As Inuyasha and Kagome approached Miroku and Sango's home they were greeted by the familiar, staccato rhythm of axe meeting wood.
"What the heck?" Inuyasha seemed completely confounded by the sound coming from around the side of the house. He moved towards it rather than to the door.
"What's the matter?" Kagome questioned.
"I think Miroku's chopping wood."
Rounding the corner they found Miroku standing beside a small pile of split logs. As he paused to wipe the sweat from his brow, Inuyasha used the momentary silence to call out to him.
"Oi, you musta been desperate if you resorted to chopping wood!"
Miroku looked up to see his friends approaching and laughed. "Well, well. Welcome, my friends. I am merely seeing to my husbandly duties."
Inuyasha snorted at that. "Husbandly duties that you usually avoid like the plague." Jerking his thumb in Miroku's direction Inuyasha turned to Kagome. "This lazy monk usually tries to get me to do his wood-chopping, or else will trade already-chopped wood for blessings and other monk stuff with the other villagers."
Miroku tried to look affronted, "Inuyasha, my friend, you wound me. Should I not receive compensation for my holy works?"
"Ha! And yet here you are, axe in hand. Did it work? Were you able to keep yer trap shut?"
"If you are inquiring as to whether or not I gave any of your secrets away to my lovely wife, then the answer is no." He smiled sheepishly before continuing, "I have been much too busy with very important, very loud work to do much talking, as you can see."
Kagome laughed at that. "Well, thank you for your valiant efforts, Miroku. But we're here now. Do you want to take a break and come inside with us?"
"Of course, Kagome, of course. What kind of host would I be if I ignored guests to my home?"
Inuyasha smirked at him, "Better to ignore your husbandly duties, eh, Monk?"
Miroku's eyebrows waggled suggestively when he answered, "I assure you, Inuyasha, my… ahem… husbandly duties are one thing that I never ignore."
Kagome was laughing at the two of them as they entered the house. "Kagome, there you are! What's so funny?" Sango asked.
Sango sat at a low table, sorting out what looked to be small packets of seeds, a sleeping Ichiro strapped to her back.
"Oh, you know," Kagome replied. "Just Miroku being Miroku." She smiled at her best friend.
"Ojisan! Ojisan! Up!" Aki came running from where she and Yuki had been playing in a sunny patch by the window. She launched herself at Inuyasha fully expecting him to catch her before she collided with him. He hoisted her up gently till she was at face level with him. "Hey there. You being a good girl for your Okaasan this morning?" Aki's eyes widened a little as she nodded solemnly at Inuyasha before breaking into a wide smile and hugging him around the neck.
"Chichiue, up me, too?" asked Yuki, joining them at a more leisurely pace. She waited for her father to lift her into his arms before putting her small head down on his shoulder.
Kagome watched the two men. They were two of the most fearsome warriors in the region, if not the country, and yet they held the sisters so gently that her heart clenched painfully watching them. She shook her head, eyes growing misty before whispering, "Look at us. Look at them. Did you ever think, back when we were hunting for shards, that we would ever actually make it to this?"
Sango came up behind her dearest friend, pulling her into a hug, her own eyes misting over at Kagome's words.
"Oh, don't get me started! If I think back too much…" She trailed off shaking her head. "But we're here now, and you must tell me. How was your first night back?"
Kagome glanced at Inuyasha, who glanced her way at the same time, a small smile on his face.
"It was… eventful… though I don't think I'll be staying at Kaede's again tonight." Kagome said with a small smile.
Sango pulled back from her friend's embrace to look at her face in question, "Oh, no?"
Kagome's small smile turned into a full-fledged smirk as she said, "Naw, I think I'd rather stay in my own hut with my husband-to-be."
"Your…?" She paused for a split-second before understanding lit her eyes.
"Eeeeekkkkk!" Sango squealed in delight, causing Inuyasha to flinch and slick his ears down against his head. She paid him no attention, instead launching herself at her dearest friend for another tight hug… which was rudely interrupted by the wail of an affronted Ichiro who appreciated his mother's squeal about as much as Inuyasha did.
"Oh dear," said Sango on a laugh. "Kagome will you help me lift him out of the wrap?" Kagome moved to Sango's back, retrieving the fretting baby and placing him in his mother's arms.
Sango moved to sit down by the fire with Ichiro, motioning for the rest of them to join her as she said, "I'm so happy for you both!"
She looked across the fire at Inuyasha then, locking eyes with him. She would not say aloud how especially happy she was for him. How she'd watched him suffer without Kagome these three long years and how she was so proud of him for having the courage to confess his feelings to Kagome. Sango hoped her eyes would convey her message, and as a smile of embarrassment mixed with pride spread across Inuyasha's face, she thought maybe it had.
"Congratulations, Kagome, Inuyasha! This is truly auspicious news!" Miroku smiled his too-bright smile at the couple, hoping to conceal his slightly delayed reaction, but immediately Sango was suspicious.
"Miroku, did you know about this and that's why you were out there chopping wood?" She narrowed her eyes at her husband, watching as a slight flush crept up his cheeks.
"Oh, don't be angry at him, Sango, I swore him to secrecy. I wanted to tell you myself." Kagome broke in.
"I figured something must have been up when he said he was going out to chop wood. That man usually avoids physical labour at all costs!" She smirked at her husband then.
"You wound me, dearest!" Miroku mockingly held his hand over his heart.
