Author's Notes:  As a TWT, I've rearranged the timeline to suit my purposes.  One aspect that may stand out is Sango's absence in this fic, as if they'd never
met her.  I've watched quite a few episodes of Inuyasha, but I still don't have the timeline straight.  For this fic, I don't think it matters much - it takes place
toward the middle of the anime, shortly after Inuyasha discovers his full demon side.
Additional:  If you read and like this fic, you might enjoy the music video that goes with it.  It's titled 'Waiting For You' and can be found at
www . animemusicvideos . org under Arigatomina
Category:  Anime, Inuyasha, Yaoi, TWT (timeline-what-timeline)
Warnings:  violence, angst, lemon, shonen ai, sap
Pairings:  InuyashaxMiroku
Author:  Arigatomina

Exigency

His hanyou induced shift to human came regularly, a sign of his human blood.  And just like that periodic change, this came regularly as well, a sign of his
canine demon blood.  It was what humans would call lust, what animals called rutt, and what youkai called exigency.  Inuyasha called it madness.  For him, that
was exactly how he felt.  

It was an infuriating urge, a drive that had come and gone yearly, for longer than he cared to think about.  And as always, he found himself resisting it in
frustration, hating himself for having the drive, and others for having killed any part of him that might have given in to the instinct.  The only difference was this
time he had a target that sprang to mind every time he closed his eyes.  

He was just glad that he'd met Kikyo weeks after the last bout.  At least with Kagome, he didn't have to see her while he sought to resist the drive.  She'd gone
back home two days ago.  Hopefully she wouldn't be back for a few more days.  

It was always strongest at the beginning.  All he had to do was hide out until he got a handle on it.  A nice coincidence that it came right with his night time shift,
giving him the perfect excuse to disappear for a while.

Miroku had still followed him.  

He wasn't sure exactly why that had annoyed him so much, but he'd almost growled when he saw the monk.  Night had already fallen by then, and it was simply
strange for him to get such youkai reactions after his shift.  But he had.  He'd barely kept quiet until Miroku passed out of sight, his own teeth clenched the
entire time.  

Normal anger he would have understood, but he would be lying if he pretended the concern wasn't appreciated.  Miroku followed because he'd told the monk
of his fears, not too long ago.  As a human, he was nearly defenseless.  They both knew it.  He'd made a habit of putting up the usual complaints when Miroku
or Kagome played mother hen to him, but it was nice to know they cared.  And as much as it pricked his pride, he felt safe knowing they were with him when his
human blood took dominance.  He'd much rather be coddled than left on his own again, hiding out till the night passed.  

But this time was different.  He didn't need anyone to watch over him right now.  

That was the only positive aspect of this instinct; it made him completely confident, and utterly frustrated.  

One wrong word from Shippo and he was sure he'd jump the kit and wring his shapeshifting neck.  One bawdy comment from the resident pervert and he'd
probably do the same to him.  And as much as it annoyed him, he wasn't strong enough to do serious damage to either right now.  Assuming Shippo didn't
recognize the problem, he'd just look like an idiot and be annoyed even more.  

No, he didn't want to be near anyone.

So he'd kept to the shadows until his would-be protector was gone.  Then he'd found himself a nice perch to wait out the night.  Without Kagome and the
shards, there wasn't as much chance of an attack.  There was no reason to worry either for himself or his friends.  

He reminded himself of that as a wave of impatience made him fidget in the tree he'd chosen for the night.  He was restless, and far too excited for a weak
human.  The thought was given coldly to whatever active demon blood remained to torment him.  

He'd never had this come during a human shift.  How could the two coincide when his human shifts meant his demon blood was inactive?  It made about as
much sense to him as his ridiculous reliance on the Tetsusaiga to keep his full demon blood from taking control.  

He'd never experienced that insanity until he found the sword.  What kind of protection was that?  

He had the sword to keep his demon blood from taking control, but that demon nature only came forth when he lost the sword.  And it had never surfaced until
he'd grown accustomed to using the sword.  Obviously something had kept him from shifting before he found the sword - and once he had the sword, he'd lost
that control, with every bit of him relying entirely on the object.  

If that wasn't a self-imposed weakness, he didn't know what was.  And he was sure, the longer he used the sword, the more dependent he'd become.  He
hated that.   But even more, he hated the fact that the one thing made to protect humans was the very thing that made him kill humans mindlessly when he lost
contact with it.

It wasn't as if he'd never been in a near death situation before finding the Tetsusaiga.  Maybe it hadn't happened often since he'd reached adulthood, but it
had happened enough that any dormant survival instincts should have risen much sooner.  

While he'd hated coating his hands with human blood during the last fight, he wouldn't have minded it in the past.  There were many times when he would have
relished in saving himself, no matter how many he killed.  Simply put, they'd more than deserved it.  

It was infuriating that only now, when he was already capable of defending himself, did this latent strength show itself.  And now, it only came out when he was
fighting to protect people, putting them in danger as much as his enemies.  

Everything in his life was that way.

Kikyo, his first friend, and the only person since his mother to treat him as if he had feelings, turned against him in an instant.  Even now that she'd been
revived and knew the truth, she still hated him.  And Kagome, her reincarnate, so kind to him, but completely confusing and different from anything he was
familiar with.  

He had the same pull to her soft nature, but she was almost an exact opposite of Kikyo.  She seemed to like him, but refused to accept him.  Nothing worked
with her.  Even when he tried to understand, his confusion only seemed to anger her, as if he'd purposely ignored her feelings.  And she had such tender,
easily hurt feelings.  

The slightest mistake on his part was enough to send her into a fury, and the resulting control drove him crazy.  

Kikyo had sought to change him, to soften him.  He hadn't minded because her methods were light.  She'd left it completely up to him, giving directions but not
forcing anything.  And she'd never punished him for his confusion.  She'd given him time to sort through it on his own.  That was her wisdom, her maturity,
something that marked her as an entirely different person from Kagome.  

If Kagome had wisdom, it was incomprehensible to him.  She seemed as short tempered as he was, but more prone to take it out on him than anyone he'd
ever known.  He had never met someone who claimed to care about him, but who was willing to humiliate him on a regular basis.  

It was almost enough to make him wonder about his demon rages.  If he were to turn that blind power against the necklace, would it be enough to break the
thing?  

He sometimes wondered if Kagome would still care about him if she were unable to control him with a single word.  With her short temper, he didn't think she
would.

But that wasn't true.  

Even as the thoughts curled through his mind, Inuyasha knew it was bitterness talking, frustration taking its toll.  

No, he didn't like the way she treated him like some sort of human pet, with her 'sit' command.  But he didn't really believe she did it to humiliate him.  A
punishment, yes, but not intentional cruelty or any sign of a sadistic turn in her.  She simply didn't know what it did to him, being silenced in an instant,
physically attacked for nothing more than his own confusion over her human ways, for just being himself.  And he was certain she had no idea of the actual
pain her order caused.  

He'd never tell anyone how much being slammed into the ground hurt.  The blow to his pride was painful enough without adding to it.  Besides, anyone who
had ever fought would know how much it hurt.  It was like being thrown down by a powerful demon, with enough force to crack solid rock on occasion.  

If she didn't know enough about him to realize he felt pain the same as anyone else, then he wouldn't be the one to tell her. He was just glad the others hadn't
noticed.  Being laughed at was bad enough without being pitied.

He was snapped out of his thoughts as if lightning had flashed through the sky, a sharp blaze of awareness.  His eyes narrowed, his gaze sweeping the forest
behind him and the pool below.  

He hadn't heard anything, but right now he didn't need to.  Human form or not, that restlessness made him certain there was a presence nearby, and an
interesting one.  Something to pounce on like the predator he was.  

He could feel his nerves tingle with excitement and he gritted his teeth in utter annoyance.  It could be an animal for all he knew and he still reacted like that.  
How he hated this.  

Once again, he gave a brief thanks that Kagome had gone home.  He'd never be able to keep quiet if she 'sat' him right now.  The last time she'd done that in
his human form, it had knocked him out cold.  This time he knew it wouldn't, and chances were he'd say or do something he'd dearly regret later.  

A shadow moved below him and his thoughts cleared again, all of his attention focusing as sharply as before.  

It was odd.  Normally his senses were mute in his human form, but now he could swear a scent was reaching him.  And it was very familiar.  A moment later the
person reached the moonlit pool and his suspicions were confirmed.

Another wave of annoyance hit him the moment he set eyes on Miroku.  

His muscles clenched in a manner that would have been nothing in his hanyou form.  They ached now, far too tight for his human body to suffer for any
extended period of time.  

He tried to calm that instinctive reaction.  There wasn't any reason to be angry.  A look was enough to tell him Miroku had no idea he was above him.  The
monk hadn't tracked him, he'd simply come to the same area by coincidence.  

Right.  

He knew it was true, but he didn't believe it for a second.  Oh, how he hated this frustrating lack of logic.  

