Raw, unproofed text, as usual
Kagome's head lifted up from where it rested on her knees, the ebony of her hair glinting where the sun struck it. Her face, though, was shadowed. She turned and looked at him, her blue eyes, stormy, unsure, searching, then dropped her eyes, as if afraid of his response.
"Leave you?" InuYasha said softly. "Why would you think I would do that?"
His hand, clawed and rough and callused from fighting his way through life, a warrior's hand, wanted something solid to hit to take that sadness away from her. Instead, with no enemy he could attack, he reached out to Kagome, took one of her hands from where it was resting on her knee and pulled it into his. Her hand was so small compared to his, fine and soft. As he felt how his larger hand surrounded it, he remembered another time he took her hand and made her promises. So much had happened in those few months that it felt like a lifetime ago.
"I...I don't know." she replied. "I just thought..."
His memory flashed back to an image of Kagome standing up to Kaou, with pain in her heart and fire in her eyes, the strongest woman he had ever known. It hurt him to see her now, stripped of her certainty, unable to trust in the promises he'd given her. 'Damn you, Naraku!' he thought, not for the first time. 'Damn anybody that would try to hurt her. Damn me for getting her trapped in this place to begin with.'
He sighed. "Well, stop thinking it. You're not getting rid of me that easy."
She gave him a tentative little smile, fragile, but looked willing for the moment to cling to what he was saying. He reached out, lifted up her chin with his free hand, searched her eyes with his amber ones, looking for some sign of that old fire, and wiped away one small tear with his thumb.
"Kaede told me that if you wanted to, she'd train you to take her place, she'd be happy to," InuYasha said.
Kagome sighed. "I really feel bad. I love Kaede. She's like a grandmother to me. But it just seems like lately everybody assumes I'm going to be here to take over from her when she's gone. Miroku, Sango, people in the village. It's like everybody expects me to turn me into Kikyou, to be a shrine maiden the rest of my life." She stopped, looked up at InuYasha. "I'm not Kikyou. I don't want to be Kikyou. Do I have to?"
"Feh, " he said. "You are Ka-go-me, not Kikyou. You only have to do something like that it if you want to."
She plucked a blade of grass and began twirling it in her fingers, and rested her head on his shoulder. "Thank you, InuYasha," she said at last. "Let's go find Shippou before he gets into too much trouble. I bet he's down by the river."
They wandered through the village, not saying much, not sure of what to say until they neared the river. From where they were standing, looking towards the water, they could see the banks lined with green spring growth. As the late afternoon sunlight touched the stream, a couple of girls were getting water, but not a lot of other people were out. Under the shade of a willow tree, some boys were playing, intensely looking at a top spinning in a circle in the dirt. Two of them were dark haired, the third red.
"Hey Shippou!" said InuYasha.
The one with red hair and pointed ears and a bushy tail looked up.
"Looks like I gotta go home," the kitsune said. Suddenly, the top toppled over. He grabbed it, put it in his clothes and ran over to the hanyou and girl. "Hi, guys." he said, running up to them. InuYasha picked him up and put him on his shoulder.
"Well, Shippou-chan," said Kagome. "Where's your friend Kohana? I thought you were running off cause you and the boys were going to find her."
"She was here earlier, but she left. Yoshi caught a really big fish, and she left with him." The kit sighed. "I think she likes him better than me," he said.
Kagome reached up and ruffled his hair. "There will be other times, Shippou," she said fondly.
They began walking back to the hut.
"Hey, look, there's Kaede." said Shippou. "And Jiro's sister is with her. I don't think she likes me very well."
"That's what happens when you get mud on the laundry girls are washing," said Kagome. "I'd have been mad, too."
"Feh," said InuYasha. "You're lucky she only threw a rock at you. She could have beaned you with the laundry tub."
Shippou rubbed his head in memory. "That rock hurt."
Kaede and a girl under discussion, a thin, short girl of perhaps twelve were walking towards them. The girl, her long black hair escaping from her hair ribbon, was carrying the big basket Kaede used for midwifing with her. She had an excited but worried look on her face.
