Disclaimer: I don't own, didn't create, but I sure do love it.

Author's Note: Thanks very much for all of the reviews. Between and I've received over 65 reviews. Unfortunately, I've just about caught up to myself, so I have to buckle down and finish some more chapters. I have them plotted out for some time to come, all I need to do is finish writing them! I intend to update at least once a week, but I seem to write in a 'binge and purge' fashion…I will write 5 or 6 chapters and then go back and re-read them and edit them.

Chapter 17

As Kirara circled around Mushin's temple, Inuyasha leaped down from the trees at the edge of the temple grounds. He loped toward the temple, stopping to let Kagome down only when he reached the round crater created when Miroku's father had been sucked into the Kazaana in his hand. Stretching the kinks out of her muscles, she walked toward the temple with Inuyasha and watched Kirara and the others land right in front.

As they joined up, Mushin, Miroku's foster-father walked out of the temple and shouted out to Miroku. "Ha ha, it's been a while, you young rascal. What brings you here at last?"

Miroku smiled at him and replied, "We want to ask you to do us a favor."

"A favor, is it? Did you injure your Kazaana again?" He asked as he walked up and hugged Miroku.

"No, nothing like that. Instead, if you could invite us in, we'll feed you some dinner and discuss it then." As he finished speaking, Mushin nodded and gestured for them to follow him inside. He led them into a covered walkway and around a small courtyard until he opened a shoji that led to a dining room.

Inside a young boy, perhaps eight years old, was sweeping the floor, but he jumped and looked up as they entered. "Master Mushin! What can I do for you? I'm not yet finished here, but I…Oh, I'm sorry I didn't notice your guests. Let me fetch tea." The boy dropped his broom and bowed nervously before running out of the room.

Mushin shook his head and said, "Sato is my new novice, and gets very nervous around strangers. Please forgive him, and take your seats."

They placed their packs down against the wall, though Sango brought the baskets with food to the table when she sat down. As they all sat down, the young boy returned with another boy, who appeared to be a year or two older, bringing a large pot of tea and a tray of cups.

"Ah, excellent. Please set them down here, then find Kito and have him assign you new chores until dinner." As they bowed, he waved his hand in dismissal, before turning back to his guests. "Well, Miroku, I believe you mentioned dinner? Why don't we eat and you tell me what you need, eh?"

Sango hid a smile as she opened the first basket and began passing out pastries filled with fish and vegetables, while Miroku began filling cups with tea and passing them around the table. Kagome pulled one of the other baskets in front of herself and opened it to see what she could pass out, choosing to add cheese to the menu instead of more bread, she removed two small wheels of cheese and started to put the basket aside when she noticed a small embroidered pouch in basket. Removing it, she raised her eyebrows when she noticed how heavy it was. Opening it up, she whistled at the contents.

"Wheeee! Inuyasha, I think that something fell into this basket by mistake. Take a look." She handed the pouch to him and watched his expression as he looked at collection of gold and silver coins.

"What the hell is this? I didn't ask for any money! Grrrrr." He frowned at the sight of the money. He didn't even notice as the growl slid out.

Sango looked over at Kagome and Inuyasha and looked again into the basket she had opened. After a quick look, she found a similar pouch, also filled with gold and silver coins. Closing it back up, she tossed it to Kagome, before searching for and finding a third pouch in the last basket. When she tossed that to Kagome as well, Kagome sighed and said, "I don't think this was a mistake. It's intentional." She looked at Inuyasha and said, "I bet they had posted a reward or something, and rather than argue about it, just slipped it into the food baskets."

Miroku asked, "Lady Kagome, may I see…?" He held his hand out to her and she tossed one of the pouches to him. He opened it up and poured the contents out on to the table top. "Hmm, if the others hold as much as this one, I'm impressed. It's a very decent reward. Nothing compared to what we returned to them, but still a decent reward."