Why did he have an urge to jump down and strangle his friend, just because he happened to intrude into his chosen area?  And why did he feel so tempted to
jump, even when he knew it would likely break his weak human bones if he did?  

Frustrating, annoying, definitely madness.  And stupid.  

Yes, it would be funny to see Miroku's expression if he were to suddenly land in front of him.  But he didn't feel like laughing.  He wanted to frighten him, not
because it would be funny, but because the thought made his senses rush.  And that made about as much sense as anything - no sense at all.  

He watched Miroku set something down on the rock next to the pool.  

The items were familiar, and he knew immediately why his friend had come out here.  And that realization brought another one to mind in a bolt that made his
breath catch in his throat.  

He could feel his face getting cold, and then hot, and his stomach twisted in disgust at himself.  

It wasn't annoyance that made him want to attack.  He didn't just want to jump down there and scare his friend.  He wanted to jump him.  

The human had entered his territory, and that made him prey.  The thought sickened him, even as it excited him.  

This was wrong.  

He didn't mind thinking of Kagome.  He liked her, and it was natural for him to be attracted to her, an instinctive drive to reproduce.  And he knew that
imagining her was safe because he'd never do anything about it, no matter how strong the urge.  But this was wrong.  

If his past had taught him anything it was that he hated those who preyed upon their own sex.  He'd never had any reaction to males aside from unease and
disgust.  

The very idea that he might be tempted to do such a thing tore at him.  
That he was trembling at the thought of doing it to his friend was unacceptable.  

He made no attempt to deny it, his gaze locked on Miroku as his friend started to undress.  He couldn't seem to tear his eyes away, but at least he knew he
had no reason to be afraid of himself.  Even if the urge got beyond his control, he couldn't do anything in his human form.  He could look and ache until the
dizzy lust overwhelmed him and still, nothing would come of it.  

Miroku was stronger than his human form.  No matter what his instincts were telling him, his friend was anything but a weak prey just waiting to be taken.  
There was no harm in looking.  

Excited anticipation held his body immobile as he fought with himself, but he refused to agree with that seemingly logical voice telling him to enjoy the show.

Inuyasha glared down at Miroku, his sharp voice breaking the silence.  "What do you think you're doing?"

Miroku flinched, his wide eyes flying around him.  

Inuyasha might have smirked at the startled look on his friend's face. He would have liked to smirk at it.  Instead, he felt himself react to the vulnerable look in a
way that made his throat tighten in a soft growl.  

This was as bad as the senseless bloodshed he'd done not too long ago.  It disgusted him that he'd get such a rise out of being in a position of power, even if
it were a false position.  

He reminded himself again that Miroku could easily fend him off in this form.  The reminder wasn't comfort enough.  

"Not very quick, are you," said Inuyasha.

The taunt came out far too low, a husky, dangerous growl.  Dark eyes turned up on him, and he could see how his cold voice had stopped any relief Miroku
might have felt when he realized it was just him.  That was just as well.  He didn't want to encourage him.

"You're in a nasty mood," Miroku called up.  He couldn't see Inuyasha, not with his dark human hair and eyes blending into the shadows of whatever tree he
was hiding in.  But there was no mistaking the downright hostile voice.  His own lightened in response, countering the unfriendly mood.  "Want to talk about
it?"  

He heard a soft sound that might have been a growl.  It made him smirk wider.  "I guess not."

"Go away," said Inuyasha.  

His stomach twisted violently at the human's playful tone and he cursed his instincts for reacting this way.  Miroku's blatant trust in him was painful to see.

The order had little effect.  

Miroku raised an eyebrow, his gaze scanning the trees since he didn't know exactly where Inuyasha was.  "Why?  And why did you run off earlier?  I doubt
Naraku would attack without the shards here, so there's no reason to hide.  But even if he did, it's safer if we all stay together."  

Silence answered him this time and he sighed, scowling up in the general direction Inuyasha's voice had come from.  

"Fine," said Miroku.  He turned away, moving back to the rock he'd left his towel and soap on.  "If you don't want to talk to me, then just pretend I'm not here."  

There wasn't an answer to that either.  He figured Inuyasha had left until he started to remove his robe.

"What are you doing?!"

There was a strange quality to that voice, still that oddly cold tone, but something else that made Miroku's eyes narrow.  Inuyasha sounded worried, agitated,
and definitely angry.  

Miroku kept his back to him, as if he didn't notice.  If Inuyasha didn't want to tell him what was wrong, then it was his choice.  

"What does it look like?" asked Miroku.  "I'm taking a bath."  

He didn't add that he'd spent the last few hours looking for him, or that he'd managed to slip in the dark and get more than a little dirty.  And he definitely didn't
mention the pack of demons he'd sucked into the air void when they'd tried to eat him.  

Inuyasha didn't need to know about the trouble he'd gone to, not when he was so set on hiding his own troubles.

Inuyasha went mute the moment Miroku shrugged off his robe.  His eyes caught on the dark, tightly held hair, not shifting down until he clenched his hands.

He wanted to dig his claws into that hair.  Nevermind that he had no claws at the moment, the image was vivid in his mind.  

Pale skin drew his gaze lower, and he paused again on a faint reddish mark on Miroku's upper back.  

He knew that burn mark was as fresh as it looked.  A demon had sent an acidic cocoon at him, and Miroku had jumped in as well, shielding him from it.  He'd
repaid his friend by freeing them both before slaughtering everyone involved.  It had been mere days ago.  

The reminder should have sickened him, but now it felt appropriate.  Everything those men had done made them deserving of death.  

His guilt fell away.  And something else rose to take its place.  Cold calm.  

There were scratches on Miroku's left, glove-free hand, and bruises along his arms.  And he was favoring his right wrist.

The water was cold, but the night was warm enough that he didn't mind.  Miroku wanted to soak more than anything, and he leaned back against the rocks.  

His arm ached faintly, not bad considering he'd taken in a pack of wolf demons.  He'd have to mention that to Kouga the next time he saw him.  In the
meantime, he let his gloved arm rest on his bent knee and sunk deeper in the water.  

He was almost glad Inuyasha was being grumpy.  He hadn't expected to meet up with him, not after looking for hours with no luck.  Right now he just wanted to
relax for a while.  Truth told, they didn't get to do that very often anymore, between chasing shards and being chased by Naraku and his minions.  It figured
the first break they had and Inuyasha would run off, ruining what could have been a nice calm night or two.  

He sniffed at that, and promptly inhaled a bit of water.  Sitting up sharply, he rubbed at his nose and scowled.  Then he saw something out of the corner of his
eye that nearly sent him right back under.  

Inuyasha was sitting cross-legged on the rock behind him, just a few feet to his right.

"Don't sneak up on me," Miroku sputtered.  

Calm dark eyes regarded him evenly, and he shook his head.  He still wasn't used to Inuyasha's human form.  It was simply too different from the white-haired
hanyou he spent most of his time with.

"What happened to you?"  Wide dark blue eyes blinked at him, and Inuyasha returned the look without changing his expression.  

He could see much better at this range, the bruising darker than it had looked to his human eyes from a distance.  And the light scratches on the back of
Miroku's neck made something click in his mind.  

He knew why he'd imagined digging his claws into that dark hair, why the image was so vivid in his mind.  It was the quickest way to get control of a struggling
person without causing too much damage, and he obviously wasn't the first to think of it.  

But why now?  And why did he know with absolute certainty that it was because of him?

"What happened?" Miroku repeated, blinking in confusion.  "You nearly scared me to death, that's what.  I thought you'd left, or that you were still up there
ignoring me."

"No.  Who did you fight with?"  

Inuyasha's eyebrow twitched when a teasing smile spread over Miroku's face.  This definitely wasn't the right time to get teased, and he really didn't want to
deal with any of Miroku's usual jokes.

"Is it that obvious?" asked Miroku.  

He'd washed off most of the dirt from his slide, so he had seen the spots that refused to wash away.  But it wasn't that light out, even with the stars reflecting
on the open water.  The bruises had to be darker than he'd thought if Inuyasha noticed in his human form.  He was well aware of how limited his friend was like
that.

"Yes," Inuyasha said sharply.  "Especially your-"  

He'd been reaching out to point at the scratch marks on the back of Miroku's neck, but he froze midway.  His friend had flinched back, jerking his head to the
side in a way that made those feelings from earlier spring back to mind.  

The second the human had moved, the muscles in his arm had clenched to grab at that fleeting tail of hair.  He wasn't sure if Miroku had just moved quicker
than him, or if he'd actually managed to stop himself.  

Wide dark eyes were staring at him, and he blinked, forcing himself to sit back again and doing his best to wipe the 'caught' look off his face.  

He raised an eyebrow and Miroku promptly flushed.

"Heh..."  Brushing a hand over the back of his neck, Miroku flashed a weak smile, his cheeks hot with embarrassment.  "Guess I'm a little skittish.  I had a
strange encounter with some demons earlier - they lost, of course.  But it was touch and go for a minute there.  Really strange.  That's the first time a demon's
tried to eat me since I was six."  

