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Milestone by The Hatter Theory

Chapter 1

Milestone

By: The Hatter Theory

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

Happy Anniversary Neshomah.

Here's to four years of moments.

~*~

The heavy thud echoed off of the wooden walls, a loud dissonance that almost hid the sound of metal striking metal. It repeated, once twice, and then there was a frustrated sound followed by several more pings and thuds and clacks. Interlaced and interspersed were several grunts that gave away the owner's impatience.

The sound stopped, and there was the skittering click tap sound of bits of metal and then another heavy sigh that broke into a sniffle. More clattering followed, growing more sure and then faltering again, a steady pattern of unsteadiness, of resolve weakening and then growing firm on loop. From time to time breathing patterns would hitch dangerously, heard even over the worst of the ping strike crack thuds.

This continued for an hour, the steadiness and unsteadiness of it's pattern, echoing off of wood, stone and dirt. Kagome heard none of it though, intent on her task. Sweat beaded her forehead and her neck, sliding down to itch uncomfortably beneath her shirt and bra. The enclosed space only seemed to grow more humid, her hair clinging to her face in damp ringlets, curling slightly in a chaotic mess.

Nail after nail went into the new wood, some of the nails bending in her fervor and ineptitude. Despite that, she continued on, leaving only an inch or so between each unevenly spaced bit of metal. The hammer grew heavier and less stable in her hand, the sweat on her palms making the handle slip uncertainly from time to time.

But it was finished, eventually. Though she didn't know how long it had taken, it felt like too long. Several nails were bent and hammed into place, buried in the wood and decorated with dents from the head of the hammer. The new wood stood out in stark contrast to the old, light against dry rotted dark.

Panting from her exertions, she took a small box from the stairs and opened it, pulling out a piece of white chalk that smeared her sweaty palms in white dust. Ignoring the uncomfortable gritty feeling, she walked over to the boarded over well and climbed on top of it, flinching when a splinter from the board dug into her calf. Ignoring it, she began to draw.

The lines were not straight, they wobbled in an uncertain pattern that echoed the moments of the hammer wavering in her equally uncertain hand. Fortitude was quickly vanishing, and despite her every intention, she could not stop the dark splatter from the first tear hitting the wood, or the one after that, or the one after that.

But her lines were spared, the rough, wobbly lines that aimed at straightness. The edges became a rough guide, aiding in her goal until three imperfect lines of white stood out on the light wood, discernible despite the lack of contrast. Slipping off of the board, she connected one line to another, forming a rectangle. Moving along the edge, she reached and drew a rough circle, the chalk breaking as she did so.

A snotty, wet noise escaped, mingling with a whimper that was strangled in her throat as it threatened to close and deny her oxygen.

The door lay there, a symbol, the only one she could think of. A common metaphor, but a necessary one. Three years of healing, and she still wasn't sure if she was alright. Only that something had to be done before she left home, something had to change before she left for college, or else she would be stuck forever on an endless loop of memories.

Since her return from the feudal era, her time line had changed. Once her memories had been focused on seasons and what grade she had been attending at the time, even the brief span of years before her father had died and after. But upon her return to her own era, her internal time line had reorganized itself. Ground zero had become the day she had met Inu Yasha, the seasons ordered themselves around when she had met each of her friends, months around what enemy they had been pursuing.

The three long years after had been merely, 'since I came back', 'after I returned', 'when the well closed'.

She needed it to change, or else her return would become a time she was perpetually stuck in, a foothold she would never escape.

Looking at the closed door, she felt it taunting her with it's possibilities. Despite the saying involving doors closing so new ones could open, the traitorous, childish part of herself that hoped whispered that closed doors could open again, could reveal that path if so prompted.

Dried tracks of tears made her face feel stiff even as new ones came down. With a determined sound that was edged in pain, she reached forward and began rubbing at the circle determinedly, smearing the white chalk until it was nothing but a blur.

No knob, no entry. The door couldn't open if there was no way to open it.

Despite the fact that she had cried before, cried so much that she was sure she could fill oceans with all of her loneliness and sorrow, she couldn't stop herself from crying over the finality. Not even bothering to make for the stairs, she allowed her body to fold in on itself until she was sitting, hugging her knees and looking at the well. The door was out of sight from her position, but she knew it was there, knew it was closed, and that it would never open again.

The traitorous part of herself that had hoped whimpered, cried, and accepted the pain of defeat.

~*~

The time line reset itself the day she arrived in her dorm. It was a conscious decision, one she forced herself to uphold. It wasn't easy, at first. Habits died hard, tenacious things that they were, but they did die, as she immersed herself in books. But soon her time line had changed. Her life was no longer based on a period of the past. It became based on semesters, on months and weeks. Ground zero became her arrival. Additions were made in the form of making new friends and finals.

Needing the solid ground of fact to tame the whimsy of her own nature, she embraced sciences and maths, ignoring the unsteady hands of literature and history, feeling the latter too affected by an era she grew further from each day.

From time to time she would revisit that door in her dreams, would see it sitting, a plain piece of wood with no knob. Tempted, she would walk towards it and raise her hand to knock. However, each time she did, she managed to stop herself. What use was there in knocking on a door that could not open? Why knock when there would be no answer?

The dreams, which occurred only rarely, left her feeling out of place for days at a time. Dazed, Kagome walked through life like a ghost for perhaps a week, coming back to herself slowly. Her grades would temporarily suffer, then pick back up. More than one professor would comment on it, and every time she deflected the questioning gazes with a neat answer, one they probably didn't believe. It didn't matter to her though, so long as she pulled a 3.5 or higher on her average. So long as that remained, they didn't seem too curious either.

Seasons changed. Kagome relaxed, and the dreams almost stopped completely. Her future began to define itself, vague outlines in the ever reaching expanse of the unknown. Confidence grew, and feeling too good to return to her home, where that door lingered, she decided to continue her classes through the summer.

~*~

There were not many courses to choose from that would grant her the credit hours she needed. Almost all of them dealt with history and literature. Not wanting to deal with history quite yet, she chose literature, which left two options, one of which was the literature of Japan, and the other was literature of the world. Her culture's history was rich with writing, and most of it from the past. A great deal of it had nothing to do with her adventure, except that she would see, would remember textures and sights, would be able to correctly picture a world where royalty and samurai had ruled, and she was not far enough away to make the potential memories bearable. Speaking to her adviser, she set up her courses, an extra in sciences and the world literature class, along with a physical education class that, her adviser warned her, would have her in the gym at least twice a week. Not that she minded in the least.

Most of the students fled once summer rolled around, leaving once finals were over. It was a process of waves, the dorms and campus emptying in noticeable increments. Kagome was allowed to keep her current room, and was even granted the luxury of not having a roommate. It was a good start to her summer.

Feeling confident after waking early and getting a quick visit to the school library, Kagome walked into class with an easy smile. Despite the fact that she had been dreading this course, she didn't feel the least bit hesitant when she stepped into the room fifteen minutes early. If anything, she could get it out of the way, and hopefully they would be focusing on western classics.

Another girl walked in behind her, and called a hello. Kagome murmured back politely and took a seat in the second row, sliding off her backpack with the ease borne of months of repetition. The girl that came in behind her took a seat next to her, immediately introducing herself as Karanate before launching into a one sided conversation about the professor and how she had stayed merely to take his class.

At first Kagome assumed it was because of the class itself, and Karante having a passion for literature. However, that assumption was easily smothered beneath the long winded, rather saccharine sweet description of their professor. Several of the adjectives made Kagome want to find another seat, but, not wanting to appear rude, especially as other students, mostly female, began to file in, she remained seated.

However, more disconcerting was the fact that what few snatches of conversation she could hear seemed to reflect Karanate's speech. The front row was almost completely filled up, the rows behind quickly becoming so. Feeling smothered, Kagome made a polite excuse when Karanate paused to listen to another girl's excited chattering and got up, choosing a seat several rows back, but close enough to not stand out.

The class was half full, not unusual given the summer season, but the lack of males was strange. Kagome wondered if the professor knew about his attraction, and realized there was no way he couldn't. A college campus was a rumor mill just like high school, perhaps worse. Even though she barely spoke to anyone, she still heard snatches of rumors. A professor would be very aware of such…Admiration. She didn't know whether to feel sorry for him or laugh.

Glancing at the clock, she saw that he was running two minutes late and resigned herself to dealing with the chatter for who knew how long.

Five minutes after the class was supposed to start the door opened and a man entered with a briefcase, face on a paper in his other hand.

Apart from the sudden silence that descended, which was eerie enough in and of itself, Kagome felt a peculiar wave of recognition as the hairs on her skin rose in warning. Something flickered dimly along her consciousness, a recollection that narrowed her vision to a dangerous pinpoint within the bright, airy room.

Youkai.

Although she had no intention of hurting the youkai, really had no desire whatsoever to draw attention to herself, Kagome couldn't stop the reiki that rose to the surface, like a wave that stirred in response to her surprise and distress. Stifling the gasp that almost escaped into the silence, she kept her gaze at the blackboard when the professor's head snapped up, reflecting his own sudden disquiet.

There was a long pause, and Kagome prayed in that moment. She prayed the past would stay the past, that the youkai would not automatically hate her, would not seek her out, would not ask who she was. When the prayer was finished, she risked a glance at the youkai, obviously powerful, that seemed to be answering her own brief slip in control with a very intentional pulse of youki.

Her stomach bottomed out, her world wobbled. Heat rushed her cheeks before cooling considerably.

Sesshoumaru. Distinct despite his hidden appearance. Some things, and some people, could not hide, not when what they truly were had been seen before. His dark eyes were not dark enough, his dark hair short, but bangs still falling in the same way as they once had, skin still too pale to be fully Japanese. A dark mask, like a stain, but nothing more than that. Who he was still shone through.

Recognition seemed to spark before it was quickly muffled and hidden as he sat everything on his desk and walked to the board, writing his name quietly. Oonishi Kisoku appeared in bold, perfect strokes among the remaining traces of chalk from the previous class, and Kagome tried not to remember the smeared circle left in the chalk dust on the board in Tokyo.

