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Chapter 1

Dango

By: The Hatter Theory

Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to Inu Yasha

A Note: This is for Wiccan, who asked for an improbably gentle Sesshoumaru. Thank you for keeping the site going Wiccan, and for devoting so much energy to both it and those who make their homes here.

~*~

Her breath came in heaving pants as she ran down the street, the hems of her kimono hiked up to her legs. She knew, knew people were staring at her, but she was already late and needed to find her family. Already too late to catch many of the daytime festivities, she refused to miss the kumi daiko and fireworks. Wishing for a cell phone, she disregarded the idea just as quickly. With her luck it would be destroyed within a month.

“Kagome!” She heard a voice shout. She stopped short, backpedaling when she realized the call had come from behind her. Turning and scanning the crowd, she released a relieved sigh when she saw her mother and grandfather. Dropping her hems she walked over, trying to look properly contrite and failing.

“We weren't sure you would make it,” Her mother said in a quiet voice, although her smile told of her pleasure. Kagome nodded, shrugging when she thought of the hanyou waiting for her back in the feudal era. It had not been easy to get away, and she'd had to outright lie about sensing a shard near the well.

He'd been less than pleased when he'd realized the truth.

“Sorry I missed most of the day,” She offered instead. Her mother nodded while her grandfather wandered off.

“That'll be the third time he's gone back to that stall,” Nodoka murmured.

“Third?”

“They're selling dessert rolls and dango with some of the strangest things in them, but they're actually good. Here,” Her mother said, pulling a small change purse out of her obi. “Take this and go get some for yourself, you grandfather isn't partial to sharing.”

Nodding once she walked over to the stall her grandfather was it. Only a few people walked up to it, and most of them left without ordering anything, which worried her. Hesitantly she came up and eyed the little board with neat handwriting and felt her stomach flip.

Her mother was right. Strange didn't cover the the combinations she saw written on the small board.

“Hello,” A rough voice greeted, startling her. She looked up at him, feeling a strange sense of recognition. He was tall, and he had at least shoulder length hair pulled back, but she couldn't tell how long it was. But something about the shape of his face, his eyes, reminded her of someone.

“Would you like to try something?” He asked, pulling her out of her own thoughts for a second time.

She couldn't believe anything on the menu was tasty.

“Here, try this,” He added, picking up a small stick with dango on it. She accepted it, eying it carefully, suspiciously. What was in it? What strange combination as he trying to get her to eat?

She bit into it hesitantly, delicately, afraid of what wold be inside.

The first thing she tasted was chocolate. Sinfully, wonderfully dark and smooth, the creaminess rolling over her tongue. And then she noticed it. Beneath the sweetness was a light bitterness and a..bite? Almost spicy. She looked up at the man, bewildered by the tastes rolling over her tongue even as she enjoyed them.

“It's dark chocolate and chilli.”

“It's-good,” She admitted slowly.

“The aztecs mixed chocolate and chilli for their drinks,” He informed her, guessing -correctly- the question she had wanted to ask.

“I'd like to purchase some more,” She admitted shyly.

“Any others?”

“What would you suggest?”

He rattled off names, smiling at her as he did so. It was not a goofy smile, or even a creepy one. But there was something warm about it, as if he did know her, and they shared a secret. She nodded dumbly, accepting the large box he gave her.

“Here, let me-” She began.

“Take it, they're free.”

“But, it's so much.” Really, it was. He'd easily given her enough to feed her whole family for the duration of the festival and more.

“If you hadn't noticed, people aren't lining up,” He chuckled. She flushed hotly, although why she couldn't quite guess. “And maybe you've got friends that couldn't make it. Share with them.”

She fought back the urge to ask how he knew, because it was impossible that he did. Sternly reprimanding herself for reading too much into a generous offer, she accepted the box and nodded, still flushing beneath his warm gaze.

“Thank you, I'm sure they'll enjoy them,” She mumbled, stumbling away from the stall in her haste to get away. Feeling like the gangly, bumbling teenager she was, she sought out the familiar presence of her mother and grandfather. At some point her little brother had joined them, and she hugged the box to her chest protectively when her grandfather eyed it.

“Here mama,” She offered, giving the change purse back. “He gave them to me as a gift.”

