Chapter 1: Prologue: The Great Debate
I was going to drop this story as the end of the manga/anime kind of closed everything too well (in a very satisfying way, might I add!). I decided that there was enough room for me to continue this story, but in doing, there are two things ... Firstly, because of the premise of the wish, this fic MUST ignore the last few manga chapters (anime episodes) because, obviously, the jewel cannot be purified until this story starts. Secondly, I will strive to stick to canon in this story up until that point, with the notable exception of Bunza since he was anime-only, therefore not true canon. That said, I hope you enjoy this sojourn into my imagination once more. Once I finish Purity 9: Subterfuge, I will start working on this story exclusively and will resume with Purity 10: Anomaly as soon as Desideratum is finished. I will post it here, too, in the good faith that time has changed some people and that idiots can be left to hit the "BACK" button if they don't like this story. Then again, there shouldn't be a problem since it is my hope that the rabid fangirls have since grown up some since Metamorphosis was written..
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
'How the fuck did that happen?' InuYasha fumed as he grudgingly watched out of the corner of his half-closed eye as Higurashi Kagome stomped across the meadow toward the lone structure in the field: the Bone Eater's Well. It was the link between his world of Sengoku Jidai—the Warring States Era—and her world, the place she called 'modern day Tokyo.' Virtually, the two places were the same. What separated them was that well . . . and roughly five hundred years.
He hadn't meant to start the fight with her. He'd been secretly pleased when she had come looking for him. Standing at the base of Goshinboku—the God Tree—she wandered around the thick trunk, running her fingers along the bark as she cocked her head to the side and stared up through the branches at him. He pretended not to notice her down there—she really hated when he did that—and started his mental count.
'One . . . two . . . three . . .' he thought, pausing a moment between each number.
He was just hitting the thirties when she sighed very loudly and stepped back from the tree trunk. "I'm going back now, InuYasha," she called up hesitantly, her voice clear and thin, carefully pleasant though he could sense the underlying turmoil. She was obviously expecting him to argue with her about her plans to return home.
"So go, already," he growled as he lifted his chin and closed his eyes, one foot tucked under him, the other dangling from the branch where he sat. "Just don't be gone forever. We got work to do, remember?"
He heard her sigh, knew that her shoulders had just drooped as he winced inwardly and stifled a sigh of his own. "I don't suppose you want to come with me?" she ventured in an even more pleasant tone.
"Keh!" he scoffed, lifting his chin another notch. "And why the hell would I do a fucking stupid thing like that?"
In his mind, he could see her expression twist into one of the disgusted affectations that he loved—yet another reason he goaded her temper as frequently as he did. "Because you like to be around me," she stated tightly, her patience wearing thinner and thinner like a wire ready to snap.
"About as much as I like having fleas," he countered.
Kagome made a small growling sound. After a moment, she tried another tactic, her sweet tone back in place once more. "Do you want me to bring you anything? Ramen? Potato chips? Milk Bones?"
That earned her a long-suffering glance. "Keh. I'll pass," he grumbled haughtily, referring to the dog treats instead of the first two options.
"Suit yourself, then, grumpy . . . I'll just bring back pocky for Shippou and stuff for the others," she agreed lightly as she whipped around to leave.
"Ramen!" he hollered after her.
Kagome stopped and wandered back with a happy grin on her face. The grin took on a bit of a wicked edge, and she clasped her hands in front of her. "If you want ramen, you have to come with me," she said.
InuYasha made a face as he snorted again. "Keh! I hate your time, wench," he reminded her. "It's too crowded, too smelly, too loud, too everything."
"It isn't that bad," she argued, her tone taking on the instant defensive undertones he knew well enough. "There are things to be said for progress, you know."
"Yeah," he agreed with yet another derisive snort, "it's stupid!"
"It's not stupid!" she shot back. "At least we have indoor plumbing!"
"No running around, fighting youkai."
"One good thing, wench! The rest of it can go straight to hell."
Kagome sighed again. "Fine, fine," she muttered. "At least boys are taught manners in my time."
"You mean like that one from your school? That ain't manners! That's just pathetic."
"Right," Kagome said mildly as she shrugged off her backpack and rummaged through it. "Admit it: you're just scared of being in my time because you don't understand it."
"Scared? Like hell!" he snarled, quickly forgetting that he'd instigated this little discussion. "I ain't scared of anything, Kagome!"
She dug a tiny white tube out of the bag and yanked the lid free with a small popping noise. He made a face at the vague yet still unnatural smell of the greasy-waxy gunk she liked to smear on her lips. She called it 'chap stick'. He called it revolting.
"That's disgusting, wench," he pointed out as his face contorted in absolute disdain.
Kagome rolled her eyes. "You've got to be kidding," she remarked dryly. "You get youkai guts all over you just about every day, and you're calling me disgusting?"
"That ain't by choice," he retorted in a tone that stated quite plainly that he thought she ought to know as much.
She shook her head slowly before pinning InuYasha with a calculating stare. Breaking into a cunning grin, the miko blinked a few times as she stared up through the branches. "Why don't you come down here, InuYasha?" she coaxed in a tone that he really didn't trust at all.
"I think I'll stay up here, thanks," he grumbled sarcastically. "Anyway, I thought you said you had to go."
"I will," she agreed as she stuffed the tiny tube of nasty-wax back into her gargantuan backpack. "Are you sure you don't want to come with me? I'll only be gone a day or so . . . ."
"Go, already, will you? All your yappin's giving me a headache."
"I see," she shot back stiffly. "Maybe I'll stay a week or two . . . I do need to catch up on my classes, anyway."
InuYasha ears twitched. He knew she was deliberately goading him. He knew she expected him to yell and bluster and demand that she sure as hell better not think she was staying in her time that long. He knew that she wanted him to go with her with the ruse that he wanted to make sure she wasn't gone forever. Common sense told him not to take the bait. Common sense be damned. "The hell you will!" he bellowed. "Damn it, wench, if you make me come after you, I'll—"
Her laughter cut him off, filling the air like the sounds of tiny ringing bells. "You'll what, InuYasha? There isn't much you can do, if I don't come back right away. After all, you'd have to come through the well to my time to get me, and you ha-a-a-ate my time, remember? You're all bark and no bite, you know."
Face shifting into his signature pout, the hanyou snorted indelicately and shoved his arms together under the sleeves of his haori. "Keh! All right, Kagome, just stay gone a day too long, and see what happens."
Kagome sighed. "My time isn't nearly as bad as you think," she told him. "You just won't give it a chance."
"Do you remember the last time you said something wasn't as bad as I thought?" he shot back.
"You're just never going to let go of that, are you?" she asked with a marked narrowing of the eyes.
"I told you I was sorry for that," she grumbled, knowing that he loved to bring up 'The Curry Incident' to prove his point. "I forgot."
InuYasha snorted. 'Forgot, huh? After the time her mother nearly torched my tongue, she forgot that I can't stand spices like that? Ri-i-ight . . . .'
"I stay here in your time more than I'm home, you know," she pointed out reasonably.
"That's because we had to find the Shikon no Kakera. You remember, the shards of the Sacred Jewel? The one you broke?"
Kagome glared up at him as her cheeks reddened at his blatant reminder. "I know I broke it, InuYasha. You don't really have to remind me."
"That's debatable," he growled.
"Fine," she retorted. "Give me one good reason you won't come with me."
"Got stuff to do."
"What's that mean? You think I'm lying?"
She apparently didn't figure that his challenge deserved an answer because she ignored it. "I don't know why I even bother," she fumed instead. "Stay here, then! I'll just go back to my time—alone—even though I have spent more time here in your era than you ever have in mine."
"That's because my time ain't stupid!"
"Neither is mine!" she argued.
"Just 'cause you say it don't make it true."
"You know I'm right."
"In your dreams."
"You're just being stubborn."
InuYasha snorted. Loudly. "Ain't nothin' stubborn about it. You're just being stupid."
He could feel the spike in her aura as her irritation shot higher. He ignored the obvious warning in it, though. "Watch who you're calling 'stupid', dog-boy."
"Watch who you're calling 'boy', wench."
"All right fine, baka. That fits better, anyway."
"Don't even finish that, InuYasha . . ."
"Ungh!" InuYasha grunted as his body crashed through the branches of Goshinboku, dragged down by a flash of light that erupted from the kotodama rosary around his neck, only to slam into the earth at the young miko's feet.
Kagome planted her hands on her hips and shook her head slowly as she tapped the toe of her scuffed leather loafer while InuYasha peeled himself out of the slight indentation he'd created as he glowered at the girl's pretty face. "Why do you always have to pick fights with me?" she complained.
InuYasha snorted as he spat out some dried leaves and sat up. "Keh! Me? You started it! I didn't!"
"I did not!" she countered as she glared back at the half-human, half-dog-youkai as he shot to his feet and 'keh'ed' again for good measure. Kagome reached out to snag a leaf out of his hair. InuYasha bared his fangs at her. She narrowed her deep brown eyes in silent threat. "Did you just snarl at me?" she asked quietly, disbelief brightening her eyes with a glint that he couldn't ignore.
InuYasha snorted. "Keh! So what if I did?" he demanded, mustering as much bravado as he could.
Kagome's eyebrows shot up as her eyes narrowed even more. The result was even more intimidating when coupled with the way her back suddenly straightened, the way her entire body stiffened as her miko's aura pulled in closer. "Good bye, InuYasha," she said as she spun around on her heel and started to stomp away.
InuYasha's ears flattened at her entirely too-pleasant tone that was completely at odds with her very apparent pique. He tried to ignore the desire to dart after her. As much as he hated to admit it—and never to the girl in question—he hated when Kagome was truly angry at him, especially when he actually had started the fight.
'Keh! Who cares if she goes back to her era?' he fumed, trying not to wince as a sudden emptiness settled over him; the same emptiness that Kagome always left when she passed through the time slip. 'I don't need her, anyway, not really. She just gets in the way, and then I have to save her. Trouble—save—trouble—save . . . It's a vicious cycle. Pathetic human.'