"You will address me as Professor Oonishi. I do not share the same habit as some of my colleagues, letting you use my first name. Those that do will be removed from my course," He began, voice like steel. Like it had been, echoing in her memories.

Kagome watched, frozen, as he began going over the syllabus. Words blurred together in her ears, meshing like wads of cotton that blocked out the world. Hands were raised, questions asked, but Kagome heard nothing except his voice growing more and more indistinct until the tone was the only thing that got through. The impatience and disdain were evident, and only served to reinforce the image of the daiyoukai as he had been before.

When he finally stopped and told them they could leave, she was the first one out of the door and into the hall, far ahead of the others. Not even noticing that they lingered, she sped down the stairs and out into the fresh air, dragging it into her lungs as if they had been sitting with stale air in them for the hour it had taken him to go over the course.

The feeling did not abate, the strange recognition, the watched feeling. Turning, she was grateful to remember that the classroom had been devoid of windows.

Spinning on her heel, she walked at a fast clip to her dorm, brushing past the few other students on campus quietly, desperate to block out the last hour but unable to stop herself from transposing that Sesshoumaru over the one she had known, had tried to forget.

By the time she was in her room, every breath was a short struggle that last for mere seconds, each one a battle to draw in and keep. Every bit of air she took in seemed to evaporate before it reached her lungs, depriving her body of oxygen. The dizziness that had threatened before returned in force, sending her to her knees as the floor dipped and rose beneath her like water.

But tears did not come, despite the burning of her eyes, and sobs did not form despite the tight thickness in her throat. Instead, the only sound that echoed in the small room was a gasp repeated over and over, without form or intent.

~*~

Kagome knew she looked pale and dreary, tired. However, it went unnoticed by any of her fellow students, all of whom seemed more excited at the prospect of their professor arriving than anything else. Had she been willing to speak on it, and she wasn't, she would have laughed at them, would have told them of the bitter irony. Except she would appear crazy, and the only person that would believe her would probably tell her she was being a sentimental fool, putting so much of her emotional energy into clinging to what he had been, into avoiding it so desperately.

Opening her notebook to where she had made her notes, she went over the assigned reading, making sure she was still familiar with the first six tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Satisfied that her notes were thorough, she glanced to the clock.

He was once again late, this time by a mere two minutes. Tittering rose for a moment before silencing completely at his stern glare.

Kagome felt her stomach clench nervously. However, he was refusing to look in her direction, and she found herself murmuring a prayer to the gods that were listening. A week of restless sleep and dreams she couldn't remember, and she had wound herself up more than enough. She shuddered to think what would happen if he looked at her, or worse, called on her to answer a question.

But as the class went by, it became apparent that he was completely ignoring her, as much as she wanted to be ignored, in fact. Though his physical presence was still painful in and of itself, she allowed herself the respite that had been granted.

Most of the girls present in the class had very little to offer on the reading material. Kagome, recalling memories despite herself, could see Sesshoumaru giving them the minute, barely perceptible frowns that he had once given people that had severely displeased him. His almost apathy was something that had not changed, and she supposed it fit, and perhaps helped him as a professor.

When the class ended, Kagome felt herself relax. Nothing catastrophic had occurred, and she allowed herself a brief moment to believe that she could make it through the class without having a nervous breakdown. Taking her time, she waited for the door to clear, which, with a stern bark of 'Class is over. Good day,' had it free, with only a few stragglers such as herself.

"Higurashi," A familiar voice said, completely neutral, just as she was walking past the desk.

Kagome could think of nothing more she wanted to do then suddenly bolt from the room.

"Yes Professor Oonishi?" She asked quietly, turning on her heel.

"I would like to speak with you about your course."

He was obviously waiting for the others to leave, and she knew it, could tell by the way he crossed his arms and regarded her intently, so focused he appeared displeased. And he could very well be.

"I'm sorry, I don't feel well," She blurted as she did an about face and fled from the room as quickly as she could, bumping into other students walking at a more leisurely pace. Muttering hasty apologies to the offended females, she ran down the stairs and out of the building, resolving, then and there, to get the credits next semester from a different class.

~*~

Kagome managed fairly well for the rest of the semester, going to her adviser and dropping the class under the excuse of needing the break more than she thought. Her adviser hadn't even batted an eyelash, and all was well in her world.

Except that it wasn't. While she still attended her other classes, she tried to remain as far as possible from the building that Sesshoumaru taught in, even going so far as to take a longer route to get to her biology class. Despite herself, she couldn't help but think about the person she wanted to think about the least, mostly because she was taking such care to avoid him.

Only twice had there been the potential for disaster, near misses that had almost shattered her nerves.

Once was at the coffee shop frequented by both students and professors, when she had been on her way out as he had been walking in. Despite his glance at her, a pause long enough to be noticed, she had murmured only a quick, quiet 'excuse me' before fleeing down the sidewalk outside. The second time had been in the school library. His presence had gone completely unnoticed until she had turned the corner of a row of shelves and nearly bumped into him, her eyes on the shelves themselves as she had searched for a chemistry text.

A startled yelp that had not been feminine (or human) sounding in the least had echoed through the vast silence, and she had quickly hurried to the opposite side of the library, more than aware of the eyes following her. Thankfully the noise, while embarrassing, had brought the attention of the few people there, and she had been saved by them. Sesshoumaru would never try speaking to her while others were watching, especially since she was not even in his class.

As the fall semester began, students flooded the campus, and the feeling of being caught up in the hustle and bustle managed to dull the feeling of being so noticeable, so exposed. She was able to take on a normal course load again. Her sleep was still restless, but she learned to cope, not letting it affect her schoolwork.

"Hey, Higurashi-san!" A voice called out.

Kagome turned, abruptly yanked from her thoughts on the process of volatile combustion. For a moment she wondered if she had imagined her name being called, halfway convinced until she saw an arm shoot into the air and wave frantically. Her name was called again, and she felt recognition flicker through her. It was not the sharp, cold feeling that had possessed her when she had felt the presence of a youkai, only the slight dread of seeing a former classmate.

"Higurashi-San," Hojo said, face red from running to catch up with her.

"Hello Hojo," Kagome greeted with a smile, despite the fact that she was mentally groaning. Of all the people to run into, he was one of the very few that ranked with Sesshoumaru on the low end of the desirability scale.

"I didn't know you were attending here," He said, a genuine smile lighting up his features. Kagome felt a flash of guilt, remembering how she had treated him in middle school, made all the stronger in the face of his obvious pleasure at their reunion.

"I didn't know you were here either," She admitted. "How have you been?"

"I've been wonderful!" He told her. "Better now that I've seen you. Wow, how long has it been? Three years?"

"Or so," She chuckled, a slightly forced sound.

"Hey look, I've got to get to my next class, but would you like to go out sometime, maybe catch a movie or a bite to eat?"

It was on the tip of her tongue to say no. She hadn't been overly interested in dating since starting college, and she definitely didn't want to date Hojo. However, he looked so earnest, so expectant, that she found herself nodding and smiling. Maybe he only wanted to reconnect with an old friend, which seemed more plausible than rekindling a middle school crush, especially one that had been as obviously one sided as his had been.

They exchanged numbers and he rushed off, calling his goodbye over his shoulder.

Two hours later, when a text beeped on her phone with a time and place, she typed in a quick yes, unable to stop the strange heaviness that began pressing down on her chest.

~*~

The restaurant was more intimate than she would have liked, the atmosphere making a laughable attempt at romance. The effect of the dim lights and the plastic tablecloths, as well as the raucous laughter from some drunken co-eds several tables over, made the whole thing feel cheesy instead of romantic, gaudy instead of simple.

Spotting Hojo immediately, his eager smile and even more eager, almost frantic arm making it easy. Walking over she murmured a greeting and sat down, grateful for the benches instead of chairs. Otherwise he might try to pull it out and seat her,and she knew the gesture would mean far more to him than it would to her.

Resigning herself to a night of reminiscing (which she had been prepared for) and romantic overtures (which she had not) she ordered a soda and noodles, and he copied her order exactly.

While it was obvious that he was attempting to rekindle some sort of romance, what little there had been, at least he wasn't awkward. Kagome saw that he was still naive, still child like in so many ways, and couldn't help but feel badly for him. Someone like him should be able to find any girl they wanted, just not her. Stemming the tide of questions relating to her relationship status, she told him that she was focused on her schooling and had little time for dating. Though he seemed to wilt at the statement, he perked up quickly enough, bounding back with all the charm and enthusiasm of a schoolboy.

The topics were less pointed, and he began asking her about her own campus experience, cutting in now and again to mention some event or another that she had missed or not heard about.

"Did you hear about that fraternity that dumped kool aid and detergent in the fountain?" He asked, an impish, childish glee stretching his features.

"Yeah, it was right after I started-"

Her sentence stopped abruptly, cut off instead of rambling on into the silence comfortably. It wasn't until Kagome caught herself thinking it that she stopped, eyes widening in horror.

Her time line had changed, from starting college to meeting him again. Months since she had met him, seen him, months before she had realized his existence. It had reset and all of her work, all of the effort and strength she had used to bring herself to her proper era, to live through her life, had suddenly shifted forward, changing events.

"Are you alright?" Hojo asked.

She wasn't, not at all.

"Excuse me, I'm not feeling well," She told him, immediately standing.

He made concerned noises about her health, recalling her middle school days. Was that his time line for her, was that how he marked the passing years and seasons?

Overwhelmed and feeling too dizzy, too terrified and unbalanced to endure touch, she grabbed her purse and mumbled something she could barely understand, something she couldn't comprehend even as it was coming out of her mouth, and began walking away, leaving him alone in the restaurant.

The entire walk back to her dorm, she was thinking about the door, thinking about the smeared almost invisible circle, and the darkness beneath the broken wood.

When she laid down in her bed, clothing and shoes still on, and closed her eyes, sleep was long in coming.

~*~

In her dream, she saw the door. The knob was gone, but it had been replaced with the fixture for one, the hole where the knob should be echoing the darkness that should be behind the door. As if in a horror film she approached the door, telling herself it was stupid and that monsters waited behind it, that it would destroy her if she got too close.

