering Kaede and Rin.

Observing the way he settled himself in his standard pose, aside from Tetsusaiga being placed aside rather than him keeping it in his grip, Kagome whispered very quietly, hoping not to disturb the others, “Don't you want to lie down? You don't have to be on alert like that anymore; I'm sure it's not comfortable for you.”

“Keh, I'm fine. Used to sleeping this way; don't worry 'bout it,” he replied just barely loud enough for her to hear, also hoping to avoid waking the others.

The fact of the matter was, he'd love nothing more than to sleep lying beside her, but he knew that'd be taking things way too far. Not that he would try to do anything with the hag and kid in the same room, but still, what if he did something stupid in his sleep like wrap his arms around her? He'd never live it down if anyone else saw that. He was fairly positive Kagome herself wouldn't mind it, and in fact knowing her she'd probably snuggle into his embrace, which made resisting the idea that much more difficult since he knew the only thing stopping him was himself, but even so he had to resist, for the time being at least.

If he could somehow get Kagome all alone then it'd be a whole other story. Maybe they could camp out in the woods somewhere? He wouldn't try to make a move on her, not out in the forest, but he would hold her, at the very least, and cherish the feeling of her in his arms all night long. Closing his eyes, he let that thought wash over him, what it would be like. He didn't dare open his eyes back up again, knowing Kagome was still looking his way. If their eyes met, he might just lose his last ounce of resistance, and so taking a deep breath, he contented himself with her scent, with the knowledge that she was back, and in the same room. For tonight, at least, that was good enough.

Kagome stared at Inuyasha for a moment longer from her place sitting up within her sleeping bag, watching as he closed his eyes, pretty much stating with that gesture that the subject was closed. She had no idea what he was thinking about, but she knew she couldn't really speak freely at the moment without increasing the risk of disturbing the hut's other occupants, and so sighing quietly, she decided to let it go for the time being. Maybe the guy really did like sleeping sitting up.

Yeah right.

She mentally snorted.

Maybe she'd actually believe that if it weren't for the time he'd completely conked out on her bed when she'd been trying to study for her mock math exam. That memory quickly had her remembering what it'd been like to share a bed with him. Sure, it hadn't been ideal, being forced to squeeze herself into the tiny space between him and the wall, and she'd gotten a little cold, unable to get herself under the blankets since he'd been sleeping on top of her comforter and she hadn't had the heart to wake him in order to change that, but even so, there had been a time there, in the middle of the night, that the knowledge that he was lying right beside her had had her heart almost flying right out of her chest, in a good way. The fact that her crawling into bed beside him from the foot of the bed hadn't woken him had spoken volumes to just how tired he'd really been in and of itself, and she knew, she'd known from that moment on that even though he was more resilient than a human, he wasn't perdurable. That he'd allowed her to see that weakness in him, however unintentionally, had meant more to her than the first time he'd called her by name.

Of course, he'd been long gone by the time she'd woken up the next morning, playing with Buyo downstairs while her mother had been fixing breakfast. Looking back on it, Kagome would've given anything to see his reaction to waking up and realizing he'd fallen asleep in the first place, and that she'd been lying right beside him. Had he only gotten up while grumbling to himself about the weakness it'd been to fall asleep in the first place, embarrassed, perhaps, that he'd done so in her presence, or had her proximity affected him in any way? She knew his proximity had affected her that night, especially after the show he'd given her earlier that same afternoon, when he'd barged into her room wearing nothing but bubbles. That memory had her cheeks heating back up again in that moment, and she quickly lied down and got settled into her sleeping bag before he sensed her eyes upon him and caught her staring at him while blushing like an idiot.

Rolling over, facing away from Inuyasha, Kagome tried to clear her mind and go to sleep, but it was no use. The memory was right there, front and center. Inuyasha's naked form barging into her room without a care in the world to his state of undress. She supposed things were different in this century, the world she would now call home, and even beyond that he was so very different from other people, being half inu-youkai and all, so perhaps he thought of modesty differently? Had he been so far gone in his desire to get away from Souta that his nakedness had completely slipped his mind, or had he simply not caredabout being nude in her presence? She supposed she was more just curious than anything else, but it was a question she'd really like to know the answer to. Did he look back on that time with embarrassment, or indifference? Did he never give the matter a second thought, or had he regretted his thoughtlessness at that time and feared that she'd been disgusted with him, thinking him some kind of pervert? Or, was it possible he had actually been aware of just how perverted she herself could be at times, and where her own thoughts had actually traveled to, and if so did the knowledge that she'd fantasized about his body since that day embarrass, or excite him?