Still, as hard as he tried to convince himself that he meant what he said, a part of him couldn't help but miss her, too, and the more he tried to ignore the sudden feeling of melancholy, the more acutely he felt the emptiness. Leaping back into the protective shelter of Goshinboku, the hanyou flopped against the tree trunk as he jammed his arms together under the generous cover of his haori sleeves with a loud snort and a telling drooping of the ears.
'See if I go after her! I won't, not this time! Not till she admits that her time ain't so great . . .'
'InuYasha no baka,' Kagome thought with a scowl as she fell through the gentle light and space of the time slip. 'I'm not going back till he comes to get me, and then he can apologize for always putting down my era.'
Feet touching down on the solid ground as the darkness above closed in on her, she sighed. "Right, Kagome. He'll apologize about the time that pigs start flying. Irritating, stubborn dog-boy! Why does he always have to argue with me? If I didn't know better, I'd swear he likes it or something . . ."
Her voice echoed off the cold stone walls surrounding her, and Kagome wrinkled her nose. With a heavy sigh as she swung her backpack over her shoulder, she reached for the ladder and started the long climb out of the well.
She should be used to InuYasha's constant picking. She'd put up with it for nearly a year, since the day she first fell through the Bone Eater's Well on her fifteenth birthday. InuYasha tended to be brash and surly, disagreeable and grouchy, but he also had his moments. Kagome winced as she braced her hands on the ledge and hoisted herself out of the darkness.
'Okay, he does have his moments. I just wish he'd choose to have them more often.'
Jogging up the stairs and sliding open the well-house doors, Kagome squinted as she stepped outside into the bright sunshine. Everything looked exactly the same as it had two weeks ago—the last time she'd come home. The shrine grounds were neat and tidy, as always. The flowers bloomed in the bed around Goshinboku as the ancient tree's branches swayed in the gentle afternoon breeze. It simply wasn't a day that lent itself to gloomy thoughts or feelings of anger. Too bad that's exactly where her thoughts were. With a sigh, Kagome brushed off her bleak thoughts and pulled the doors closed before skipping down the steps and striding toward the shrine.
'Pocky, of course, for Shippou . . . Sango didn't really ask for anything, but I know she loves the body wash. I'll get her another bottle of that. Miroku . . . I should get him some ointment. He's been slapped more often this week than he has in a long, long time.'
"Because he's a fucking pervert," InuYasha's assessment echoed in her head.
Kagome frowned. 'No, there's more to it than that . . . something's bothering Miroku. He hasn't been this bad since Sango joined the group . . .'
Just last night, she'd seen the monk staring at the horizon with such a pensive, foreboding expression. She asked him if something was wrong, and for once, Miroku hadn't tried to hide his obvious concern. "It's getting worse," he admitted quietly, violet eyes scanning the horizon as he refused to meet Kagome's gaze.
She didn't ask him what he was talking about. She didn't have to. The way he clutched his right hand—the soft click of the prayer beads that sealed the kazaana closed . . . There was nothing Kagome could do. Grasping his shoulder just to let him know he really wasn't alone felt like such an empty gesture, but it was all she had to offer him. "We'll get Naraku. We'll find him."
"Of course we will," he agreed, an edge to his voice, as though he didn't really believe her; as though he were simply humoring her.
Suddenly it all made sense. Miroku's behavior wasn't some resurgence of lechery. Maybe . . .
'Maybe he knows . . . If the kazaana is spreading, then . . .'
Deliberately cutting off her train of thought, Kagome quickened her step as she neared the back doors of the shrine house. 'I can't stay. Miroku . . . He might not have that long . . .'
de·sid·er·a·tum: Something considered necessary or highly desirable …
From desidero –are: to long for what is absent or lost , to wish for; to miss, find a lack of.
Osuwari: archaic way to say 'sit' but most often used as a sit command for dogs these days. (I never use the words, "Sit, boy." Kagome doesn't say that to subjugate InuYasha. She literally uses a dog command. Call it a bad translation.)
Baka: idiot; fool.
Shikon no Tama: Sacred Jewel of Four Souls.
Shikon no Kakera: Shards of the Sacred Jewel of Four Souls.
Goshinboku: The God Tree.
Hanyou: half-magical creature (youkai); half-human.
Haori: InuYasha's fire rat shirt.
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Final Thought from Kagome:
Why does InuYasha have to be so infuriating?
Three years later.
Kagome stared at the brilliant, shimmering orb in the wan light of the merrily dancing flames. Pink and white undulated inside the confines of the Shikon no Tama. It cost so much in terms of lives lost. It was impossible to look at the jewel and feel anything but utter sadness. Some of them had lost more than others, but everyone had lost something.
Shippou had lost his father because of the Shikon no Kakera. His father had died because of the one shard he possessed. Slain by the Thunder Brothers, Shippou was left an orphan, and his quest to avenge his father had led him to InuYasha and Kagome. The kitsune had seen too much, had lived through more than he should have had to, and because of that, he seemed so much older than his eleven years.
Sango, the youkai exterminator, had lost her entire village and her family, save one member: her younger brother, Kohaku. Kagome knew that Sango considered herself lucky to have been able to keep him when they hadn't known for so long if it would be possible for him to survive once the shard that had kept him alive was removed from him. That he had was nothing short of a miracle—one granted by Kikyou just before she'd died when she transferred the light of purity from the shard in Kohaku to the boy himself . . . Now, Kohaku wandered, slaying troublesome youkai in an effort to make up for all of the mistakes he'd made in his lifetime, and while Sango was just grateful to know that he was alive, Kagome also knew that Sango wished that he would come back, that he would choose instead to stay close to her.
Miroku hadn't lost as much because of the Sacred Jewel as he had in a family feud with Naraku. His grandfather had been cursed with the kazaana—the wind tunnel—and it had been passed down to Miroku's father, and at last, to him. In those last days before they found and defeated Naraku, the kazaana had expanded so much that Kagome had feared that they would lose Miroku before they tracked Naraku down. He had been very, very lucky.
InuYasha had lost fifty years. Pinned to Goshinboku by Kikyou's sacred arrow, he hadn't been alive, but he hadn't really been dead either. He hadn't aged at all, and there would have been no telling how long he would have remained there if Kagome hadn't fallen through the well. Then to find that he'd lost Kikyou, all because of Naraku's deception . . . and then to lose her a second time . . . Kagome had seen that last kiss, and it had hurt . . . Under the stars, he'd sat holding her . . . but Kikyou had managed to save Kouga and Kohaku, both, and . . . well . . . how could she fault InuYasha for doing whatever he could do to make peace with the first woman he'd ever loved? Kikyou had chosen to die instead of living with the pain of InuYasha's perceived betrayal the first time, and the second? The second death . . . it was the one she was supposed to have had . . . Kagome winced. InuYasha had lost so much, too.
Kagome's brow furrowed as she stared at the jewel. She hadn't lost anything, not really. Unlike the others, she'd gained more than she ever had to lose. Sure, she'd struggled to keep up in school since she spent so much time here helping her friends recover the jewel shards, but she had finished school a couple of months ago, in March. Maybe she'd had to learn how to rough it, to make due in a permanent camp-out, but she'd gained another family—dysfunctional, perhaps, but family just the same.
Glancing over at InuYasha, Kagome bit her bottom lip and waited for his signal. He stared at her for a long, solemn moment before nodding once. "Okay," she murmured, squeezing the jewel tight before dropping it into Shippou's hands.
The young kitsune who had grown so much since the fateful day he'd come across InuYasha and Kagome had flourished in the love he was given, the love of friends who were more like family. 'Shippou understands what life is all about,' Kagome mused as a gentle smile touched her lips. Drawing a deep breath, the kitsune passed the jewel to Sango.
The exterminator stared at the jewel in her hand, wiped a tear from her cheek as she stared at the swirling mist in the orb. She had found wisdom through her losses. 'Sango knows what it means to lose . . . and she knows how to pick up the pieces and go on.' Sango used that wisdom to guide her, and as she gazed at the Shikon no Tama, her sad little smile broke Kagome's heart. Sango closed her hand around the jewel then handed it to Miroku.
Balancing the jewel in the hand that used to house the kazaana, Miroku caught Kagome's gaze and nodded. 'Miroku's remembering that night,' she thought absently. 'The night he told me that the kazaana was spreading.' How he'd managed to find the courage to face every day and to do so with a smile and his gentle grace still amazed Kagome. He dropped the jewel into InuYasha's hand with a knowing nod and a reverent bow.
InuYasha didn't hold the jewel long, simply passing it back to Kagome. 'He trusts me to do this,' she realized as a warm glow wrapped around her. 'He's learned to trust us all.' InuYasha had found something that had eluded him for far too long. He had friends now, people who depended on him, friends to protect.
'The Four Souls aren't really one person,' Kagome mused. 'Sango and Miroku, Shippou and InuYasha . . . They are the four souls, and their perfect balance with each other . . . that's what we needed to purify the Shikon no Tama. They are my sakimitama, kushimitama, aramitama, and nigimitama . . . they are my love, wisdom, courage, and . . . my friendship.'
As soon as the words entered her mind, the jewel rose in front of her, suspended in the air. No real wish came to her, nothing meaningful or profound. The Shikon no Tama slowly brightened, the tinge of pink dissipating. A low hum emanated from the jewel, growing louder and louder like thunder rolling across the land. The jewel shattered in a burst of light and sound. Wind erupted around them but didn't touch the fire. Kagome lifted her hands to shield her face moments before InuYasha's arms wrapped around her, protecting her from flying debris. As quickly as the wind had come, it diminished, and Sango's gasp echoed in the quiet meadow.
InuYasha let his arms drop though he didn't let go of Kagome. Opening her eyes, Kagome breathed sharply as she stared at the shimmering vision, the beautiful warrior-miko of legend, Midoriko. Kirara mewled softly, recognizing her former mistress. Midoriko smiled at the double-tailed fire cat-youkai and nodded her thanks. "Well done, Kirara. I missed you. Tell me, what is it you wish?"