Sango gave him a very unladylike. "The truth doesn't wound, husband of mine. It merely stings a little."
She winked at Kagome and the two of them laughed before she continued, "But back to the good news… You must tell me everything, Kagome!"
Inuyasha and Kagome shared a look at Sango's words… one that she didn't miss.
"What? What is it?"
They looked at each other again. Inuyasha gave a small shrug, as though leaving it to Kagome to decide how much she was ready to say.
Sango didn't miss that either. "Inuyasha, Kagome, whatever it is you're holding back, you better tell me right now." She growled a little. "If something is going on, Miroku and I want to know."
Kagome smiled at that. Sango hadn't changed either. "I guess I should just start at the beginning right? Well, when we left here, Inuyasha took me over to his hut…"
Aki and Yuki had quickly tired of the grown-up talk, going back to their patch of sunlight to play, and Ichiro had happily nursed his way into a deep slumber as Sango and Miroku listen to Kagome explain everything that had happened last night and this morning.
When she was done, there was a long moment of stunned silence.
Finally, it was Sango who spoke, "Are you saying you're immortal now?"
"No, I don't think so." Kagome shook her head, "I mean, youkai aren't really immortal just…less mortal. I could still die–"
"You ain't dying, wench," Inuyasha growled from where he sat.
Kagome rolled her eyes at him. "What I meant was that I'm not so fragile anymore. I'm harder to kill, less likely to age, like Inuyasha… but it's still possible for me to die."
Inuyasha didn't think this explanation was any better and scowled at Kagome, letting her know his opinion on the topic.
Sango ignored Inuyasha, "Still, Kagome, this is incredible."
"Indeed." Miroku who had been silent up till now, finally spoke, "Truly, Kagome, your new power is remarkable. And I am happy for the two of you that this accidental manifestation has granted you this wondrous, blessing."
He paused for a moment before continuing, "I wonder…" He trailed off again.
"Wonder what?" Inuyasha questioned, not liking the sound of that.
"We have seen and experienced too much in our lives to live under the pretense that there is such a thing as coincidence in this world. Why did the well allow Kagome to pass through now? Why not before, or sometime in the future?"
Kagome shivered slightly at Miroku's words. "Kaede said something similar, as though my being allowed to return was not an accident."
"I don't care what it was. Accident or not, you're here now and you ain't going anywhere." Inuyasha crossed his arms over his chest.
Kagome could tell he was worried. He only ever got this belligerent when he was worried about her. She shifted closer to where he was sitting, lightly placing her hand on his knee, silently letting him know that she here with him.
"What has me most concerned is this disappearance of all youkai that you spoke of," Sango said in a low tone so as not to wake the babe in her arms. "It's unnatural. It worries me that someone or something could be so powerful as to erase an entire species, and not just from our island, but from the whole world?!" She shuddered, "What can we possibly do in the face of that kind of power?"
Miroku chimed in, "And it is not just youkai and hanyou. To think that even human Monks and Mikos will be affected… It is as though the very fabric of heaven and earth shall be rewritten."
"I don't like the sound of that," Kagome said quietly.
Inuyasha had had enough. Worry was beginning to creep into Kagome's scent and he didn't like it. "Look, we've got 50 years head start, and we know it's coming. That's gonna be our upper hand. Sooner or later something's gonna slip and when it does, we'll be on it because we're ready. We won't fail. We can't, not when there's so much at stake."
Kagome smiled up at him, basking in the strength of his conviction, and allowed herself to be hopeful. "Inuyasha's right. Whatever the reason I'm here, whatever's coming, it doesn't matter. We're together again. We've got this."
Sango looked at Kagome, "We're family now, all of us who went through the battle with Naraku together. It's a bond that will never be broken." Then a hardened look came into her eyes, as she glanced down at her sleeping son, "And nothing and no one will ever threaten my family and get away with it."
"Pack," Inuyasha said the word quietly, almost to himself.
"What was that?" Kagome wasn't sure she'd heard correctly.
But Sango had heard. She was Tajiya and knew what it meant. "I– We are honoured, Inuyasha."
Kagome was still confused. She looked between Inuyasha and Sango. Inuyasha seemed a bit embarrassed, but Sango spoke in explanation. "Pack is the foundation of Inu-youkai culture. It's like family…. only more. It's an unbreakable bond."
Kagome understood then. She looked up at Inuyasha before speaking. "Like all of us."
Inuyasha looked around the room at the faces of his friends and their children, at the smile of the woman he loved. Myoga had explained Pack to him when he was young, and it had intrigued him. After he'd lost his mother he'd had no one, and when he'd finally gotten up the courage to seek out his brother for the first time, Sesshōmaru had rejected him instantly. Bitter, he'd given up on the idea of Pack after that. He was hanyou, after all. Tainted. Not belonging to one world or the other. He'd always been on his own. But now…? Now he wasn't alone anymore.
He smirked at Kagome before finally replying to her words, "Damn right."
Miroku looked around the room, taking it all in as well. Finally, he gave an exaggerated sigh, shook his head, and looked at Kagome, eyes filled with mischief and teasing. "Well, Kagome, I must say, you have been back with us for only one day, and yet already our fates have turned. I would say that it was truly astonishing… if I didn't know you so well." He smirked at her.
Kagome gave a sharp bark of laughter at that, before returning his teasing smirk, "I know, right? Did you guys miss me, or what?"