"Ah, there you are. Good, child. I'm glad we found you three," said Kaede. "I'll be at Joben's with Akina's tonight."
"Hello, Hana-chan!" Kagome said. "Is something wrong?"
"My sister's going to have her baby!" said the girl with a nervous smile. "I'm going to be an aunt!"
Kagome looked up at Kaede. "Is there something I can do to help?"
Kaede sighed. "You might want to feed those two," she said, nodding at InuYasha and Shippou. "There is stew on the fire. This is Akina's first child. I'll probably be gone a long time."
"Is there anything that I can do? Would you like me to come and help?" Kagome said.
"No, Kagome-sama," said Hana, her expression moving from excited to embarrassed. "Joben asked me to find just Kaede."
"And you found her," InuYasha said. His ear twitched in expectation, and he moved behind Kagome, where he rested his hand lightly on her shoulder.
"My brother-in-law....he...he told me to make sure you didn't come, Kagome-sama. He said having a hanyou's woman at the birthing would be bad luck for the baby." Hana dropped her face in her embarrassment. "He thinks that youkai...ta...taint could cause problems."
Kagome could feel InuYasha's fingers tighten at the girl's words and his body tense. She could feel the blood run to her face and suddenly she was angry. "What? I thought the people in this village knew better than that!"
"I'm sorry, Kagome-sama." the girl said. She dashed off, clearly unhappy.
Kaede sighed. "Child, if anything went wrong with the birthing, and you were there, it could cause problems for you and InuYasha. It's better this way. Go home for now. If there's anything I need, I'll send Hana to the hut and you can get it for me." Shaking her head sadly, she walked off after the girl.
She started to move forward, ready to follow the two, to do something, but InuYasha wrapped his arms around her to keep her in place. "No, Kagome. No. Let it go. If you want to live here, you can't go telling bastards like him off."
"But it's not right! You saved his brother from a bear youkai!" she said. "You aren't tainted!"
An angry Shippou muttered, "Baka Joben."
"Let's go home," InuYasha said.
They ate mostly in silence, Kagome and InuYasha both wrapped deep in their own thoughts. After she washed the dishes and had put away the meal things, Kagome came back and sat near InuYasha. Drawing her knees up to her chin, and wrapping her legs around her arms she gave a long sigh.
"I remember a story I read once, " Kagome said at last. Her voice cut through the deep quiet like a knife. Both InuYasha and Shippou looked up at the sudden break in the quiet.
"A story?" said Shippou, looking up from where he was drawing by the light of the firepit. "You gonna tell it to us?"
"Let me see if I can remember it well enough." Kagome said. She thought for a moment. "Once, there was this young man who was travelling through the mountains when a horrible snowstorm blew up. He got lost, and wandered off his normal path. The storm got worse and worse, and he knew that if he didn't find shelter soon, he was going to die. Suddenly, he found a hut hidden far away from the busy road, and went up to it to see if anybody was there.
"Standing there, shivering from the cold, he stood in front of the door, when a beautiful woman let him in. "Please," he asked. "Please let me come in out of this storm. If I don't, I think I will die before morning. The woman, in a fine silk kimono decorated with sakura blossoms, let him in, gave him tea and soup, and sat him near the fire."
"She sounds nice," Shippou said.
"Yes she was," Kagome continued. "The beautiful woman warned the traveller: 'Please, sir, you must be very polite and quiet, for my husband is a Yama-Inu, and he will be coming home soon. And you must promise very solemnly not to tell anybody of this house, or else he will send you out into the storm.' Soon, a huge dog, larger than Kirara came up to the door. The woman, hearing him outside, hurried to slide the door open, and let the huge white dog into the house. The young man trembled at the sight before him, but the woman walked up to the dog fearlessly and touched his ear with affection as she welcomed him home."
Kagome glanced up at InuYasha for a moment, and a small look of amusement touched his eyes.