Miroku returned the coins to the pouch, and then looked at Inuyasha. "I think that we could put this reward to good use right here, Inuyasha. Already, the headman and his friends have agreed to look for rumors and signs for us, and send the information here and to Kaede's village, and…" he looked at his foster father very seriously, "if you would help us, it would be a great favor."

"A favor, my son? And what favor could I do for you?" The old monk asked curiously.

"You know that we are searching for Naraku, but we are also seeking the shards of the Shikon no Tama. Unfortunately, Naraku has acquired most of the Jewel, so it is a race to find the remaining shards." Miroku sighed and went on, "If you could ask any of your many friends to look and listen for any signs of the shards or Naraku, and then pass the information on to us, it could greatly aid our task."

"I see. And you have others also searching for you? And they will be sending any reports here, correct?" The old monk chuckled, "Well, I will write to as many abbots as I know, asking for their help. Although," he grinned at Inuyasha, "I don't think I'll tell them that an Inuhanyou will be using their information."

At this, the room filled with laughter and chuckles, and even Inuyasha snorted and tried to hide a smile. As the laughter died down, Miroku slid the pouch he held across the table to Mushin's seat. "Here, use this to pay for couriers if you need to. If it runs out, let us know and we'll try to get you some more."

Mushin tossed the pouch lightly in his hand, then said, "This will do quite nicely. Most monasteries have novices who are well used to acting as couriers. Some of them even have horses and trained riders. In addition, there are a number of wandering monks who stop here for the night, I'll speak to them as well, and have them pass the word to others on the road."

With that the discussion shifted to recounting their recent adventures, descriptions of the types of rumors that might be most useful, and their intentions for the next few days. Finally, after consuming much of the contents of the baskets, they called a halt to the meeting and retired to their quarters for the night.

Although they were offered individual rooms, they declined and chose instead a larger room that they could all sleep in together. Planning for an early start, they quickly fell asleep.

Rising at dawn, Miroku and Shippo raided the monastery's kitchen for some fresh baked bread and fruit, before waking the others for breakfast.

"Hey, Kagome, wake up! It's time to eat." Shippo said as he sat on his mother's stomach.

"Huh? What time is it?" She opened her eyes and looked at Shippo's cheerful face. Turning her head, she looked at the window on the wall, then groaned as she realized how early it was. "Alright, I'm up already." Lifting Shippo off of her tummy, she sat up and rubbed her eyes before standing up. As she rolled up her sleeping bag, she gave Miroku a dirty look as he went around waking everyone up, being sure to be extra cheerful and loud.

It was only as she accepted a small loaf of bread and some plums from Shippo that she realized that Inuyasha wasn't in the room. Searching for him with her inner sense, she found him above her, and about 20 yards away.

Pursing her lips, she whistled sharply and then called out "Hey, get down here and eat some breakfast, before we throw it away!"

Sango gave her a questioning look, to which Kagome replied "Inuyasha's on the roof, and I don't want him to miss breakfast."

"On the roof? How do you know that he is on the roof, Kagome?" Sango asked curiously.

"Well, for one thing, he likes to be up high when the sun comes up, and for another, I can feel him about 20 yards away. Oh good, he's coming," Kagome said to her friend. Even as she spoke, Inuyasha slipped through the open window and landed on his feet next to where Miroku was repacking his small pack.

"Here you go, have some breakfast," Kagome said as she handed the hanyou some fruit.

"Feh" Inuyasha said as he accepted the fruit.

Kagome just smiled and handed him a half loaf of bread before returning to pack up.

Within only a few minutes, everyone had finished eating and was ready to leave. As they left the monastery gates Miroku exchanged a few last words with his foster-father in private before joining up with them.

As Kirara had carried them quite a bit over the last few days, it was decided that they would walk for the next day or two. Shippo spent much of the morning scouting ahead and running back every few minutes to report on what he had found ahead. The main advantage of this was that Shippo wasn't trying to get on Inuyasha's nerves, although his repeated interruptions did become annoying. However, by midday, he had worn himself out enough that Kagome picked him up and started carrying him. As soon as she did, he fell asleep in her arms.