But her hand came up, made a fist, and she fought her dream body, telling it not to knock, not to touch the wood at all. Closer and closer her hand drifted, knuckles tilted to just so. A whimper escaped, tears burning her eyes as her hand rested only an inch away.

She was still fighting the dream logic that was forcing her wrist to move when a bang echoed like canon fire, the door shuddering and the vibrations thrumming against her fist.

~*~

She was absent for three days worth of classes, pretending to be sick when really she was thinking, contemplating, and eventually gathering up her courage. Her new roommate fretted and worried over her, even went by her classes to let her professors know she was ill. Kagome would have felt awful had she not been focusing everything she possessed on the task ahead of her.

On the fourth day, she packed her backpack and checked the school's website to see where his office was. Hoping to appear like any other normal student, she walked to the building she had been avoiding for months and took a deep breath before allowing the body of students to carry her inside, like a drop of water in a stronger current.

Giving herself another moment to breathe in the anonymous crush, she thought about her life, thought about everything she had fought for, and the dream. Every night she'd had it, the dream of the door. Every night she fought her own body as it tried to force her to knock on the door she had long ago shut and locked. Every night, just before she had given in, banging had started on the other side, growing so violent she was sure the wood would splinter and shatter beneath it's force.

Knowing it would only get worse if she did not confront him, she broke apart from the crowd, clinging to every bit of courage she had possessed as the girl that had been the shikon miko. His office door was closed, although there was a sign in front of the blinds that said he was accepting meetings.

Knocking lightly, knowing he would hear, she waited for a response, which was only seconds in coming. The door opened, and she looked up to him, saw his slightly bemused expression.

Whatever words she had been planning, the speech she had plotted out so carefully left her, vanishing like a mirage.

"Professor Oonishi," She greeted calmly.

"Higurashi," He replied. "Please come in."

She walked past him, clutching her book bag strap like a lifeline as he closed the door and strode past her, behind his desk. Antsy, she watched him sit down and knew she would look foolish if she did not. However, she felt caged in the small room with it's poorly painted concrete walls. The lighting did little to aid the feel, the dimness not hiding the chipped paint that exposed gray.

"Higurashi," He began.

"Why are you here?" She blurted, carefully constructed sentence coming out gracelessly. Eyes on his face, she watched his expression carefully knowing that the least bit of movement would give away his mood.

"To teach."

"That's not what I meant," She began.

"It is the only answer I can give," He rebutted swiftly. "Why are you here?"

"I'm a student," She started, voice wobbling.

"That was not the question I asked," He told her, voice gaining a sharp edge.

"I-" She started, dropping her book bag and giving in to the urge to pace the short distance from wall to wall. Really, the room was no bigger the a cubical, and she felt like it was growing smaller with each breath. "I was over it. I stopped thinking about everything in terms of 'before I feel down the well' or 'after we defeated Naraku,'" She told him, running a hand through her hair for want of something to do with them. "And now it's all messed up and you're the zero on the time line and I can't-"

She paused to take a breathe and in the moment looked at him, really looked at him.

He looked surprised instead of angry, sad instead of apathetic. The expression, more open than anything she could recall from years before, stunned her into silence, striking at her own near hysteria and calming it with an abrupt hand.

"Your baseline," He murmured quietly, eyes distant. "Meeting me."

She wondered at him, at his tone as he spoke, the not quite apathy, maybe amusement if the glimmer in his eyes was anything to go by. Wanted to scream at him because her past was supposed to be over, and she was supposed to have left that door closed and behind and there he was, knocking on it without even thinking about it.

"My baseline," He added, breaking the indeterminable, uncomfortable silence. "My baseline was the day Rin died."

Kagome felt the world fall out from beneath her. Unsteady suddenly, more so than she had been before, she watched him, saw that the amusement was not the kind that drew a smile, but was drawn from a wry, perhaps bitter self derision.

"And then it became the day Jaken died. When Japan opened it's borders. When Rin and Inu Yasha's line failed and died completely. Now it is set by you."

Kagome started. The last thing she had ever expected, had not even thought to consider, was that she would become a zero point, a starting place for his thoughts. Sesshoumaru, the youkai she had known, would never have set anything organized around her, especially when she had gone to his class twice before dropping it. The daiyoukai had always been too involved, too far above her to see her, she had thought.

"I'm sorry," She whispered awkwardly, for want of anything better to say yet needing to break the silence.

"If you must apologize, then I as well," He said plainly, despite the smirk on his features. Though his amusement had apparently grown, it was no less rueful, no more pleasant to behold. "I did not think my presence would cause such an upheaval after you dropped my class."

Maybe they were both idiots, for thinking that a living, breathing flashback would have no affect on their every day lives. Kagome knew she was foolish for not understanding that she would have an impact on him, perhaps more than even he had upon her.

"How do you stand it?" She asked, not sure what she was asking about. How did he stand the memories, the time lines constantly resetting, her very existence in his life?

"I survived, I breathe. I continue. The past is gone, yet I remain. So I live."

She envied him his easy confidence, and couldn't help but tell him so.

"Have dinner with me," He told her after a considering pause.

"You're a professor."

"I am not your professor, and at my apartment, if being seen with me bothers you."

She worried more about his career than her image. He was considered one of the unattainable dreams by most of the women and no few of the males on campus, her reputation would not suffer. His however...

"I don't want to get you in trouble," She tried, still unsure of spending more time with him. The door knocking to answer her echoed in the back of her mind, coming damningly to the forefront.

"It won't. Just to talk. I'm curious to know what happened after you left."

The rapping grew louder. She tried not to imagine the faintest of circles left in the smeared outline of the door.

He looked sincere, looked as if answers might help stifle whatever echoes he endured. And he had endured far worse for much longer. Knowing that, how could she deny him.

"Alright," She told him, hesitant. "That sounds fine, as long as you're sure."

He nodded, accepting her hesitation and overriding it with the easy air of authority that had always been a part of him. Bending at his desk, he wrote on a notepad and ripped the paper loose, folding it once and handing it to her.

"That's my address and number in case you get lost," He told her as she took it and slipped it into her pocket. "Tomorrow night, around seven?"

"Sounds alright," She repeated, immediately berating herself for being so repetitive. But the speech, which had been impulsive and emotional to begin with, had not been planned, and she had not prepared for any results. But this outcome was perhaps the last thing she would have considered, and she was having trouble processing it.

"I'll see you then," He told her, seeming pleased. She nodded silently, bid him a quiet goodbye, and left his office, needing to escape the echoing raps that had swelled and grown until they were echoing off of the poorly painted concrete walls.

It didn't occur to her until after she had made it back to her dorm that she had never called him by his true name, and he had never spoken her first one.

~*~

Sesshoumaru's apartment building was several miles from campus, in a much quieter part of town. It was not the posh affair she was expecting, instead being a quiet, though obviously well established and well off community. Walking to the intercom, she pressed the number for his apartment and waited patiently, surprised that it took him more than a minute to respond. When he did, his voice was steady and the door buzzed, letting her know it was unlocked.

Staring at it for a moment, she wondered if going up was really such a good idea after all. He was obviously the noise on the other side of the door, the memory banging at it, threatening to make the wood buckle and break. What would happen if she did?

Knowing what would happen if she didn't, endless nights of dreams, years of building the time line, of finding a new baseline with the knowledge that he was still out there, was the only thing that spurred her on. Little could be worse than that. If anything, they would have dinner, she would satisfy his curiosity, and that would be that.

Going to the elevator, she hit the button for his floor and waited patiently. On wooden, awkward legs she walked to the first of the two apartments taking up the entirety of the floor and raised her hand.

For a choked, terrifying moment her dream swelled, rose up around her, the darkness encompassing everything but her and the door. Her hand hovered uncertainly, each second stretching into an eternity of fear. Bile rose in her throat, a precursor to something much more serious. Any moment she expected the door to begin banging fro the other side.

But with each moment that passed there was only silence. Not even the sound of her own breathing registered, so deafening was the dream world that had trapped her.

"This isn't a dream," She told herself, finding a way to speak around the terror and sourness in her mouth.

Fist shaking, she knocked on the door once, twice, and let her hand drop to her side, forced it to relax.

The door opened almost immediately.

"Hello," Sesshoumaru greeted quietly. "Please come in."

As she had the day before, she walked past him into the simple, almost spartan apartment. Completely devoid of the knickknacks and clutter of a normal life, the apartment, what she could see of it, was austere lines and soft, leather furniture.

Feeling like an intruder, she stopped examining the lack of life and turned to him, surprised to see that he was no longer wearing the guise of Oniishi, but looked very much like the person she remembered. His hair was shorter, his face slightly more angled, but little more difference could be found.

"Kagome," He said quietly.

"Hello, Sesshoumaru," She said, voice just as quiet.

There was an awkward pause, a moment where she didn't know what to say, what to do. What did you talk about, when you had spent months trying to avoid someone for personal sanity?

"Dinner is ready," He rumbled, walking past the living room to a small kitchen. A table sat at one end, simple glass and metal, and two metal chairs with padding. The table was set for two, but there was nothing romantic about the setting. Everything was simple, sleek, and she appreciated the sterility of it, though why she couldn't guess.

Setting her purse on the arm of one of the leather chairs, she followed him into the kitchen and sat herself, waiting and resisting the urge to fidget.

He poured them both a glass of wine, which she accepted gratefully, taking a healthy swallow to calm her nerves. He seemed mildly amused by the action, and for a moment she was reminded of the look that had graced his features in his office. The wistful, sad look, the one that had made her decide to accept his offer.

As he put the plates on the table, he asked her about her studies. She answered politely, automatically. They ate, conversation interspersing moments of chewing. The food was ash in her mouth, the wine sour, and the conversation stilted.

Only finishing half of what he had served her, she sat back and looked at him full on, the tension making her feel nauseous.

"You do not want to remember the past," He said, setting his fork down and contemplating her.

"I can't."

"You won;t," He rebutted swiftly.

"If I do, it'll, it'll-" She couldn't finish, because she couldn't figure out what it would do. Whatever waited, whatever banged on the other side of that door, it was bad. That was all she knew. That the door was closed, and there was no point in going back, and examining it, remembering, would only hurt her.