Kirara mewled again, rubbing against the apparition or entity—Kagome wasn't sure what Midoriko really was. Midoriko laughed softly as Kirara leapt into her arms. "Yes, of course . . . you simply wish to remain with Sango."
Upon hearing her name, Sango lifted her chin, steadily met Midoriko's calm gaze. The warrior-miko's voice came to her in a whisper. Her lips didn't move, but her smile was radiant and somehow sad. Midoriko nodded slowly, seeing past words and into Sango's heart. 'You and your brother are the last of your people—the protectors of the Shikon no Tama . . . Your kin died protecting my sanctuary, destroying the youkai who would threaten these lands. I cannot give you back what you have lost, and in truth, I think you've found a new place to belong. You wish to be with the houshi. You wish to be his wife. With a union between the two of you, you can restore what you have lost. Do you understand, Sango? It won't be easy. Then again, some of the things you've found comfort in are not the things that are easily obtained.'
'I understand, Midoriko.' Casting a glance at Miroku, the taijya smiled. 'I understand.'
Midoriko nodded and caressed Sango's cheek, her fingers lingering before she let her hand drop and turned to face Miroku. 'Houshi-sama . . . that is what she calls you, isn't it? Your heart is conflicted, isn't it? You know what you want, and you fear that you cannot have it.'
Miroku couldn't look at the miko. She could see into his heart. She could see the conflict that divided his soul. Painful, bitter . . . Everything he'd ever wanted was right there, so close, and yet . . . Miroku didn't dare look at Sango. 'I . . . yes.'
A shadow of sadness washed over Midoriko's feature before a compassionate smile replaced the emotion. 'I cannot change things for you. I cannot lessen your fears, nor can I dispel your doubts. I can tell you that the things you seek are not impossible. The path is troublesome, but you, Miroku . . . you must be certain that it is what you truly want.'
He swallowed hard, nodded once. 'I understand, Midoriko. You are wise.'
'Young kitsune—Shippou. Your wish is the easiest of them all.'
Shippou blinked as he stared up at Midoriko's shimmering visage. 'It is?'
'Of course. You want what you already have, don't you? A family, though perhaps not in the traditional sense?'
'I don't understand,' Shippou thought as he slowly shook his head. 'I don't have a family . . .'
'Don't you, Shippou? Are you so certain?'
'My friends, you mean? Are they my family?'
Midoriko's smile was radiant, shining. 'There are two kinds of family, you see. There are those who choose to have you, and there are those you choose to have.'
Shippou slowly shifted his gaze around the campfire, staring at his friends—his family—and he realized that Midoriko was right. 'Thank you,' he told her with a bashful grin. 'I chose them a long time ago, didn't I?'
'You did, Shippou. In the coming years, you'll grow and mature. Always remember the things that they have taught you, even if they are no longer with you. If you hold them dear—if you hold them in your heart—they will always be there to lend you strength and comfort, and they will always hold you the same way.'
'I understand, Midoriko,' Shippou assured her. 'I'll do my best.'
InuYasha regarded the ageless miko with a curious gaze. Arms tucked around Tetsusaiga with Kagome by his side, the hanyou waited almost patiently for Midoriko to speak.
'I know what is in your heart, InuYasha. I know what it is you want. Haven't you found that already? The acceptance of others? The warmth of true friendship?'
InuYasha wrinkled his nose and snorted. 'Keh! That don't matter. I never wanted nothing, anyway.'
Midoriko laughed, and InuYasha blushed as he ducked his chin and folded his arms together under the sleeves of his haori. 'You don't have to tell me what you want, InuYasha. You fought to protect the Shikon no Tama, and you fought to protect Kagome. You fought for your friends, and you fought for yourself. All you have to do is think about what it is that matters most to you; what it is you really want.'
'Mark my words, InuYasha: there may come a day when you must shed your tough exterior and let someone see into your heart. Do not be foolish enough to miss your chance.'
He started to scoff at the miko's words. Something in her eyes stopped him. A sense of quiet foreboding, a single look that quelled the sarcasm, the brusqueness that he used to hide his feelings from everyone—from himself . . .
He stared at her for a long moment before he finally nodded, one terse jerk of his head. 'I understand, Midoriko, but . . . it don't make sense.'
Kagome waited patiently as Midoriko leaned down, listened as InuYasha whispered something to her that Kagome didn't hear. Intercepting Shippou's joyful smile, she couldn't help but smile back, and that smile lingered on her lips as she noticed the peaceful expression on Sango's face. Whatever Midoriko had said to her friend had helped to alleviate the hint of sadness that seemed to follow Sango everywhere.
Kagome's smile faltered as she glanced at Miroku. The monk was flexing his hand, frowning thoughtfully as he touched his glove that used to cover the kazaana. Fingering the prayer beads that he wore out of habit rather than necessity, he was pensive, quiet. She wished she knew why.
InuYasha scooted a little closer to her, and Kagome shot him a quick smile. He didn't return the sentiment, but he did look content. Kagome didn't have time to analyze it. Midoriko reached down, held out her hand. "Come with me, Kagome. You and I should talk."
Kagome took the miko's hand without question, brushing off her skirt as she rose to her feet. She could sense InuYasha's reluctance to let her wander off. She gave him a reassuring smile before following Midoriko away from the campfire.
"Tell me what I can do for you, Kagome. Tell me how I should repay someone who possesses a heart pure enough to set me free."
Kagome licked her lips nervously, feeling her palms break into a sweat. She hadn't been sure this morning when she'd left the shrine five hundred years in the future. She'd hoped that it wouldn't come to this. "The well's closed, isn't it?"
Her question was more of a statement than anything. She didn't need to have anything affirmed to know. She'd felt the shift in the ground beneath her, and she'd known; of course she'd known.
"Yes, it is."
Kagome swallowed the lump that rose in her throat. "I see."
"You knew, didn't you? You said goodbye to your mother and your brother and to your grandfather, as well. You wrote letters for your friends in hopes that they would never read them, and you kept this from InuYasha."
She shrugged as she tried not to think about the things Midoriko had mentioned. It hurt enough at the time. It had hurt worse than anything she'd ever had to do before.
"I don't see what the big deal is," InuYasha grouched as he waited for Kagome to climb out of the well. Tapping his foot as he wrinkled his nose, he snorted loudly as she tossed her backpack over the ledge and pulled herself up. "Keh! Your time stinks, wench."
Kagome rolled her eyes. "I know. It's called 'pollution', dog boy; now give me a hand, will you?"
He shook his head but caught her hands, easily dragging her over the side of the well before setting her back on her feet. Letting go of her as soon as she was on solid ground, he snorted again, pausing long enough to grab her backpack, before stomping up the stairs that led out of the well-house. Kagome sighed. 'He's as nervous as I am . . . He's afraid that the jewel won't be purified . . . or maybe he's afraid that it will . . .'
It was a plan that they'd been thinking about for awhile. Kaede, the old village miko, had suggested that Kagome and the others try to purify the jewel as one, just as they had defeated Naraku years before. They'd had the jewel all this time because they hadn't wanted to jeopardize tainting the Shikon no Tama in making a wish because, as Miroku had pointed out, wasn't the root of all wishes really a selfish thing? "Even the most seemingly selfless wish is based in some bit of selfishness."
"What the fuck does that mean?" InuYasha snarled from where he lounged casually in Kaede's hut. "There ain't nothing selfish about it, Miroku."
Miroku shook his head and held up his hand perpendicular to his face. "Purifying the jewel, in and of itself, would alleviate the base need to protect it. That is a selfish desire. Without the jewel, the youkai would stop coming, and we—Kagome especially—would be out of danger."
'InuYasha didn't want to admit that Miroku might have been right, but he had stopped demanding that we try to purify it, didn't he?'
Kagome followed InuYasha into the hazy light of the setting sun and shook her head. He hadn't wanted to let her go home, either. He'd started to throw one of his fits about it; about her running home to her time whenever the going got tough, but it wasn't like that this time. It wasn't like that at all. Finally telling him that she was going whether he liked it or not, InuYasha had finally given in, albeit with all the ill grace he could muster. Kagome had been surprised when InuYasha had called out to her, stomping after her as she had swung her legs over the ledge of the well. He hadn't said a word to her when he reached her, but he had given her the 'Pathetic Human' look and had snatched her off the side of the well before hopping into the darkness.
She'd eaten dinner with her family. She'd shared in their happy banter, and she'd laughed with them. Careful not to think about the things that she knew could happen later, she concentrated instead on making sure that she memorized everything about them: Mama's gentle smile, the unruly tendencies of Souta's hair despite his efforts to keep it neat, Grandpa's never-ending stories . . .
"We're going to try to purify the jewel tomorrow," Kagome had said as she washed the dishes after supper. Wincing as she felt her mother's pause as she cleared things off the table, Kagome had known that Mama understood what she had been trying to say.
"I see. It's been a long time in coming, hasn't it?"
"I suppose. We have to do it. It needs to be done. The jewel's hurt too many people. It can't go on like that."
Mrs. Higurashi leaned against the table and folded her arms together over her chest. "And what will happen when you do this?"
Kagome shook her head, shrugged in what she hoped was a careless manner. "We don't know for sure . . . The well . . . it'll probably close."
Mrs. Higurashi sighed. "I understand." Wandering around the kitchen as she tried to find the words to say, Mrs. Higurashi sighed again, stopping by the framed pictures that lined the walls. All the years of her life were there, displayed for anyone who cared to look. Kagome blinked quickly as the prick of tears stung her eyes, realizing just how abrupt it was. "Kagome . . . That's why you're here, isn't it? You . . . You might not come back."
"Mama . . ."
Mrs. Higurashi laughed, waving her hand as she hurried over to hug her daughter. "You know, Kagome, I've never expected you to do anything less than what your heart tells you, and no matter what you choose, I'll never be more proud of you than I am right now."
Kagome nodded, brushing a single tear off her cheek as she managed a thin, watery smile. "I love you, Mama."
Mrs. Higurashi smiled as she reached out and stroked Kagome's hair. "I love you, too, Kagome."