Inuyasha blinked, giving him a funny look that made him grin.

"Eat you?"  Inuyasha's voice was as incredulous as his expression.

Miroku stared for a long moment before gifting his friend with a sly smirk.  

"Either that, or they were trying to get lucky and mistook me for a girl.  Since I'm not half as effeminate looking as you are right now, I seriously doubt that."  

That comment had an instant effect, and he laughed at Inuyasha's outraged expression.  

"You remind me of Kagome with your hair like that - same shade, length, and your faces are even similar.  It's uncanny."

As much as the insult made him want to dunk the impudent human, Inuyasha restrained himself.  He wasn't about to touch him, and his furious expression
faded as he gave a soft growl of annoyance.  

Miroku's eyes gleamed when he laughed, and no matter what he said to the contrary, he was more than pretty enough for demons to have attacked him.  But
the idea that they'd been trying to eat him was ludicrous.  If that were the case, they would have been aiming for the kill, not immobilizing him.  

"So a pack jumped you?" asked Inuyasha.  "What kind?"

Not having expected Inuyasha to go back to the subject so quickly after his taunt, Miroku blinked in surprise.  His smile disappeared, replaced with a thoughtful
frown.  

"That was what was so weird about it," he said.  "Wolf demons.  They actually looked a lot like the guys Kouga hangs out with, though I didn't recognize them.  I
really hope they weren't friends of his.  But if they were, he better not try blaming me for this one.  I was just walking along, minding my own business.  They
attacked me, all I did was defend myself - and I wouldn't have had to kill them all if they'd have just stopped after I got rid of the first one."

Canines.  Probably going through the same exigency he was, but with less reason to hold back.  Inuyasha glared, his throat closing on the urge to growl.  

Even if that were the case, they should have recognized Miroku if they were from Kouga's pack.  As much as he disliked the wolf, Kouga did respect Kagome
and her friends, which made Miroku as 'off-limits' as a human could get.  Besides that, they should have known about the air void.  If they were another group,
that would explain it, but the chances of another pack coming into Kouga's territory were slim to none.  Kouga would have chased them out the moment he
caught scent of them.  

"How many?  How big was the pack?"

"Six or seven," said Miroku.  "I didn't really get a chance to count heads."  He gave a weak smile, still rubbing his neck.  "They pretty much treated me like a
rabbit and pounced.  One of them got me down and that was about it.  I'm sure there were at least six, more than that I can't say.  Gets a little hard to count
how many get sucked in when you're tearing up half the forest as well."

"And where was this?"

"On a slope a few miles off," Miroku shrugged.  "I didn't go that far from camp."  

He glanced over and frowned at Inuyasha's sober expression.  

"Why?  It's not like this is the first time a demon's attacked one of us.  And Naraku definitely didn't send them or I wouldn't have had such an easy time of it.  
The way they attacked, I don't think they were expecting me to put up much resistance.  Although, I did think they were acting a little strange, more animal than
youkai."  

He caught Inuyasha's eye and smirked.  "They were growling more than you do when you fight with Kagome."

Inuyasha snorted, folding his arms over his chest.  "Well, don't go wandering around like that.  We might not have the shards, but that doesn't mean it's safe."

"You don't have to tell me that," Miroku said, sobering up again.  "You're the one who ran off in the first place, if you'll remember."  

Dark eyes shifted away from him, Inuyasha's shoulders stiff in a way that spoke volumes of how much he didn't want to talk about it.  Miroku sighed, turning a
bit so he was leaning half on his stomach against the rocks, propping his chin in his palms.  The water was too cool to stay in much longer, but he wasn't quite
ready to leave.  

"Why did you run off earlier?" he asked quietly.  "Kagome was in a good mood when she left, so I know you guys didn't have a fight."

"I just didn't want to listen to you and that idiot fox yap all night," Inuyasha sniffed, his head still turned away.  

The hairs on the back of his neck were rising, proof that he was very much aware of the human's gaze, and their proximity.  He wasn't about to look at him.

"Nonsense," Miroku said, giving a firm shake of his head.  "Shippou was already curled for the night and I didn't say anything.  We were both being quiet when
you stalked off and you know it.  What's bothering you?"

The instant retort that came to mind was to tell the human that he was bothering him, and it was certainly true.  But Inuyasha couldn't make himself leave.  

If he told Miroku that he was annoying him, his friend would expect him to leave immediately afterward.  He'd surely ask more questions once he realized
Inuyasha wasn't going anywhere.  

"What do you think was bothering me?" Inuyasha muttered instead, curling his hands more tightly over his folded arms.  "I hate being human."

"I know that," Miroku admitted.  "We talked about that.  I know you hate being vulnerable.  But that's why we stay together when you turn, so you won't be
alone.  I told you last time, I don't mind watching you until you're normal again."  

Dark eyes snapped to him, and he gave a small smile.  

"I'm serious, you know.  You take the brunt of all of our fights.  The least I can do is help out when you can't fight for yourself.  There's nothing wrong with
that."  

His friend was giving him a strange look that he couldn't quite read, clearly he was insulted but he didn't look angry so much as bothered.  Miroku turned his
smile into a smirk.  

"Besides, don't you think I like coming in handy once in a while?  Half the time when we fight I end up being completely useless because of those wasps.  This
is about the only chance I get to be the strong one of the group."

Inuyasha sniffed, dragging his gaze away as he returned to glaring at the woods to his right.  "Even with the wasps, you still fight."

"But there's only so much you can do with wards," Miroku shrugged.  "And getting sick for days isn't really helpful when I use the void around the wasps.  It just
makes me another weakness if we're attacked too often.  You on the other hand, even now you're only weak for a night.  Think about it, just one night.  In a
few hours you'll be back to full strength and the rest of us will be following your lead again.  What's so hard about being dependent for a single night?"

"It's not that," Inuyasha growled.  

He hadn't meant to say that, but Miroku was clearly trying to placate him.  This had nothing to do with him being dependent, though he really hated having to
rely on anyone.  He'd already admitted to himself that he was grateful for their protection when his human shifts occurred.  

It might have been demeaning to admit it, but he wasn't going to lie to himself.  He liked being able to sleep, knowing his friends had his back.  That was a
comfort he'd never known before meeting them.  While he wasn't going to thank Miroku for being there, he didn't want him to think he wasn't wanted.  

"I don't want to talk about it."

"All right, then."  

Miroku waited, watching those tense shoulders.  But Inuyasha didn't so much as stand in preparation for the expected exit.  Blinking in surprise, he leaned
back in the water.  

"Are you going to come back to camp with me?"  

He might have winced after he realized Inuyasha would take that as an insinuation that he was afraid to go by himself.  But still, the expected reaction didn't
come.  

Inuyasha nodded, his dark hair shifting against red on the back that faced him.  

"Oh.  Well, just give me a minute.  I'm done here anyway."

Inuyasha could swear his hearing had never been so good in his human form.  He could make out every shift of that water as Miroku moved, could pinpoint
exactly what he was doing, standing, shifting a leg, stretching, all without a single glance back.  

Half of that he immediately passed off as his imagination.  That fiery persistent pulse in him was goading him by giving far too vibrant an image of what was
behind him.  But he was still certain the water sounded louder than it should have.  The only explanation would be that exigency continued to enhance his
animal nature, even when that side should have been completely dormant.  

He'd have to make damn sure he stayed away from the bathing pools for the next week, until this passed out of his system.  There was no way he'd be able to
resist looking in his normal form.

That thought confused him, a distraction that he grasped and held onto like a child with a new toy.  Why was he thinking this would last after tonight?  

Less than an hour ago all of his focus had been on Kagome.  Yes, he'd definitely been attracted to Miroku once the human came into his territory, but that was
a passing interest.  It was the same thing he'd have felt if a stranger walked by him.  

He'd had that before with females in the various villages before he met Kikyo.  One would pass by where he was hidden and he'd be struck with instant furious
desire to pounce, to attack and claim.  But after the human was out of sight, he hadn't given a second thought - focusing on the next target until the instinct
faded away.  

There was no reason to think he'd remain focused on Miroku once he had Kagome as a potential target.  So why did he feel an impending danger at the mere
thought of the following days in the human's company?  

Now he found himself wishing that Kagome would come back tomorrow, or the day after at the very latest.  She was a much better target.  Human or not, he
knew that if he couldn't fight himself then he would claim her as a mate.  Demon interaction with the same sex was too degrading to even think about.  

They were known to take human females, he himself stood as proof of that, though it was frowned upon.  The resultant child marked her as a one-time target
at worst, a permanent mate at best.  But males were used for sport, competition, a test of strength and prowess.  No matter that half the targets were too weak
to defend themselves, that just meant most died after the first attack.  

Only the strongest demons took target males as permanent mates, those powerful enough to fend off any others attempting to steal them away.  It was
something that Inuyasha had never considered 'natural' and something he was certain would die out some day.  What good was it to have a permanent mate
incapable of childbearing?  