"You don't want to know what happened to them? Any of them?"

"They died. The end," She whispered hoarsely, almost immediately regretting her words when his expression darkened.

"They missed you, even Rin," He bit out harshly. "They named a child for you."

"Sesshoumaru," She started, knocked off balance by the sudden onslaught of emotions that he was expressing.

"Did it matter so little to you? Is it so easy to put behind you, to forget?" He demanded sharply.

"It's not that," She tried, feeling the past rising up to meet her, the banging on the door echoing sharply in her ears, accenting every syllable that came from his mouth and into the air.

"They loved you, all of them. I watched them remember you. Every year they remembered you, as if you had died. They said you moved on, that you were fine and safe. But they mourned your passing, as a loved one, as kin and pack," He added. "How shamed they would be, to mourn someone that has forgotten them so completely."

The words were acerbic, angry. She couldn't remember him ever being so emotional, and the chill in his tone only made the fury held within them all the more apparent.

"I didn't forget them. I can't, I closed that door. If I remember-"

"If you remember them you honor them," He admonished.

"If I remember them I won't be able to keep going," She shouted, the tears that had been building up demanding to be let free. Determined not to give in, not to break, she held them in check, glaring at him. "I lost them. I mourned them. But if I keep remembering, I'll keep mourning. I'll keep missing them and I will never be able to find peace."

"This is peace?" He asked quietly, voice dangerously calm and neutral. Kagome was frightened of that more than she was frightened of him shouting, of the poison that edged his words, because the question slammed against the door, silenced the banging and left only deafening silence.

"How am I supposed to stop missing them?" She finally asked, not knowing what to say and so saying the first thing that came to mind. "How am I supposed to remember them without hating now?"

Quiet enveloped them both, and Kagome sniffed, trying to keep from further disgracing herself in front of him. Obviously she had been incorrect. Avoiding him, ignoring his existence would have been the better option, because now he would tell her what a fool she was, and she would think of the door, and everything behind it, and her baseline would be set to tonight, and she would be dependent on it for who knew how many years before righting it.

"You don't stop missing them," He finally told her. "You take comfort that they lived, that they loved, and that they missed you. You keep going because of their memory, not in spite of it."

Through the blur of tears Kagome could still see him, saw his expression, saw that he was speaking not as an elder, but as someone that had experienced that struggle, probably still did. He looked weary, perhaps even tired, as if the years were suddenly bearing down on him, as they had on her.

"I don't have all of the answers. Coping comes with time, and even I cannot explain it. But if I let the grief swallow me, if I lived in those moments, I would not have survived to today," He sighed.

"What do you miss?" She asked, not truly thinking about the question even as she asked it.

"I miss looking in a mirror and being able to see myself," He answered quickly, so much so that it bore the full flavor of honesty. "I miss simplicity. I miss truth. I miss Rin and her family."

The last was spoken softly, so softly Kagome barely heard it. But she did catch it, the tears she had been fighting finally spilling over at the admission.

"You, you said Rin and Inu Yasha's line," Kagome demurred.

"Inu Yasha and Rin married. He did not have the strength to mark her," Sesshoumaru told her, voice blank, as if he had switched to autopilot. "She bore him three children, and did not live to see them grow past their first stages, they aged so much more slowly than she. But she loved them. Inu Yasha stayed with her, and once she passed, raised his children. He did not live to see them marry other humans, and so on, until the lines were so diluted that they were almost fully human. The discrepancy in aging faded to nothing. The line failed when the last heir died forty years ago, barren."

Kagome allowed him a moment to gather himself, to come back, because she could think of little to say in the face of that old grief, a wound that seemed as if it had barely healed over.

"But they had their time. They were happy. Inu Yasha, he never regretted it. He said that his experience with you taught him to treasure every moment."

It stung, a backhanded admonishment, although she couldn't tell if it had been intentional or not.

"What do you miss?" He asked.

"Everything."

"Start simple."

"I miss Shippou," She admitted. "I wanted to see him grow. I miss his laughter. I miss his pranks and his arguments with Inu Yasha. I miss him defending me."

"He started a clan with another youkai. They were not long lived, but they had many children. The line still thrives, though it moved from Japan before the borders opened."

Kagome found a measure of comfort in that.

"What was her name?" She asked quietly.

"Souten," He said quietly.

Kagome hiccuped around her tears, unable to stop herself as a laugh escaped, squeaky and rusty, but laughter nonetheless.

"A joke?" He asked.

"She challenged him in a duel to the death when they were little," Kagome told him, a small smile on her lips. "It was cute."

"They were happy, from all accounts."

"I'm glad."

"What else do you miss?"

"Kouga and Inu Yasha being idiots," She answered, not even having to think about it. "Not them fighting over me, but them just being stupid and still working together. Trying to out do one another. Most guys now, they try, but they're not as-as silly, I guess."

Sesshoumaru nodded knowingly before getting up and walking over to the counter, retrieving the open bottle of wine and bringing it back to the table. He refilled her glass and topped off his own, which he had barely touched. Kagome wondered if he could get drunk or if he didn't want to. Maybe he was just making it easier on her.

"After I saw you, the dream started getting worse," She admitted quietly.

"Dream?" He asked, brow raised.

"The door. I made it, but I took the knob away. But it's there. I used to see it and think about knocking on it, but it was alright. After I saw you again though," She paused to take a greedy gulp of the wine. "I started dreaming about it more often. I wouldn't be able to stop myself from going closer and raising my hand. But, I fight it. I'm trying to move on. But as soon as I think I've lost, this banging starts on the other side. It doesn't stop. I can't- I have to make it stop," She finished brokenly, staring at her wineglass.

It occurred to Kagome that she never drank, and the wine was already fuzzing the exposed nerves that had been raw for weeks, months. It was a dangerous thing, the fuzzy, not quite numbness. It made things seem easier, made her tongue looser, made the hurt dull from knife sharp to a throbbing bruise.

"I don't think I should drink anymore," She told him.

He nodded in quiet acknowledgment, taking the glasses and the bottle from the table. Instead of sitting back down, he gestured for her to follow him into the living room. On slightly unsteady feet, and whether it was the wine or the surreal, emotional upheaval she had experienced in the last half hour, she wasn't sure, she followed him and sat in the loveseat across from him, toeing off her sneakers and tucking her feet under her.

"Why did you close the door?" He asked.

Kagome was reminded (absurdly) of a therapist's office. Her mother had taken her to one eight months after she had returned, but it hadn't worked, couldn't, when she could never tell the truth, could never tell the story without the therapist labeling her crazy and shipping her off to a psychiatric ward.

The incident that had triggered that ill fated attempt at recovery seemed the simplest way to explain the truth to him. Stretching out her right leg, she pulled up the denim of her jeans to expose her shin, and a long, hypertrophic scar that stood out, raised and pink, against the pale gold of her skin.

"I was trying to get back, and I jumped down," She told him, voice detached as she remembered the episode. The desperation that had clawed at her throat, sunk into her heart had blinded her to everything. "I didn't even notice at first, I was just, I was focused on not making it, the pain didn't even register. It wasn't until I saw the blood that I realized I'd hurt myself."

And that had taken longer than she cared to contemplate now.

"I laid there for awhile. I thought maybe, maybe if I couldn't go back, there was no point. How was I supposed to deal with everything when I couldn't talk to anyone?" She asked, voice breaking. "Mom didn't understand, couldn't. No one could."

Sesshoumaru remained silent for all of this, face a mask of neutrality. His eyes however, gold even in the dim light, remained vivid, flickering as they absorbed information, exuded something suspiciously akin to pity.

"Mom found me. She knew I kept trying. When I didn't answer her, she came and-"

The shame of what had followed still clung to that memory, and the scar was a permanent reminder of her own selfish thoughtlessness.

"I hurt them so much," She whispered, pulling her leg back up and tucking it beneath her body. "I was so stupid. I kept wanting to go back, I kept trying. I would have let myself die," She admitted. "My family was trying to hold me together and I didn't even notice."

"You have a right to your grief."

"I did grieve. I had to stop or-"

"Or what, Kagome?"

It was strange, to hear him use her name, and in such a way that it sounded as if they had been friends once, and not merely uneasy allies.

"I would have destroyed my family, myself. If I hadn't stopped and forced myself to keep going, to forget, I would have ended up breaking my neck trying to get back."

"Forcing yourself to forget is not the same as healing," He reasoned.

"If I hadn't I would have kept hurting my family," She snapped, hating his rationale suddenly, hating his calm, cool demeanor, his utter reasonableness.

"Your family could have withstood it," He began.

"No, they couldn't. My mother, she thought she'd lost me. My little brother, kami, I almost killed my grandfather with the stress!"

"And has forgetting helped?" He asked, voice calm. "Has it brought the desired results?"

"No!" She snapped, growing even more angry as he remained so calm, so placid in the face of her pain and fury. "Of course not, or else I wouldn't have quit your class, I wouldn't be having these dreams, I wouldn't be here, looking at you acting like some sort of Buddha."

She ended her statement by standing and shoving her feet into her shoes, careless that they scrunched and that her feet were hanging over the backs. Ignoring the unhappy sound that rumbled in his throat, she snatched her purse from the arm of the chair and stalked over to the door.

"Kagome-" He began, his voice holding the note of warning she'd heard before.

"No," She snapped, whirling to face him. "I don't need you waltzing into my life and screwing up my head when it was finally getting fixed. I don't want the mess. I want to live my life, I want to finish college and get a job and find my zero spot again!"

"You will always find a new place to begin," He snapped at her. "There will always be another ground zero when your life changes. It is the nature of life," He told her, clawed hands gripping her upper arms and holding her still despite her attempts to break free. "But every change will shatter when you remember, when something triggers your feelings about the past."

"What do you suggest I do? You've had centuries to deal with it, you tell me!" She demanded.

"Allow yourself to be sad that it ended," He whispered furiously. "Allow yourself to grieve for what was, for everything you lost. The pain might never go away, but it will lessen, will give you room to breathe."