"Peace and quiet at last," Miroku said to Sango.

She smiled at his jest, but kept looking at the surrounding trees, looking for any signs of danger. In spite of her vigilance, she was still taken by surprise when the attack came.

The first sign of the attack was a ball of fire that hit Inuyasha square in the chest. The red-orange ball of fire engulfed his torso and streamers of flame shot away from the point of impact. Because she was carrying Shippo, Kagome had fallen a few steps behind him, which shielded her from the direct blast of flame.

"Arrrggh!" Inuyasha bellowed in surprise. Pulling Tetsusaiga, he blocked the next two attacks, deflecting the fireballs into the surrounding forest. Appearing before them were two youkai floating in midair, wreathed in flames.

"Die you filthy half-breed!" one of them said as he continued to send fireballs at Inuyasha. The other one flew off to one side, but before he could attack, Sango hurled Hiraikotsu at him, forcing him to dodge out of the way. On its return, Hiraikotsu clipped the first youkai hard enough to knock him to the ground before returning to Sango's hand.

Inuyasha leapt forward, but before he reached his target, the air was filled with the sound of Kagome's voice crying out the word "SIT" from dozens of locations.

WHAMM! Inuyasha was slammed to the ground, Tetsusaiga flying out of his hand as the magic of the prayer necklace activated again and again, each time driving him further into the ground.

"NOOOOO!" Kagome screamed as she saw her friend hammered down helplessly. Dropping Shippo, she ran towards Inuyasha, seeing for the first time a small flock of birds, each the size of a large hawk, each and every one of them continually crying out the word SIT, over and over again, all in her voice.

As she ran, she drew her bow from over her shoulder, notched an arrow and fired it at one of the birds. When it hit, the bird simply exploded, knocking several of the other birds to the ground where they lay stunned or dead. As she approached Inuyasha's prone body, she was attacked by dozens of the birds, each trying to prevent her from reaching him. They hammered at her with their wings and tried to grab her with their talons, but she used her bow like a baseball bat and swung it around, driving the birds back, though only for a moment.

Reaching his side, Kagome dropped to her knees and grabbed the beaded necklace and tore it from around Inuyasha's neck. Unfortunately, doing so left her open to the birds' attack, and they wasted no time taking advantage of it. Even as she broke the necklace, the first of the birds struck her from behind, driving her down on top of Inuyasha and tearing her open with its beak and talons. Before Miroku could come to her aid and drive them off of her, she had been attacked by so many of the vicious birds that her body was completely covered by them. Using his staff, Miroku drove off or killed all of the birds that had attacked Kagome, but not before they had injured the young miko very badly.

As she lay on top of Inuyasha, unconscious from her injuries, Kagome's blood spilled down over the stunned hanyou. Inuyasha lay there, trying to recover from the multitude of unexpected SIT's, when he felt something soft and warm flowing over his face and neck. Struggling to rise, he inhaled the scent of fresh spilled blood and realized to his horror that it was Kagome's. As he pushed himself up, fighting the last remnants of the spell, he instinctively tasted the blood that covered his lips and froze at the knowledge that the blood flowing so freely over his body was hers. Kagome's.

Miroku stepped over the bodies of his friends and faced the fire demon on the ground. Unwrapping the prayer beads from around his right hand, he cried "Kazaana!" The youkai facing him gasped in fear as the winds began to draw him closer and closer to his doom.

"NOOO! This cannot be!" he screamed, casting fireballs as rapidly as he could at the monk. No matter where they were aimed, each of the fireballs was simply sucked into the void in the palm of Miroku's hand, leaving the youkai to be slowly dragged forward. Just when it looked like all was lost, a large object smashed to the ground in front of Miroku, releasing…

"Saimyoshou!" Sealing his Kazaana, Miroku used his staff to press his attack against the fire youkai while searching for the one he knew had to be present. "Sango, watch out for Naraku! I can feel his aura somewhere nearby," he called out even as he parried fireballs and struck the youkai with his staff.