“That's very kind of him,” Her grandfather sighed happily, hand already reaching for the box. She turned away from him, ignoring the look of utter mortification that passed over his features.

“I'm going to be taking some back in the morning with me. So no pigging out,” She reprimanded sternly.

Disappointment pinched his features and she held the box more tightly, wanting more for herself. But her friends in the past rarely got treats, and she would love to share the strange and tasty treats with them.

As darkness fell, they gravitated toward the field where the platforms had been built. She saw children running with glow sticks in their hands and wrapped around their heads. It was a startling sight, much different than when she had been a child and running with a sparkler. She supposed it was safer though, given that they ran near stalls with paper banners and other flammable oddities. She made a note to pick a few up for Shippou to play with knowing he would enjoy them.

Already the crowd was growing quiet and she could feel the anticipation in the air as the drummers walked up to the all platforms.

It was a good night to be with her family, one she reveled in and enjoyed, all the while wondering what her friends back in the feudal era would think of it.

~*~

She smiled softly as her friends argued as they walked along the river. Inu Yasha was the same as always, and had been shouting at Miroku, who, in turn, was also being shouted at by Sango. Not for groping Sango, but for getting them thrown out of the small village they'd encountered. Shippou, seemingly to sense her own need for space, harangued the hanyou. A normal day.

“Hey guys, you want to stop for the day?” She called out, calm voice cutting through the cacophony. At the promise of rest and food, immediately everyone quieted and calmed, even Inu Yasha, who had seen the box of treats and after a vicious sitting due to too much curiosity, was more than eager to see the surprise.

Forgoing the normal setting up of camp, they moved a bit further from the river and helped her spread open her sleeping bag before arranging themselves on the blanket and waiting as she pulled out their dinners. She made them eat some of the other treats she'd brought, fresh fruit and vegetables, and some sandwiches she'd prepared.

There was the normal banter, the normal questions and thoughts. There was joking and laughter and light flirting between Sango and Miroku. It made her think of the couple the night before, and she smiled softly. If anything, her best friends deserved their growing closeness, and she refused to be jealous.

When they finished, she pulled out the box and opened it, smiling as they exclaimed in surprise and simple happiness. Sweets were still a rarity, and that she'd brought so many was a treat. Hands reached in and took little skewers holding round dango and quiet eating began in earnest, appreciative rumbles sounding occasional.

Until, of course, Inu Yasha found one he didn't like.

That one went flying as he made a desperate dash for the river, angry cursing ringing through the air. She followed, afraid he'd eaten one he was allergic to. When she found him, he had his head stuck under water, though bubbles floated up and she could tell he was still cursing angrily. Wondering which one he had gotten that could have inspired such a reaction, she waited for him to bring his head up.

Which he did, only to gasp and yelp and stick it back under two seconds later.

After ten minutes he had come up, glaring at her as if she had done something awful. Thus began the argument. This one was worse than others, fueled partially by her own anger at him for reacting so angrily to a gift and by his accusations that she was deliberately trying to give him something he didn't like. As if she'd waste such a wonderful treat on trying to make him mad.

Several sits had him planted in the ground behind her as she made her way back and she was still fuming when she noticed that there had been additions to her small group of friends.

“Kagome-sama!”

The honorific caught her off guard as the blur of yellow and orange came flying at her, arms wrapping around her legs. Leaning down to hug the girl back, she ruffled her hair and looked over to the stoic daiyoukai.

“The hanyou's profanities could be heard for quite a distance,” He observed calmly.

“Oh, Rin didn't hear did she?” Kagome gasped, eyes widening. A slight tilt of his head made her nervous, hoping that a fight wasn't on the horizon. Both groups had crossed paths in recent months, and had done so peacefully. Hopefully Inu Yasha's love of foul language hadn't destroyed that tenuous peace.

“Kagome, can Rin have some of the dango?” Shippou asked, his mouth smeared with the filling of one of the treats.

“Of course,” She giggled, walking over with the young girl and sitting down. “I don't know all of the fillings, but have whatever you'd like,” She offered, pointing the box out to the girl. Rin looked down at the box with obvious curiosity, pulling a skewer out and biting into it experimentally before making a face.

“It tastes strange,” She said, looking slightly put out. “Sweet, but spicy.”

