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Unspoiled by forthright

Finders Keepers

Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters in this new adventure... especially for the one who whose leaps extend to faith. A nod of recognition is bent towards Rumiko Takahashi for her creative prowess.

Author's Note - This is my new S/K collection. Installments of Unspoiled will be chronological, so you can think of this as a loosely structured story. It's going somewhere, but it's taking the scenic route. Most installments will be drabble-length, so don't let this first chapter spoil you. You have been warned!

A Debt of Gratitude: With thanks to Fenikkusuken, who was called in to make sure we got off on the right foot.

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Finders Keepers

The Feudal Era...

Cold water fell endlessly, chilling tanned skin as it sluiced away the stench of demon entrails. Extermination suited the hanyou to a tee, but clean-up could be a bitch. Damn it all, I shoulda used Tetsusaiga. It mightn't have been half so satisfying, but it woulda left less crap in my hair. He eased his claws through the sodden mass, pulling away the odd gobbets and brittle wing-scales he'd picked up while turning a giant mantis-youkai inside out with his bare hands.

Sango's services were much in demand lately; this had been the second marauding demon in just a few days, the last being the biggest lizard-type Inuyasha had ever seen, and that was saying something. Vicious sucker. It had taken all four of them--Inuyasha, Miroku, Sango, and Kirara--to corner and kill it. Thankfully, that attack had only cost their village a few animals and the shed that housed them. The neighboring community who'd asked for help with the mantis had lost five people, leaving several children orphaned. When he found out about the little ones, Miroku left half their payment with the headman to make sure they were cared for. The houshi's such a pushover when it comes to kids. Bet it won't be long before he and Sango... eh...?

Ducking out from under the falls, Inuyasha gave his head a good shake to clear his ears, then shot a questioning glance at Miroku, who was also braving the near-frigid river. The monk only shrugged and nodded towards Shippo, who was hopping excitedly from foot to foot at the water's edge. "What is it, runt? Can't you see I'm in the middle of something?"

"Rin's back!" he hollered. "Kaede said I have to tell you before we can play."

"A'right... you told me," the hanyou called back. "Go on and play; just don't piss off the asshole or his minion. I ain't in the mood for one of 'Jaken-sama's' lectures today." The kitsune flashed a grin that made no promises and disappeared back through the woods above the riverbank. Miroku waded closer to avail himself of the natural shower, and Inuyasha asked, "What do you think Sesshoumaru's doing here?"

"This village is on the edge of his territory," Miroku pointed out. "Perhaps he's on patrol."

"Kinda late for that," Inuyasha grumbled. "We already took care of all the troublemakers."

"Hmm... could it be that he simply missed his brother?" the monk asked lightly.

The hanyou snorted and headed towards the spot where his brilliant red clothes were spread in the sun. "If that's the case, he can wait. I ain't putting on damp stuff just because he showed up out of the blue."

"Hardly diplomatic, but practical," Miroku allowed as he followed his friend to shore and reached for a cloth to dry off.

Inuyasha sprawled on a stone and closed his eyes. "If the bastard wanted me, he'd be here, not off making daisy chains with Shippo."

The monk chuckled as he began to dress. "It's too early for daisies... but your point is taken." Clad in short breeches, he claimed a spot beside the hanyou and stretched his weary limbs.

They'd barely spent five minutes soaking up the sun's warmth when they were interrupted a second time. Inuyasha's ears twitched as one of the village men hurried along the trail; he stopped at the forest's edge, wringing his hands in agitation. "A thousand apologies, Houshi-sama, but your wife said to speak with you immediately. She agreed that this is a matter of some urgency."

Miroku's dark brows lifted as he began to pull on his kosode. "What's happened?"

"It's the Bone-Eater's Well!" the man exclaimed.

Inuyasha's eyes snapped open. "What about the Well?"