The letters she'd written were hidden away. She wrote them in the middle of the night as InuYasha dozed under the window. Arms wrapped around Tetsusaiga, chin tucked against his chest, she'd seen him sleep like that too often to count, and as she watched him, she knew she didn't really have a choice, and maybe she never really had. InuYasha needed her as much as she needed him, and whether or not he admitted as much, she knew it in her heart. They were meant to be together.
She'd given Mama the letters intended for Souta and Grandpa, and for her friends. She hadn't mentioned to Yuka, Eri, or Ayumi, just why she had gone away. She figured it would be ambiguous at best. Some things should be left unsaid.
Kagome hadn't slept at all that night. Lying awake in the room that was so familiar to her, she held the jewel in her hands and tried not to be sad for whatever might be. She was the one who woke InuYasha in the morning, and she was the first one done eating as InuYasha watched Mrs. Higurashi stuff as much ramen and pocky into Kagome's oversized bag as she could. Kagome forced a hug on her nearly teenage brother, Souta had grumbled and complained as he tried to push her away. She'd hugged Grandpa next, and he seemed oddly quiet as he hugged her back. Mrs. Higurashi had been the last. InuYasha rolled his eyes as Kagome had hugged her mother for a few extra seconds. When they stepped out of the shrine in the bright morning sunshine, he snorted and shrugged and told her to hurry.
"You're so mean," she complained as she hurried to catch up with the hanyou. "Why do you have to be such a baka?"
InuYasha shoved open the doors and ran down the stairs to the well. "I'd rather be a baka with you not crying than not be a baka with you blubbering like a girl."
Kagome paused as she pulled the doors closed. "I am a girl," she pointed out, though her tone had lost most of her irritation. 'He doesn't like it when I'm sad, does he? He . . . he just doesn't handle it well.'
"And it's stupid, anyway," InuYasha went on as he picked Kagome up and hopped into the well. "Ain't no use crying over it. Whatever happens, happens, right?"
Kagome sighed and nodded, fingering the stiff envelopes in her pocket. She'd also written letters to Sango and Miroku, to Shippou . . . and to InuYasha. If things didn't work the way they'd planned, if she was separated from them forever . . . Kagome had given those letters to Kaede, who would give them to the intended recipient if things went awry. "You're right," she agreed, unable to keep the sadness out of her voice. "Whatever happens, happens . . ."
"You know that you must choose. You know that you were never meant to be able to transcend time," Midoriko broke in. "It is time, Kagome. You have family and friends in your time . . . but you have the same here, too."
Kagome nodded, lifting her gaze to the star-filled sky. She could have been searching for answers or looking for another choice. In the end, she knew what she wanted, and she knew what her heart had already chosen.
"Keh! I hate your time, wench! It's too crowded, too smelly, too loud, too everything."
How many times had she heard the same thing from him? Ever since the beginning, he'd never hidden his disdain for her era, and considering his need to be outside, she couldn't really blame him, either.
"Keh! Your time stinks, wench."
Yes, to an inu-hanyou, it probably did. Her time was too congested, too crowded, too overwhelming for his senses, and too . . .
'Would he even want to choose my time? Of course not . . . He'd stay here, and I'd be . . . without him . . .'
Kagome shook her head. Was there ever really a choice at all? As much as she loved her mother and her brother, her grandfather and her friends, maybe she loved InuYasha just a little bit more.
"I . . . I want to stay here," she murmured. "I need to stay here."
Midoriko frowned, tilting her head to the side as she regarded Kagome calmly. "And you're sure? That is what you truly desire?"
Kagome swallowed hard, blinked back tears that threatened. "Yes, I'm sure."
Staring at her for several moments, as though she were trying to figure something out, Midoriko finally, hesitantly, nodded. "So be it."
Kagome's head snapped toward the sound of Sango's exclamation, and she gasped. Spinning around as she ran, she skidded to a stop before the hanyou. His body was fading away, and as he caught sight of Kagome, his eyes flared wide. "Oi, wench! What the fuck did you do?"
Kagome reached for him but her hands slipped through him. "InuYasha! No!"
"Kagome!" he yelled, wildly trying to grab her. Barely more than a vague outline in the darkness, InuYasha's voice lingered in the air, an echo that whispered in her mind.
"What . . .? Why?" she demanded as she stared in shock at the place where InuYasha had stood.
"Where did he go?" Shippou asked quietly, his voice a tiny squeak. "Kagome?"
"Midoriko!" Kagome shrieked as she whipped around to look for the miko. 'There's been a mistake . . . there had to be . . . InuYasha . . .' she thought as she stumbled back the way she'd come, her eyes filling with furious tears as she tried to convince herself that it wasn't really true. "Midoriko!"
"Kagome, no!" Miroku commanded as he grabbed Kagome by the shoulders to keep her from running away into the night.
"Where is he, Miroku?" she whispered, desperation creeping into her tone. "Where is he?"
Miroku shook his head and hugged Kagome tighter as Kagome sank to her knees. "I . . . I don't know."
"He can't have just disappeared! He can't have just . . . he can't!" Kagome railed.
Another set of arms wrapped around both her and Miroku as Sango rested her cheek on Kagome's shoulder. "Maybe he's not really gone," Sango rasped out, her voice deep and stunted, and Kagome knew that the youkai exterminator was crying.
"InuYasha! InuYasha!" Kagome screamed, wincing at the lonely sound of her voice rising above the trees only to echo back to her as she struggled against her friends' grips. "InuYasha!"
Shippou threw himself onto Kagome's lap. "Where'd he go, Kagome? Why would he leave us? Where'd he go?"
'Midoriko,' Kagome thought suddenly. She knew what happened, didn't she? "Midoriko!"
"She's not here, Kagome," Miroku told her, his tone overly reasonable and so very, very sad. "She's gone, too."
"No! She can't be gone! She has to tell me where InuYasha is! She . . . Midoriko!" she shrieked, tugging against the arms that held her back. She screamed until her throat was raw. Over and over, she called out, hoping that the miko would answer as Sango's tears ran down Kagome's arm, as Shippou's tears dampened the front of her blouse, as Miroku squeezed her tighter and tighter.
Kagome's eyes were strained and burning from her futile attempts to see even the vaguest hint of movement in the night, she slumped weakly against Miroku, her mind numbing to the truth that she didn't want to believe. Never in her life had Kagome ever felt quite so empty, quite so alone. It made no sense, and as weariness stole over her, Kagome willed herself to cry. She felt the tingle of tears prickling her nose, felt her throat thicken as she blinked rapidly. The tears wouldn't come.
It was no use. It didn't matter. Midoriko was gone, and InuYasha . . .
InuYasha was gone, too.
Shikon no Kakera: Shards of the Sacred Jewel of Four Souls.
Shikon no Tama: Sacred Jewel of Four Souls.
== == == == == == == == == ==
I'm SO glad this is back up! I never got to review the first time... sorry! I really love it so far and I have some questions that I'm hoping are vague enough for you to answer. First, will we get to meet another great villain of yours? They are always so well crafted and end up being on my list of 'My Favorite Evil-Doers Ever!' Second, there were so many moments in Chronicles that focused on Sango and Miroku... will Desideratum have much focus on the relationship between those two? You write them beautifully as well. And what's Shippou's role in this story? Lol, you probably won't answer most of those, but I can try ne? Thanks for giving us a second chance!
Another great villain? Hmm …
Sango: What do you say, Houshi-sama?
Miroku: Whatever you wish, Sango, my sweet …
Shippou: I'm going to be in this one, too, right?
Chocolate milk and popcorn (MMorg):
OMG! You posted it! I am SO excited about this story. I love all of your stories, but your InuYasha/Kagome stories are always absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for taking the time to repost this for your fans. The start is amazing. I have a couple of questions. First, Is there going to be a angsty side story with Miroku and his kazaana? It seems like there is a great set up for this. Second, How much further in the series does this one take place? Thanks for the post. I can't wait for more.
Miroku: But the kazaana is gone … right … ?
Kagome: Three long years later, huh …
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Final Thought from Kagome:
Where did he go?
InuYasha jammed his arms up the sleeves of his haori as he tried to keep his ears from flattening against his head while sitting on the kitchen floor next to the doorway with his knees up to his chest and his hands on the floor between his feet.
Mrs. Higurashi's face was pale and drawn, ashen, and InuYasha winced as he noticed the trembling in her hands as she brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. "So you don't think she can get back through."
Swallowing hard to force down the thickening in his throat, InuYasha jerked his head once in answer. "The well's closed. I checked it."
She sighed, licking her lips before pressing them together in a thin line. "I don't understand," she began in a quiet monotone, "I don't see how this could have happened."
'Because,' he thought as he scowled at the floor. 'I was careless . . . I thought . . . and she . . . Damn that Kagome . . . always doing stupid shit, and now . . .'
Mrs. Higurashi pushed herself to her feet and hurried over to the cupboard, rummaging around until she located a big Styrofoam cup of instant ramen. It didn't take long for her to open the container and dump in the boiling water. Her actions reminded InuYasha of her daughter, of how Kagome would do things simply to keep herself from having to think about things that troubled her.
The smile that surfaced on Mrs. Higurashi's face was somehow horrifying to him. As thin and weak as a grimace . . . "You must be hungry, right? We already ate, but . . . You're probably starving."
InuYasha ducked his head at the smooth tone, the calmness that she used to hide her emotions. 'What the fuck is wrong with her? I just told her Kagome ain't coming back, and . . . and she's making me ramen? What the hell is she doing?'
"Do you have a place to go, InuYasha?" Uttering a terse little laugh, the woman waved a hand dismissively, as though she'd figured something out on her own. "Of course you don't, do you? You can stay here, naturally. Souta and Grandpa . . . and I . . . we'd really like for you to stay."
"Thank you," he grumbled, ears flattening for a moment before he willed them to pop up again.
Mrs. Higurashi sighed again, her gaze rising to stare out the window at the darkness . . . at Goshinboku's leaves swaying in the summer night. "You can stay in K-Kagome's room," she said at last, her voice faltering when she tried to say her daughter's name. "Yes, she'd want you to."