Behind him, Shippo crouched next to Kagome and Inuyasha, using his foxfire to drive the birds back away from his friends. "Inuyasha, are you okay? Can you get up yet, we need you! Please, get up, Inuyasha!" As he spoke, Inuyasha began growling, louder and louder, until he raised his eyes and Shippo saw them…pure red, with blue pupils. 'Noooo! He's transformed again! He must have dropped Tetsusaiga.' "I-Inuyasha?" Shippo asked in a frightened voice, "Are you okay?"

The full youkai Inuyasha looked at Shippo, then down at Kagome and his growls became a scream of rage as he leaped over Miroku's head and landed on the fire youkai, claws slashing and tearing. In a matter of seconds the youkai was dismembered and Inuyasha was looking for his next…prey.

Sango was fully occupied with the second youkai. She had been forced back on the defensive, using Hiraikotsu to block and deflect the fireballs that the flying youkai sent at her so rapidly. Kirara tried to attack the fire youkai, but he was too agile, and avoided her attacks easily, while keeping the pressure on the taijiya down on the ground. Unfortunately for him, all of his agility and speed meant nothing to the bolt of red and silver that smashed into him from below. By the time they hit the ground, the fire youkai had been decapitated and disemboweled.

"How nice. Poor Inuyasha, now only a mindless killing beast, unable to tell friend from foe. Perhaps I should simply depart and let him…play for a while. Heh, heh, heh." Naraku, even covered with his baboon cloak, was unmistakable. His form suddenly spewed out the poisonous miasma, covering his escape…or so he thought.

Inuyasha sped through the miasma as if it wasn't even there, reaching Naraku in seconds and shredding the baboon cloak and the flesh hidden beneath it as if it were no more than paper. As he slashed and ripped at Naraku, the miasma roiled and pulsed as if it were alive, until it suddenly dissipated; leaving Inuyasha crouched over the tattered remains of a baboon fur cloak and a small wooden doll, wrapped with a strand of black hair.

Both Miroku and Sango watched, frozen in shock at the speed with which Inuyasha had slaughtered his foes, and waited to see what he would do next. Miroku readied several binding ofuda, hoping that if he had to use them, they would be strong enough to hold him in his full youkai form. Sango held Hiraikotsu on her shoulder, ready to fight if necessary, even as she prayed that Inuyasha would calm down and revert on his own.

While Inuyasha had been taking care of their attackers, Shippo had driven off the birds that had been attacking Kagome and begun to cover her wounds with some of the bandages from her first aid kit. He was so focused on his efforts to treat his 'mothers' injuries that he didn't notice Inuyasha until he was picked up by his tail and held up in front of the hanyou's, no the youkai's eyes.

"Eeeep!" Shippo squeaked as he stared into Inuyasha's scarlet orbs. Inuyasha pulled Shippo close and sniffed at him several times, then dropped him to the ground. Shippo landed on his feet and stared up at Inuyasha in shock as the once-hanyou, now full-youkai, sat down next to Kagome and gently pulled her into his lap.

To everyone's amazement, Inuyasha seemed to be completely calm, as he ignored everything except Kagome. He closely examined her injuries, and then began carefully and thoroughly cleaning them with his tongue. As he gently laved her wounds, his saliva stopped the bleeding and removed any trace of poison or infection. He started with the worst injuries, the ones on her back, and as he finished with those, he removed her shredded clothing to treat the other, lesser wounds. Once finished with her back, he went on to treat the cuts on her face and neck, as well as those on her arms and legs. While he was taking care of Kagome, Shippo crept up along side of Inuyasha and whimpered softly as he saw the full extent of her injuries.