"It's not functioning properly," the villager explained, his voice filled with trepidation. "We disposed of the lizard youkai's remains as usual by throwing them inside, but they have not been swallowed. That was three days ago!"

With a fleeting grimace, Inuyasha donned wet hakama. Quickly knotting his kesu and taking up his shakujou, Miroku said, "That is most unusual. I believe we should have a look."

"I don't like the sound of this," muttered the hanyou as he yanked on his suikan and bolted towards the village, the monk close on his heels.

Miroku did his best to keep up, but finally waved his friend on when they reached the shrine stairs. "I'll catch up," he assured.

Inuyasha was only too happy to oblige. As soon as he topped the rise, the stench of rotting flesh that assaulted his sensitive nose, but what really surprised him was that Sesshoumaru was loitering in the hilltop meadow. He stood like a statue, gazing into the Well's depths. What in the hell is he doing, hovering over that stink?

A small knot of wary villagers hung back from the low wooden structure, talking in hushed voices, obviously reluctant to approach the Western Lord. Though these villagers had grown accustomed to the presence of a kitsune and inu-hanyou, no human was fool enough to disturb the imposing taiyoukai. Ignoring his half-brother for the moment, Inuyasha brusquely hailed his neighbors. "The houshi's on his way. Why'd it take so long for anyone to notice?"

"Not many of us come up here," offered one man apologetically.

"Some of the children came home telling tales yesterday evening," one of the farmers explained. "They dragged Taka-jiji up here a couple hours ago, and he spread the word."

"It's a bad omen," the old man declared querulously.

The jangling thud of Miroku's staff turned heads, and Inuyasha smirked at how the village men visibly brightened at the sight of their local holy man. The houshi's got 'em eating out of his hand already. Good thing he's an honest conniver. Leaving the smooth-talking monk to soothe over any worries, the hanyou tightened his jaw and turned to face his brother. "Oi, what are you doing here?" he demanded gruffly.

The taiyoukai did spare him a glance, but Sesshoumaru apparently found the lazy buzzing of flies in the pit of the well more worthy of his attention.

Knowing Kagome liked it when he at least made an effort, the hanyou cast about for something else to say. A quick survey of the surrounding area turned up Shippo and Rin near the treeline, playing with some of the kitsune's toys and chattering at a beleaguered Jaken. "You here for your own reasons, or did the kid drag you over so she could play with the runt?"

The silent treatment persisted, and Inuyasha rolled his eyes. "Fine... whatever. I've got things to do." With that, he leapt up onto the Well's rim and peered down pensively. "Well, that smells like shit... and worse. This is gonna suck if it don't work." Taking a deep breath, he jumped into the shaft. There was a squelching thud, and a stream of vivid profanity rose from the depths, ending with a disgusted, "Aww... fuck! I hate maggots!"

After some shuffling and grunting, Inuyasha leapt back out, his mouth set in a grim line. Miroku hurried forward, his expression grave. "It didn't work?"

"No," the hanyou scowled. "It's a freaking horror show down there, but I moved stuff over so I can reach the bottom this time. Maybe that'll help." Taking a deep breath, he vaulted over the edge and dropped back inside the Well.

"Why does he keep..." Sesshoumaru began, trailing off before slowly finishing, "...jumping in?"

Miroku caught the odd expression that crossed the Western Lord's face and tried to explain. "I know this may sound strange, but he's trying to reach Kagome. Do you recall the young woman who traveled with us throughout our quest for the shards?"

Before the taiyoukai could make any kind of response, Inuyasha shot back up out of the Well. He felt ill, and not just because he was liberally daubed with rotting lizard. I can't get to her... but why? "Damn," he muttered, his ears laid back.

The monk stepped closer and rested a hand on the ancient timbers. "I'll need to offer prayers to ease the minds of these men, but until I consult with Kaede, I don't have anything more substantial to contribute. I'm sorry, my friend."