“Oh, I'd forgotten about those. That's probably the one that had Inu Yasha-”

“You tried to poison me,” A sullen voice snarled. She turned to Inu Yasha, who made a pathetic picture indeed. His hair and kimono were still soaking wet, and dirt and grass clung to his hair from being sat.

“Inu Yasha, I did not try to poison you. I just forgot that there was this kind. And I enjoy them,” She snapped impatiently.

“Yeah right you bi-”

She didn't have time to sit him. Sesshoumaru had done something, something too fast for her to see, but the hanyou had face planted in the dirt. For good measure she muttered a quiet sit and turned back to Rin, who was watching the events with wide eyes.

“This one is chocolate and chilli, and it's a bit strange, I admit,” She said with a smile. “But some people find it tasty.”

“What is chocolate?”

She settled into an explanation of the cocoa tree and chocolate, watching as Rin discarded the first skewer, the remaining two dango still on it, in favor of a different one. Obviously the next was to her liking, and everyone seemed to listen with curiosity as she explained chocolate and sugar and the small tidbit of why someone would mix them with something so spicy. Inu Yasha eventually got up and found a tree to perch in, obviously sulking, but she didn't mind.

Darkness fell, covering the world and letting stars twinkle merrily over them. By then most of the treats were gone, and she was digging through her bag. Rin and Shippou were playing with her crayons in the dying light, and Jaken, on his lord's command, was building a fire for them. When she finally found the other part of her treat, she let out a small, triumphant noise. Unable to stop her smile, she went back to the children and opened the box.

“What're those Kagome?” Shippou asked, looking at the box of sparklers.

“These are something else from my time,” She told him, taking one of the sticks out and using her lighter to light it. Both children made awed noises when sparks flew everywhere.

And in the next minute it was in pieces, the lit part burning a whole in her sleeping bag. In her shock she used her hand to pat at it, foolishly forgetting that it was fire and that fire burned.

“What is this?” Inu Yasha shouted, looking at the last spark that jumped onto the grass before going out. Both children had scrambled out of the way, were watching her with wide eyes as she waved her hand, the burn mark clearly visible.

“They're called sparklers you jerk,” She huffed angrily. “And they're not dangerous unless you let them set fire to something, like my sleeping bag!”

“Well how was I supposed to know if it would be dangerous?” He retorted hotly. “It made that weird noise and started sparking!”

“Do you really think I'd expose the children to something dangerous? It's a toy from my time!”

“But-”

“Sit,” She growled, watching the geis pull him into the dirt. It wasn't satisfying, unfortunately.

“Okay kids, I need you to get off of my sleeping bag, the base is wire and the burn might still be hot, and I don't want either of you getting hurt.”

The children obeyed silently, and she rolled her sleeping bag up and smiled down at them, noticing their still stricken expressions.

“I'll show you guys how to play with them when I get back. I need to go wash my hands.”

The camp was eerily quiet as she walked away, and she made the trip to the river for a second time that day. The water was cold, but it numbed the throbbing of her hand. Grateful for at least that much, she ignored the feel of youki at her back, determined to ignore Inu Yasha. However, the youki did not fade, and she had been reigning in her temper too long to let it slide.

“I can't believe you today. First you accuse me of trying to poison you, as if I'd intentionally set myself up for one of your fits. And then you scare the children. Do you have any idea how childish you sound? I just wanted to share with everyone, and you keep making a big scene. This is why I don't bring back stuff from my time anymore. Everything just ends up blowing up in my face because you can't let other people enjoy themselves.”

There was a long silence behind her, and she sighed, feeling the first needles of guilt almost instantly. Maybe she was being too hard on him. She had brought both treats precisely because they were so unusual. But couldn't he trust her not to bring something dangerous?

“Look, I'm sorry,” She sighed, standing and turning.

And immediately she realized her error.

Sesshoumaru stood, head tilted to the side, gaze considering.

“Your time?”

Crap.

She said nothing, because really, what could she say? She'd just unloaded on a daiyoukai that could care less about everything she'd said. Except for the bit about 'her time'. That he probably cared a great deal about.

“Miko,” He prompted.

“It's a long story,” She finally sighed, hoping to deter him.

“This Sesshoumaru has the time.”

They walked back to her camp silently, and she put off explanations by showing the children how to use the sparklers, watching them take off into the darkness to twirl them about, lines of sparks and smoke tracing where their shouts echoed from.