"Why are you doing this?" She whispered, a feeble, broken attempt to push him away, to deflect the pressure on the other side of the door.

"Because the child I raised and the brother I grew to understand told me stories about a woman that had traveled to the past and defied every notion of selfishness and gave everything she was to right mistakes that weren't even hers. They asked me to watch for you, and I gave my word. I knew you would not be the same, but they would not want this for you."

"I'm not a duty," She tried.

"I do not see you as a duty," He told her, shaking her. "You are someone I respect. I would not see you broken by the moments that defined us."

"If I open it, I'll never come back," She whispered, the tears streaming down her face in hot, salty trails.

"I'll help you back."

Kagome felt her knees begin to bend, inexplicably, couldn't stop them as her legs became weightless, filled with nothing more than air. The hands around her arms pulled her forward and strong arms surrounded her, warmth seeping into her chilled skin. Not caring that it was Sesshoumaru, THE Sesshoumaru, former daiyoukai of the west and professor at her college, she clung to his shirt, twisting it in her grip as she tried to keep from falling.

He said nothing, but helped her over to the couch and helped her sit next to him. He continued to remained silent, but he helped her crawl into his lap, held her like a small, fragile child as she bawled into his chest. Words, incoherent and babbling over themselves in nothing but gibberish flowed out, the door splintering and the images, the memories behind it filling the darkness she had inhabited with colors and sounds, each image sharper, more vivid than the last.

The pain was unbearable, broke everything in her as she allowed herself to remember all of the things she had hoped for, everything she had imagined beyond the completion of the jewel, all of the hopes and wishes she had lost in the blink of an eye.

Had she been rational, or even sane in those moments, she would have been mortified that she was bawling into Sesshoumaru's chest, her tears and snot staining the front of his shirt like a child's. But she wasn't, and even when she tried to push away from him he kept her close, arms tightening enough to let her know that he would not let her go.

And even though it was Sesshoumaru, because it was Sesshoumaru, she felt safe. Safe to cry herself out until she was nothing more than a wet face pressed against an equally wet shirt, safe to stay there after, eyes burning and swollen, nose stopped up and chest heaving as she tried to breathe.

Awareness came in increments. First she was aware of her position, which twisted her back painfully. The next was that he was rubbing along her spine, small circles that were soothing and comforting in turn. Her toes were pinched by the tongue of her sneaker, which had jammed uncomfortably into the shoe when she'd shoved her foot in.

Shifting once, she was given space to move away, to kick her shoes off and curl into his side, greedily accepting the warmth he offered without reservation.

"Thank you," She whispered, voice hoarse and throat feeling as if she had swallowed ground glass.

"You're welcome," He answered, voice quiet.

They stayed that way until the sun rose, lighting up the room. Kagome allowed herself to drift, empty of thought and emotion, drained of anything that could have been cohesive. Sesshoumaru kept her warm, an arm over her shoulder and his side curved to accommodate her, eventually providing a perfect pillow for her to fall asleep against.

~*~

Kagome knew that her baseline had changed, and while it did throw her mind into an upheaval, the change was not entirely unwelcome. That dinner became ground zero for a new period of her life, one that she hoped would bring something better than what had come before.

Dinners twice a week with Sesshoumaru helped, became the increments within the time line that helped steady and balance her perspective when the weight of the past threatened to engulf her heart again. Sometimes they spoke of the past, hers and his own both, and sometimes they spoke of the present. Kagome learned what had become of the people she loved, and what had become of him. He learned about her life, and encouraged and aided in her studies.

Some nights she cried, and he would allow her to hold fast to him; and some nights he seemed perturbed, and she stayed by him, unsure of what to say, but offering her presence until dawn came. Occasionally they would end the night in laughter, and she would go home, taking the bus back to her dorm and fielding questions from her ever curious roommate.

It was the only thing Kagome regretted, having to hide their friendship. But she was a student, and he was a professor. Though she did not take his class, it was still a risk to his career and her place at the college. Despite that, the friendship itself flourished, and Kagome felt herself begin to relax, allowed herself to look at the door and remember what lay beyond it.

The dreams quieted, and she began to feel more alive, more vibrant. Life resumed, and so did living.

~*~

"Higurashi-san," A quiet voice asked behind her. Kagome turned, surprised to see Hojo standing there, books in one arm, his other bent so his hand could run distractedly all over the strap of his backpack.

"Hi Hojo," Kagome greeted, remembering their last meeting. "I'm sorry about last time, I wasn't feeling well," She told him quietly.

"I heard from your roommate that you were sick," He told her, smiling a soft understanding smile. Kagome nodded, wondering when he had met her roommate. She couldn't remember telling him the girl's name, or even what dorm she was in.

"Higurashi, is there somewhere we can talk?"

Kagome noticed the Hojo seemed nervous, which was strange, since she could only remember him being the same confident (to the point of obliviousness) person he had been in middle school. Because of that nervousness, she wanted to stay, wanted to continue her reading. Finals were coming up, and she wanted to be ready for them. But her abrupt departure from their date, which had obviously meant something to him, made her feel guilty enough that she nodded, figuring she owed him at least that much.

Gathering her things and putting them in her bag, she followed him outside along one of the myriad paths cutting through the campus.

"Higurashi-san, to save money I've been staying with my uncle," Hojo began, looking at a loss even as he tried to speak. "He lives a few miles from here."

Kagome waited patiently as he tried to find the words he was looking for, because she honestly couldn't tell if he was looking for a roommate (something she couldn't afford to be) or inviting her offer (an offer she could not, and would not, accept).

"He lives in the Hidamari Complex," Hojo finally blurted.

Kagome's blood ran cold in her veins, chilling so quickly that she couldn't stop the shudder that ran down her back, wracking her frame.

"I saw you leaving with Professor Oonishi in his car one morning, very early, and I saw you going into the building a few times recently."

Kagome felt her stomach bottom out, felt her world growing dim.

"Kagome, if there's something going on-"

"There's nothing, not like that. He's an old friend," She told him, trying to keep her voice firm in the face of her terror.

"Kagome," Hojo began, clearly not impressed with her explanation. "You stay the night with him. He's a professor."

"It's not like that," She hissed. "He's Inu Yasha's brother!"

Hojo paused, eyes distancing themselves for a moment before focusing again, sharp and clear, as if he suddenly understood something.

"The delinquent boyfriend? From middle school?" Hojo demanded.

"What-"

"Eri told me about him, saying he was my rival. Kagome, Eri told me you were through with him years ago. He sounded dangerous."

"I am through with him. He's dead," Kagome snapped, too angry to feel guilty at the flush of surprise that shattered Hojo's concern. He however, did feel guilty, at least if his expression was anything to go by. And Kagome couldn't help but feel the least bit vindicated over that, because he had been insinuating something terrible about Sesshoumaru's character, after everything the daiyoukai had done to help her.

"Kagome, it's, you shouldn't be going to his home. It's not-"

"We're friends," She snapped. "I've been carrying this for years and he's the only one I can talk to about it, the only one that will listen," She replied, voice growing louder. "I can't believe you would even-"

"Professors and students can't be friends like that," Hojo told her, conflict disappearing as he regained some point, some traction in his mind. "It's unfair, and other people will think the worst, no matter what you're doing."

"It's not their business."

"It's the dean's business," Hojo told her firmly.

"You-"

"Kagome, there are rules for a reason," He tried, looking for all the world as if he was looking down at her from some high, holy place. Kagome wanted to find the invisible mountain that was so firm beneath his feet and pull it down, destroy it, because he was taking a knife and knicking at the supports that had been keeping her stable and sane.

"You'd really tell the dean?" She asked, voice going cold, so cold that she felt like she was channeling the Sesshoumaru that had been, and not the one that had been helping her, holding her on nights when the grief became too much to bear.

"I will, if you don't end it."

She knew then, that whatever she said, whatever was the truth, he had found his own, and clung to it. She knew that it was distorted, something that twisted the good she had built, cast it in shame and made it ugly.

But Hojo was right, because other people would see it the same way, no matter how pristine their reputations were before, at the very least there would be doubts, at the worst, both she and Sesshoumaru would be expelled from the school.

"I will," She sighed, not seeing any other option but to at least say what he wanted. Sesshoumaru, hopefully, would have some idea, some plan to circumvent Hojo's.

"Kagome, you can talk to me," Hojo started, pulling her from the thoughts and plans, half formed notions to get around the potential futures that she couldn't even guess at.

His words though, were enough to send a red haze over her vision, fury blasting away fear and cold and worry.

"You just blackmailed me into ending a friendship," She spat. "Why would I want to talk to someone that does that?"

Not waiting for an answer, she spun on her heel and stalked away, content that, at the very least, she would never have to deal with him again.

But the truth lingered, and her fury could not hold her fear at bay forever. Unable to go back to her dorm, she began walking.

The world was cool, reds and greens mixing, yellows and browns trying to blot out life. Fall was coming to an end, and even still there were persistent signs of life. People passed her by, the college area teeming with life and sound, cars driving past thumping with noise from inside and buses creaking as they stopped and started again.

Feeling alone and anonymous in that tangle, she found a measure of comfort. Allowed her space to think, if only mentally, her feet took her through the crowds as they thinned out, past the people and beneath the shade of dying foliage. If her legs began to ache from the unaccustomed distance, she didn't notice, didn't particularly care. A chilly wind blew through her light sweater and goosebumps pimpled her flesh, but she was oblivious to the shiver that ran through her.

It wasn't until she recognized Sesshoumaru's building that she was even aware that she had walked to that part of town, and though her mind had been consumed with thoughts of him, she hadn't intended to go see him. Sighing, she punched the entry code in and walked inside, unsure of what she would tell him, how she would tell him, or if he was even home. Until now she had always waited for an invitation, and respected him by not intruding unless he asked. However, she supposed this was different, and wasn't entirely sure it could wait.

The ride up in the elevator took a short eternity, one where she fidgeted and tried to figure out how to tell Sesshoumaru without pushing him to violence. Though he had changed, she wasn't sure he had changed that much, and a threat to their safety might be met with fatal force. While she was imagining Hojo enduring some of the more gruesome punishments in hell, she didn't want him dead.