"One more time. I gotta make sure," Inuyasha desperately declared, once again plunging out of sight. Within moments, a frustrated roar emanated from below. When he appeared again, his teeth were bared, but his show of anger did little to hide the fear flickering in widened eyes. "Why won't it work?"

"Little brother."

"What?" Inuyasha snapped.

"Explain this."

"I can't explain this!" the hanyou countered. "It makes no fucking sense that I can't get through!"

"Jumping into a well--this Well," Sesshoumaru persisted. "Why?"

"I've got my reasons, but I don't have to explain them to you," Inuyasha snarled defensively.

"Now, now, Inuyasha. Your brother isn't aware of the Well's significance," Miroku intervened soothingly. "As I was trying to explain earlier, Sesshoumaru-sama... your brother is trying to go to Kagome-sama."

The taiyoukai's golden eyes were piercing in their intensity as he looked from the monk to the hanyou. "The miko?" he inquired.

Miroku nodded amiably. "Yes, you remember correctly. Kagome-sama is a priestess."

"Kagome..." Sesshoumaru echoed, testing the name. Slender brows drew together, and he slowly shook his head. In a strictly controlled voice he quietly asked, "Is it also this human's custom to jump into wells?"

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The Modern Era...

Yes! It looks like the coast is clear! Kagome tapped the toes of her shoes on the front step to make sure her loafers were all the way on, then took off at a trot, hoping to make it across the courtyard without being waylaid. Her grandfather was involved in some kind of cooperative effort with several other shrines throughout the region, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to bypass the newcomers... and to explain her quixotic disappearances.

Her heart sank when she caught site of Gramps entering the wellhouse. A systematic process of cleaning and organization had been underway for a few months, now, and her grandfather had warned her that the Bone Eater's Well and its environs were on today's schedule. Darn, I was hoping to slip through before they started. I wish I hadn't overslept. Maybe if the other guys aren't here yet....

"Higurashi-chan!" hailed a cheerful voice.

Kagome stumbled to a stop as the most enthusiastic of the visiting shrine workers hurried over, hakama billowing and long ponytail flapping. "Donguri-san... good morning," she greeted politely. Ever since he'd arrived at the Higurashi Shrine, the slender man had proven to be the hardest to avoid, but also the easiest to like. Her mother called him a godsend because Grandpa had taken a liking to him and didn't grouse so much when Donguri was the one to meddle in his precious storehouses. Recently, there had been broad hints that he'd make a good match, but Kagome had done her best to quash that nonsense.

"I'm too young, Gramps!"

"Your grandmother was seventeen when we married," he countered stubbornly.

"That was ages ago!" Kagome argued. "Besides, you're only suggesting it so you can keep Donguri-san around. Just offer him a job; don't drag me into it!"

"I suppose you should finish school first," her grandfather sighed. "Keep him in mind, though, Kagome. That boy would be an asset to the family."

Since the head of Higurashi Shrine had made the preposterous suggestion when she returned home from her last trek through the feudal era, she'd watched the young shrinekeeper-in-training, and her grandfather did have a point. Donguri was a breath of fresh air around the place. I understand why Gramps relies on him so much, but he is not my type.

"You're bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this fine day!" Donguri effused.

His boyish exuberance made it difficult to pin down his actual age, but something about his eyes made Kagome think that he was older than he looked. She liked him, but she worried about his quick wits. He acts silly sometimes, but he really pays attention... which is going to make it almost impossible to leave undetected. "Thanks... erm... you too?" she replied gamely.

A soft snort begged to differ, and Kagome looked up into the unreadable face of Donguri-san's usual companion; the tall priest had followed with less haste and more grace. "Good morning, Meijin-san," she murmured, adding a respectful bob.

The brief inclination of the tall man's head was his only response, though his eyes lingered longer than usual on her. She glanced down self-consciously to make sure that she hadn't buttoned her sweater wrong or spilled her soup at breakfast. Meijin rarely spoke, and Kagome found the priest's stern manner very intimidating. All she knew about him was that he'd come from a remote temple somewhere in the mountains... the same one as Donguri.