He waited patiently.

She took care of the burn on her hand, putting some ointment on it before bandaging it.

Inu Yasha watched petulantly.

She looked at her sleeping bag with longing, resolving to wash it the next time she went home.

Sango and Miroku sneaked into the night.

“How long are you going to stick around?” Inu Yasha finally snapped.

“The miko has agreed to tell me her story.”

“Kagome,” Inu Yasha growled, glaring at her.

“I come from five hundred years into the future,” She said, ignoring the hanyou. “Give or take a few decades.”

“A strange declaration,” Sesshoumaru murmured. Inu Yasha huffed indignantly and jumped into a tree, apparently intent on ignoring them and sulking. She tried to ignore the waves of displeasure radiating from above.

“I don't know if it's because of the jewel or not, but a youkai pulled me through the bone eater's well on my side of time, maybe two weeks before I met you. I've been using it to go home and come back for the last several months.”

Sesshoumaru was quiet for several minutes, eyes on the fire that had been built.

“And these things,” He finally said, his hand sweeping over the extra sparklers and the dango. “They are from your time.” It wasn't a question, not the way he said it. She nodded, admitting to herself that she wasn't surprised he wasn't bubbling over with questions, at least not visibly.

“It's very different there,” She informed him quietly.

“Is it better?”

She supposed that question shouldn't have been much of a surprise either.

“Some things are.”

“Explain.”

“Medicine is better, it's harder to die of illness or infection, although not impossible. We have many conveniences, like electricity and running water.”

“But?”

He'd caught that so easily, even though she'd said nothing.

“There's always a price for convenience,” She said, hoping to leave it at that. He let her, and when the children came back over, they were panting and grinning widely, tired from their playing.

“Kagome, can we have more dango?”

“I don't see why not,” She said with a smile, watching as they dug into the box. This time it was Shippou's turn to find the dreaded dango that no one else seemed to like, and he made a displeased sound as he quickly grabbed for another skewer. She took the chocolate chilli skewer from his hand and took a decisive bite.

“How can you eat that?” Shippou asked, wrinkling his nose.

“Adults have different taste buds than children. You guys are more geared towards just sweet, whereas I like something with my sweetness.”

A 'keh' sounded over her head.

“Inu Yasha is an adult, and he doesn't like them,” Shippou pointed out. This time a small, quiet snort sounded from near her, and she was surprised to see Sesshoumaru, his disagreement obvious despite his mask of apathy.

“What's that supposed to mean?” Inu Yasha snapped, coming down from his perch. “I'm an adult.”

He couldn't have sounded more childish if he tried, and seemed to realize it two seconds too late.

“Okay, you try one of those things and tell me it's not awful.”

She knew that normally Sesshoumaru would taunt and tease his brother endlessly. However, this time the daiyoukai merely leaned forward and plucked the skewer from her fingertips, removed the last piece, and popped it in his mouth.

The fact that an appreciative hum rumbled in his throat after he swallowed surprised even her. Writing it off to taunting his brother, she turned her gaze to Inu Yasha, who was scowling.

“There's no way.”

“The flavors mix well. The spicy accents the sweet. Mindlessly sweet anything is boring.”

Why was he looking at her when she said that?

He reached into the box again and pulled out another skewer, taking one off and offering it to her.

“This is the last,” He explained. She took the skewer dumbly, sliding one off of the skewer and nibbling at it daintily. He took a small bite of his own, effectively halving it. Inu Yasha made a dismissive sound, launching himself back up into the tree, obviously angry. Sesshoumaru made another appreciative sound, and she wondered if he was faking it for his brother's benefit or if he actually enjoyed it.

When she came to the last one, she slid it off the stick and halved it with her thumbnail, hoping he wouldn't be offended. Quietly she offered one half, and was surprised when he accepted.

“Thank you,” He acknowledged quietly.

Her stammered welcome made her flush even harder, feeling foolish under his curious gaze.

~*~

Two weeks later her small group was sitting quietly and enjoying a break in the heat of the day for lunch. They were all in a pleasant mood, having just found another jewel shard with little difficulty. The battle had been surprisingly easy, and there hadn't been any injuries to speak of save her own skinned knees.