Demons might not mind fighting amongst themselves in the absence of weaker, human targets, but females of their kind were valued.  A pregnant female was
off limits for such a thing, at least until the child was born.  Canine species were one of the few exceptions to this rule, since most of their births were litters.  
But even they protected the females for life, at least when they weren't heavy with pups.  Naturally they kept the females pregnant as much as possible so they
wouldn't have to watch them at all times.  

Male mates, though, they were up for grabs their entire lives. Sure, there were exceptions, some pairs returned the marks, voiding the 'target' demon.  But
even then, they couldn't reproduce.  It was just begging for more hanyou births, mated demons seeking female humans as a chance to spread their lineage.  

Inuyasha would no sooner force another hanyou to suffer his life than he'd mark a male as a target.  It was just one more reason he wanted to become a full
demon.  As he was, he had nothing to look for but a bleak existence alone.

"Whatever it is, it can't be as bad as all that."

Inuyasha jerked back, his eyes flying up to find Miroku right in front of him.  Too close, he was far too close.  He tried to move away, but his traitorous muscles
refused to obey him, the concerned look on his friend's face making him wince and drop his eyes.

"You look like someone just died," Miroku frowned.  

He hadn't seen such a dark dreary expression on Inuyasha's face since the last time Kikyo had made an appearance and Kagome had stormed off.  

"Come on, let's go back and you can sleep it off.  A few more hours, then you'll be your old self again."

A light hand fell on Inuyasha's shoulder, turning him and prodding him in the direction of the camp.  And where his body had ignored his orders, it now obeyed
that push, all of his nerves centered on the contact as if his shoulder were burning from it.  

Inuyasha glared at his feet.  Why was he being so nice?  Miroku should have been poking fun at him, making some crude joke in an attempt to irritate and
distract him. This quiet comfort was adding more weight to the disgusted guilt he already felt.  The damn monk was never this serious.

But that wasn't true.  

He'd been just this way when Inuyasha had admitted to being afraid during his human shifts.  He had given him that same soft look, that same comforting
reassurance as he sat up with him that first night.  

No matter how much Inuyasha liked to pass him off as a perverted joker, he knew better. He'd never call Miroku a friend if he didn't know the human cared
about him just like Kagome did.  That was why they were the only two humans aside from Kikyo that he'd allowed himself to trust.  

He just hated being reminded of that right now.  And he definitely didn't want to be touched by him.

Inuyasha quickened his pace, and Miroku blinked in surprise, his arm falling to his side.  He'd been convinced he would have to push him all the way to camp,
as much as the stubborn hanyou had been dragging his feet.  Now he was the one being left behind.  

With a snort, he caught up again, shaking his head at Inuyasha.  

"You're not going to run off again, are you?  If you really don't want to talk about it, then I won't say anything."

"I'm going back," Inuyasha muttered, keeping his eyes straight ahead.  "And there's nothing to talk about."

Of course there was, but Inuyasha was like a stubborn child when he got like this.  The only way to take it was to either sit back and let Kagome 'osuwari' it out
of him, or let him have his way.  

Miroku smirked, giving a quick nod.  "Whatever you say."

The monk passed him, his dark robes seeming to glow in Inuyasha's vision despite the lack of moonlight.  That Miroku would so carelessly put his back to him
made that instinct growl as if challenged, but he shoved down that the moment it reared its ugly head.  

This was a bad idea and he knew it.  How was he supposed to sit quietly in that little shack with Miroku asleep at his feet?  There was no way.  

He'd go back, but he was spending the night in the tree outside where he had plenty of open space and no visible target.  If Miroku wanted to argue, he could
argue till his face turned blue.  Human or not, Inuyasha would have an advantage over him if he were asleep and that was just too risky.  

Mere hours ago he'd been hoping Kagome would be gone for a week.  Now he fervently hoped she'd be back by sunrise.  Shippou made a poor chaperone.

.-.

He faked sleep for as long as he could, listening to the sounds as the other two moved around below.  

Even with his eyes closed he could keep tabs on them both, his demon nature back in full force.  That made it very uncomfortable, though, trying to sit still
when his body was thrumming with impatience.  

They hadn't been active for very long.  Every minute just seemed to last for hours, the sound of Shippou making conversation in that high voice of his twitching
Inuyasha's perked ears.  

He was sure the dumb fox was being noisy on purpose, trying to goad him into coming down.  They had to know he wasn't really still sleeping, not with that sort
of noise.  But so long as he stayed in the tree, eyes closed, Miroku wouldn't say a word to him.  

That was the idea, to stay close without inviting conversation or the eye contact he'd have to make if he talked to them.  The bit of smoke from the small fire
they were cooking over masked their scents, so there was some benefit to being above.

Loud laughter rang out a few feet from him, his teeth gnashing in a wave of frustration.  Why did they have to be in such a good, vocal, mood?  And where did
that stupid kit get off talking about him as if he weren't eight feet away, perfectly capable of hearing every damn word the runt said?  

His voice did not sound like that.  He'd never sound so breathy and stupid.  

A pause of quiet, and he sneered as Shippou continued the impression, reenacting the last fight he'd had with Kagome.  At least the fox had her voice down,
with that annoyingly high pitch of his.

"Osuwari!"

White ears flew back and Shippou fell onto his backside, laughing wildly at Inuyasha's wide eyes.  The hanyou had jerked upright at the word, his hair
practically standing on end.  

"You should see your face!" laughed Shippou.  "As white as your hair!"  

Arms wrapped around his belly, he shook his head up at the hanyou, not caring one bit that Inuyasha was now growling at him.  

"I'll do that for Kagome-chan when she comes back," he taunted.  "She'll love it!"

"You think that's funny?"

Inuyasha growled, his hands clenching against the limb he was on, claws digging into the bark.  Blood pounded in his ears, a hazy image of one mangled fox
kit filling his sight.  

"I'll show you funny..."

"Big bad hanyou," Shippou called, sticking his tongue out at the demon.  "Afraid of one little word!"  

That rumbling growl grew louder and he tensed, ready to bolt if Inuyasha took him up on the challenge.  As fast as the hanyou was, there were plenty of little
holes nearby that he could hide in.  Then he could taunt him all day while Inuyasha howled in frustration.  

"Osuwari!  Osuwari!  Sit boy!"

A rough splintering sounded and Miroku winced as bits of wood fell down from where Inuyasha was crouched in the tree.  

"That's enough," he called, shaking his head at the little fox.  

He couldn't help but smile at how easy Inuyasha was to rile, but as long as the hanyou had feigned sleep, he was obviously still upset about whatever had
driven him off last night.  Shippou hadn't noticed when Inuyasha had taken off, so he didn't know any better.  

Miroku stood, brushing a bit of dirt off his dark robes before tilting his head to look up at the growling hanyou.  

"He's just bored," he shrugged, his tone just a little placating.  "You know how he gets when Kagome's gone all day."

Pale gold eyes snapped to him and that menacing sound was cut off mid-growl.  Miroku blinked in surprise.  

Inuyasha looked startled, as if he hadn't realized he was there.  But of course he had to have known, Shippou had just distracted him.  

Waving a hand at the little fire, Miroku smiled.  "Want to come down and eat?  The day's half over, so Kagome should be back soon if she's not waiting till
tomorrow.  Kaede-san dropped off some vegetables, though, so it's a regular meal."  

He looked down, smirking at the look of disgust on Shippou's face.  

"They're good for you.  You can't just run around eating the snacks Kagome brings."

"They taste better," Shippou pouted, scowling over at Miroku.  "And you never complain about eating it.  You eat as much of it as I do!"

"Right," Miroku said, giving the kit a wide smile.  "And I eat real food, too.  So eat your vegetables and be grateful Kaede-san was nice enough to bring some
for us."

"Don't act all mature," Shippou grumbled, stalking over to sit by the smoldering fire.  "You get boring when Kagome-chan leaves."  

He tossed a taunting look back at Inuyasha.  "But not as boring as you, dog boy!"  

That insult was too half-hearted to work and he knew it.  Inuyasha didn't so much as twitch and Shippou deflated, pouting into the fire.  

"I miss Kagome-chan..."  

A wrinkled brown thing entered his vision, the sharp point of the stick just visible from where it was skewered, and Shippou groaned.  

"And I miss her food...!"

"Just eat the potato," Miroku said, rolling his eyes.  "It's made of the same thing her chips are - it's just not hard."

"Or good tasting!"

"Or salty," Miroku agreed.

The two started eating, Shippou picking tiny bites and grimacing all the way through each swallow.  Inuyasha watched them with an unusual mixture of irritation
and wariness.  

That anger had broken the moment he looked at Miroku, but having the human turn away and ignore him brought something just as bad.  If he didn't know any
better, he'd call it jealousy.  

They were acting so casual...and happy.  And he wanted nothing more than to strangle the fox and drag Miroku off to teach him who he was supposed to be
paying attention to.  

