He could see Sango from his perch in the tree - she was a bright splash of red in her wedding kimono against the muted background of villagers that had surrounded her to bestow their congratulations. He wished that her groom, in his blue and purple robes, was standing at her side. "Come to nag at me again?"
"I just hope you aren't sulking on my wedding day."
Inuyasha glanced down to the see the monk with his arms crossed and his eyes fixed on his new bride. "I don't sulk," the half-demon muttered.
Miroku wagged his finger. "You do. You've been sulking for three months," he replied, finally looking up at his sullen companion. "Come on, Inuyasha. I can't enjoy my wedding if my friends aren't there to share it with me."
"Keh." Inuyasha dropped down to the ground and glared at the other man. "Then, you shouldn't be enjoying it anyway, because all of your friends aren't here."
"I meant the friends that are able to be with us," Miroku said, his eyes softening. "The day is darker without her here, Inuyasha, but..."
"If you tell me to move on without her," interrupted the half-demon, "I'll punch you in the face, wedding day or not."
Miroku shook his head. "I would never suggest such a thing," he said. "But Kagome wouldn't want you to make yourself miserable when we have every reason to celebrate. Naraku is dead. The Jewel of Four Souls is gone. There's a wedding going on - my wedding, let me remind you. And you can't forget that Kagome is safe in her time with people that love her."
"Yeah, I know that," grumbled Inuyasha.
He leaned in with a conspiratorial wink. "Not to mention, Sango just let me touch her beautiful backside without so much as a word, much less a slap. And you missed it, Inuyasha!" said the monk, lifting a hand to his chest in mock injury.
The half-demon scoffed. "Well, I guess even you can get away with it today," he said. "But if you try it on any other girls, I'll help Sango knock you into next week."
"Point taken," Miroku replied, still standing with his hand over his heart.
They stood in silence for a few minutes, watching the villagers enjoy the feast and cluster around the bride. Sango glowed with joy, and they could hear her laughter rise above everyone else. "Kagome should be here for this," the monk agreed belatedly. "I don't think Sango would have survived without her help, and I will always be thankful to her for that. It isn't fair that she should miss Sango being so happy as this."
Inuyasha turned his eyes away. "She'd be happier if you were down there, you idiot."
Miroku gave him an understanding smile and took a few steps down the slope. "I would hope so. I suppose that I should go and welcome Rin, anyway. You should, too."
The half-demon's head jerked up to look back at the crowd. A small dash of orange stood beside Sango, and Inuyasha recognized his older brother's human ward. "What's she doing here?" he demanded.
"Attending the wedding?" suggested Miroku, looking back at him with a raised brow.
"What's she doing in the village at all?" growled Inuyasha. He sniffed the air around them and discovered traces of Sesshoumaru's scent - he wouldn't have even noticed if the monk hadn't mentioned it. How the hell had that happened? "Why isn't she with that bastard?"
"I guess he decided to bring her earlier than anticipated."
"Really, Inuyasha," sighed the monk, turning towards him again. "You should listen more carefully. We've been talking about it for ages. Kaede told us weeks ago that Sesshoumaru arranged this. Apparently, he thinks that Rin should spend some time with her own kind. She's been traveling with your brother for a long time, and her education is lacking. Kaede has agreed to take her in and teach her how to sew and to plant and to treat injuries with herbs. I would imagine that Rin requested that she could attend the wedding, and he agreed. He usually does, when it comes to her."
"You mean, he's just left her here?"
Miroku blinked. "She'll be staying for awhile, of course." He reached out as Inuyasha swiveled around and began to run into the forest. "Wait, Inuyasha! Where are you going?" he called after him.
The half-demon ignored the monk's plea and dove into the underbrush, seeking out the fresh scent of his brother. It hadn't been concealed - another embarrassment as the protector of the village. Half-brother or not, Sesshoumaru could still pose a threat to anyone that crossed him. Inuyasha followed his path in a wide arc through the forest to the south of the village. "Hey!" he snarled as soon as he spotted the white silk of the demon lord's kimono. "Come back here, you jackass!"
Sesshoumaru paused, glancing over his shoulder as his half-brother bore down on him. He didn't draw his sword, but his servant thrust his staff under Inuyasha's nose as he approached. "How dare you!" squawked Jaken. "Lord Sesshoumaru is a magni-..."
"Jaken," cut in the demon lord, "be quiet." He blinked lazily at the half-demon that was snarling two inches from his own armored chest. "Is there something you need, little brother?"