"'My Lord,' the beautiful woman said, addressing the dog, 'This traveller came to our door, lost in the storm, and I allowed him in to sit by the fire, rather than send him out to perish.' The dog walked over to the man, sniffed him carefully, and then withdrew to the back of the house, where the beautiful woman followed him. The young man, frightened out of his wits by what he had seen, sat by the fire a long time, listening as the wind howled, but eventually fell asleep. Some time during the night, the storm had ceased and the day dawned to fine, calm weather. The beautiful young woman fed him tea and rice and soup, gave him food for the road. After he had eaten, the great white dog led him back to the road. Before he left, the dog stared him in the eyes, and clearly said: 'Here is your road. Because of my wife, your life is spared. If you return, though, it will be your death.' With that the dog disappeared into the mountainside, and the young man continued on his way."
"Probably should have killed him then, I bet," InuYasha said.
"Hmph," Kagome said with a small smirk."Just listen and find out. The young man went off to the city not that far from the mountain, and dreamed about the beautiful woman who lived with the huge white dog. At first she just filled her daydreams, but as time went on, he began to think of the white dog, and he grew angry. In his mind, she changed from being a kind woman who lived with the Yama-Inu who welcomed him mercifully, obviously happy with her Youkai husband, to a woman who was being kept prisoner by the evil monster in the mountain. The more he thought about, the further from reality the story became. Eventually, one night over sake, he told a group of his friends about his adventure, how he had come across this beautiful maiden who was being held captive, who had only been able to protect him for the night by telling the monster who kept her prisoner that he was her brother, and how he had promised to come and rescue her."
"Even Kouga's not that stupid," said Shippou, looking up from his drawing.
"Feh! Speak for yourself, Runt," InuYasha snorted.
"Hush, you two," said Kagome. "Where was I...oh yes, one of the young man's friends was a Buddhist monk who knew something about fighting youkais, and urged him to remember his promise to the fair maiden. Before he knew what was going on, a group of men had agreed to go back up the mountain and fight the monster. One day in early spring, the young man led them back up the mountainside, up to the Yama-Inu's house. When the beautiful woman opened up the door, she saw this group of men standing before her with swords and torches. The young man bowed low, and said, 'O lovely Hime, I am here to save you from the great beast who holds you prisoner.' The woman, looking at the group in front of her, grew frightened. She screamed, 'Yama-Inu, come save me!'
"Suddenly, there was a thump behind them, and they heard a loud growling behind them. Turning, they were staring into the red eyes of the great white dog. Before long, all but two of the men were dead: the young man and the monk, both who ran away down the mountainside and, for the moment, escaped. Three days later, the monk went to check up on his friend, and found that the young man was dead. Something had broken into his house at night, and attacked him horribly. It looked like it had been mauled by some great beast."
"Serves them right, trying to steal someone's woman." InuYasha grumbled.
"Hush," said Kagome. " The monk reported this to the authorities, who investigated his story. A group of them followed the monk up the mountainside, and found the bodies of the slain young men. But of the Yama-Inu there was no sign. Instead of the strong and beautiful home that had once been there, they found only the ruins of a burnt hut, still smoking. The Youkai and his wife had moved on."
Kagome met InuYasha's eyes, as if trying to communicate something. He raised one eyebrow, stood up, and said, "I'll be back. I'm going to bring in some firewood."
After laying a reluctant Shippou down on her bedroll, Kagome walked outside. It was taking InuYasha much longer than it ought to have to bring in a load of wood. She found him sitting alongside of the house, where they had sat earlier. She sat next to him.
"You took too long," she said.
"Keh. I was thinking." he replied. He was sitting crosslegged, with his hands thrust into the sleeves of his suikan. His white hair caught in the moonlight, a silver shimmer among the shadows, but his ears drooped some, like they did when he was thinking unhappy thoughts. He looked otherworldly, not mundane at all, yet solidly belonging right where he was. Kagome reached out, and lightly touched his shoulder
"You do know that if I left, life would be easier for you," he said after awhile.
"You do know if you left, life would be miserable for me," she said. "And I wouldn't have you to protect me."
"Days like today will happen over and over."
"I didn't want to be the village miko anyway," she said, laying her head on his shoulder.
"How'd you get to be so strong, 'Gome?"
"I'm not strong," she said, sighing. "I'm scared."
"It's nice not to be alone," she said.