The thought brought a furious flush to his face as all sorts of images sprang to mind - and they weren't featuring the fox kit.  

Shaking his head roughly, he forced his hands to unclench from where they'd dug into the tree limb.  

He could handle this.  Miroku was right there, and he hadn't done anything unusual.  The fact that they were acting normal proved he was in control.  All he
had to do was ignore them.

"Are you coming down or not?"

Inuyasha straightened, wary eyes shifting over to find Miroku frowning back at him.  Shippou was still nibbling on his food, but the kit's tail was flicking in a way
that warned him if he didn't say something the fox would start taunting him again.  And as much as he liked the idea of finally shutting the brat up, he didn't
want to kill him.  He was annoying as hell, but he was still just a kit.  

"No," said Inuyasha.  He sniffed and resumed his reclining position on the limb, closing his eyes.

"You're not hungry...?"  

Miroku's eyes widened at the thought and he shared a worried look with Shippou.  While he wasn't exactly a pig, Inuyasha was a very healthy eater.  And he
wasn't nearly as picky as Shippou when it came to what he was eating.  

"You aren't sick, are you?" asked Miroku.

One pale eye flicked open to glower at him, and Miroku gave a slow smirk.  

"I didn't think demons got sick," he commented.  "Maybe you should go see Kaede-san.  Or I can get her if you're too sick to move.  I'm sure she could mix up
something for you."

"I'll go," Shippou volunteered, his little fluffy orange tail flicking happily as he smirked up at Inuyasha.  

His words were directed at Miroku, but he kept taunting eyes on the irritable demon in the tree.  

"You'd better stay and protect the dog-boy.  Can't leave the poor wittle hanyou all by himself when he's sick."

"Oh, shut up," Inuyasha snapped, glaring daggers at the fox.  "Before I come down there and strangle you with your tail."

Shippou blinked big eyes, turning to glance at his bushy tail.  He waved it a bit, then sniffed back at Inuyasha.  

"Shows what you know," he taunted.  "It's not long enough!"

A soft sound reached his ears, and Inuyasha glowered at the way Miroku was smothering a bit of laughter.  

They obviously weren't going to leave him alone now that he'd blown his pretense of sleep.  And he had to admit, the smell of the food was making his
stomach twist on itself.  

He rolled his eyes and pushed himself off the limb.  

"It would be long enough after I rip it off," he warned, glaring at Shippou as he stalked over to them.  

The little fox paled, and he nodded sharply at him.  "Just keep it up and I'll show you."

It was strange sitting near someone, but oddly enough Shippou wasn't affecting him now that he was quiet.  He usually avoided people when exigency hit him,
so he was surprised to learn that not everyone would become an instant target just from being near him.  

That didn't change the feelings that swamped him when he glanced over at Miroku.  He shouldn't have sat between the two of them, shouldn't have sat on the
same side of the fire, shouldn't have come so damn close.  And he definitely shouldn't have waited instead of snatching up something to eat the moment he
sat down.  

His friend was holding out one of the skewered potatoes, his scent somehow stronger than the food.

He smelled like the tree Inuyasha had just come from, naturally so, since they both rested in it more often than not.  He smelled like the soap he'd used last
night, a hint of the spring water lingering in that dark blue glove that was never removed.  He smelled like the fox, just enough so to make Inuyasha want to
smack the kit for hanging that close.  Mostly he just smelled like Miroku, something Inuyasha had taken for granted since the day they met.  

There was nothing in that scent to explain why he wanted to bury his face against the human and just breathe it in.

Snatching the offered food, Inuyasha fumed at his stupid thoughts.  He felt as if he'd paused for hours, but Miroku turned away so casually he knew the
encounter had only lasted seconds.  

It was as his friend's back was turned that another addition to the mix of scents reached him.  

Miroku smelled like wolf.

Hands closed over his shoulders, and Miroku froze as something snuffled against the back of his neck.  "W-what...?"

"He's smelling you," Shippou said helpfully, laughing at how startled Miroku looked.  

He moved to the side, looking curiously up Inuyasha.  "What's he smell like?"

That warm breath made sense, but Miroku remained tense, his expression more than a little wary.  He didn't turn his head, but his eyes flicked as far to the
side as possible.  

"Inuyasha...?  W-why are you smelling me...?"

"Is he a fake?" Shippou demanded, his eyes gleaming excitedly at the possibility.  "Come on, tell me!  Does he smell like spider?  Well?"

A huff met his ear and Miroku ducked his head, a blush swamping his cheeks.  

"Okay," he said, his voice strained as he tried to stay calm.  "Stop it already.  That's really uncomfortable.  I know you canine demons have a great sense of
smell, but I can't stand having someone breathe down my-"  

Wet heat lapped across the scratches on the back of his neck and Miroku bit off his words, wincing at the pressure on the fresh cuts.  He leaned forward,
meaning to pull away, but the grip tightened on his shoulders, holding him in place.  

Any humor at the odd situation waned.  "Let go."

Shippou tilted his head to the side, frowning up at the two of them, but mostly at Inuyasha.  The hanyou seemed completely oblivious to the questions he'd
asked, and now he was...  

"Why are you doing that?  Hey.  Hey!  I'm talking to you, dog-boy!  Are you ignoring me?!"

The little fox demon was throwing an official tantrum, but Miroku barely heard him.  He'd tried to pull away again and Inuyasha's hands had tightened, his claws
just starting to make themselves known.  

Eyebrow twitching at the situation, Miroku tilted his head back, efficiently blocking the hanyou from his obvious target point.  

"I told you to stop," he said sharply, "so if you cut me with those claws of yours, I'll never forgive you."  

The hands on his shoulders loosened immediately, and he turned to stare in bewilderment.  Inuyasha's face was very pale, and he looked as shocked as
Miroku had been when the hanyou first grabbed him.  

"What's wrong with you...?  Why did you-"

Jolting back, Inuyasha felt his face burn as he stumbled to his feet.  Shippou was yelling something, but he couldn't hear any more than a high pitched
background noise.  

He could still smell it, and the taste of Miroku's skin was muddling his senses to the point where those two were all he could make out.  

He hadn't thought.  

That cut had served as a brand, the scent marking his target - his target - with the smell of a wolf.  He'd had to act, had to replace that scent with his own.  

Only...

"Inuyasha...?"

"Infection," Inuyasha blurted, his face burning hotter at the bold lie.  

Miroku was staring at him as if he didn't know whether to be afraid or angry and he wanted to dig a hole in the ground and bury his head in it.  An osuwari right
now would have been well deserved, and appreciated.  

"The cut," he mumbled, "it smelled like - so I had to - counter that - it's nothing."  

His wide eyes felt cold amid his hot face, and he hid his clenched hands behind his back.  

He'd nearly cut Miroku.  The human had been right about that.  

His first instinct was to clear the scent off those scratches, but second to that was to make his own mark.  And he hadn't thought - no time to control himself,
his instinct had acted before he realized what he was doing.  Only...

Only that scent remained.  Now that he'd recognized it, he couldn't smell anything but it.  Miroku was covered in foreign canine scent and he couldn't allow
that.  He had to do something...had
to...

Sharp pain spiked in his right calf and Inuyasha jumped, barking out a loud curse.  He fell before he realized there was a mini rabid fox attached to his leg, little
teeth buried near his ankle.  And rather than shake him off, he closed his eyes and just felt that sharp, gnawing pain.  What the hell was he thinking?  Or
rather, why the hell wasn't he thinking?  Now he knew why demons marked their targets, and why targets tended to end up dead even if they survived the first
attack.  He might have wanted to jump Miroku last night, but knowing that another had already tried made the urge much, much worse.  There was no way
Miroku smelled as much like wolf as his nose was telling him.  He was still in control.  He was.  He'd just slipped for a second.  He'd slipped long enough to
know that Miroku tasted like warm spring water and apple.

How could a human taste like apple?

"Let go!  Shippou!  He's bleeding.  Do you want to explain to Kagome why you took a chunk out of his leg?"

That voice cut through his thoughts, and Inuyasha blinked down at the fox who was still chewing on his leg.  The sight of small tooth marks and scrapes
through the torn cloth of his pants brought him back to the very thing he'd wanted to forget.  Miroku was crouched over him, tugging on the stubborn fox, and
his eyes locked on those red cuts.  They were still damp.  Did they carry his scent now?   He couldn't tell, couldn't recognize his own scent.  But that wolf smell
remained.  So close...

Shippou came free with a furious jerk, and Miroku reeled back, landing with the fox in his lap.  Heaving a sigh, he shook his head at the angry kit.  "Remind me
never to ignore you," he muttered.  

"Stupid Inuyasha!  I'm telling Kagome you were being stupid!"  Shippou growled, struggling a bit in Miroku's firm hold.  "Why'd you lick him, anyway?  He
doesn't smell like Naraku.  You're just so dumb your nose don't work."