"K-Kagome? Please be okay, please," the little kitsune whispered, "I'll be good, I promise, just be okay!" As he spoke, tears ran down his cheeks and dripped onto his vest. As the scent of his tears reached Inuyasha, he stopped and looked down at Shippo with a frown.

"Grrr, hrrrf arrrhff" was what Inuyasha said, or rather barked at the little boy. Shippo flinched and whined softly, then rubbed his head against Kagome's leg while Inuyasha went back to treating her wounds.

Miroku and Sango exchanged shocked looks at what could only be Inuyasha, the mindless full-youkai Inuyasha, treating Shippo! kindly; well at least relatively so.

"Houshi-sama, should we try to give Tetsusaiga to Inuyasha now, or wait for him to revert on his own?" Sango asked as she watched Inuyasha caring for Kagome.

"Hmm, I'm not sure. Let's wait for now and see what happens. Perhaps he'll revert or maybe Shippo can give Tetsusaiga to him, Inuyasha seems to not consider him a threat, so maybe he can bring him back." Miroku said thoughtfully.

Sango nodded and went over to Kagome's backpack and pulled out her sleeping bag and some clean clothing for whenever Inuyasha was willing to release Kagome. She handed the sleeping bag to Miroku and said, "Would you please set this up under that tree please? It's well sheltered and it looks like the type of tree that Inuyasha would like to sleep in."

"Of course, Lady Sango, that's an excellent idea," he replied as he took the sleeping bag and walked towards the tree. As he neared Inuyasha and Kagome, Inuyasha looked up at him and snarled loudly. Miroku paused, then carefully stepped back away from his friends, and then continued to the tree taking a wide detour around them. After laying out the sleeping bag, he walked back to Sango's side, again taking a wide detour around Kagome and Inuyasha.

"What was that all about, I wonder?" Miroku asked Sango. "He doesn't seem to mind Shippo being close, does he?"

"I'm not sure, but I think that he may be considering you a rival male, while Shippo is only a child and therefore not a threat." She paused, then raised her voice and said "Shippo, could you come over here for a moment, please?"

Shippo looked over at Sango, then whined at Inuyasha who just grunted back at him, then he got up and trotted over to sit next to Sango and Miroku. "What's wrong, Sango?"

"Well, we're a bit curious about Inuyasha's behavior. He seems to be in complete control of himself, but well, he's acting very odd." She looked over at her friends for a moment, before going on. "Why is he licking her wounds? And why in the world is he letting you near her? He's usually, well, jealous of Kagome's paying any attention to you, and here he is, in full youkai transformation…and he's almost calm. Do you know what's going on?"

Shippo sighed and looked over at where Inuyasha was holding Kagome. "He's licking her injuries because doing that will help them heal faster. As for why he let's me be close, why shouldn't he? She's my mother and I'm just a pup, he told me I could stay close as long as I didn't get in the way…"

"Wait a minute," interrupted Miroku. "He told you this? When? I didn't think he could talk anymore when he's transformed."

Shippo looked back to Miroku and said, "Just now, when I tried to see how Kagome was doing. I don't know if he can't speak or just chooses not to, but he spoke using the instinctive youkai mode."

"Youkai mode? What's that," asked Sango?

Shippo took a step towards Inuyasha and Kagome, but answered anyways, "I'm kitsune, and I was born knowing how to speak and understand that way. I guess you could say I can speak 'kitsune' but it's really close to 'inu' and 'ookami', so I can understand them, too." He looked back and went on, "He told me to be careful and not hurt her, but that I could stay with her while he helped her. Look, I want to go back to Okaa-san, can the rest of these questions wait until later?"

Sango nodded to him, but said, "Just explain why he's licking her wounds, and then you can go."

Shippo started to answer, but Myoga interrupted and said, "Shippo, go back to your mother, I'll answer the rest of their questions"

"Thanks!" Shippo said as he ran back to Kagome's side.

"Well, Myoga? Explain." Miroku said, "And when did you get back?" Sango elbowed Miroku sharply at his question, and shook her head at him.