The apprentice tucked his hands into his sleeves and considered her with dark eyes that danced in spite of his suddenly-straight face. "Your grandfather mentioned that you were suffering from gout last week. I do hope you're feeling better?"

Wonderful, Gramps. Is that the best you could do? Kagome flushed with embarrassment, but held onto her smile. "It was nothing; he fusses too much."

"I see! And are you off to school?" the younger man inquired, nodding towards her bulging yellow backpack.

She shrugged its weight higher onto her shoulders and hedged, "In a while... I was just going to talk to Gramps for a few minutes."

"We'll leave you to it, then," Meijin suddenly interjected.

Kagome peered up into the priest's face in amazement. Not only had the man progressed beyond monosyllables, he was giving her the very opening she needed. "Thank you," she breathed. He inclined his head, then practically collared Donguri, leading him off in the opposite direction.

"Be safe, Higurashi-chan!" the younger man called over his shoulder.

She returned his wave, then skipped up the wellhouse stairs. I owe you one, Meijin-dono! she exulted, mentally borrowing Donguri's nickname for his superior. Inside, Kagome's grandfather was pacing along the lower level, muttering to himself as he affixed sutras to the interior walls at regular intervals. The Well itself was also decorated with a new series of talismans, and she asked, "When did you do all this? It wasn't like this a few days ago!"

"Hmm? Ah, Kagome!" her grandfather exclaimed, beaming over her interest. "Meijin-san added most of these sometime yesterday, but I can manage the last few myself." As he continued to putter in the shadows, Kagome crossed to the Well and swung her legs over the rim, casually kicking her feet as she watched him apply the remaining sutras. "That's done it!" he announced with satisfaction.

"That's great, Gramps! What are they for?"

The old man tapped his chin, then answered with a careless wave of his hand. "Oh... well... hrm. I doubt a young girl like yourself would understand the intricacies."

In other words, you have no idea. With a fond shake of her head, Kagome said, "I'll probably be gone for a whole week this time, so try to come up with something less ridiculous than usual as an excuse for my absence?"

He ambled over and peered past her feet into the echoing shaft. "I'll pick something good this time," he assured, giving her shoulder a pat. "Take care, child."

"I will, Gramps," she promised, then let herself fall. Just as the sparks of clear blue light that accompanied her passage through time began to appear, she was startled to sense a pulse of what felt like youki. Was that... a demon?

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"Today was the day?" Donguri whispered.

"Yes."

"We knew it was soon... but how can you be sure?"

"I remember the sweater she's wearing."

"Oh. So, what we did... it worked?"

"Hnn."

"And now?"

"We wait."

LINE

Kagome had just about convinced herself that she'd imagined the brief flare of demonic energy when she realized that something else was off. I think... this is taking longer than usual. Though she'd never actually timed the transition, she'd made this trip enough times to know she should be there by now. Taking a deep breath, she tried to calm down by counting. 1... 2... 3... 4...

Everything else is the same--a gentle wind blew past, neither warm nor cold, and the black silence was filled with shifting ribbons and sparks of light. 15... 16... 17... 18... Kagome's heartbeat quickened as fear took hold, and every sense strained for something that would let her know that she'd reached her destination. 27... 28... 29.... oh! Kagome gasped at a subconsciously familiar shift that signaled her arrival, but instead of a gentle settling onto the earthen floor at the base of the Bone Eater's Well, she was plunged into a clinging coldness that took her breath away. Her mind screamed with a shocked realization--I'm under water!

With a surge of relief, Kagome realized that it was light above and dark below. Slipping the straps of the heavy pack that hampered her progress, she urgently kicked her way upwards, breaking the surface with a grateful gasp that quickly changed to choking coughs. She floundered to the side and scrabbled for finger-holds in the stone wall, hanging on for dear life until she caught her breath.