'Stay in her room?'
Could he do that? To be surrounded by Kagome's things . . . to be so near the objects that were hers and yet to know in his heart that she couldn't get to him? InuYasha shook his head. "I'll sleep in Goshinboku," he mumbled.
"If that's what you want," Mrs. Higurashi agreed, forcing another smile that was paper-thin.
"Inu-no-nii-chan! You're here! Where's nee-chan?" Souta asked as he ran into the kitchen with his best friend on his heels. Hitomi skidded to a stop and bowed to Mrs. Higurashi before cocking her head to the side and staring at InuYasha—or more precisely, at his ears. He'd seen the girl a few times. He'd even spoken to her once, but he'd been wearing a kerchief to hide his ears, at Kagome's insistence, of course.
Souta used to have a crush on Hitomi—that was what Kagome called it. She said it was puppy love, and while InuYasha had taken offense to that reference, he sort of understood what it meant. Souta and Hitomi hadn't been boyfriend and girlfriend long, but they had become friends, and that sort of friendship was hard to find. InuYasha knew that, first hand.
"You have . . . dog ears!" Hitomi blurted, cheeks turning bright red about the moment the words left her mouth as she slapped her hands over her lips, eyes widening in shock at her slip. "I'm sorry!"
Souta laughed. "Sure he does! He's hanyou—inu-hanyou!"
"I didn't know that, baka!" Hitomi growled as she rounded on Souta. The boy backed up, fingers splayed as he waved his hands to protest his innocence.
"It's fine! Calm down! Inu-no-nii-chan doesn't mind, do you?"
InuYasha took the ramen from Mrs. Higurashi and shot Souta a cursory glance. He didn't feel like eating, but for some reason, he thought that Mrs. Higurashi would be upset if he didn't. "Keh."
"See?" Souta sputtered as he backed away from Hitomi's wrath.
"But I didn't know it, and . . ." Hitomi gasped. "Souta! You said you tell me everything! You're a liar!"
"I didn't lie! I just didn't tell you! Inu-no-nii-chan!"
"You're on your own, runt," InuYasha grunted between bites of ramen.
"Where's nee-chan? She can explain this better than I can," Souta insisted.
InuYasha choked on the ramen that he'd been eating. Mrs. Higurashi uttered a tiny sound that reminded him of Kirara's soft mewling when the youkai was in her normal form. The stubborn desire to eat the ramen dissipated, and InuYasha set the bowl on the floor with a hefty thump, sending a wave of broth over the edge of the Styrofoam as his chopsticks hit the floor with an obscenely loud clatter.
"What'd I say?" Souta asked, staring from InuYasha to his mother and back again.
Mrs. Higurashi cleared her throat as she glanced over Souta's head. Grandpa Higurashi shuffled into the kitchen. While he seemed surprised to see InuYasha crouching on the floor, he didn't remark on it, and InuYasha had to wonder if the old man knew something. "She's gone, isn't she?" he asked without preamble, his voice a dry whisper as he gripped Mrs. Higurashi's shoulder.
"Who's gone?" Souta asked, the first real hint of panic seeping into his tone.
Mrs. Higurashi shot InuYasha an indiscernible glance and slowly nodded. "I think so."
Grandpa's hand dropped away, and he turned, stumbling back out of the kitchen without another word and still without even glancing at the hanyou.
InuYasha winced, hearing the old man's muffled sobs mingled with the creak of the stairs. The others probably didn't hear it, and that was what he wanted. InuYasha wished that he hadn't heard it, either.
"Nee-chan's gone?" Souta demanded, shaking his head as he scowled at his mother. "How? How could she be . . . But Inu-no-nii-chan's here . . ."
InuYasha shot to his feet and stomped out of the house, through the back door, not pausing till he reached the base of Goshinboku. Leaping into the uppermost branches of the gnarled old tree, he hid himself among the leaves, smacked his head back against the trunk as he balled his hands into fists, biting his lip until he tasted blood.
After he spoke to Midoriko—after he told her what it was he wanted—he'd appeared in the bottom of the dry well. His senses had told him immediately that he was in Kagome's era, in Kagome's time. He knew it, and yet he couldn't accept it. Jumping out of the well only to leap back in again, he'd tried to ignore the voice in his mind, the one that told him that he wasn't going to get back through. He'd made his choice, but what he didn't understand was how it had gone so wrong.
'I want to be in Kagome's world. That's what I . . . I want . . .'
Midoriko had smiled at him, and he had thought, for that brief moment, that maybe dreams did come true. When he'd started to disappear, when he'd realized that Kagome wasn't coming with him . . .
His stomach twisted itself in knots. Surrounded by a world that didn't make sense to him, lost in a place where he didn't really belong, any more than he belonged in the world five hundred years ago, InuYasha closed his eyes and moaned softly. The only place he'd ever belonged was beside Kagome. The only times he'd ever felt completely accepted was when Kagome smiled at him. To be here or there or anywhere without her . . .
'Stupid Kagome . . . This is her fault! She was supposed to want to be with me! She . . . she wasn't supposed to leave me alone . . .'
"Can I stay with you, InuYasha?"
"It's all right, you know . . . I'm with you by choice . . ."
And all the tears she'd cried for him . . . after all the times he'd let her down, all the times he'd failed her . . .
All those moments when she hadn't said a word because she didn't need to . . .
Something inside him was breaking, shattering. The terror that choked him as he thought of never seeing Kagome's face again was so much worse than the wounds he'd received while he sought to protect her.
She was his reason for living, wasn't she?
She was his entire world, and now . . .
Now she was gone . . .
". . . Won't eat . . ."
". . . Hasn't slept . . ."
". . . How long . . .?"
". . . Will she . . .?"
". . . Because he's . . ."
"Poor Kagome-chan . . ."
Kagome stared into the blackness of the gaping hole and blinked slowly. If she stopped to consider what she was doing, she would have realized that there was no way that it would happen. The well wasn't going to suddenly open, and InuYasha . . .
Her eyelids burned, her throat ached, and she wished she could cry. Sure, she'd come close to crying more than once. She'd teetered on the brink—nose burning, eyes prickling, lip trembling. It was her last hope; a desperate hope. She sat here on the edge of the Bone Eater's Well every day for the last three days since the night InuYasha had disappeared. She hadn't been able to muster the courage to drop into it yet. In her heart she knew the well was closed. In her mind, she knew that there really wasn't a way to bridge the five hundred year separation, but she couldn't help hoping, wishing, wondering . . . If she wanted it bad enough, couldn't a wish come true? If she promised enough of herself, would it count for anything?
Hitching her backpack over her shoulder again, Kagome braced herself on the edge of the well. 'It has to let me through, right? It . . . it has to . . .'
"Kagome-chan . . ."
She didn't turn at the sound of Sango's soft voice. Gripping the wall until her fingertips turned white, Kagome braced her feet against the wood, ready to push off and drop.
"Kagome-chan, please . . ."
"I've got to try," Kagome whispered, unable to look her friend in the eye, unable to deal with the pity in her expression that Kagome knew she would see.
"Do you think it'll work? Do you really?"
"It has to work."
"But what if it doesn't? What if . . .? It's a long drop."
"And if you were me? If Miroku were InuYasha instead? You'd try; I know you would."
Sango didn't deny it. She sighed and touched Kagome's arm. No one had tried to touch Kagome since that night. Whether they were afraid of her miko power or if they just didn't know what to expect, not one of her friends had tried to say anything. She heard them whispering, knew of their concerns. Some things were more important; things like InuYasha and the things they hadn't gotten a chance to say . . .
"I have to try," she stated again. "I have to."
"If you do, and it doesn't work—"
Kagome shook her head. "If I do and it doesn't work, then at least I'll have tried."
"Kagome-dono, wait!" Miroku called, the hoops on the Shakuju jingling as he hurried forward. "Listen, please. If you jump in there, and you don't go through, you're going to hurt yourself."
She didn't know how to explain it to them. She didn't know how to make them listen. Part of her was already broken. Part of her felt like it was dying.
A low rumble split the afternoon. A tell-tale rustling in the trees drew their attention. The bag slipped off Kagome's shoulder as she flipped her legs back around to the solid side of the well. Miroku spared the women a glance before he stepped forward, waving for them to stay behind. "It's youkai," Sango murmured, holding onto Kagome's arm as the miko retrieved her bow and arrows.
The lynx youkai ran out of the forest, spotting the group and running straight toward them. He was young—not much older than Shippou, and by the time he skidded to a stop before them, he was panting for breath, his ears drooping in exhaustion as he tried to speak and draw air at the same time. "Looking . . . for . . . Inu . . . Yasha . . ." he gasped. "Hi, Kirara!"
The fire cat youkai mewled and rubbed against the lynx youkai's leg.
"He looks shifty," Shippou remarked, tugging on Kagome's sock. "I wouldn't trust him . . ."
"It's okay, Shippou," Kagome assured him. "I think he's fine."
"Yeah, but he knows InuYasha. That can't be good."
"Hush, Shippou," Sango hissed, waving her hand at the kitsune to silence him.
"InuYasha? Who are you, and what business do you have with him?" Kagome asked evenly.
"Name's Bunza," he replied. "My tribe is being attacked. InuYasha said that if we ever needed him . . ."
"Attacked by what?" Sango asked.
Bunza shrugged and made a face. "There's an oni that came down from the mountain. He says that my father woke him, and he's demanding retribution. My father could take care of it, no problem, but . . . but he's been sick lately . . ."
Kagome sighed. InuYasha could have easily helped Bunza, she was sure, and even if he grumbled about it, he'd have done it. How many people did InuYasha leave behind? How many people need his protection, his help? 'Oh, InuYasha . . . I wish you were here . . .'
The monk frowned, glancing over his shoulder at Kagome.
"How do you know InuYasha?" she asked, kneeling down before the young youkai.
Bunza stared at her curiously, head tilted to the side as his eyes narrowed. "We trained together with Master Totosai. We wanted to learn to break barriers. InuYasha helped me save my father that time. He's my kouhai."