Myoga cleared his throat and said, "Lord Inuyasha is treating Lady Kagome's wounds in this manner because," he looked over at Inuyasha, who had finished with all of Kagome's wounds and was now covering her in his haori, "Inu youkai have the ability to heal wounds with their saliva. It prevents or cures almost any infection that the wound might develop and passes on, at least partially, that youkai's healing ability. Lord Inuyasha's healing ability is exceptional, probably the strongest and fastest that I've ever seen, and he is sharing that ability with Lady Kagome."

"I see," said the monk. "I'm surprised that Inuyasha never mentioned this before, there have been times when that could have been useful."

Myoga shook his little head. "I do not believe that Lord Inuyasha ever knew about this. While transformed, he is operating primarily from instinct, not intellect, and his instincts are no doubt telling him how to care for Lady Kagome."

Sango nodded her understanding and asked, "So, now that he's done with that, should we try to get Tetsusaiga back to him, or wait and see if he reverts on his own?"

"I don't know if he'll revert without Tetsusaiga, which is what the sword does, seal his youkai blood so that he doesn't transform. I think it would be best if you returned his sword to him, Lady Sango. Lord Miroku would undoubtedly be seen as a rival male if he tried to approach with Tetsusaiga, and Lord Inuyasha would attack."

Miroku sighed and said, "In that case, Lady Sango if you wouldn't mind? Please return Tetsusaiga to its master."

Sango stood up and walked over to where Tetsusaiga was laying on the ground and picked it up. When she turned to bring it to Inuyasha, she saw that he was watching her even as he continued to hold Kagome close to him. Taking a deep breath, she reversed the sword and walked towards her friend, holding the hilt out to him.

Inuyasha looked at the sword, than turned his scarlet eyes up to hers for a minute, before finally reaching up to take the hilt firmly in his hand. As soon as he was holding Tetsusaiga, the scarlet bled out of his eyes, his fangs and claws retracted, and the stripes on his cheeks faded away. He looked down at the girl in his arms and said "Oh, damn! What happened? Did I transform again!" He looked around at the obvious signs of battle, with dismembered demons and dead birds scattered all over the forest floor. Looking back up at Sango, he asked "Is everyone okay? I mean, except for Kagome." As he spoke he was gently stroking her hair and looking at her injuries and frowning as he saw the extent and severity of them.

Sango shook her head and knelt down next to him. "No, the rest of us seem to have come through this attack relatively unscathed. Only Lady Kagome suffered any significant injuries, and you seem to have at least stopped the bleeding of those."

"I have? How did I do that?" he asked, again checking out Kagome's injuries.

Myoga hopped up on to Inuyasha's shoulder and spoke up, "Lord Inuyasha, you used the natural ability of all Inu Youkai to share their healing powers, this stopped Lady Kagome's bleeding and will help the wounds to heal quickly."

"I shared my healing powers? How did I…?" Shaking his head, he went on, "Never mind. How quickly will they heal, Myoga?" he asked the little flea. "She'll be okay, right?"

"My lord, I simply do not know. She should heal faster than a normal human, but these wounds were inflicted by demonic birds of a type that I have never seen before. They may have some poison or toxin that will slow down the healing. In any event, her injuries will still need to be bandaged properly, and she should get as much rest as she can."

Miroku came up to where Inuyasha sat holding Kagome in his lap, "Inuyasha, I have Lady Kagome's first aid kit, allow me to bandage her wounds so that she can get some rest."

Inuyasha's lips curled back into a silent snarl as he looked at the monk. "I don't think so, bouzo. Give me the kit, I'll do it myself."

Miroku sighed and said, "I'm so misunderstood; I only wish to help Lady Kagome in her time of need, just as any follower of Buddha…"

"GRRRR!"