Where is this? Kagome took a long look around. Above her, a perfect square of sky was visible, dismal grey. The shaft is the same size and the stonework looks the same, but I don't understand. How can this be the Bone Eater's Well? It's filled with water! The obvious answer, when it came, left her feeling somewhat foolish. Oh... right. It's a well.

The frigid water was already sapping the strength from Kagome's limbs, and she worked her way around the edge, searching for niches that would make better handholds. Kicking off her shoes, she peeled away her socks and felt along the wall for footholds. I need to get out of here. Though the water level carried her closer to the opening, she held no hopes of scaling the sides without assistance. "I-I-Inuyasha!" she called through chattering teeth. "Are you th-th-there? Inuyash-sh-sh-a?"

Nothing.

Kagome rested her forehead against slick stones and pondered the benefits of screaming her lungs out. If this is the Bone Eater's Well, then the village was at the base of the hill, so no one will hear me. She adjusted her grip again and had just heaved a shuddering sigh when she caught the sound of voices. Holding her breath, she listened. They're coming closer! Two women? Listening carefully, she decided that she didn't recognize either of them... but help was help.

"There's something eerie about the woods today. The birds are silent," one of the women said in wary tones.

"It could be the storm that's rolling in. Feels like a bad one," replied her companion tentatively.

"Aye, that... or predators," the first answered darkly.

"Let's fill these and be gone."

The two reached the mouth of the well, and Kagome leaned back as far as she could, trying to catch a glimpse of the women. A wooden pail bounced hollowly against the side of the Well, and then it was tossed it into the shaft. Kagome squeaked and hunched her shoulders, but it missed her, splashing into the water just to her right.

"Did ye hear that?" the first woman inquired.

"Aye," the second answered tremulously.

"Hello?" Kagome called, trying to sound reassuring in spite of her desperation. "P-please, can you help me? I... erm... I fell in."

"Demon! There's a demon!" With cries of alarm and much screeching, the women ran away.

That went smoothly. With a groan, Kagome turned and made a grab for the bucket. If this is tied to anything at the top, I'll thank them later. Thankfully, it was. Hauling herself up with the rope wasn't much different than hauling herself up using the vines, but being cold and wet made the process much less pleasant. By the time she wrapped an arm over the Well's lip, she was panting. Throwing her leg over the top, she rolled over onto the ground and lay there, too tired to do more than breath... and shiver. This makes no sense. None.

With increasing uneasiness, Kagome picked herself up off... packed earth. No grass? Barefoot, she stood in the middle of what was supposed to be a meadow, but the setting was completely unfamiliar. Houses... these used to be huts. At irregular intervals all around the Bone Eater's Well, blackened heaps of charred wood and ash, straggling patches of weeds, jumbled stones, and broken tiles lay upon the ground. She turned slowly, surveying the ruins of a village. Only the Well was untouched by what must have been a terrible fire.

Stunned, she padded towards the place where a small shrine should stand, but the torii arch was missing, and there were no stairs. A zigzagging footpath wound down the steep slope to where a tiny collection of huts huddled near the river's edge. It's too small... and the paddies... this is wrong. All wrong. Kagome gazed towards the river, the mountains and hills that stood against the horizon, and then back at the Well. This was the right place... and yet it was not.

I need to go back. That's all. As fast as she could, she ran back to the Well and climbed onto its rim. Pushing off, she dropped into darkness and hit the water with a mighty splash, but buoyancy brought her bobbing back up to the surface. No good. I need to get deeper. Gripping the rope, she struggled back up the side and didn't waste time resting; getting up onto the Well's brim, she sprang as high as she could, hoping for a little more momentum. Feet first, she knifed down into the water, but she didn't reach the bottom... and the portal didn't open.

