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InuYasha lounged under the shade of one of many trees lining the river near Kaede’s village. Miroku washed his family’s night robes with Gyokuto strapped to his back while Sango burped Kin’u. It’d been over a year since the well sealed. InuYasha still thought about the surprised look on Kagome’s face when he was pulled back, but he prefered to remember her safe in her mother’s arms. It was difficult to do. 

 

Kin’u burped and, within seconds, Sango had the newborn secured to her back again. When she kneeled by Miroku and told him she’d take over, InuYasha’s ear flicked. Despite catching their soft commentary more often, Sango’s tone was much gentler than the half-demon was used to hearing. Miroku made room for her effortlessly, choosing to help by trading clean pieces of laundry with dirty ones. 

 

This was how they all lived now, resting by the greenery and exchanging cloth instead of sutras and oversized boomerangs. He wondered if Kagome’s days were boring like his; she always seemed frantic when he came to pick her up. Maybe she didn’t have time to think about them anymore. It would be easier for her that way.

 

Miroku shifted, putting InuYasha in Gyokuto’s line of vision. The newborn extended her arm out to him, and he was fascinated by the way her fingers flexed. There was more space between them now than there was last month. InuYasha had never really been around human babies before and it felt weird to compare the lethargic emptiness Kagome left in her wake to the enthusiastic growth of infants. InuYasha offered Kin’u a passing glance. He wasn’t going to tell her mother that an icicle of drool would fall onto her back soon. 

 

The spring sun warmed people in its path and InuYasha’s legs didn’t understand the chill lingering on his torso because of it. Kin’u was gurgling now, gnawing on her fist. Miroku once told InuYasha how remarkable it was for him to tell the twins apart as quickly as he did, but the monk must’ve forgotten his nose. The girls looked the same, but their scents were unique. It was kind of like Kikyo and Kagome’s: similar but only on the first sniff.

 

The afternoons were getting longer again. 

 

InuYasha opened one eye at the exact moment Sango began shaking out a small, fibrous white towel with blue polka dots. As if possessed by a demon, InuYasha was there. Standing by the river, standing before Sango. The towel never broke the water’s surface.

 

“What’s that?” InuYasha asked, arms folded over his chest. Sango quickly pulled the towel to her heart. The polka dots contorted in the slayer’s grasp, and her brown eyes widened with the tiniest hint of fear. It was as if she believed InuYasha’s claw tipped fingers would swipe it from her forever. As if. He wasn’t a jerk. Sango glowered at him anyway, firm. She knew what it meant for him to see this, and she wouldn’t let it go just to ease his heartache when it would worsen hers.

 

The two never spoke about Kagome and he didn’t want that to change. He should have wanted it to, but he didn’t. It hardly made sense, but he’d been struggling to make sense of a lot over the past year. His throat closed up when he tried talking about Kagome. The words refused to leave him. 

 

InuYasha leaned forward, far from Sango but close enough to learn that this wasn’t the item’s first trip to the river. It still smelled like her. Bergamot and lilies and early summer mornings; half blue and half pink skies that fog never touched. “That’s Kagome’s.” 

 

Without meaning to, he committed the thing to memory which explained why he placed it so easily. Kagome asked if he wanted to use it after him and Miroku’s run-in with the moth demon, Gatenmaru. The blood of that bastard’s human lackeys sank into InuYasha’s skin long before his humanity rose to the surface. The towel couldn’t have helped him any, and if he tried hard enough, InuYasha’d probably still catch scent of their blood like phantoms on the wind. The half-demon reached, finally accepting the school girl’s gesture, but Sango turned away. “Where’d you get that?” He asked.

 

“From Kagome’s bag; it wasn’t the only one in there,” Sango replied, submerging it into the river and forcing more distance between them. InuYasha’s brow twitched, but he doubted the demon slayer cared. 

 

Brown eyes. Bergamot. Unwavering resilience. All of that flowed downstream now. He hated it. 

 

“We–”

 

“Keh, it’s none of my business,” InuYasha spat, spinning on his heel. The towel was still his business. His arm felt like it was shaking even though InuYasha could clearly see it wasn’t. The plush towel sat behind his closed eyelids, opposite ends fluttering against the side of Sango’s hands as she held it in place. The polka dots grew and shrunk in a rhythm set by the rushing water. A budding mental itch grew to push Sango onto the grass so he could pluck Kagome’s towel out and run far, far away with it. 

 

InuYasha swallowed hard, flicking an ear casually. Kin’u was there and he’d never shove Sango. If he grit his teeth, InuYasha could do it. He could continue letting the demon slayer turn what little he had left of Kagome into meaningless things to keep. 

 

“With the birth of the twins, we felt it was necessary,” Miroku confessed as InuYasha continued walking away. If he stayed, he’d make an ass of himself. 

 

There were others who loved and needed Kagome even though InuYasha was meant to be with her. He knew this, but gods, the cost of it. He thought he paid it in full by hardly fighting the Bone Eater’s Well, but now there were others who missed her too. Listening to Sango ring out the towel, InuYasha knew he was still paying his price. She wouldn’t miss Kagome’s scent like him, but knowing that another part of Kagome was leaving curdled his thoughts, ate at the same damn spot on his chest. 