At the time, of course, she'd been completely flustered, throwing whatever objects she could get her shaking hands on at him and ordering him out of her room, but not before she'd gotten quite the eyeful, and while at the time it had completely mortified her, it had also provided material for her later fantasies, as time went on and her feelings for him grew. Granted, he'd been completely flaccid at the time, but her imagination was enough to fill in the blanks. Kagome wondered, did he ever conjure up the mental pictures he'd acquired of her naked body throughout their mission? He'd seen her completely nude at least four times that she could recall off the top of her head, and if what she could remember of his body from only the one time was any indication then he could probably picture her perfectly, not that that thought bothered her, if she were to be completely honest with herself. She wanted him, had wanted him for a long time now, and yes, she fantasized about him. She wondered...hoped that he felt and did the same. The odds were good, she knew, if that look he'd just given her a few minutes ago was any indication. Kagome only knew one thing for certain, and that was that she wasn't the squeamish fifteen-year-old she'd used to be, getting flustered at the drop of a hat. She was a woman, and she wanted Inuyasha to be her man.

We are definitely going to have to find some time alone tomorrow to talk, she thought, taking a deep breath through her nose, trying to relax away her lingering tension. She wasn't so much nervous as excited. She had no idea what his reaction was going to be to her love confession, if he'd be shy and embarrassed or brazen and bold, but there was only one way to find out and Kagome, for one, was done with shy and embarrassed. At least when nobody else was around.

Sighing, she found herself wishing they had the hut all to themselves.

There's nothing for it, so the quicker I go to sleep, the quicker tomorrow, and some alone time, will get here, she thought then, finally relaxing the last bit of tension out of her body as her mind began to drift away, piecing together what-if scenarios that were bound to lead to some very pleasant dreams.

Unbeknownst to Kagome, Inuyasha had opened his eyes back up at the sound of her sigh, wondering just what she was thinking about. His own thoughts over the last few minutes had revolved around his dwindling hope over the last three years that he'd ever get to see her again, and his near disbelief that his hopes and dreams had finally come true. She was actually back. She had actually returned to him.

He was almost afraid to go to sleep, for fear that he'd wake up in the morning and find that it'd all been a dream. But it wasn't a dream, and he knew that. He knew he was awake, and he knew that was Kagome lying not four feet away from him, in her sleeping bag, just like old times, except this time there was no Naraku threatening to end their lives at any moment. The world was peaceful, or at least as peaceful as a world full of human warfare could be. Their little village seemed exempt from the daimyo squabbles for the time being, though, and he would do his part to help keep it that way for as long as possible. He might not have any say in what the lord of Musashi decided to do, and how much rice they had to pay in taxes, but he could and would at least keep them youkai and bandit free, to make sure they had the rice to spare to pay those taxes without suffering any undo hardships as a result. In the event of a bad harvest, he'd hunt, bringing in more meat than the village hunters could ever hope for; he'd net more fish than the fishermen could ever catch. He'd do whatever it took to keep them fed if the daimyo took all their rice because this was his village; the people were his to protect and while it had been weird, at first, when they'd first made their view of him in that role clear, he would not disappoint them. He would not fail them.

I never used to give a rat's ass what humans thought of me, or what became of them, but now, these humans...they've all become so important to me, and it's all thanks to that girl lying there, he thought, staring at Kagome's still form, listening to her breathing and heartbeat as she finally started to fall asleep.

Following her example, then, Inuyasha did his best to allow his mind to quiet down enough to get some actual sleep, himself. She was right; he didn't need to be on as high of an alert as he'd always used to be on back when they'd been hunting Naraku. He could sleep more soundly nowadays, without the fear of imminent attack hanging over their heads. He usually couldn't sleep as well indoors in his hanyou form since he preferred the open forest air, being in a hut being too stuffy for his sensitive nose, but tonight, in that hut, the air smelled like Kagome, and he'd sleep bound in ropes and stuffed in a crate if it meant he could smell her delicate, beautiful fragrance all night long. His last thought before sleep finally claimed him was that he never again wanted to go a single night without her sweet scent surrounding him.


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