Once safely out of the elevator, she walked to the door and knocked quietly, once again wondering if he was home, and if not, to call him.

But the door opened almost immediately, Sesshoumaru looking mildly curious in his slacks and under shirt. Kagome walked in past him and ran a hand through her hair, unsure of where to start, or how.

"Are you alright?"

"Not really," She admitted, walking over to the couch and taking her customary place on it. The couch had become it's own sort of haven since that night, and Kagome reveled in the soft, buttery leather and the comfort it evoked. "Someone from school lives in this building."

"Someone," He repeated slowly, walking over to sit in the chair next to her. Kagome knew that they should have the conversation face to face, but she wanted to burrow into his side and forget, find his warmth and pretend that the world didn't exist, and the Hojo had never seen her.

"I knew him in middle school. I- He said he saw us driving away the other morning. I tried to tell him it's not an inappropriate relationship, but he didn't listen. He said if I didn't end it, he would go to the dean."

There, all out in one fast blur, like ripping off a band aid, only Kagome knew that, from the way Sesshoumaru tensed, this wouldn't be over any time soon.

"Who?" He asked quietly.

Kagome reached forward, taking his hands between hers. Touch had become a casual thing between them, though only when they were trying to find some way to decrease the pressure of the past, to anchor the other in the present so that the memories didn't drag them under. This was different, new, and Kagome hoped she was doing the right thing as she looked him in the eye, surprised by the fury she saw there.

"It doesn't matter."

"It does."

"You can't do anything to him," Kagome told him.

Sesshoumaru's silence was terrifying, because she knew that he would not, for her own peace of mind, say that he could, and would, if he had the name.

"Sesshoumaru, what about the dean. Your career, my degree," She sighed, hoping he had an answer, as he always did. "What do we do?"

"The name, Kagome," He said instead.

"You'll hurt him," She reasoned.

"He is blackmailing us," Sesshoumaru snapped. "You want to protect someone that would do that?"

Kagome wondered at his neutral tone, his ease in slipping back into the person that he had been.

"I'm doing it to protect you," She told him, knowing it was the truth. She doubted Sesshoumaru would stop at threatening him, and even if he did, what would it change? If anything, it would make it worse, and Kagome knew if Hojo thought Sesshoumaru crossed a line, their lives would be broken in ways that would not be readily repaired.

"There is no alternative then, but to do as he asks," Sesshoumaru bit out.

Kagome flinched beneath the weight of that accusation, knowing that what he really meant was 'You have given us no alternative'.

"Sesshoumaru," She started, feeling him pull away from her and watching him stand.

"Perhaps it is best you leave, before this person chances upon you somehow," He snapped.

Stung, Kagome stood up and grabbed her backpack, shouldering it and walking past him. Despite her hope, he did not try to stop her when she paused at the door, did not attempt to come after her as she waited for the elevator.

Her baseline reset, counting to zero as she rode down to the lobby and out of the building.

~*~

Finals came and went, and she took a train home for the short break in between semesters. Her arrival had been met with her mother, who looked excited to see her after so long. Kagome greeted her warmly, accepting the embrace and returning it.

"It's been over a year," Nodoka chastised quietly as they walked to the bus depot.

"I was taking summer courses," Kagome tried.

"But what about between semesters?"

Kagome didn't want to admit that the space from her home had been nice, knowing her mother wouldn't fully understand her reasoning.

"I was settling in, making friends," Kagome admitted.

"Well, I'm glad you decided to visit."

Kagome nodded obediently, not wanting to admit that she had wanted to get some space from campus. The switch would have made her laugh, had their stalemate not been so complete, so silent.

"Souta can't wait to see you. And your grandfather is doing well."

Kagome listened to her mother drone on about their family, finding a sense of security in the mundane simplicity of it. No youkai, no blackmail, no Sesshoumaru.

The bus ride, the unpacking, the dinner and video games were comfortable. The tension that had once been there was gone, and Kagome wondered if maybe her year away had done her whole family good, giving them time to distance themselves from the memories of the broken thing she had been, of a time she had represented.

It wasn't until Kagome was laying on her bed, with it's freshly washed sheets, that she wished she could tell her mother that she had found a measure of peace, despite Sesshoumaru's disappearance. That she missed the past, but she didn't feel out of place and time anymore, that she was living, however quiet a life it was, even if it felt like a piece of the puzzle was missing.

~*~

Her visit ended, and Kagome returned to school. She tried to make her baseline the beginning of the semester, and failed. Though she was able to move through the day to day, she continued to miss Sesshoumaru and their dinners.

Most of all, she missed him when the memories pressed in. On those nights, she had been able to call him, had been able to listen to his voice, to talk, or even remain silent, which isn't what phones were for, but it had worked. Only she didn't have it anymore, and the one pathetic attempt to try and fix things had left her clutching an open cell phone next to her ear, pretending he was there.

Her grades suffered somewhat, but not noticeably. Hojo attempted to speak to her, and she rebuffed him as strongly as she had before.

Mornings started when she walked to the dorm bathrooms, looked in the mirror, and reminded herself that she was alive, so she should at least try to live.

~*~

Kagome watched a rare snow falling outside of her window in her mother's home. After so long away, it was normal that her room no longer felt like her room, that she felt slightly displaced. Despite the fact that she knew that however, it didn't stop her from feeling off balance there, surrounded by things that she had once clung to, on a bed that couldn't quite be rid of the staleness that had settled into it.

Her family celebrated Christmas despite the fact that they were shrine keepers. It was something she had never really questioned, the time together too important, too welcome, to risk prodding with pragmatism and logic. Coming home this year, after missing the one before, had felt almost surreal, as if she had been on another planet. The feeling had been a small revelation of it's own, and she wondered if all college students felt that way, or if her travels had altered her perceptions somehow.

Leaning against her window, she let her breath fog the glass, obscuring the world beyond and clouding her vision. Warmth was quickly leeched away, leaving only beaded moisture.

A knock sounded on the door, and Kagome wondered if her mother wanted help decorating the cake for tomorrow. Getting up, she slipped her feet into the ridiculous furry monster slippers her roommate had gifted her with before leaving and walked over to the door, opening it quietly.

"Yes, mama?" Kagome asked.

"You have a guest downstairs, a friend of yours from school" Nodoka told her, expression soft.

Kagome stifled a groan before it reached her throat, girding herself for what was sure to be an awkward conversation. Following her mother downstairs, she paused a moment, forcing a fake smile to stretch her lips, hoping against hope that her little brother wasn't laying it on too thick, and that her grandfather hadn't sold her off in some attempt at an arranged marriage. Both would be mortifying, and telling Hojo to buzz off politely would already be difficult enough.

When she rounded the corner however, she was stunned to see that it was not Hojo seated on her couch, but Sesshoumaru. Sesshoumaru wearing his disguise, Sesshoumaru looking very ill at ease as her grandfather eyed him warily and her brother downright glared at him.

"Sis, tell me he's not your boyfriend. He looks too old," Souta immediately said, and Kagome wondered if she could recreate the subjugation beads.

"I am merely a friend," Sesshoumaru rumbled, obviously as displeased as she.

Sesshoumaru in her house, Sesshoumaru her friend, Sesshoumaru willing to speak to her, Sesshoumaru setting the counter back to zero again.

"Let's go outside," She suggested, although it was less of a suggestion and more of a direction, because she was already walking for the door and shrugging off the slipped and pulling on her shoes. Sesshoumaru followed, putting on his neat, shiny black shoes that still had melting snow on them, and followed her out into the cold.

For several minutes they strolled the shrine grounds, bypassing the temple and storehouse, but she stopped them in front of the tree, surprised to see him looking slightly pole axed as he gazed upon it.

"I had forgotten that this was so close," He told her quietly.

"It was hard, seeing it every day," She admitted quietly. "After awhile, I just sort of blanked it out."

"I can understand."

"My father proposed to my mother under this tree," She tried, wanting to assign a happier memory than the one he was probably conjuring, which was pointless, she knew. Sesshoumaru had only just met her mother, and he had never known her father. But it didn't hurt to try, and she was just as desperate to see something beautiful in it despite the fact that it looked like what it probably was to him. A skeletal, dead looking thing, reaching from his past and into his present, like some monster from the feudal era, intent on pulling him back.

"You were right," He finally said, eyes still on the tree. "Right for not telling me."

Kagome knew it would be the closest thing to 'I'm wrong' she would ever hear from him. He might have changed, but he hadn't changed that much. The apology though, was what counted, and she knew it for what it was. It didn't bring any satisfaction, didn't fill the empty months where she had missed more than his support, but his conversation, his presence.

"It's alright." It wasn't, not yet, but it would be.

"It will be," He said, echoing her own thoughts with a quiet confidence that bolstered her own hope. "You graduate in the spring, don't you?"

She nodded, knowing that her need to keep busy had been mostly due to needing to keep from thinking about him. It had paid off, and she would be graduating early, moving on to another school to advance her science degree.

"Only a few months then, of patience."

It was not implicitly stated, but it didn't have to be. Kagome had been patient before, and she could be patient again. After all, he would be waiting.

"I missed you, you know," She told him, hugging herself to mitigate some of the cold.

His jacket dropped on her shoulders without a word of warning, and Kagome cast him a questioning glance.

"You will get sick," He intoned.

"But you-"

"Wear it only for appearances. People would wonder, otherwise."

Kagome nodded, pushing her arms through the sleeves and into the pockets. The material had retained his warmth, and she could already feel it seeping into her skin, slowly banishing the cold.

"Come on," She urged, jerking her shoulder and beginning to walk. He followed silently, feet crunching on the snow in time to hers. She led him around the square structure she had avoided for over a year, opening the door and walking inside. He left it open as he followed her, allowing the dim light to filter inside.

Down the steps into the shadows, and she was staring at the wooden board that covered the opening of the well, covered in so much dust the white chalk outline was barely visible. Sesshoumaru stopped next to her, eyes on the board.

"You meant it literally, the door," He finally said, breaking the silence.