But when Inu Yasha stood, lunch falling from his lap and onto her -recently cleaned- spread out sleeping bag and pulled out Tessaiga, she looked around for the threat.

And wanted to sit him so badly it almost made her eyes cross.

“Be nice inu Yasha,” She muttered.

“What the hell?” Inu Yasha snapped. “Just because he's-”

“Polite, well spoken and obviously not out to attack us,” She interrupted. Rin was running ahead of the group, a wide, gap toothed smile lighting up her features.

“Kagome-sama! We've been looking for you!”

Looking for her? Why would they be looking for her? But Rin was already speaking quickly to Shippou, showing him a new toy Sesshoumaru had purchased for her, something she would like to share with him. Too caught up in the question of why the daiyoukai would search for her specifically, she barely noticed their chatter as she waited for him to reach their picnic spot.

When he did, he said nothing, but held out a wooden box. She stared at it dumbly.

“What-” Inu Yasha snapped.

“A gift,” Sesshoumaru answered quietly, simply.

The entire group fell silent, the children even pausing in their excitement to watch the event unfolding before them.

“Thank you, Sesshoumaru,” She mumbled, flushing when she realized everyone was staring at her. Gingerly taking the box from his outstretched hand, she sat it in her lap and opened it, lifting the top away. Inside was a lacquer bowl with a top on it, and she lifted that as well, surprised by the scent wafting from inside of it.

“This smells wonderful,” She said, looking back up at him, hoping her smile conveyed her thanks. “Do you mind if I share some with my friends?”

“It is your gift,” He answered quietly, already moving away from the group to a nearby tree where Ah Un waited.

Inu Yasha refused to touch it of course, and Rin and Shippou both abhorred the taste immediately. Sango scrunched up her nose and even Miroku looked put off. But the first bite to her was heavenly. The pears had been cooked somehow, maybe steamed, and had the faint taste of a liquor mixing with honey. But the bite of ginger sang through the sweetness, heightening the taste and making her hum appreciatively.

Rin and Shippou played, and Sango and Miroku kept Inu Yasha from fighting his half brother as she enjoyed the strange treat. When it was almost half gone, she looked down and then over at Sesshoumaru, wondering if he had gotten any. If he had enjoyed the dango, he would surely enjoy what she was currently eating. Ignoring Inu Yasha's petulant, and cut off, inquiry, she walked over to Sesshoumaru and sat a few feet away from him.

“Would you like to share with me?” She asked quietly as she sat the small box between them, a fresh set of chopsticks laying across it. He said nothing, but took the chopsticks and deftly took a small slice of pear and ate it.

They continued on in companionable silence, and though it was strange to be eating a dessert with the stoic daiyoukai, there was a simple pleasure to it as well. When they had finished, she smiled up at him warmly, hoping to convey her gratitude.

“That was wonderful. Thank you for the gift.”

“Hnn.” Despite his stoicism, she felt that it was still a pleased 'hnn'.

“Where did you find it? I didn't realize pears grew here.”

“The mainland, where my mother's people hail from.”

She choked.

“Ch-China?” She gasped. He'd gone all the way to China?

“Nanchang,” He corrected, looking at her strangely.

“The country, yes,” She stammered, still floored that he had not only gone all that way, but told her his mother's family had come from there. She wondered if he even realized he'd done it, or if he had intentionally given her the information. “Thank you. That must have been a long journey.”

“Hnn.”

He stood not long after, and she followed suit, holding the box to her chest, much as she had done weeks before with the box of dango. Wordlessly he summoned Rin, who left off of playing with Shippou and ran to his side. She watched, smiling softly.

Who would have thought Sesshoumaru had a secret sweet tooth?

~*~

When he came around the next time, she was -embarrassingly- eager to see him. The children immediately began playing, and she immediately began digging through her bag. In her desperation to keep from eating it, she'd stuffed the box down to the bottom of her bag and prayed they would cross paths before they went bad. Luckily she had come back the day before, and they would still be good, protected from the heat by the small lunchbox and plethora of chillpacks she'd packed in with them.

Trying to keep some semblance of dignity, she walked over to him and presented him with the box, feeling acutely, painfully shy as she did so. He stared at it for a moment before letting his gaze meet her own once more.