His brother had only three emotions - indifferent, annoyed and homicidal - but the appearance of the least threatening of these only served to stoke Inuyasha's anger further. "Take back the girl! You can't leave her here!"
A white eyebrow arched. "I do not see what concern it is of yours," he replied. "I have made arrangements with the old priestess."
"No," snapped Inuyasha. "I won't let you abandon her."
"I am also compensating the crone for her instruction and trouble," said Sesshoumaru. His golden eyes narrowed a fraction. "Although, that is still not any business of yours."
The half-demon lifted a hand, poking his sibling in the chest with a clawed finger and drawing another sputter from an aghast Jaken. "That's not what I meant, and you know it. For some damn reason, that kid actually likes you. And since you haven't gutted her, I'm guessing you care about her more than you let on, even if she is human. So just admit it and keep her with you, you coward! Don't push her off on us, just because you can't deal with that!"
The ground began to rumble with the elder brother's deep growl. "This Sesshoumaru is no coward," he hissed.
"Then, take her back!"
"I will not," returned the dog demon. "Rin must rejoin her kind."
Inuyasha balled his hands into fists, ready to strike. "She doesn't want to!"
Sesshoumaru raised his chin. "That is irrelevant," he replied. "A choice is no choice at all unless all options are explored."
The half-demon drew back a few inches at that, all preconceptions wavering in his mind. "What do you mean by that?"
The demon lord took a deep, silent breath, his brows knitting together for a moment. At last, he said, "If Rin must choose between a life with humans and a life with demons, she must experience both. It is time for her to return to her own kind. She has spent enough time with me."
"But she wants to be with you. How could you just give her up like that? She's here. Now!" insisted Inuyasha. "Anything could happen! You could never see her again, and then, what would you do?"
Sesshoumaru looked away. "I suppose I must trust in you and your friends' abilities to make certain that she is safe until I return," he murmured. "It is out of my control, now."
"So, you're leaving it up to what? Fate?" asked the half-demon, his eyes widening with incredulity.
"Fate," agreed Sesshoumaru, "and Rin. When and if she decides to return to me, I will be certain of her choice. It is how things must go."
A dozen other possibilities popped into his mind - after a moment, however, the images of Kohaku holding Rin faded into one of Hojo embracing Kagome. She was smiling in his mind's eye - happy in another man's arms. Part of him raged against it, but another piece of him whispered that she was, at least, happy. Still, it rankled. "What if..."
Golden eyes sparked again. "Accept that it is not up to you, little brother," Sesshoumaru intoned, moving away once more.
Inuyasha's ears twitched. "Hey!" he called again, just as his brother began to disappear into the foliage. "You're going to visit her at least, aren't you?"
Sesshoumaru shot him a cool glance over his shoulder and then, gave a single nod of his head.
His shoulders finally slackened. "Keh. Maybe you aren't as much of a jerk as I thought," he muttered. "Maybe!" he added for his brother's benefit before pivoting on his heel and going back the way he came at a easier pace.
It only took a few minutes to find Miroku still waiting at the edge of the forest. "Thank goodness," he breathed. "I wasn't sure if I should follow you, but Sango would kill me for getting into a fight today. She'd kill you, too."
"We didn't fight," said Inuyasha, walking past him and towards the village. "Are you coming back to the party or what, idiot?"
"You're going to the feast?" asked Miroku, wide-eyed.
"Don't you want me there?" countered the half-demon.
The monk fell into step beside him. "Of course, but, ah, could you explain to me what just happened? I've been trying to cheer you up for months, and a few minutes with your brother of all people has you looking lighter, somehow."
Inuyasha scowled. "Am not." He shifted uneasily under Miroku's stare. "What?" he bit out. "Maybe you're not entirely stupid, alright? Maybe it's okay if I have some fun while Kagome's away. She'd 'sit' me forever if I didn't go to your wedding feast, anyway."
A slow smile spread across Miroku's face. "While she's 'away'?" he echoed. "Kagome's coming back?"
"She promised she wouldn't leave me," Inuyasha murmured. "Of course, she's coming back."
The monk gave a vigorous nod. "Of course," he repeated. "You're right, Inuyasha."
"I always am," he muttered back.
Miroku hummed his agreement with a grin, and Inuyasha tucked his hands into his sleeves, telling himself that he was certain. She could come back and walk down the hill with that enormous, yellow backpack any day now. He didn't need to worry about it. She just needed some time. Not to make her choice - the choice was clear - but to say goodbye. To grow up a bit. To rest.
He glanced up at the hill where the Bone-Eater's Well sat. Maybe he would check it every once in awhile. Just in case. Just so she would know he'd made his choice, too.