Even though they had spoken many times of her return and the years following, she had never told him about the night before she had left for college, about how she had, in a last ditch effort to regain some sense of sanity, nailed the board down and drawn a closed door. She'd considered it, but didn't know if she would have sounded crazy or immature.

But he was standing next to her, on her family's shrine, and after he had unbent enough to come to her, to try and mend things, she knew she owed him the full truth.

"You erased the knob," He observed.

"I tried," She admitted. "It's still sort of there."

He said nothing, but she saw him look around and, seeing something her eyes could not in the darkness, bent to pick up. A dust covered box covered his hand in the flurries as they shifted and smeared, and he opened it, removing a piece of white chalk.

Not willing to stop him, but unsure of what she was feeling, she watched as he climbed on top of the board, careful of the chalk lines, and blew on the area where the chalk smears almost obliterated the knob. Sesshoumaru drew a rough circle, which she had expected, but she didn't expect him to put the chalk aside and begin scratching at the wood with a finely tipped claw.

For several minutes the sound of the splintering wood seemed to echo in the room, and Kagome was almost afraid to see what he was doing. But he blew twice more on the wood before, seemingly satisfied, he got down, dust covering his slacks.

Gathering her courage, she stepped forward and looked down at the board, surprised to see a distinctly shaped keyhole beneath the knob.

It shouldn't have been important, but it was. It shouldn't have made her eyes burn with tears, but it did.

Strong arms wrapped around her, and Kagome cried freely, relief making her feel so light that she was sure he was holding her to the ground, keeping her in place.

When she finally pulled away enough to look up at him, she was surprised to see that he looked apologetic, as if he had done something wrong.

"It's alright," She told him, nodding as if to emphasis her point. "It's perfect."

He nodded slowly, arms falling away to rest at his sides. Taking his hand, she pulled him away from the badly drawn, half revealed door, and into the snow.

"You should stay tonight," She told him. "And spend tomorrow with us."

"I have nowhere else to be," He acceded. "Will it be alright with your family?"

"Do you mind if I tell them who you really are?" She asked, not knowing if he would be comfortable being known for what he was. Though he had made no attempt to don the disguise again, she also knew they were not in view of the house, and he would be able to tell if anyone had followed them outside.

"I don't."

"Then they definitely won't mind," She chuckled, wondering already what her grandfather would do, what Souta would say, how her mother would feel.

When they walked back inside, she was still holding his hand, leading him into the living room where her family was waiting patiently.

Souta's reaction was immediate, her grandfather's instantaneous, both equally predictable. Souta let out a loud whoop, her grandfather began screaming about youkai, and her mother...

Her mother looked worried, almost afraid.

"Momma, this is Sesshoumaru, my friend."

The introductions and the story were told, the family settled, and Kagome watched, somewhat amused, as Souta asked question after question, and her grandfather stared sullenly from his spot on the recliner. Her mother continued to look worried, although it was muted now, less visible.

"Hey momma, did you need any help with the cookies?" Kagome asked pointedly.

"Yes, that would be nice," Her mother agreed, standing and following her into the kitchen. Kagome knew Sesshoumaru would be able to hear everything going on, and hoped he would forgive her for revealing anything he had hoped to keep private.

"Kagome-"

"It's fine," Kagome interrupted. "He's a professor at my college, we sort of ran into each other. He helped me out, made me- made me look at things."

"What things?" Her mother asked, voice cracking dangerously.

"The past, the present. He's been a good friend. He's helped me deal with everything, better than I was."

A long silence ensued, both in the kitchen and in the living room. Kagome hoped Sesshoumaru hadn't said something derogatory about her brother or grandfather, not that she would blame him. Her mother;'s silence was foreboding. However she chose to take it, Kagome wasn't foolish enough to believe it wouldn't affect her relationships with both her and Sesshoumaru.

"He's really helped?" Nodoka asked.

"He has."

"I'm glad that you found someone that understands."

Despite the agreement, Kagome could see that her mother was still worried. If it was because Sesshoumaru was from a time they would all rather forget or if it was because he was a professor, Kagome couldn't guess, but tried to understand.

"I'd like him to stay with us tonight, and tomorrow," Kagome told her mother.

"That's fine, the guest room needs to be made up."

She nodded and left the kitchen, knowing that the pretext of cookies wouldn't have fooled anyone, least of all the youkai with hearing sharp enough to count the beats of her heart.

He was enduring her brother's questions with patience and grace, which was more than she should have hoped for. Her grandfather was still glaring, but the ofuda hadn't made an appearance, so Kagome counted herself lucky.

"Would you like to see the guest room?" Kagome asked quietly, when Souta had to pause for breath between one rapid fire question and another. Sesshoumaru nodded, saying nothing as he stood and followed her from the room.

"He reminds me of you," He told her as they climbed the stairs.

"Obnoxious?" Kagome joked.

"Curious, unafraid."

"I think he had trouble understanding everything," Kagome admitted. "He didn't get why we didn't talk about youkai or Inu Yasha and the well anymore, he was still pretty young."

"He is still young."

Kagome opened the door to the guest bedroom and turned on the light, casting a quick glance around. The bed was bare, something she had forgotten. Walking over to open a window and let the stale air out, she turned and smiled.

"Do you have a bag?"

"In my car."

"You can go grab that and I'll make the bed for you."

They didn't need to speak, to say much at all. It was comforting, because they weren't trying to fill it with awkward conversation, apologies that would only make the evening and it's events superfluous. They filed out of the room, him down the stairs and her to the linen closet. She pulled down sheets and a blanket and took them back to the room, going back and standing on tip toe to reach for pillows. Grabbing the only one she could reach, she let out a surprised sound when the whole pile, which is only six, maybe eight, came down on her.

"Clumsy," He said, and Kagome cursed his ability to be there and back again for the first time since meeting him again. But he helped her gather the extras and put them back, reaching over her to stack them in two neat piles at the top of the closet.

She grabbed the pillows, and he followed her back into the room, setting his bag down by the door.

The cold had chilled the room considerably, and she closed the window before beginning to put the sheet on the bed. He helped, working in tandem and silence. It was a comfortable, friendly silence, and Kagome couldn't stop herself from smiling as they moved, first the fitted sheet and then the topsheet, and then the blanket.

"I'll grab you a towel, I'm sure you want a shower."

Sesshoumaru nodded his assent, and Kagome tried not to feel slightly embarrassed of how childish her bathroom looked. A preemptive strike of gathering her brother's discarded laundry and the disposable razors (not hers, her brother fancied himself old enough to shave) and a quick check of the shower itself set her mind at ease. Bubble bath and feminine smelling soaps aside, it didn't look bad.

Minutes later she was handing Sesshoumaru a towel, showing him the bathroom, and slinking back to her room, something catching her attention that sent a bolt of panic through her.

Sesshoumaru was a surprise, and she hadn't considered him coming at all.

And she didn't have anything to give him the next morning.

He wouldn't expect anything, and she knew that. They had already exchanged gifts more meaningful than any object could really be, and she knew that too. But it didn't stop her from thinking about how sad it would be for him to be there, as her family opened gifts, receiving nothing of his own.

When a knock came on her door and he bid her a quiet goodnight, short hair still damp and dropping splatters of water onto his white shirt, she smiled and told him she'd see him in the morning, then went promptly back to thinking.

~*~

Christmas morning was loud, loud in the sense of her little brother, still a young teenager, wreaking havoc as he took his old fashioned alarm clock and ran through the house with it, the metal pinging loudly and rapidly between two bells. It was his tradition, annoying as it was. Kagome was positive she had hidden it in an attic the Christmas before she had left for college, and wasn't feeling up to falling out of bed, much less walking from it.

Until she remembered Sesshoumaru.

Smiling widely, she threw her comforter back and put on the horrendous slippers and yanked her door open, just as her brother was making another pass down the hall. Yanking the alarm clock form his hands with a speed no one should have after just waking up from a three or four hour nap, she turned it off and smirked at him while he stuck out his tongue.

"Five minutes. Shorter than I remember," Nodoka yawned as she opened her door, hair in disarray.

"Hey Kagome, what about your boy-"

The door opened and Sesshoumaru, managing to look as if he'd walked out of a commercial, stepped out, greeting them quietly.

Kagome resisted the urge to throw the clock at her brother and put it on the short bookcase by the door, just inside, for hiding later. Stepping out and following her family downstairs, she felt Sesshoumaru at her back, couldn't quite contain the smile, because he wasn't expecting a present, and he had one.

Breakfast was short, as it always was, consisting of toast and jam. Souta was bouncing in his seat as they waited for her grandfather to finish drinking his cup of morning tea. Kagome felt she was doing a much better job of hiding her anticipation, not interrupting when her grandfather asked Sesshoumaru one question or another about history and magic.

It was a civil breakfast, and Kagome knew if she paused to analyze it too much, it would have felt surreal.

But when breakfast was over and Souta was running into the living room, Kagome waited for Sesshoumaru, who in turn was waiting for her mother and grandfather to walk ahead of him.

"You're happy."

"I am," She admitted, taking his hand and practically dragging him along, wanting him to move faster because she was excited, and more than anything she wanted to make him smile the way the rest of her family was smiling.

They both sat on the love seat, ignoring her mother's curious glance as she curled into his side. Souta was playing Santa, as he had every year for several years, and handing out boxes. As per tradition, no one opened them, not until they were all handed out.

When Souta looked at the small box with the unfamiliar name on the tag, he shrugged and tossed it to Sesshoumaru, who caught it effortlessly. Sesshoumaru gave her a raised brow, she elbowed him and moved in time to catch a box from Souta.

Within minutes everyone had their presents and were ripping open paper, some more eagerly than others. Except for her. She watched as Sesshoumaru used a claw to cut along the wrapping paper before neatly peeling it away, almost like a fruit. The white jewelry box, one she had scavenged from her closet, seemed innocuous enough.

He paused, and Kagome worried for a terrifying instant that maybe her gift was childish and stupid, too sentimental for someone like him. Or maybe he would think she was trying too hard, or would hate it. In the space of a breath, she wondered if he would give that awkward smile that everyone but him seemed to express at some point or another and close the box back up, never to speak of it again.