 

“Whatever.” 

 

InuYasha heard Kagome calling out his name as he settled back against the trunk of a tree further from his initial spot. Like Miroku and Sango gave a shit. The sound of his name–the sound of her saying his name–lingered. Nostalgic.

 

The slayer handed her washed towel to Miroku, prompting an unwarranted pensive glance to be aimed in his direction. “Keh,” InuYasha huffed, turning his nose away from the monk. He turned it back in time to watch Miroku offer the towel a tender stare. Deep violet eyes looked as if stroking the fabric was a gesture that could be felt across time. If he hadn’t done the same sort of things, InuYasha would have scoffed. 

 

Miroku placed the towel in the straw basket with everything else.

 

One leg breached past the leaves’ shade and a pair of amber eyes seemed to glow, overseeing a family that perpetuated the same cycle: Hand the husband something clean, one baby coos, put it in the basket, give the wife something dirty, the other baby coos, scrub. 

 

InuYasha cupped his hands together before placing them behind his head. He closed his eyes once more, resting, picturing her running across the plush grass. Kagome waved to him and her hand practically skimmed the clouds. Her shoes never crunched down onto the ground like their friends’ straw sandals did. She was a familiar combination of green and white and black with a dash of red. She had a warmth that pierced through the arrow Kikyo used to seal him, every punch Sesshomaru landed, his own demonic blood, and now the loss of her. 

 

An incessant jangling sprinkled like rain in his mind, wiping away at the sunlight and clouds that Kagome always reached. InuYasha blinked a few times, adjusting to this world with only Miroku, Sango, and the twins. “‘Bout time you finished,” he grumbled, standing fully in the shade.

 

“You know, an extra set of hands would be helpful next time,” Miroku suggested with a predictable waggle of his brows. InuYasha felt his own brows being dragged down; Kagome should’ve let the monk steal her iron cart and cycle away from them permanently back when they first met. 

 

“No thanks.”

 

The days really were getting longer. The sun hadn’t budged, poised exactly where he last saw it. Sango snickered and InuYasha brushed past her, grabbing the basket of wet laundry and stomping from the grassy knoll to the main path. A stupid decision, really. The slayer’s eyes could have burnt holes through him if she’d been the right kind of demon. Even though she was a human, this type of stare would–

 

“Hey, InuYasha,” Sango began, and the half-demon let out an exasperated sigh. He fixed his focus to the huts ahead. Dark wood and reed mats and crackling fires. 

 

“What?” Occasionally, a fractured piece of rock got stuck to the balls of his feet, and InuYasha was half tempted to kick one up to chuck at the trees.

 

“You can talk to us. You know that, right?”

 

“Keh.” And there it was, the block in his throat. How could he speak about Kagome like this? There wasn’t any room for the words.

 

“Is that all you have to say?” Sango snarled as the half-demon continued standing quietly, his expression unchanged. “Ever since the well reappeared, you’ve been acting like Kagome was never here! Don’t you miss her? Isn’t there any–”

 

“You don’t know a damn thing,” InuYasha ground out, closing the distance between them before the slayer could even finish. He stared down at her, but Sango met his glare relentlessly. She was the one who took Kagome’s towel without a second thought, Sango went through the bag Kagome packed right before their last battle together, and she was the person responsible for carelessly washing away the bergamot and lilies. “Kagome is safe and that’s it,” he finished and he meant it. 

 

Sango grimaced, stomping her foot. InuYasha caught Kin’u watching them, thin brows scrunching just like her mother’s. “Oh, InuYasha, you’re absolutely insufferable!”

 

InuYasha placed a hand to his hip, yearning to step on a pebble. He scowled at Sango and gave the basket an extra sniff to remind himself how the scent of Kagome barely wrapped around Miroku and Sango’s. His body felt like a chattering leaf. “Did you expect me to cry or something?”

 

Sango sighed, walking past him and taking back her laundry. “No,” she mumbled, walking ahead of him.

 

Miroku stopped, clapping a hand to the half-demon’s shoulders. “Try not get too mad, she means well.”

 

“I know that,” InuYasha huffed, allowing the monk to step ahead. He watched the family, arms crossed over his chest, before picking up the rear. The five continued, a squeamish silence settling over them that left the twins lightly whimpering every now and again.

 

In a stroke of luck, InuYasha stepped on a rock. Kicking it up to his hands, he contemplated where to throw it. He tossed it in the air a few times. The silver ears atop his head swiveled, and a large grin spread across his features as he honed in on the unmistakable scent of a rabbit in the bushes. Wouldn’t hurt to spook the thing, InuYasha thought to himself, eyes on the forest. Just as he reeled his hand back, he lowered it, turning sharply to face Sango. She was pilfering through the laundry basket like a deranged woman. Ah, she finally snapped , InuYasha noted. “Isn’t there something of Kagome’s that you hold onto too!?” the slayer nearly screamed, thrusting that white and blue dotted piece of cloth like a trophy above her head.