"Kouhai?" Miroku echoed rather incredulously.
"Yeah, because I was there first, so I was his sempai. InuYasha was pretty tough, but he was still only my kouhai."
"Did he thump you for saying that?" Shippou asked, peeking out from behind Sango's legs.
"No, he was kind to me," Bunza replied. "He gave me his fish and stuff."
Shippou hopped down and ran over to Bunza. The two youkai children were practically nose to nose, staring at each other like they were sizing up the competition. "You're just a lynx. You're not very tough," Shippou remarked.
"Yeah? You're just a kitsune. Kitsunes use tricks and toys," Bunza shot back.
"Kitsunes are masters of deception," Shippou replied hotly.
"And lynxes are faster that stupid kitsunes, so we don't need your babyish deceptions!"
"InuYasha's not here," Kagome said, struggling to keep her voice steady as she pulled Shippou back before the two started fighting for real. Shippou tried to pull himself free but settled for sticking his tongue out at Bunza. Bunza retaliated in kind as Kagome sighed and shook her head. "Maybe we can help you."
"Kagome . . . are you sure?" Sango questioned as Kagome stood up.
Kagome nodded, retrieving her bag, a determination stealing into her gaze; a determination that had been missing of late. "InuYasha would do it," she stated. "I can do it, too."
Nee-chan: big sister. Souta refers to Kagome in this way.
Inu-no-nii-chan: This is the cutest thing, ever. Souta calls InuYasha this: dog-big-brother, basically.
-dono: largely archaic honorific denoting very high respect. Typically denotes status above '-sama', often translated as "Lord/Lady" but does not necessarily reflect a lower social status for the speaker, as is implied.
Kouhai: roughly translated Junior (Little) Brother.
Sempai: roughly translated Senior (Big) Brother.
Shakuju: Miroku's staff.
== == == == == == == == == ==
Poor Kagome, poor InuYasha... maybe now he'll actually realize how much she means to him? I loved Kirara's wish... it was so simple and so sweet. I always love your InuYasha stories. Do you only write fanfic or do you read it, too?
InuYasha: Oi, Sueric! Get your nose out of that fic!
katamari damashii —— tessie —— thefaeryofpurejoy —— foamyfan15010 —— DawnFire881 —— xenus —— Akihana (sure, but it's also canon, and therefore, I use it, as do many other fanfic writers. It's like writing a Yasha fanfic and trying not to let Kagome rub his ears. It is nearly impossible to do.) —— Pioden —— littleolmee —— Inuyoukaimama —— trinigirl524 —— Suze —— EAP —— nerwenfaelvirin —— kamackie —— Morly —— Yuzuki Potter —— Angelstars —— Samishii Hanyou —— notzathros —— BlackMamba07 —— pagan_sedjou —— futekioosha aka Frankenballz —— OROsan0677 —— Zirra Nova —— Queenie Peenie —— nancey —— BakaInuGirl —— kiaraecko —— UltimaX —— fairia ——- alize —— Desire6528 —— marta178 —— lilbabidevil214 —— Kaneasimi —— angelica incarnate —— lesalee —— yasha 101 —— chaos_kyes_fallen_angel —— NyteAngelOfDarkness7 —— dragon-fly —— mandateofhell (aw, thanks!) —— ME —— CJ Finnegan —— lunatrick114 —— fallenangel7583 —— Jason C —— Pacer
Final Thought from InuYasha:
InuYasha wrinkled his nose and glared at the clothes lying on Kagome's bed. Standing in the doorway of the entirely too-familiar room, he could feel the emptiness in the air and stifled a sigh. Mrs. Higurashi had bought him clothes to help him 'fit in', and he knew she was trying to be helpful but it didn't alleviate the bitter stab of resentment that surged in him.
'Kagome . . . didn't care that I didn't 'fit in'.
Out of sight, out of mind, or however that saying went . . . The only thing that Kagome seemed to mind was that other people would see his dog ears, and since the initial reaction to those in the modern age was for people to want to touch them, he didn't mind wearing the baseball cap. She never asked him to dress differently. She never really asked for much.
'Ain't nothing wrong with my fire rat clothes,' he grumped as he turned away from the room and stomped toward the stairs. 'I ain't wearing those. No one can make me! Keh!'
Souta was lying on his stomach in the living room, playing one of his 'video games' with Hitomi. There had been a few times before, when the boy would try to get InuYasha to play, too.
"Inu-no-nii-chan, you can play the winner," Souta offered without looking at the hanyou.
"That'll be me," Hitomi assured him.
Souta scowled at the girl and rolled his eyes. "Fat chance! You stink at this game!"
"Oh, really? Then who beat whom the other day at the arcade? That's right; it was Hitomi-chan, wasn't it?"
"Because I let you!"
"You did not!"
InuYasha's decisive snort went unheeded by the arguing youngsters as he tried not to remember the same sort of petty arguments that normally ended with an irritated miko yelling the word that InuYasha both despised and somehow craved. "Osuwari!"
'Keh! I don't miss that, damn it! Why the fuck would I miss that, of all things?'
Still the emptiness surged inside him as the ache of missing her grew more intense, uglier.
"You're such a pain, Hitomi-chan!"
"And you're such a baka, Souta-kun!"
'Playing's for pups,' InuYasha thought sourly, ignoring the argument that struck a little too close to home. 'I ain't got time for that.'
He didn't, not really. Spending all his waking moments trying to concoct a way to reopen the Bone Eater's Well, to find a way back to the past—to Kagome . . . Those thoughts were the things that kept him moving, kept him thinking, drove him like the threat of Naraku never had. To think that there really wasn't any way to get back to her would be akin to giving up, and, well, InuYasha had never been very good at that, either.
Grandpa Higurashi shuffled through the back door, eyes shifting around the living room as though he were looking for something in particular. His gaze lit on InuYasha and stuck. The hanyou's ears twitched as the man drew near, as he reached into his shirt and pulled out an ofuda.
InuYasha glared menacingly at the old man. He didn't trust the strange look in Grandpa's eyes, and when the old man raised the paper charm to put it on InuYasha, he drew his lips back in a fierce snarl meant to ward off the action. Grandpa ignored the obvious warning, slapping the paper on InuYasha's head. InuYasha pulled it off and crumpled it in his fist. "I told you, old man, your stupid little pieces of paper don't work on me!"
Grandpa grumbled something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like, "Next time it will," before shuffling off toward the kitchen.
'We'll see about that,' InuYasha thought with a decisive snort. 'Yeah, it ain't happening . . . the only one who could purify or seal me is Kagome, and she ain't—' His ears drooped as he cut himself off. Glancing around quickly to ascertain that no one else had noticed his momentary lapse, he made a face. 'She ain't here. Stupid Kagome . . .'
It confused him a little. Since finding out that Kagome hadn't made it back after purifying the Shikon no Tama, her grandfather had been almost hostile toward him. InuYasha didn't care—at least, that's what he told himself. He only wished he knew why. It was almost as if the old man blamed him for Kagome staying in the past, and in a way, it was true. InuYasha strode toward the doors, figuring that Goshinboku was the best place to be at the moment. At least he would be safe from little brothers and irritated grandfathers. Then he could think in peace.
Leaping into the highest branches to hide in the relative tranquility of the God Tree, InuYasha settled back with a dejected snort, thrust his arms together in the sleeves of the haori. He figured he had a good hour or two before Mrs. Higurashi came looking for him. She had an annoying habit of doing that at odd moments during the day. She always stared at him with a slight frown, as if she thought he was going to sprout another four heads and start breathing fire.
He knew that the Shikon no Tama had been the reason the well had been allowing the time travel in the first place. He could understand that, he supposed. It hadn't really surprised him when the well had closed. To be completely honest, he'd rather expected it. He just hadn't expected Kagome to wish to stay in his time. Why should she? Sure, Sango, Miroku, and Shippou were there, but her family was here. Her friends were here. All her modern conveniences and those things she couldn't seem to live without were here—things like shampoo and the rest of the things that she loved to remind him of on a daily basis.
Even then . . .
Even then, the worst of it all was the feeling that he was absolutely useless here. He wasn't entirely sure why, but there just weren't the numbers of youkai these days—if there were any at all—which he was seriously starting to doubt. But that didn't make sense, did it? Youkai were strong. There was no way that they'd be extinct.
Nope, the one in real danger from youkai was Kagome, and that was one of the many thoughts that tended to keep him up at night, too. Sure, she had Miroku and Sango with her, and he knew damn well that they would look after her, but he was the one, wasn't he? The one who always rushed in, the one who always saved Kagome.
'Sure, except you're underestimating her—again.'
InuYasha snorted indelicately. 'No way! She's just a pathetic human—and a girl! She cries at everything, remember? And she never shuts up . . . Maybe she could blab the youkai to death . . .'
Then he sighed. The truth of it was that as much as InuYasha liked to think that Kagome needed his protection, she didn't, not really. He'd started suspecting early on that she chose to let him protect her, and maybe she understood that somewhere deep down, someplace hidden in the confines of his psyche, maybe he needed to protect her. She was smart, she was strong . . . and maybe InuYasha was the one who really needed Kagome far more than Kagome had ever needed him.
"I did not, you liar!"
"You did, too, you baka!"
"I don't think it matters, which one of you emptied the last water bottle," Sango interrupted reasonably. "We'll refill them as soon as we stop for the night. It isn't a problem."
Kagome rolled her eyes as she hitched her bow over her shoulder and spared a glance behind her at the fighting youkai children. Bunza sat on Sango's lap, sticking his tongue out at the kitsune, while Shippou crouched on Miroku's shoulder, glowering back at the lynx-youkai. They really couldn't seem to stand one another, and Kagome wasn't entirely sure why it would be so. As though they were vying for some sort of rank in the social hierarchy of the group, Shippou and Bunza were wearing on her already thin nerves. She wished they would just stop bickering.
"That's enough, you two," Miroku said, heaving an audible sigh as he slowly shook his head. "This looks like as good a place as any to make camp."