Inuyasha was sitting up, looking at them with a wary expression.  Miroku felt about the same.  That excuse about an infection was incredibly dumb, even for a
split second lie.  Only it made more sense than any other reason Miroku wanted to think about.  He shook his head again, tearing his eyes away so he could
frown down at Shippou.  "He never said I smelled like Naraku."  The fox kit scowled at him, but he did cease that struggling.

"You do smell funny," Shippou admitted.  "But it's not spider.  I don't know what it is.  And you smell more like him than anything."  He jerked his head toward
Inuyasha.  The hanyou flinched, and he blinked over at him, curious about the way those pale gold eyes widened.

"He smells like me?" Inuyasha asked.  The fox glared at him, and he curled his hands, forcing himself not to beat an answer out of the kit.  "No, he doesn't," he
said instead.  "You don't have a sense of smell."

Shippou bristled, growling back at the demon.  "He does so!  He's had your stink since you guys were in that acid thing.  I was just too nice to say anything
about it."  He turned back, shrugging at Miroku.  "It's not your fault he stinks.  But you smell a lot worse now that you have dog spit on you.  You should rub
some dirt on it, or maybe fruit.  That would help.  You smell like his mouth."

Miroku felt his cheeks heat up, but he couldn't help the smile that curved his lips when he glanced over to find Inuyasha looking just as uncomfortable.  "So...
does that mean Inuyasha smells like your mouth now, Shippou?"  The fox paled, sending a wide-eyed look over at Inuyasha.

Sniffing at his pants, Inuyasha bristled.  "Ew..."

It wasn't just the way he said it, it was the way the hanyou's ears flattened back against his hair.  Miroku snickered.  "Okay, guys.  I'm going to go wash off my
neck - Inuyasha, rinse that off and maybe Kagome will patch your pants when she comes back."  He stood with a wide smirk, holding Shippou when the fox
started to squirm free.  "Oh, no.  You're washing your face.  Do you really want  Kagome to see you with Inuyasha's blood on your mouth?"

Shippou's eyes widened in horror, and a hint of distress.  "No!  Are you really going to tell her I bit him?  He deserved it.  He was being weird, grabbing you like
that.  And he was trying to bite you, wasn't he?"  That idea stuck and he fluffed up a bit, lifting his chin.  "I was protecting you."

"Right," Miroku drawled, sending a teasing look back at Inuyasha, who was still seated where he'd fallen.  "So let's just keep this little incident among the three
of us.  There's no need to concern Kagome about it."

"And she'd be mad at Inuyasha, too," Shippou sniffed, nodding firmly.  "He can't bite you when he won't even kiss her.  That's not right."

Growling at the light laughter that trailed back to him, Inuyasha fumed. Kagome.  How was he supposed to act around her now?  He couldn't deal with her and
that damn scent at the same time.  And the scent - Miroku did smell like him, had since they'd been in the coccoon together.  No wonder the wolf pack had
attacked Miroku - he'd probably smelled of Inuyasha's blood.  As insane as the scent of wolf was to him, he was sure the pack had felt the same about his own
scent.  And there was his friend, in the middle, completely oblivious.  Only he probably wasn't so oblivious now that he'd been licked. Inuyasha's face burned
furiously and he cursed again, shoving to his feet.  Stupid apple flavored monk.

Inuyasha didn't even like apples.

- - -

The attack had come swiftly, far too swift for such large cumbersome demons.  They appeared to have come out of nowhere, quiet in their approach but
blatant in their target.  

Miroku and Shippou had barely enough time to be startled before the lumbering group passed them by, one pausing to attack while the others aimed for a not
too distant spot.  The swarm of wasps shadowing the demons told that they were going for one of two things - Inuyasha, or the shards.  And since they'd left
Inuyasha back in the camp, the demons had to be headed for the well.  

There wasn't time to wonder if they could possibly get through it.  Even if they couldn't, they might easily meet Kagome on her return and ambush her without
so much as a weapon on hand.

The outcome of the fight was decided from the start.  Whatever the creatures were, they were definitely not natural.  Miroku had never seen their like, and he
was certain they were some hybrid of Naraku's making.  The blatant lack of intelligence spoke as much.  

They barely paid him any attention, even after he'd disposed of half their number in the most direct way possible.  But as easy as it was to suck the ignorant
hulks into the air void, those ever-present wasps were joining them in drones, slowing down his pursuit.  

He barely caught the last one as it was leaning over the well, four of those claw-tipped arms gripping the edge as if it planned to tip head-first into the hole.

Miroku set his feet and opened the void, bracing his right wrist with his left hand.  

The demon rippled, its smooth back strange in the pull of that irresistible wind, and it turned to look back at him.  Those clawed hands were gripping the well,
holding it in place against the current while its long oddly blade-like tail whipped in the air behind it.  Ignorant or not, it was certainly strong.  

Miroku did his best to ignore the swarm currently diving into the void as he stepped closer to it.  And dizziness struck him just as one of those tightly gripped
hands was jerked free, the demon flailing now.

Where was Shippou?  

The demon was sending odd sounds at him, low breaths stolen by the wind tunnel.  

If it was holding so well against him, it could possibly have shards in its body.  And Miroku couldn't kill it without sucking it up the same as he had the others -
he knew he didn't stand a chance against that fast tail.  But if it had shards and he absorbed the demon into the void...

They'd never get that shard back, would never complete the stone, and what would happen then?  

A buzzing flew past his head, close enough to brush his ear, and Miroku glared as the insect angled its way into the open void.  

He took another slow step toward the struggling demon.  If it was a choice between losing a shard and letting it go into Kagome's time, he wouldn't hesitate to
kill it.  Shippou would have to find Inuyasha fast, or they could forget about ever restoring the shikon no tama.

Claws scraped on the edge of the well, digging grooves before sliding free.  

The demon twisted as it was sucked toward that blurred dark hole and Miroku twisted his left wrist around the beads, ready to close the void the moment the
monster was gone.  

Two feet from him, the demon jerked, something brushing his open palm in a way that nearly made him close his hand on instinct. The demon had stopped
moving.  

Miroku's eyes widened and he tensed his right hand, sudden fear bolting through him.  If he had closed his hand then his fingers, along with the rest of him,
would have been sucked into the void.  

But the demon wasn't being sucked in.  It was...anchored.  

His eyes dropped to that sinewy blade of a tail.  It was buried in the ground, the rest of the demon's body hovering just outside of the void.

Torn between moving closer to finish the monster off, possibly losing shards in the process, and holding his place, Miroku didn't know what to do.  

A small part of his mind was nervously reminding him that he hadn't seen a wasp since that last one flew past his ear.  How many had he taken in?  And what
would happen if he passed out in the middle of this standoff?  

The demon was swiping at him, too dumb to realize that its large arms couldn't touch him with that forceful wind sucking it toward the void.  Its body twisted
from side to side, three arms on one side swiping, then the other three.  And it was pulling itself free with each attempt, inches of that tail sliding out as bits of
earth were sucked up into the tunnel.

Miroku glared and held his place.  Either it would kill itself trying to hit him, or Inuyasha would show to finish it off.

All he had to do was hold it.

Hot pain sliced his right arm and Miroku barely caught sight of a glinting, sharp yet fluid appendage before he was tilting to his left.  

He jerked the beads closed on instinct, shoving himself away from the ground the moment he landed.  That blade of a tail buried itself inches from his face but
he was already rolling away.

It had come up from under the ground.  

He knew it hadn't been that long when the demon first anchored itself.  The tail had grown in length, absolute proof that the demon did have at least one
shard.  But there wasn't time to think about that.

Rising in a low crouch, Miroku turned his sights on the demon.  And he cursed when he saw it headed for the well again.  

His left hand moved to open the void just as something large blurred in the corner of his eye.  Claws closed over his shoulders, sheer weight throwing him
back as a wide gaping maw of teeth ducked toward him.  

How many were there?!  

His left hand jerked the beads free and he shoved his right hand up, feeling smooth skin against his open fingers.  

He'd never attempted to absorb something so close, but he wasn't strong enough to push it away.  He was outweighed without any leverage.  It leaned down
even as he pushed his arm up.

The demon seemed to implode, its chest disappearing into the void, and the sickening feel of that skin sliding past his open hand made his stomach churn.  
But those claws were still holding his shoulders, pulling them forward as its upper arms disappeared.  

His right arm was shaking from the strain, his elbow bending and bringing the back of his hand far too close to his face.  More of those arms were sucked in
and Miroku turned his face away, moving his left arm over his head so it was braced against the back of his right hand.  

The pressure was terrifying.  The demon's grip refused to break free, its body stretched out over the tunnel, and the backlash of his shaking hand against his
head told him this was what it would feel like when he died.  This is what it would feel like to be absorbed into himself.  

And then it was over.  The claws pulled free, following the rest of the demon's body into the void and leaving him with only open air above him.  

Miroku didn't register that.  Some part of him had locked down. If he hadn't heard something over the wind howling so close to his ear, he might have passed
out altogether.  