A third time, she climbed the rope to safety, wheezing with the exertion. Home... home... home... she chanted to herself. I need to get home to Mama... home to Grandpa... home to Souta. In desperation, she pleaded with the Well. If you can't get me that far, at least bring me back to Inuyasha. I could be at home there. I have family there, too. Her arms were shaking and her teeth were chattering by the time she flopped back over the edge of the Well, crawled a short distance, and then curled on her side in the dirt. Lungs burned and fingers cramped. She was shivering from cold and from fear, and the hot tears that trickled down to mingle with the dust on the ground. I want to go home!

"Why do you keep jumping in?" asked a solemn, child-like voice.

Kagome started and lifted her head, pushing dripping tangles out of her eyes... which widened in shock. The boy had already turned away from her, leaping lightly onto the rim of the well, where he stood gazing down into the water. One thing was clear, though. No human child has hair that color. He's... youkai!

"Are you trying to drown yourself? You're not very good at it."

Too stunned to speak, she focused on pulling herself together--tugging down her ruined skirt and wringing out the edge of her bedraggled sweater. Yes, he's definitely a demon. Kagome could see the neat points of his ears peeking out from beneath the shimmering silver hair that barely brushed slender shoulders. The child was dressed in a fine kimono, white with a pattern of blue flowers, and his indigo hakama were tucked into small, black boots. He's older than Shippo, judging by his height.

"Or did you drop something into it?" he persisted gravely. She made it back onto her feet, wavering a little. He turned to face her; wide golden eyes with slit pupils dominated a cherubic face, and they regarded her with avid curiosity. "Why don't you answer, human?"

Impossible. Impossible! Kagome's knees weakened, and she decided it would be best to sit down. Sinking back into a thoroughly disheveled heap, she hugged herself and whispered, "Sesshoumaru-sama?"

The youkai child hopped down from his perch and walked over. In her current position, he had a very slight height advantage and used it to look down his nose at her in an innocent parody of his future self. It is him! There was no mistaking the tilt to his chin, let alone his markings.

Vivid stripes cut across softly rounded cheeks, and neatly parted hair framed a perfect crescent moon... which was currently creased by furrows of concentration. "How do you know my name, human?"

If Sesshoumaru is a child, then I've gone back too far. That explains the changes. I'm in the past... of the past!

"Can't you speak? You look old enough to talk."

"No! I mean... yes, I can speak," she managed.

He cocked his head to one side. "Why did you jump into the Well?"

"I was trying to get through."

Sesshoumaru frowned and said, "That is strange. You are strange."

"Am I?" she asked, beginning to notice just how cold she was, now that shock was wearing off.

"Yes," he confidently replied. Pointing in the direction of the village, he said, "The other humans were frightened of meeting a youkai, but you show no fear." He edged closer, nose twitching. "Why?"

She couldn't help it. Whether from nerves or tension or the sudden urge to pinch the cheek of a pint-sized Sesshoumaru... Kagome began to giggle. There was no joy in her laughter; it only served as an excuse for the tears that began to roll down her cheeks. As she giggled and wept, the young youkai crouched down and watched her until she was able to collect her frayed emotions into something resembling calm.

"Do all humans laugh when they are sad?"

"No," she smiled. "But as you said, I'm strange."

Sesshoumaru stood and tucked his hands into his sleeves. "You should go home. The rain is coming."

"I can't," Kagome softly replied.

"Why not?"

"I guess you could say... I'm lost."

"Don't be foolish," he scoffed. "To get home, you only need to go back the way you came. That's the simplest tracking, even a baby can do it!"

"My nose isn't as good as yours, but even that wouldn't help me now."

He gave her a pitying look, then glanced about. Nostrils twitching, he quickly circled the Bone Eater's Well before running lightly in the direction of the village, following Kagome's trail to where she'd stood, looking out over the river valley. Slowly, she stood and watching him skirt the area, then double back. After looping around the well again, he shook his head. "There is no trail."

"You're right."

"Where do you belong?" he inquired, cocking his head in a puzzled way.