Kagome dropped her backpack and rummaged around for the water bottles. "I don't like him, Kagome," Shippou said as he scampered over to her side. "He's shifty . . . How do we know InuYasha really helped him before? We don't, do we? We can't trust just anyone, right?"
"Shippou," Kagome began in a warning tone. "He's just a little boy like you. I'm sure you'll be friends once you get to know him."
Shippou wrinkled his nose, crossing his arms over his chest and reminding Kagome of InuYasha during one of his stubborn moments. "Here," she said, digging a packet of pocky out of one of the last boxes in her backpack. "Why don't you try to make peace with Bunza? I'm sure he'd like pocky as much as you do."
The kitsune looked appalled at the suggestion that he share his precious snack with the lynx. Kagome stood up with the water bottles, ruffled Shippou's russet hair as she shot him an encouraging smile before heading off to find the stream.
The late afternoon sunshine reflected off the rippling water as a sultry heat brought an instant sheen of sweat to Kagome's brow. Wishing that she'd taken the time to change into a cooler blouse, she couldn't help wondering how warm it was back home; couldn't help wondering how InuYasha was adjusting to life on the other side of the Bone Eater's Well. Hunkering down beside the water's edge, Kagome rinsed the water bottles before she began to fill them.
"Those two get along as well as InuYasha and Kouga on their best day," Sango remarked as she stepped out of the trees to kneel beside Kagome next to the stream. Taking up an empty bottle, the youkai exterminator wiped her brow and blew out a breath of air that sent her bangs flying up off her forehead. "You've been quiet," she remarked, trying for a casual tone of voice.
Kagome tried to smile but it looked more like a grimace. Sango tilted her head in a compassionate sort of way, and the gesture only served to make Kagome feel that much worse. "Sorry, Sango-chan . . . I guess I've just not been in the most talkative of moods lately."
"It's okay. We all understand. We miss him, too . . . even Kirara does."
"I feel so stupid," Kagome admitted, gazing at the water, at the silvery glints of sunlight that reminded her of InuYasha's hair, of the way it blew behind him, rippling in the breeze as he ran through the forest. "I'll bet he blames me for being there. I blame myself for him being there . . ."
"That's not true. How were you to know that he'd want to go to your time?"
Kagome smiled sadly, digging a rumpled kerchief out of her pocket and dipping it into the tepid water. "That's just it, you know? He always complained about my time. Too noisy, too smelly . . . too crowded . . . I never thought he'd choose it. I never thought . . ." She shrugged and squeezed the excess moisture out of the kerchief before wiping her face. "What do you think he's doing right now? Do you think . . . do you think he misses us, just a little?"
"Kagome, of course he does! He chose your time because of you. He must have believed you'd choose it, too. Then you'd have been together."
Sango was right, and Kagome knew it. Still it offered little in the way of consolation when there was no way to fix the wishes gone wrong. In the two days since they'd left the village to help Bunza's clan, Kagome had started to come to grips with the idea that InuYasha might not be able to come back at all. She didn't want to believe it. She also couldn't think of a single way to change it. The well was closed. Midoriko had said as much, and while InuYasha might have lived through the five hundred years separating them if the situation were reversed, Kagome wouldn't be able to do that.
"It's so stupid," Kagome mumbled with a shake of her head. "Just . . . stupid, you know?"
Sango sighed and shook her head. Kagome could see it in her friend's gaze. Sango felt helpless, as though nothing she could say or do would really make a difference, at all. Maybe it wouldn't, but it did help to know that she was surrounded by people who loved her. Sango, Miroku, and Shippou . . . they were as close as family.
'InuYasha . . . will you find that, too?'
Thinking about that brought the memory of her mother's face to mind. Sharp and poignant, Kagome couldn't quite grasp the idea that she really wouldn't see her again. 'Mama will help you, InuYasha . . . She'll do it because that's what Mama does. I don't think she'll be able to help herself, but maybe you'll help her, too . . . Maybe you'll help her so she doesn't miss me . . .'
Kagome shifted her gaze toward the hazy blue sky. 'Such a perfect evening,' she thought with a stifled sigh as she drew her legs up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her knees. How often had InuYasha and she sat on evenings such as these, content to stare off into the distance from the highest boughs of Goshinboku? No words had ever been spoken. They hadn't really needed them back then. It was enough to sit beside him, to accept the quiet comfort of his presence.
She felt like a child all over again. She felt the same uncertainty and fear she knew on that first day of school long ago. Staring at the strange faces of the other children in her class, she'd wanted her mother to take her back to the safety and security of the shrine. In the end she'd been fine, of course. Kagome had never forgotten that feeling of dread—the same one she felt again years later after she'd fallen through the Bone Eater's Well in the time before she had met InuYasha . . .
The same sky felt emptier now. The world seemed darker and somehow sadder. Still, she knew that with every second that passed, every minute that slipped away, the memories she held so dear—so vivid in her mind—would fade with time until all that was left was the thin wisp of a hazy vision, and the cherished memory of sensations that might make her stop and think and wonder. She would remember his name. She would remember that she loved him. Would he remember her? 'Such a sense of serenity . . . but I can't find any real comfort in it, at all . . .'
The fluffy clouds resembled the shape of a surly hanyou, and the smell on the wings of the subtle breeze smelled like him: like InuYasha.
"She's not doing as well as she wants us to believe," Sango said softly, staring across the dancing flames of the campfire at the sleeping miko.
Miroku stifled a sigh and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Of course she isn't. She misses him, as we all do. They've always shared a special bond. It stands to reason she misses him more."
"A special bond?" Sango echoed as Kirara curled up on her lap. "She loves him. She's loved him forever."
"Small comfort that he verified what we all suspected," Miroku agreed. "His actions proved it, didn't they? He chose to be with Kagome, but he never thought . . ." He trailed off and shook his head, sighed as he turned his head to stare at Bunza, who was curled up on a blanket nearby.
She fell quiet for a moment, her gaze careful, direct as she slowly stroked the fire-cat's fur. "What'll become of her, without InuYasha? She chose to stay here because of him, but . . . But he's not here, and I don't think . . . He can't come back, can he?"
"I don't think so," Miroku agreed. "I don't know of anyone who could reopen a time slip."
"I just wish there was something we could do."
"I know what you mean. I feel that way, too. There isn't really anything we can do for Kagome, aside from being her friends. She's strong. She'll be fine."
"I know. It just makes me angry," Sango said suddenly, vehemence thinning her voice to a hiss as her eyes sparked dangerously. Miroku winced inwardly. He'd seen that look one time too many. Her fire, her passion, the same fierce determination . . . He adored that about her. He adored everything about her . . . "Why would Midoriko do such a thing? She had to have known, didn't she?"
"I don't know, Sango. We can't ask her. She had to have had her reasons."
"Houshi-sama . . ."
He could feel her troubled gaze but didn't dare to look at her.
"What did Midoriko say to you?"
'I cannot change things for you. I cannot lessen your fears nor can I dispel your doubts. I can tell you that the things you seek are not impossible. The path is troublesome, but you, Miroku . . . you must be certain that it is what you truly want.'
Shaking off the sadness inspired by Midoriko's words, Miroku forced a half-smile as he tossed another log onto the fire. "It's not important, Sango. Don't worry about it."
She looked like she wasn't sure what to believe. His words were confident enough, but he knew that she could see right through his attempt to evade her question. He didn't doubt for a second that she was far from buying his feeble attempts to placate her.
"It's hard to believe that the Shikon no Tama is gone, isn't it?" she finally asked. "It seems strange. I want to be happy, but . . ." Her words died away as her gaze returned to Kagome's sleeping form again. Sango sighed and shook her head. "Maybe it was true. Maybe what we did to purify it . . . maybe it was our faults."
"I don't think so," Miroku replied. "It's all right to be happy. You lost your village and your family because of Naraku's evil wish to possess the jewel. You've earned the right."
"Not all of my family," she ventured quietly. Her gaze fell to her hands, clasped in her lap.
"He'll come back eventually," Miroku told her.
Sango sighed and bobbed her shoulders as a hint of a blush crept up her cheeks. "I sound so petty, don't I? I should just be glad—thankful—that Kohaku lived, and here I am, whining because he is off on his own . . ."
"I don't think that's whining, and I don't think you're petty, either," Miroku said gently. "Maybe, instead of dwelling on the idea that he's out there alone, you should think about the things you want to do."
"Like what?" she asked, her tone more questioning than challenging.
Miroku considered it before answering. "I don't know, Sango . . . Tell me the first thing that comes to your mind."
"I want to restore my people," she replied automatically. "When I think about my village . . . when I think about the sadness that lives there . . ." Trailing off with a sigh, she shook her head. "I want there to be laughter again. I want to be able to smile when I think about it—when I look at it."
Miroku chuckled. "I think that's a fine ambition, Sango."
She didn't respond, but she didn't have to. He could sense a definite lightening in the air surrounding her, and while he knew that she wouldn't delude herself into thinking that it would be easy, he did know that there was no one quite like her once she set her mind to something.
"And you?" she asked at length.
She nodded. "What is it that you want, houshi-sama?"
Miroku smiled as Sango's gaze rose to meet his. Reluctant, unsure, her body seemed to whisper things that his mind tried desperately to ignore. It was the closest they'd been since the night they had gathered to purify the jewel. Too worried about Kagome to concentrate on anything else, Miroku and Sango's moments had been few and far between since the mishap. There were still too many things that Miroku wasn't sure he could ask of her, too many sacrifices that she would have to make. She would choose to make them, wouldn't she? She'd smile and say it was her choice, after all.
Miroku shifted his gaze away, unable to voice his concerns. If there were no answers for InuYasha and Kagome, what were the odds that there would be any for the likes of him? "That's simple," he said, his tone deliberately teasing her. "I have earned the right to sleep. Between Shippou and Bunza, it's been a really, really long day, don't you think?"
Sango was caught off-guard by his flip answer. For a moment, he thought she was going to call him on the intentional sidestepping of her question. In the end, she stretched out on her blanket. Kirara curled up in a ball of fur beside her.