 

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” the half-demon retorted, tucking the rock in his robe. His hand glided past a smooth surface, something foreign to his clothes but close to him nonetheless. His fingers grasped at its binding. Miroku chuckled, much to InuYasha and Sango’s dismay. “What’s so funny, Bozo?”

 

“It’s just that there is a piece of Lady Kagome that you could never be rid of.” The half-demon squinted, his steeped ire pacified but not peacefully. Miroku inhaled theatrically, placing one hand on his hip and pointing his shakujo in an accusatory manner. InuYasha stepped back, eyes widening. Miroku leaned forward, revealing Gyokuto’s black hair from over his shoulder. “InuYasha, sit!”

 

“Ah!” InuYasha was instantly squashing his ears at the command, waiting to be slammed into the dirt. He never fell. A shiver sprinted up and down his spine all while Miroku laughed hysterically at his expense. The monk was doubled over, hands holding tightly to his dumb knees. “You bastard!” InuYasha roared, his fist already in the perfect position to whack some sense into that cheap excuse of a holy man. But then two big, brown eyes and cheeks that were way too round filled his vision and InuYasha stopped. Stupid monk with his stupid children and his stupid wife.  

 

InuYasha was grumbling, sounds not forming words; thoughts running into dead ends. And then those thoughts were drowned out, consumed by the sound of his pulse, and InuYasha decided to share it. “I keep this!” He closed his eyes and held out a yellow book that read High School Mathematics: Quick Solutions to All Problems

 

“Oh, so you did steal something of Lady Kagome’s,” Miroku responded, walking up to inspect the item.

 

“Uh, yeah. Wait, I didn’t steal it from her bag, I borrowed it from her house way before we met you lot.”

 

“Is that one of her school things?” Sango inquired, already mere centimeters from InuYasha. He didn’t remember her being that fast. 

 

InuYasha shrugged. “Dunno, Myoga thought it had spells in it.”

 

“And you never gave it back?” Miroku asked, a whimsical smirk settling into place. InuYasha wanted to gag. “That would make it a stolen good.”

 

“Oh yeah, and what’s it to you?”

 

Miroku took the book from InuYasha, flipping through its pages. Some of them turned in chunks, demon guts and rainy weather having seeped through his robe at some point or another. “It’s weathered; surely Lady Kagome wouldn’t treat her belongings this way.” 

 

“Hey, give that back!” InuYasha objected, attempting to swipe it. Miroku swerved, continuing to review the material like he knew exactly how it read. “I just forgot about it is all.” He was lying.

 

“I hope it wasn’t important. You know how upset Kagome gets about school,” Sango commented, her shoulders bouncing Kin’u lightly.

 

“She never said nothing to me about it,” InuYasha brushed off with a shrug, an odd pining for Kagome’s shrill nagging manifesting itself as plain as day. Miroku showed the book to Gyokuto, and she lifted a chubby arm out, her moist palm slamming onto one of the pages. “H-hey! Don’t let your kid touch that, it’s mine!”

 

Miroku ignored InuYasha completely, a warm expression gracing his features as he let his daughter continue her smacking. “Gyokuto, one day Papa will teach you how to read and maybe you’ll understand this.” 

 

“Good luck, even I can’t make heads or tails of it,” InuYasha said, reaching out and successfully getting it back. The abrupt motion must have surprised Gyokuto because she began crying, and it didn’t take long for Kin’u to join in, and InuYasha let out another groan. This was all too much. 

 

“Aw, I’m sorry, girls. Did the big dog startle you?”

 

“Whatever, let’s go,” InuYasha grunted, stomping ahead of the family once more.

 

The red of his robe leaked through to his vision and singed his cheeks. This conversation should never have happened; he shouldn’t have acknowledged that towel and he shouldn’t have gotten so worked up over the sit. 

 

“InuYasha, slow down!” He ignored the request, feeling as if steam shot from his nostrils. He had half a mind to make a break for it, already far past his limit. “Come on,” Miroku all but pleaded.

 

“What!? What is it that you want now?” The half-demon barked, shoving Kagome’s book back into his robes.

 

InuYasha couldn’t explain why he’d waited for the two. Miroku’s expression was squared into a place that InuYasha wanted to keep his distance from. It looked like he was about to spout shit straight from the Buddha. “My friend, please understand.”

 

“Understand what, exactly?”

 

Piercing deep indigo clashed against flurrying amber. 

 

“That we inhale and must consequently exhale, never experiencing the same breath twice. This is also true for those we meet on our path to enlightenment. They too must leave without returning, but the life they’ve given us can be appreciated long after we’ve breathed anew.” A single bushy brow rose at the analogy. Miroku cleared his throat, continuing, “Lady Kagome may be in her world, but she has managed to keep a part of herself here nonetheless. Through towels or books, my friend, she is with us and we should value that.”  He patted InuYasha, right where Kagome’s book lay underneath layers of fire rat.