“A gift,” She offered. She only hoped he liked them. He took the box and pushed the lid open with his thumb, and she was focused so intently on his expression that she saw the widening of his eyes. Unsure if it was a good sign or not, she almost spun on her heel and fled then and there, but for the slight flare of his nostrils and curious gaze meeting her own.

Then he turned away and began moving for a tree, and she tried not to feel hurt by his silence. Glad that he had at least accepted her gift, she clung to that and turned, ready to walk back to the group.

“Will you not share with this Sesshoumaru?”

The question stopped her short, and she turned back, sure that her expression was giving away her shock. But he had already seated himself, and hoping her ears hadn't been playing tricks on her, she walked over and sat n a foot away from him, hopeful but nervous.

“These are lotus root,” He murmured as he slid the lid off with his thumb and revealed the treat inside.

“Yes.”

She tried to eat, but the knot in her stomach seemed to have bred a cousin in her throat, making it difficult to swallow as she waited for a reaction.

“You don't enjoy these,” He commented softly.

“It's not that,” She admitted, blushing hotly. “I'm just nervous.”

He ate another before venturing to ask why.

“I've been making these since I was a child, but no one's ever liked the recipe before, except for me. I wasn't sure if you'd actually like them.” And it had been an agonizing decision.

Despite her culture's love of odd combinations, her own recipe for candied lotus root had made her family and all of her friends turn up their noses in disgust or gag. By the time she'd reached middle school, she'd stopped making them for anyone else, saving them for times when she craved comfort food or as a treat for an accomplishment. That she might inadvertently offend him had worried her as much as the idea that he might like it excited her.

“I do not eat things I do not enjoy.”

And that was that.

~*~

She was tired, achy, and irritated when he showed up again. So much so, in fact, that when Inu Yasha began reaching for Tessaiga, she didn't even give him a chance to unsheathe it before muttering a quiet sit, following it with another for good measure. The day had been difficult on all of them, but especially her, seeing as Kikyo had once again used Inu Yasha's feelings for her against him. Having already given up on her feelings for the hanyou, she was more angry that he had almost given in to the undead miko's demands and given her the jewel shards.

In fact, livid would have probably been a much more suitable term.

Shippou, grateful for any escape, ran to Rin and pulled her further from the group, whispering something to her. Whatever it was made the young girl nod quickly and follow obediently.

“Wench, what was that for?”

“Sit.”

Thankfully Sango and Miroku had also made themselves absent. Ignoring the sputtering, cursing hanyou, she walked over to Sesshoumaru, needing space from Inu Yasha before she was tempted to see if the fire rat robe's resisted the molten core of the earth.

“Hello, Sesshoumaru,” She greeted, trying to force a smile to her face. His head tilted to the side, and she was struck with a strange sense of deja vu. Shaking her head slightly, she tried to make her smile seem marginally less faked and knew she was failing miserably.

His hand came out, holding a small box inside of it. Curious, she took it from him, almost dropping it when the tip of a claw tickled the inside of her palm. Determined not to make a fool of herself, she opened the box and tried not to gasp.

It was not food.

“Sesshoumaru, this is beautiful,” She murmured, too caught up in staring at the delicate horn comb and it's inlay of lotus blossoms to even be surprised that he had changed the nature of his gift. But the clawed hand reaching into the box made her look up in askance. However, he further surprised her by taking the comb out and pushing it in her hair expertly, smoothly pushing it back on one side and securing it deftly with ease.

Despite her best intentions, she couldn't stop her blush as he did so, and when he had finished, she tried to look anywhere but at him. However, her own curiosity betrayed her, and she looked up into his eyes, shocked when she saw the strange warmth there.

“Thank you,” She finally murmured, ducking her head in a gesture to reiterate her statement.

His hand came under her chin, forced her to look up again, and she felt a trill of fear shiver through her as he contemplated her quietly.

“As I thought,” He murmured. “It suits you.”

And then he was moving on, leaving her standing like a fool.

But a happy one.

~*~

She stared at the retreating hanyou, mouth hanging wide open in the evening air. He disappeared into the night, her big yellow backpack in hand. While his behavior was definitely weird, there was no reason for it. Wondering if he was going through it to find more ramen, she shrugged it off.

Until she turned and saw Sesshoumaru walking towards her, Rin and Ah Un in tow. Oddly, Jaken was nowhere to be seen.