"What about you?" Kagome countered, wanting to avoid his question. "You don't live around here, do you?"

"I am hunting," the boy proudly announced.

"Alone?" she inquired, somewhat surprised.

Sesshoumaru's chest puffed out. "I am. It is my first time."

"That's pretty important, right?" He nodded solemnly, and Kagome glanced around at the surrounding forest. "If you're on a hunt, what are you doing so close to a human village?"

The boy's eyes dropped guiltily, and Kagome was amazed by just how transparent Sesshoumaru was. But of course he is. He's only a little boy, after all. She crouched down to meet his gaze. Smiling she asked, "Are you curious about humans?"

"A little," he grudgingly admitted, eyeing her intently.

"Well, humans are just like youkai," she declared. "Some are nicer than others."

"Oh..." The young lordling pondered this, then confided, "Hisoka-sensei says the same thing about cats and dogs, and Father thinks he is very clever."

"I have a cat," she mumbled.

"Me, too... and a dragon," he shared, looking pleased with himself.

Ah and Un. "How big are they?"

He held a hand up over his head, stretching onto tiptoe. "This tall... much bigger than when they hatched. Father says I may ride them when summer ends. They have grown enough to be trained to a saddle."

Kagome never would have guessed that Sesshoumaru could talk this much... and to a human. True, he's more reserved than either Shippo or Rin, and his manners and speech are very formal for someone so young, but he's acting just like a little boy should. It was strange, but sweet. Random droplets had begun to fall, and an ominous rumble of thunder rolled towards them from darkening storm clouds. She used the corner of a sleeve to dab at her nose, which was beginning to run, and hunched her shoulders as the sky opened up.

Sesshoumaru spared the deluge an impatient glance, then fixed Kagome with a regretful look. "I must go," he announced, taking a step back.

"W-wait!" Kagome quietly protested, and he paused, tilting his head curiously. She was stranded in a different past with no idea how to get home; Inuyasha's half-brother might only be a child, but he was a familiar face. Don't leave me alone, Sesshoumaru-sama, her mind cried beseechingly. Every fiber of her being wanted to reach for him, to cling to him, but she was afraid to offend him. Clasping hands over her fluttering heart, she wordlessly begged for help.

"You are afraid," he pronounced.

Tears slipped past Kagome's lashes, and she nodded, not trusting her voice.

Sesshoumaru drew closer; stretching out a small hand, he poked at one of the oversized plastic buttons that closed the front of her sweater, tapping it several times with the tip of a claw. Then, he straightened to a more aloof posture. "But not of me?"

"N-n-no, not of you."

"You are different than I expected," the boy said. "Although you are dirty."

"Did someone t-t-tell you that humans are d-d-dirty?" she asked, an edge of indignation to her voice in spite of the near-constant trembling. He nodded once, and she huffed. "Well, this human prefers to be clean, but it's been a rough morning."

"I must go," Sesshoumaru repeated. "Where will you go?"

"I'm not s-sure," Kagome answered truthfully.

Golden eyes took on the sheen of childish calculation. "Since you don't belong to anyone, I will keep you," he announced loftily.

The notion of being 'kept' by anyone rankled quite a bit, but beggars couldn't be choosers. Pushing to her feet, Kagome executed a low bow. "Th-thank you, Sesshoumaru-sama."

"Come," he commanded, striding off in the opposite direction of the village.

Kagome hurried to follow. She didn't know where he was leading, how long the journey would take, or even what might be waiting for her at its end... but she trusted him. He's just a child, but he's Sesshoumaru-sama. For reasons the young woman had never considered before, that was enough. All that mattered now was keeping that shining head of silver hair in view.

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End Note: This chapter was written as a part of the Child's Play Challenge at the Live Journal community dokuga(underscore)contest. The prompt was 'Rain, Rain, Go Away'. Posted on September 1, 2009. 5,157 words.

 

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