His dazed mind responded to the oddly insistent sound and he opened his eyes, blearily making out something in the shadows across from him.

Shippou, crouching half behind a tree and yelling at him.

Miroku snapped out of his semi-doze, closing the void with wide eyes.  His left arm shook when he started to push himself up and he rolled onto his side
instead, getting his legs beneath him so he could rise in an unsteady crouch.

The fox kit ran to him, wide, oddly bright eyes staring out of a very pale face.  

"What happened?" asked Miroku, his voice faint.

"It went in the well," Shippou moaned, his little hands clenched.  "I didn't think it could!  How could it?!  I couldn't when I had the shards!  But it did.  And
Kagome doesn't have her arrows - she doesn't have anything.  And I couldn't find Inuyasha and now - now..."

Bright damp eyes stared up at him and Miroku let out a shaky breath, leaning back.  "You couldn't find him...?"

"I looked," Shippou said quickly, his voice small.  "I really did, but it smelled so bad I don't know which way he went. There was so much blood and I thought
maybe he was coming here so I came back.  And I saw the demon drop in the well - but I couldn't stop it!  It went through - I looked, but it wasn't in there
anymore.  Do you..."  

His voice trailed off and he swallowed a lump in his throat.  

"You think you could get through?  You're human so..."

"Even if I could, it wouldn't do Kagome any good," Miroku admitted.  "I think-"

He wavered for a moment before rising, his stance unsteady at best.  

"I think it has a shard," he said.  "I might be able to kill it, but even if I did, we'd lose that shard forever."

"But Kagome..."

"Let's see if we can find Inuyasha."  Miroku gave a weak smile, not quite reassuring but the best he could manage.  "If we can't, I'll try the well.  Chances are I
won't be able to get through anyway and once I'm in the well, I don't think I'll be able to get out again.  I really doubt I could climb out on my own now."

The human looked like the slightest push would knock him over, and Shippou blinked suddenly, his gaze moving around the field.  

"Where's your staff?"

"I dropped it," Miroku smirked, "and don't ask me where."  

He shook his head slightly, turning to make slow progress toward the camp.  "I think it was over there somewhere, maybe.  I can look for it after we save
Kagome, ne?"  

The kit gave him a bright, almost desperate smile, nodding vigorously.  "I'm sure she'll be all right."

"She's stubborn," Shippou said, mostly to reassure himself. "I bet she comes right back here with it following her - that's what she should do.  But...Inuyasha's
not here.  If she comes back and he's not here, then-"

"Then it'll save me a trip into that well and I'll kill the demon here," Miroku reminded him.  "Do you think Inuyasha was hurt?  You said there was blood."

"It wasn't his," Shippou frowned.  "At least, not what I saw. It was green, not red."  

He glanced behind them, in the direction of the well.  "There were pieces, too.  Like those demons we saw - I think there were a whole bunch of them."

"Naraku really went all out this time," said Miroku, "making so many.  But Inuyasha should have been able to take on a handful.  They weren't very intelligent."  

Frowning down at the kit, Miroku shook his head clear.  "Unless another of them had a shard, or was smarter than the ones I faced."

Shippou frowned, shrugging a little.  "I don't know.  It smelled really bad, though.  Smells like that knock him out, you know?  Because of his nose and all.  I
thought maybe he got knocked out when he was done, but I didn't see him."

They had neared the camp, and Miroku's face twisted as he caught a hint of the smell Shippou was talking about.  He hadn't cut any of the demons he'd
fought, but he imagined this was what their blood would smell like.  

A few steps onto the path and he knew why the smell was so strong.  That thick greenish black blood was splattered all over the ground, chunks of demon
flesh lying here and there.  Definitely Inuyasha's work.

It was as they were passing a rather large pile of the pieces that a glint caught his eye.  

Miroku jerked back, half expecting it to be one of those blade-like tails from yet another demon.  The sharp movement sent his head reeling and he fell,  
jarring his arm and bringing sickly hot pain throbbing over him.  But his sight remained steady enough to realize it wasn't a tail he'd seen, half buried in that
sticky pile of body parts.  

It was something much worse.  

"Oh, no...not now..."

"Are you okay?" Shippou asked, his eyes wide.  

Now that he was close, he noticed the damp tears in Miroku's black robe, and the pale grayish tint to his face.  "You're sick, aren't you."

The thought made his eyes burn and he swallowed another lump in his throat.  If Miroku passed out now, and he couldn't find Inuyasha, then what would
happen to Kagome?  

"What do I do...?"

"I'll be fine," Miroku whispered, his eyes wide.  "We still have some of the antidote in the shed.  But if that's what I think it is, then we have more things to worry
about than me."

The fox turned to follow his gaze, running over to the pile and the glint.  Miroku leaned forward, catching his breath as he waited.  A moment later he heard a
frightened cry and knew it was just what he'd feared.

Shippou struggled to pull the sword free but couldn't do more than lift the hilt out of the mess of green-coated flesh.

"Does this mean he's crazy?" asked Shippou, his voice breaking as he turned to stare at Miroku in rising horror.  "Will he attack us if we find him...?  We can't
knock him out of it without Kagome!"

"I could bind him," said Miroku.  "But not like this."

"Bind him?"  Shippou hurried back over, not quit shivering at how pale Miroku was.

"Wards," Miroku nodded.  "They wouldn't hold him for long, but they would be enough to knock him out.  I can't, though, not now."

"If I find your staff, could you?"

The fox was so hopeful looking that Miroku almost told him yes, just to give him something to do.  

"I don't have the energy to use even the weakest ward right now," he said, his expression regretful but honest.

Shippou paled, his wide eyes starting to shimmer again. "Then...what do we do...?  What about Kagome?"

Miroku didn't know what to say, not to that almost tearful gaze. Shippou had latched onto Kagome the way any child would to someone as caring as her.  She
was, for all that she was human, his family now.  

Just being separated from her for a few days filled the kit with loneliness.  Miroku couldn't bring himself to tell Shippou that he didn't see any way they could
help Kagome.  He didn't see anything they could possibly do...nothing...that would...help...

The monk pitched back and Shippou jumped, catching hold of his left arm.  "Miroku!"  

Those eyes were closed and he choked, a little sound escaping his throat.  "Don't sleep now," he pleaded.  "Please?  Miroku!  Wake up?!"

The little fox's face wavered when he opened his eyes, and Miroku held his breath.  If he didn't get back to the antidote, he'd die.  There was no chance of
helping anyone if that happened, and he wouldn't waste all of their efforts by dying now.  He just had to stay awake and keep moving.  That was much easier
said than done.

Shippou let out a sigh of relief, moving back so Miroku could lean over his legs.  The human's shaky breaths sounded strained, but at least he was still awake.  

"Want me to shift into a cloud?  You can ride that way.  Or I can go get the antidote for you and we can-"

Miroku wavered again and Shippou grabbed his arm, blinking hot eyes.  Even if they went back to the shed, that wouldn't help Kagome.  The antidote wouldn't
stop Miroku from being unconscious for at least a day.  

"We...we can't do anything," he whispered, sniffling.  "Can we."

"I don't think so..."

A loud sound made them both turn, Miroku forcing his eyes to focus on the shadow in the woods behind them.  Had it gotten darker suddenly?  

A sharp tail glinted in the shade of the trees, Shippou's hands tightening on his arm.  "Not another one..."

Dull dark blue eyes turned to him, and Shippou bristled as panic tried to take him over.  

"Can you use the air void?" he asked, his voice quiet just in case the demon was intelligent.

"Only..."  

Miroku took a deep breath, blinking dazedly at the monster's outline.  "Only if I have to.  We don't have anything, so maybe it won't attack."  

He didn't believe for a second that the demon would just pass them by, but it was just standing there.  The others had clearly been after Inuyasha and the
well.  They'd only come after him when he'd interfered, and neither he nor Shippou was interfering right now.  

The demon took another step toward them, one of its clumsy arms knocking down a small tree in its way.

Shippou's gaze was drawn back when Miroku pulled away, using his left arm to brace himself as if he couldn't sit up any longer.  Shippou felt his throat close
and he shivered as the demon moved closer to them.  

With a halfhearted growl, he brought up a blaze of yellow-orange foxfire right in front of the monster.  He wasn't nearly old enough for real fox fire, but the
illusion had been enough to frighten off other demons.  This one hesitated, its form hazy through that bright glow.  

Moving behind Miroku, Shippou pushed him upright again, keeping an eye on the demon on the other side of that blaze.  The moment he shifted forms, he'd
have to drop the illusion, so they'd need to move fast.

Something shot through the fire, directly for Shippou.  The fox kit jumped back just in time for long claws to snap shut right where he'd been.  A moment later
the rest of the demon followed, moving through that mock blaze as if it wasn't there.  Its target darted back, wide-eyed but nimble, avoiding that serpentine tail.  