"Houshi-sama, please give me the first aid kit. I will aid Inuyasha with Kagome's wounds. Why don't you have Shippo help you fix some food. I think we could all use something to eat." Sango spoke up, hoping to distract Inuyasha from Miroku's 'offer' of aid.

Miroku sighed again, but handed over the first aid kit and went over to Kagome's backpack and started pulling out food to make a quick lunch. Shippo stayed next to Kagome until Inuyasha barked at him softly, at which he jumped and ran over to help Miroku.

Inuyasha and Sango quickly covered her many injuries with the contents of her first aid kit, glad that Kagome was still unaware of everything that was going on. Sango was careful to protect Kagome's modesty as much as was possible; although Inuyasha made it quite easy by continuing to hold her from behind while Sango wrapped the bandages around her torso, arms and legs. As she covered the slashes on Kagome's face, she hid a wince of sympathy as she thought about the scarring that was almost certain to mar her smooth skin.

Once all of her injuries had been covered, Inuyasha carefully stood up and carried Kagome over to where her sleeping bag was spread out on the ground. Very gently, he laid her down and covered her up before sitting down next to her. While Miroku and Shippo served a simple cold lunch of bread and smoked sausages, Inuyasha sat and watched Kagome while gently stroking her hair. Looking up at Sango, he asked, "Can you tell me what happened? While I was…you know, transformed?"

Sango nodded and explained how the birds were all calling out 'SIT' in what sounded just like Kagome's voice, while the two fire youkai attacked. She hesitated a moment before she told him about Naraku's puppet, but she filled him in on all the details, answering his questions as fully as she could. While she was talking, Inuyasha ate the food he was handed, without paying any attention to what he was putting in his mouth. When she had finished with her explanations, Inuyasha nodded to her and said, "Alright, I think we should all get back to Kaede's as fast as possible. I'll take Kagome, while you follow with everyone else on Kirara; don't try to keep up with me, just get back as soon as you can without exhausting her."

Sango looked down at Kagome's still form for a moment before replying. "If you're sure you can carry her gently enough, then fine. We'll follow on Kirara when everyone is done eating."

Inuyasha nodded and carefully zipped Kagome's sleeping bag up around her sleeping body, then picked her up in his arms. He looked around at his friends and said, "I'll see you all at Kaede's. Take care." With that he began running slowing through the forest, picking up speed carefully and be sure to keep Kagome as still as possible. Within a few minutes, he leapt into the treetops and picked up speed until he was only a red blur streaking across the roof of the forest.

A few minutes after Inuyasha had left with Kagome, the rest of the pack was on the way, traveling at Kirara's best speed to meet up at Kaede's village.

Shortly before sunset, Inuyasha reached the outskirts of Kaede's village. Dropping out of the trees, he slowed to a brisk walk as he headed for Kaede's hut.

As he walked through the village, many of the inhabitants stopped and watched the hanyou carry the young miko in his arms, gasping as they saw the bandages covering every visible part of her.

"Where's Kaede?" he demanded of one of the village elders who had stopped to watch the hanyou's progress.

"She…she went to gather some herbs in the forest." He looked at the sun for a moment and said, "She should be back by now, or at least on her way."

"Alright, I'm taking Kagome to her hut. If she's not back yet, send some people out to fetch her. Kagome's got some bad injuries and I want Kaede to take a look at her." Saying that, Inuyasha walked away towards Kaede's hut.

The old man shook his head and called three of the younger men over to send them out looking for the high priestess. Once they had left to search for Kaede, he went to the find the village headman to inform him of what had happened.

Fortunately for Inuyasha's temper, Kaede was just returning with a large basket of fresh herbs when Inuyasha burst into her hut bearing Kagome's limp body.

"Baba! Kagome's hurt bad, give me a hand here!" As he spoke, he was gently laying Kagome down in the spot she normally slept.

Kaede set her basket down and knelt down next to Kagome. "What happened to her, Inuyasha? What could have caused her such injuries?" As she was speaking to him, she was gently opening the sleeping bag and assessing the girl's injuries. Without a word, Inuyasha lifted Kagome up so that Kaede could inspect the injuries on her back.