But he opened the box, and she was so focused on his expression that she knew she had effected something, that he got it, because his eyes widened ever so slightly and his lips moved, although up or down she couldn't tell, he was so quick to school his expression.

But he understood, and she didn't think, didn't feel that he thought it overly sentimental, or even stupid.

"That's not a key to your room is it?" Souta asked plainly, peering over their shoulders.

"No," Kagome told him, too happy that there was the vaguest, faint suggestion of a smile on Sesshoumaru's lips.

"Better not be the key to your heart. That's just stupid."

"It's not," Kagome told him, rolling her eyes.

"It is much more important than that," Sesshoumaru said, voice steady and quiet, sure, as he closed the box and rubbed his thumb over the top.

~*~

The next semester passed more quickly than Kagome had imagined it would. Between preparing for graduation, preparing for another school for another degree, she barely had time to text Sesshoumaru, which they did occasionally, or call him, which they did every other night.

She didn't attempt to see him, and he didn't attempt to see her. Hojo however, did try to contact her, several times, even going so far as to wait in her dorm twice before she'd told her dorm guide that he was stalking her. The guide had muttered about bad break ups and shitty men, but Hojo had not materialized in the building again.

Finals came and went, and Kagome and her roommate began to pack. They exchanged small gifts, promised to call and email, and then they left the dorm behind, and in Kagome's case, left it behind for good.

Sesshoumaru did not attempt to help her move, although it would have been easier with his car. But it had been Kagome's decision to maintain their distance until she had officially left the school. The last few days were the worst, because she had only seen him a handful of times on campus, and she'd be lying to herself if she didn't admit that she missed his physical presence. Knowing she was close was almost as bad as having a full semester to wait, perhaps worse.

But the train ride and the taxi to her family's shrine were filled with an idle curiosity, imaginings of how things would change. Though she had taken the summer off, the college she had already enrolled in was in Mito, and he lived in Sendai. He had a car, but she did not.

The distance would make it difficult to see him, and she didn't want to think about it, given he had also taken a summer semester off, but she didn't see how they would be able to avoid it.

"You're alive, so you'll live," Kagome whispered to herself as she watched the streets of Tokyo pass her by.

Kagome couldn't stop herself from smiling when she saw him coming down the stairs with her mother and brother, meeting her at the sidewalk to help her carry her things. It was unexpected, but not unwelcome. Already the time line was resetting, reorganizing itself around the present, and she couldn't stop the happy smile that was so wide it almost hurt. One by one she embraced them; her brother wiggled out of the hug, her mother hummed happily, and Sesshoumaru she held to for a moment too long, and she wondered if he felt as awkward as she did when they pulled apart.

They made short work of carrying her things to the house, Sesshoumaru taking the largesse and leaving almost nothing for the rest of them. Souta complained about how he made it look so effortless, and Kagome couldn't stop herself from laughing. Sesshoumaru seemed none the worse for the wear, instead his expression tinged with pleasure, not that anyone else would have been able to tell.

Family dinner that night was oden, and Kagome noticed that her mother seemed more relaxed around Sesshoumaru, asking him questions about his life and work. Her grandfather seemed to have given up on his notions of purifying Sesshoumaru, and Souta was still fascinated by the youkai that had lived through such a large chunk of recorded history.

She couldn't stop from thinking about Mito from time to time, and when that happened, she would look to him, see him looking at her, and hoped that they would figure something out.

~*~

"It's different than I thought it would be," Kagome admitted quietly as they approached his home. Not his apartment, which had been merely for work, but his home.

"Expecting a palace?" He asked, smirking at her as they stepped out.

Kagome had the grace to blush, admission that she actually had expected something along the lines of a palace. However, the paper house was still large, large enough to have belonged to someone very wealthy once upon a time. She supposed he kept it the same out of nostalgia.

When he parked the car, she got out and stretched, needing to get blood back into her legs after the long ride. The home in front of her was larger than she thought, upon closer inspection.

"It is made of three buildings," He told her honestly. "Not including the shrine. That is on the other side of the garden," He told her, voice growing quiet.

The shrine, and the reason they were there. Sesshoumaru had asked her, voice quiet and neutral, if she wanted to visit the shrine where Inu Yasha and his family's ashes were kept. Kagome, unable to say no but afraid to say yes, had accepted with a nod of her head.

"Do you mind if I explore?" She murmured. Sesshoumaru nodded, and Kagome walked ahead of him, not feeling rude only because he seemed content to follow slowly. Idly she wondered how long it had been since he had visited, dust being nonexistent as she stepped inside and looked around.

"How often do you come here?" She asked, unable to stop herself.

"A few times a year. The last time was before Christmas."

She wouldn't point out the obvious, because he had said it for himself, and she wasn't going to ask what had spurred him to visit then, feeling narcissistic for connecting it to her own visit.

"I thought about what he would tell me to do," Sesshoumaru said into the silence, right when her hand was hovering over a door. "I tried to remember him, how he was, what he would say about us now."

Kagome hadn't considered what Inu Yasha would say of her and Sesshoumaru's friendship, had filed that to the back of her mind because she couldn't imagine what his reaction would have been.

"He would tell me I was being foolish, perhaps not in those words."

"I think he might have agreed with you," Kagome said, opening the door and pausing as her eyes adjusted to the sunlight pouring in.

"Perhaps, but he would call me foolish for remaining silent for so long."

Kagome smiled at the garden, the willow tree and the pond, the small bridge, a lavish assortment of colors and scents made stronger by the warmth bearing down on them. Arms loosely came around her middle, and she tucked them under her own, hands resting on his.

"But it's past, and we're here."

~*~

When she walked into the temple, faced with the plaques of so many names she couldn't keep count or make sense of them, the timeline did not shift and change, as she had thought it would. With Sesshoumaru at her back, at her request, she didn't feel the overwhelming anguish she had expected.

A clan, a whole branch of his family, sat in the temple, names inscribed on different kinds of rocks, from old, rough granite to smooth black marble. Name after name, dates omitted completely, decorated the small slabs, each a different size.

Taking place of honor above all of them were two slabs, both of similar size and make.

"The writing looks the same," She commented quietly, as her eyes moved over Rin's name, and Inu Yasha's, both of which had no family name, as the others did.

"Inu Yasha could not read or write. He asked me to make it," Sesshoumaru admitted.

It made sense, the stubborn hanyou not learning.

"Did he ever learn?"

"Eventually."

A clan that could have easily been her own was spread out before her, a future that had almost been. Her fingers traced over the lines of the two names that had been important to her, one more than the other, she wouldn't try to deceive herself. But she paused on Rin's name, eyes tearing. It wasn't because Rin had become the person she had hoped to be. It was gratitude that made her pause, made her smile despite the stinging in her eyes, because Rin had given Inu Yasha her handful of years, and made him happy.

There was no incense to light, nothing to leave as an offering. Kagome supposed it was because of Sesshoumaru's sensitive nose. Instead, she bowed quietly and turned to him, a small smile on her face.

She was alive, and had something to live for.

~*~

School was simple. Her mind caught on to components of combinations, created and mixed until she was satisfied. Chemistry was deceptively easy, mostly being a matter of having a basic know how of what chemicals did what, and enough curiosity to consider proportions and effects. Her professors loved her, her roommate thought she was a little bit of a shut in, dragging her out to meet other people, and her phone calls to Sesshoumaru grew in number until they spoke every night. Or, sometimes saying nothing, they allowed themselves to enjoy a presence that, while not actually present, was still comforting.

Her baselines became erratic only in that they jumped so quickly, looking forward to each break from school as time to spend with her family, and with him. Life moved on, regardless of distance and ideas, and she moved with it.

Every season began (or ended) with a visit to his home, where they would spend time together for a day or two, sometimes quiet and contemplative, sometimes catching up on the lost weeks. Things that had seemed less important when speaking on the phone came spilling out, recollections of friends made or students behaving foolishly. He was still the most desired professor on campus, and she was still more prone to staying in than going out, but there seemed to be a wealth of things that a sentence or a word would trigger. Talk of the past lessened until it was only mentioned occasionally.

She didn't dream of the door at all.

~*~

The wave of summer heat had been broken by a spell of rain that hadn't let up in three days, trapping Kagome inside or beneath the eaves of the buildings. The gardens outside were beautiful in the light, with water pouring down on them, so she spent most of her time outside, leaning against the outer wall of the house in silence. Sesshoumaru joined her from time, telling her stories of the lives that had been lived in the house, the people that had come, the ones that had been born there, the ones that had died there.

Her hand slipped to the water pouring down from the roof, almost curtain-like from the heaviness of the rain. Sesshoumaru watched her parting it, the water splashing haphazardly over them in small droplets. It was strange, how the light flashed through the water and over her skin. The rain was cool, chilling the heat in her skin and raising goosebumps along the length of her arm. Cupping her hand, she let water collect and pulled back, looking at the small pool in her palm. Blowing on it, she took a childish delight in the ripples, starting when the tip of a claw pressed against it.

Like magic, and she knew it was, the water shivered and took shape. Held suspended in the small pool of water was a tony key, cold and crystalline, before disintegrating apart, melting back into the water.

"That was beautiful," She murmured as the claw pulled away.

"Small magics," He dismissed quietly.

"The best kind," She rebutted with a smile as she leaned against him. A murmur that may have been agreement of disagreement was exhaled next to her ear as his arm came over her shoulder.

~*~

The first kiss wasn't a surprise, and there were no revelations. Kagome didn't find sudden inspiration, a puzzle piece falling into place when his lips brushed over hers. There was no 'so that's what that feeling has been' or miraculous epiphanies.

Like the man, or youkai as it were, that she loved, it was quiet, and slow. The world didn't shatter apart around her, mountains didn't fall and her view of life didn't change. Her feelings didn't change.

But her timeline reset, zeroing in on that kiss.

It changed again, the night he helped her move into her own apartment and didn't leave.

Ground zero became the moment he asked her a question, and she answered.

It shifted the day they married. The day they mated.

Months became days until the birth and weeks after.

'Since the day we met.'

'Until our anniversary.'

'After you were born.'

'On that one Christmas.'

'A few years ago.'

'When I knew I loved you.'

 

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