To his credit, Shippou was fast and small and he didn't mind drawing the demon away from Miroku. But that tail was nearly as fast as him, and the sticky blood
coating the ground from Inuyasha's battle made him slip and scramble as he dodged.

Miroku watched the demons with dazed eyes.  He should have helped, but he couldn't catch his breath.  His right arm refused to lift when he told it to, and
without his left to brace himself he knew he'd fall.  Once he fell, he wouldn't be getting back up.  

A tree crashed down, sliced clean through as Shippou tried to hide from that tail, and something dropped in front of Miroku.  

For a long, blurry, moment he was sure the two were connected.  Then he realized it wasn't a thing that had landed in front of him.  It was a demon with blazing
red eyes.  

"Inuyasha..."

Shippou spotted him a moment after Miroku did, darting toward them.  "Inuyasha!  Kagome's in trouble and-"

That tail twisted at him and he ducked to the side, staring frantically at the hanyou.  Inuyasha still had his back to him, not so much as glancing around.  
"Inuyasha!"

The fox kit ran toward them again, and Miroku's mouth opened to warn him just as Inuyasha whipped around.  The hanyou growled, a low, almost taunting
sound.  

The large demon that had been chasing Shippou abruptly changed its target, that tail aiming for Inuyasha instead.  A moment later green blood showered the
ground, a growling red-eyed demon standing in the midst of more dismembered pieces.

"Inu-"

Shippou's words died in his throat, his eyes widening when the demon turned.  He sent a frantic look at Miroku, easing a bit closer to the monk.  

There was no mistaking the blood red eyes, or those overly sharp teeth.  The sickly evil grin was worse, though.  

Shippou whimpered in misery. "Inuyasha, snap out of it!  A demon went after Kagome!  It went in the well.  You have to help her..."

Would he kill them both?  

Miroku kept quiet, doing his best to just stay conscious.  If Inuyasha killed them, he'd never forgive himself.  And Kagome.  If anything happened to her it would
be the realization of all of Inuyasha's fears.  Even if he didn't get her blood on his hands, he'd blame himself.

An angry growl sounded seconds before the hanyou moved.

Shippou let out a sharp cry and jumped away, barely avoiding one green-stained claw as Inuyasha landed in front of him.

"Stop it!" Shippou yelled, half begging.  "Snap out of it!"  

Miroku hadn't moved, and Shippou flinched when the demon turned, those claws aiming for the monk's chest.  "Inuyasha!"

Miroku closed his eyes, fully expecting those claws to go right through him.  But they closed over the front of his robes, jerking him forward so that he found
himself blinking right into the demon's bright eyes.  That dark grin was nearly enough to make him stop breathing altogether.  

He heard something small run towards them, following the red eyes that turned to glare down at the fox.

"You..."  Shippou's eyes widened, his ears flying back as he stared up at Inuyasha.  

The smell was wrong.  The feeling was wrong.  Inuyasha didn't feel like a hanyou, and he smelled like...like the sort of demon Shippou knew very well to stay
far, far, away from.  

"You can't," he whispered, his shoulders hunching as he fought his need to back away.  "Kagome needs you and...and Miroku's your friend..."

"Friend?"

The word came out as some sort of growling laugh, a tone that sent shivers over both Miroku and Shippou, though for very different reasons.  

Shippou backed away, putting more space between him and the hanyou.  Inuyasha had drawn Miroku closer and he didn't need to ask why, the smell told him
everything.

"You'll kill him," Shippou said, his voice smaller than he'd intended.  

He wanted to yell, but knew better than to risk turning Inuyasha's focus entirely on him. "He's sick.  He's just a human.  Look.  He can barely stay awake.  And
he's poisoned.  You don't want a-"

A dangerous growl cut through his words and Shippou ducked his head, instinctively making himself a smaller target.

"He's mine," Inuyasha spat, his free hand curling so the fox could see the claws.  "Interfere and die."

Miroku hadn't really followed Shippou's quiet words, but that growl caught his attention, as did the curled, blood-stained claws.  

He turned his head to cast a dazed look behind him, seeking out the kit.  Shippou's tail and hair was bristled strangely, but his expression was one of fear
more than anything.  The little fox met his gaze and gave him a look full of helpless regret.  Then he turned and darted away, disappearing into the forest.  

Stunned, and more than a little dazed, Miroku stared after him.  

Had Shippou abandoned him?  

It just didn't make sense for the kit to give up so quickly, especially when Kagome was still in danger.  And that look he'd given him...

A growl brought his attention back around to the demon himself, and Miroku swallowed roughly. Those blood colored eyes were so near now that he couldn't
help but look at them.  And all he could think was that he'd never been this close to a grinning demon with teeth that sharp.

"Afraid?"

The voice was familiar, yet foreign at the same time.  Miroku just stared, more taken with the way that grin didn't falter as Inuyasha spoke.  He wasn't.  He was
in pain, exhausted, possibly in shock, but fear didn't really fit.

Something brushed his back and Miroku blinked, for the first time in what felt like minutes.  For a moment he thought it might have been Shippou, because his
mind refused to accept that the fox could have given up so easily.  Light scraping pain on the back of his neck and a tug on his hair told him otherwise.

The pain, having his head pulled back and feeling the hot claws against his neck.  It broke through his fogged thoughts better than any words could have.  
The wolf pack.  Inuyasha was acting just like they had.

Miroku shivered and was abruptly pulled closer, Inuyasha's face falling to press against his neck.  It might have been an embrace if not for the claws digging
into his hair.  Teeth graced over his neck, then moist heat.  Not biting...tasting.

"Inuyasha..."

His voice came out so soft he wasn't sure Inuyasha had heard it.  Then the demon lifted his head, the grip on his hair easing just enough so he could see
those red eyes.  Were they lighter now?  Or was his vision failing?

That evil grin was gone, replaced with a sly smile.  But the growling tone remained in his voice.  "Not afraid?"

"No," Miroku whispered. And he wasn't.  He was too tired to be afraid. "Inuyasha, I-"

...can't die like this.

He couldn't finish.  The sound of his voice, or maybe just the movement of his mouth as he spoke.  Inuyasha cut him off with a low growl and a kiss that,
despite the circumstances, made the blood rush to his cheeks.

And now he was afraid, afraid of choking, suffocating, of losing touch to the point where he barely made a sound when one of Inuyasha's claws pressed too
hard against his cheek.

His eyes closed of their own accord, and he concentrated on breathing as Inuyasha moved to lap that thin line of blood on his cheek.  He didn't see the way
those red eyes flashed at the taste, the pupils contracting suddenly.  He heard Inuyasha hissing something directly into his ear, but the words didn't register.  
By the time Inuyasha jerked back, an arm thrown up to protect them both from some overhead menace, he'd lost consciousness.

He would have felt validated if he'd stayed awake long enough to see what fell at them, who dropped it, and how instinctively Inuyasha caught it.  

- - -

Inuyasha had never been more torn than he was when he left that little shack, sending one last hateful look at the old woman who was taking his place.  

She hadn't asked a single question, not when she first kneeled beside Miroku in that clearing and saved his life, after he'd come so close to taking it away.  
Not when she'd followed him back to the shack, keeping five feet away because Shippou refused to walk any closer to him.  Not when he'd been barred from
entering the building by a shape-shifting fox, whose eyes Inuyasha couldn't meet.  She'd merely looked at him, with that insufferably knowing gaze.

He was torn because he had two obligations.  Kagome in danger, possibly dead because of him.  And what he'd done, possibly unexplained to Kaede.  

If she thought she could protect Miroku now, she was more of a fool than Inuyasha was.  He knew what he'd done, and to leave Miroku's side now went against
every instinct he had.  He'd cut him, marked him.  And if he hadn't tasted the poison in his blood, and been given the sword, he would have killed him.

He couldn't stand the thought of anything happening to Kagome, or that young brother of hers, but he was still half demon.  His blood demanded he stay by
the one he'd marked, to finish what he'd started, or to see to it no one else finished it for him.  That wasn't even considering his human half.

He was horrified by the damage he might have done in his demon state, guilt-stricken at the memory of Miroku struggling to breathe as they waited for the
antidote to kick in, sickened to know that he still wanted him, enamored with a memory of wide dark blue eyes and soft skin, numbed at having betrayed one of
the only people who'd ever cared about him, and terrified of what Shippou might say if Miroku woke before he returned.  

And then there was Kagome.  He knew she was all right.  How he knew, he couldn't say, but he knew.  She would be surprised to see him, but eventually she
would come back.  And once she knew, she would despise him.  She would never understand, or care, about demon ways.  She wanted to make him human.  
He couldn't expect her to understand.

The only hope he had was that they would pass his behavior off – just Inuyasha being insane because of that evil demon blood he had, just one more reason
to push him into acting fully human.  He didn’t like the idea, but it was better than the alternative.  It rode on how much Miroku remembered when he woke, and
what Shippou told Kagome once Inuyasha brought her back.

-Owari-


GW & YYH CROSSOVER SEQUEL:  Heart of Darkness


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