"This is not good. None of these are life threatening, but there are so many of them." Shaking her head, Kaede gestured for Inuyasha to lay Kagome on her stomach, and when she was settled she began to remove the bandages completely.

"What are you doing?" he hissed, trying not to raise his voice enough to wake Kagome, but obviously very worried. "The bleeding's stopped…"

"Inuyasha. Some of these are too deep to be left merely bandaged. I must stitch them closed, and then cover them with a healing poultice. If I do not, she will certainly scar, and may be lamed for life. The muscles are torn and separated; they must be straightened and reconnected, lest they heal improperly." As she spoke, she rose and fetched a basket of sewing supplies and her chest of prepared poultices and potions.

Inuyasha swallowed and nodded his understanding, but when she began stitching the largest wound closed, he had to clench his fists closed until his claws pierced his palms and the blood dripped onto the floor, to keep from attacking the old miko. Finally, Kaede finished stitching the three worst slashes closed, smeared a healing poultice over them, and gently re-bandaged them.

Putting away her supplies, Kaede at last spoke to Inuyasha. "I can do nothing more for her. She needs to sleep and let her body heal the rest. I'll try to feed her some broth in the morning, but for now she needs sleep more than anything else." She placed her hand on Kagome's brow, but was pleased to feel no signs of a fever. Yet.

Covering her up with her sleeping bag, she turned to Inuyasha and said, "Now, lad. Let me see those hands of yours."

"What?" He said, puzzled by her comment. Looking down at his blood-covered hands, he shrugged and said, "Don't worry about it. They'll be fine in a few minutes." As he finished speaking he began licking the excess blood off of his hands, removing all traces of his injuries even as he removed the blood.

"See? I'll be fine, it's Kagome I'm worried about." He shook his head, even as he kept looking back at her. "She keeps doing stuff like this, and I—I didn't protect her." He closed his eyes and smashed his fists into his thighs. "Damn it, Damn it, DAMN IT!" He cursed quietly. "It's my responsibility to protect her, and look what happened. Again!"

"Again, Inuyasha? What do you mean: Again?" She looked at him sternly, "Has something like this happened to Kagome before?"

"Yeah. When we thought we had destroyed Naraku before, you know when the moon stayed full; that was when Princess Kaguya tried to stop time. Kagome, she…she jumped in front of an arrow that was meant for me." He closed his eyes to hide the shine of tears. "Damn it, she said…she said it was 'no big deal'." His voice shook as he whispered, "She almost died. She almost died…for me! And now she's done it again."

He moved away from Kaede and knelt down next to Kagome. Slowly stroking her midnight hair, he whispered, "You need to get better Kagome. For Shippo, for everyone. I need you to get better." Falling silent, he continued to kneel there, stroking her hair and watching her as she slowly breathed.

Just before sunset, the others finally arrived, pleased that Kagome was here, and apparently sleeping peacefully. Shippo crept over to Kagome's side, and snuggled into a small nest next to her head after Inuyasha had nodded his permission to the little kitsune's silent plea. The others ate a quick, silent meal and settled in for the night after Kaede had given them a short update on Kagome's condition.

Author's Note: To answer a couple of questions: C.A.M.E.O.1 and Only: Sango and Miroku are still very much a part of the story, just be patient. Oblivionknight7: She has a lot of things in those pouches. This time it was poison. Sango used a burning poison to drive some rat-youkai out from under a house once. That was when Miroku fought the Mantis-youkai that had stolen the shape of a beautiful woman (I guess Miroku just can't resist). She also used poison to drive Kageramaru out of the ground where he was hiding and to slow him down. I can't remember exactly which manga volumes they were in, but I think it was #11 and #18. TriGemini: Thanks. I truly enjoyed watching Kagome put Koga in his place. All else aside, NO MEANS NO!