Then Inu Yasha's sudden flight with her bag made perfect sense.

In the loudest voice she could manage, she shouted a succession of sits, hoping each and every one activated the geis and sent him deeper into the earth. Sesshoumaru stared blankly, and even Rin and Shippou were quiet. Sango however, walked over and put a hand on her shoulder when she finally stopped to inhale a deep, ragged breath, readying herself for another volley.

“Kagome, maybe-” Sango began.

“No,” She snapped, shrugging her shoulder away. “Don't make excuses for him. I'm going to go find him and give him a piece of my mind.”

Ignoring the daiyoukai entirely, because somehow not having something to give him felt wrong, she stomped into the forest, saying sit occasionally to pinpoint the hanyou's location. Eventually she found him near a small spring. Her bag was nowhere in sight.

“What did you do with it?” She demanded angrily, noticing the rebellious glare.

“I'm not telling you, you'll just sit me again,” He snarled just as angrily.

“Like you wouldn't deserve it? Just what is your problem?”

“You! You're always giving him gifts!”

“I bring back gifts for everyone!”

“Not like him. You treat him differently. You really think I'm some sort of idiot? Credit me with half a brain!”

“I would if you acted like you had one,” She muttered, flushing hotly at his accusation. “And the gifts I give Sesshoumaru are my business. Now where is my bag?”

He said nothing, but his eyes flicking to the spring nervously told her everything. Her stomach bottomed out in dread, and she walked past him to the spring, ignoring the chill of the water as she waded in. The water was clear, and she could easily spot the bright yellow of her pack. Fury swallowed her dread as she picked up the huge, sodden mess, stumbling from it's weight.

Ignoring Inu Yasha completely, she dragged it onto the grass and dropped to her knees, clinging to the vain, desperate hope that maybe it was okay, maybe the water hadn't had a chance to do any real damage. But when she finally pulled the book free, it was a sodden mess of pages sticking together. Even when it dried out it would be a disaster.

“Kagome-”

“Go away, Inu Yasha,” She whispered, afraid that if she spoke any louder she'd start screaming. “Just-Give me some space.”

Obviously something in her voice was different from every other time she had ever asked for space, because for the first time he didn't fight it, didn't argue before turning and walking away. As his footsteps retreated, she felt the sting of frustrated tears burning her eyes.

It wasn't that the book had been expensive, although it had been. It wasn't that she had scoured several bookstores for the better part of a day trying to find it, although she had. It was that she had wanted to see Sesshoumaru's curiosity roused, wanted to see him flip through the pages and see a world beyond their own. She had wanted to sit and explain the photos and how they were taken through telescopes, wanted to watch him devour the beauty, run his fingers over them, as she had done when she found it.

Now the book was just a mess.

A second sniff followed a first, and a third followed that one as the tears escaped. Feeling miserable, she just sat there, not wanting to go back and face the daiyoukai with a ruined present.

When it occurred to her that this might end their exchanges, she cried even harder, a strange sense of loss crashing over her. They'd barely ever spoken to one another, but there had been something there, and she knew it, even if she'd never asked. It didn't need to be.

A shadow fell over her and she looked up, then immediately back down. He was there, and he was watching her crying. Knew why she was crying, and it was utterly mortifying.

“I'm sorry,” She finally whispered. “But I don't think I can give this to you. It's ruined.”

His fingers were lacing through her own, pulling her to her feet.

“Foolish woman, the gifts aren't important.”

That stung. She'd put so much work into the lotus root and into finding the book, only to have him tell her they weren't important. She'd thought-

Maybe she'd only been reading into things, seeing things that hadn't really been there.

His hand left her own, and she wanted to curl up next to her pack and die. Embarrassment made her face even hotter than it was, and she looked to the side when his hand forced her chin up.

“There is another gift,” He murmured.

“What?” She asked, startled enough to look up at his face.

Which was descending.

He was...

Kissing her?

It was a soft kiss, a gentle one. It demanded nothing, and he let her relax, let her tentatively begin to kiss back before he increased the light pressure, before his tongue swept along the bottom of her lip. Electricity started at her lip and thrummed through her body, and she leaned into him, felt his arm wrap around her waist to hold her up when her knees suddenly turned to jelly.

When he pulled away, she looked up at him, dazed.

They said nothing as he grabbed her bag and walked back to her friends, and everyone was silent when he put her bag down and turned back to her, face blank but his hand cupping her chin.

Nothing was said, but in the apathetic mask of his face his eyes were vivid, bright and filled with warmth.

And then he was walking away, leaving her in a silent camp, grinning as if she'd won the lottery.

~*~

She was in her time.

Her time.

But it wasn't hers, not anymore. Days cycled into nights, nights cycled back into days. Through them all, the well refused to work. In a desperate attempt to keep from going crazy, she'd packed away the gifts, the small things he had brought her. A comb, the little box and bowl, a necklace and delicate bracelets.

With a will other students envied, she threw herself into her schoolwork and focused on not only catching up, but bringing herself to the top of the class. In the end, she was the envy of even the nerd class, and they'd ask her for help.

So when the festival came around, she was buried in textbooks for a final exam. Her mother had to physically drag her from her room, her protesting the whole way as she was trussed up in a kimono and her hair was looped into expert knots.

She was dragged from her home, her books, from sanctuary, and to the festival. And not just any festival, but the one that had precipitated her quiet relationship with the daiyoukai. Trying to ignore the crush of people around her, she steadfastly avoided going near any of the booths.

A warm hand clamped down on her shoulder, and she jerked away, knowing instinctively it was not her mother or brother.

“What-”

“He was willing to wait five hundred years for you,” The man said, and she immediately recognized him as the man from the year before. “A couple won't be bad. Have faith.”

And with that he was walking away, leaving her gaping like a fish.

Have faith?

A couple of years?

~*~

She gave a speech, she congratulated her class, she inspired and tossed her cap in the air, shouted her glee. Victory. After years of hard work, she'd become top of her class. Every sunrise had been a possibility, and this one had been no different. Her own need for hope had carried her through the past two years, had allowed her to smile and mend friendships, to dream and play.

Since that day she had not seen the stranger again, but she had begun to wear the comb that had been a gift. It was the comb she pushed her hair back with before posing for pictures with her friends and family. People milled about the school's courtyard, some brought to tears when they realized it would be the last time. Even she felt a pang of nostalgia for a place she hadn't even left as she and her friends chattered excitedly about summer plans and college acceptances.

“Excuse me,” A voice rumbled. She turned, and blinked once, twice. She'd never seen the man standing there before, but he looked somewhat familiar. Something stirred in her and she flushed, realizing he was staring back at her.

“Hi, what's your name?” Eri asked, always the blunt one.

He said nothing, but his hand moved up, tilted her chin up and she knew. Knew that warmth, the strength, the slant of his eyes and the quiet tilt of his lips.

“Sesshou-”

Her whisper was cut off when his lips claimed her own. They had kissed before she was cruelly thrust back into her own time, but never in front of others, never so deeply, so warmly. Despite the difference in their waiting, she knew she poured as much longing, as much relief and joy into the kiss as he did.

His hands clasped her own, and in some dim corner of her mind she felt something strange before his fingers laced with her own, a gentle pressure.

It wasn't until he pulled away, eyes filled with a deep, quiet joy that she looked down and saw it.

“It was my turn to give a gift,” He said quietly, smirking when several shocked gasps erupted around them.

“I don't have anything,” She whispered, scared of speaking above a whisper lest she provoke the tears that threatened.

“Yes,” He murmured, coming down to kiss her again. “Yes would be gift enough.”

“Yes, “ She whispered against his lips.

“You two are making me sick,” A voice muttered, making her pull away from the almost-but not-quite kiss. Her eyes widened on the sight of two men standing side by side only a few feet away. Immediately the shorter one, a teenager by any standards, hit the taller one, who looked exactly like the dango vendor.

“They're having a moment, shut up.”

“What the hell did you do that for?”

“Yasha, Shippou?” She whispered, almost afraid to believe. But two bobbing heads confirmed her hopes, and she let out a breathless chuckle, then looked back to Sesshoumaru, who wore an amused smirk.

“How-”

“Even he can have thoughts on occasion,” He chuckled, bending down and kissing her again.

Inu Yasha's petulant ranting didn't, couldn't, break through the feel of Sesshoumaru's lips moving over her own.

 

INUYASHA © Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan • Yomiuri TV • Sunrise 2000
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