Miroku stared at the fire for a long time. When he glanced over at Sango, she was asleep.
InuYasha kicked a rock as he wandered through the familiar forest, trying to ignore the strange sense of emptiness that surrounded him. Located behind the shrine, he'd sought refuge here after Mrs. Higurashi's well-meaning but unwelcome attempts to cajole him into trying on the clothes she's purchased for him. All of the animals that used to roam the same forest were gone, chased away by too many humans, by the smelly air of the hulking buildings that loomed over the top of the trees: the city of Tokyo. It used to be his forest. It used to be filled with birds and animals, and even the trees were silent now, relegated to the role of little more than nuisances that hindered the further development of the vast city.
He'd never understand this time, and without Kagome, he didn't really want to.
The feeling of utter helplessness was something that nearly killed him. Used to being able to fight through whatever opposition came his way, the foreign sense that the situation was entirely beyond his control was enough to put him on edge. For the first time in his life, the antagonist was something he couldn't touch or see or smell. He couldn't track it, he couldn't hunt it, he couldn't confront it. 'How the hell am I supposed to defeat it?' It wasn't as simple as a youkai, standing between Kagome and him. No amount of hollering or fighting was going to change it. Digging in the well until his fingers bled under his claws didn't work, either. He'd tried everything he could think of. He'd run out of ideas.
What was she doing now? Did she miss him? Did she worry about him? Was she trying to figure out a way to get to her time?
Mrs. Higurashi had mentioned that she was checking into finding a tutor for InuYasha. He hadn't really understood what that meant, but as she kept talking, he had gotten the distinct feeling that whatever she meant couldn't possibly be good. She said that since they didn't really know how long InuYasha would be staying with them, that it was safest to assume that he'd be there indefinitely, and if that were the case, then he'd need to have an education.
He did understand what education meant. It meant the same to him that it had to Kagome: tests and exams and stupid books. 'Keh! Over my dead body,' he grumbled, stomping a little faster as he flicked his ears and glowered at the sparse grass on the forest floor. He hated when Kagome ignored him in favor of studying. There was no way in hell he was going to do the same thing . . .
But the main reason he didn't want to cooperate was the irrational notion that in doing so, he would be accepting his fate, and if he accepted that, then it meant that he never really was meant to be with Kagome, didn't it? It meant that he would have to give up hope.
'Stupid Kagome . . . What was she thinking? She knew I'd choose to be here with her. She had to have known. Why does she always have to be so difficult? I swear she did this on purpose. Some sort of stupid trick of hers, ain't it? She's always trying to push me . . . I'll bet she did this just to piss me off! Well, I'll show her! I . . . I don't care! Why should I care when she didn't? If she did, she'd be here, too, wouldn't she? If she cared . . . Wench . . .'
He sighed, scowl dissipating as InuYasha's ears flattened against his head. It was simpler to be angry with her than it was to let himself feel anything else. It was easier to deal with that. It was far less complicated to tell himself that she didn't care, that she'd done all this on purpose. Irritation and rage were things he knew. Those emotions had always worked to cover the truth of his feelings. Kagome had peeled away those layers, had uncovered a vulnerability that InuYasha truly despised. In the time they'd spent together, he'd allowed Kagome to see more of his heart, more of his emotions, than he'd ever showed a single soul.
He needed a good fight. Unused to living in a time and place where youkai were either unseen or had ceased to exist, InuYasha's outlet for his pent-up frustration had been taken away. At least if he were still in the past, he'd only have to go so far as to search out his bastard of a half-brother. Always willing to oblige him in a decent fight, InuYasha figured that was Sesshoumaru's single saving grace. Then, too, he could have looked for Kouga . . .
At the thought of the wolf-youkai tribe's leader, InuYasha stopped and uttered a low growl. 'Damn that Kouga . . . He'd better stay the hell away from Kagome . . . Knowing that coward, he'll be sniffing around her just as soon as he figures out I'm not there . . .'
Wincing as the memory of Kouga, holding Kagome in his arms after the mangy wolf kidnapped her so long ago, InuYasha's growl escalated as he cracked his knuckles. Kagome didn't like Kouga—at least, not that way—but that hadn't ever stopped Kouga from trying, and InuYasha didn't even try to delude himself into thinking that the wolf-youkai wouldn't try it again, especially when he found out that InuYasha was gone.
'Yeah, that ain't happening,' InuYasha snarled. 'I'll kill Kouga if he tries anything . . . See if I don't!'
A streak of movement off to the right caught his attention, and he turned his head. 'Who the hell is that, and what the fuck is he doing in my forest?' InuYasha thought with a scowl as he cracked his knuckles and darted toward the blurry figure running through the trees. 'Youkai? No . . . hanyou . . .'
InuYasha sneezed and lifted his sleeve to cover his nose as he chased after the hanyou. He stank—really stank—smelled like a mix of scents, and not one of the scents seemed natural. It was almost as though he were hiding his true scent, but the odor of the fumes emanating from the strange hanyou prevented InuYasha from even beginning to discern a thing. Silvery hair and hanyou dog ears, and when the hanyou looked back over his shoulder, InuYasha narrowed his gaze. Golden eyes, a knowing grin . . . There was a familiarity about the hanyou that InuYasha couldn't place. 'Who the hell is that?' he asked himself again as he increased his speed, as he sprinted after the stranger.
Cresting a low rise that dropped sharply to create a small gully, InuYasha skidded to a halt as the hanyou he'd been chasing stopped beside the one being InuYasha hadn't bargained on ever having to see again.
"What the fuck are you doing here?"
Amber eyes lit with unabashed amusement flicked coolly over InuYasha and dismissed him just as quickly as InuYasha fought down the fierce growl that welled in his throat.
"It's been a long time—worthless half-breed."
Ofuda: paper charm.
== == == == == == == == == ==
xxXDark SlayerXxx (FFnet):
You are a master of fanfiction Sueric, this story is kind of heartbreaking, but yet kind of funny. How do you come up with the ideas for your stories? Do they just randomly pop into your head or are they parts to some real life situation you've been in?
Sesshoumaru: This Sesshoumaru is convinced that Sueric is insane.
InuYasha: Shut the hell up, bastard! You're just jealous 'cuz you haven't even been mentioned yet …
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Final Thought from InuYasha:
Who the hell is that?
Sango scowled as she stared at Miroku's back. Striding along, using his shakuju as a walking staff, the monk stared straight ahead, seemingly oblivious to the taijya's ardent attention.
"Earth to Sango-chan . . . Are you okay?"
Sango blinked and forced her gaze away from the monk, eyes shifting to meet Kagome's worried gaze. "I'm sorry," she replied. "You were saying?"
Kagome frowned, eyes clouding with concern, and she wrinkled her nose as she adjusted the straps of her backpack and scowled thoughtfully. "You've been like this all day," Kagome remarked. "Is something wrong?"
She shot Kagome an apologetic glance and shrugged, hitching Hiraikotsu more securely over her shoulder as she hastened her step and lifted her chin. "Of course not, Kagome. I was just thinking, I suppose."
"You're sure?" she asked, her voice tinged with a suspicious lilt.
Sango forced a bright smile. "We should be reaching Bunza's village soon enough."
Kagome sighed. "I've been a horrible friend lately, haven't I?"
Caught off guard by Kagome's softly uttered question, Sango stopped and turned to stare at her. "Why would you say that?"
Giving a slight shrug, Kagome kept her gaze trained on the path beneath their feet. "I just mean that I've been so caught up feeling sorry for myself that I haven't really been listening, have I?"
Sango clucked her tongue and quickly shook her head. "That's not true, and you've had every reason to be upset."
Kagome winced. "Maybe, but that still isn't an excuse . . . I'm sorry."
"Don't be. You've always been there for me. It's your turn to let us support you for once."
Forcing a wan smile, the miko shrugged and adjusted the strap of her backpack. "So tell me . . . What's bothering you?"
Sango tamped down the furious blush that threatened to stain her skin. "Nothing," she replied hurriedly. "Nothing at all . . ."
"Is something wrong with you and Miroku?"
Sango missed a step and hoped that Kagome didn't notice. "Not really," she insisted when one of Kagome's eyebrows shot up in silent question. "I'm sure I'm just imagining things."
"Things? What sort of things?" Kagome pressed gently.
Sango sighed. "He's been a little distracted lately . . . nothing important, I'm sure."
Kagome digested that in silence, frowning as she stared at the monk's back. Shippou was perched atop his shoulder while Bunza strode ahead of them, chin lifted proudly, leading the way along the path toward his village.
"I hope that we're not too late," Sango mused, following the direction of Kagome's stare. "I wish Inu—"
Kagome winced as Sango cut herself off. Lowering her eyes as she scowled at the dirt path, Sango's cheeks blossomed with color that she couldn't suppress. She hadn't meant to say that . . . Stealing a glance at Kagome, she bit her bottom lip. She wasn't crying, but her eyes were suddenly awash with tears that she stubbornly held back, making Sango feel even lower than she already did for the careless slip of the tongue.
"Kagome-chan, I'm sorry."
Kagome shook her head and blinked furiously, a slight quivering of her lips belying the calm in her tone. "Don't be." Her voice lowered almost to a whisper, and she dashed the back of her hand over her eyes. "I miss him, too."
Sango started to tell her that she was sure that InuYasha was fine, wherever he was. Bunza's yell interrupted her. Turning to follow the direction of the lynx-youkai's outstretched finger, Sango gasped when she saw it: the thick, billowing cloud of acrid black smoke rising over the trees in the distance. Miroku hollered at Kirara, and in the blink of an eye, the fire-cat-youkai transformed. He hopped onto her back as Sango broke into a sprint to catch up with the monk, vaulting onto Kirara just before the cat leapt into the sky.
"What do you think is going on?" Sango murmured quietly.
Bunza climbed onto Kirara's head as Miroku shot her a worried glance. "I don't know," he replied, his tone carefully calm despite the feeling of foreboding that was so palpable that she could almost touch it.
"My papa's all right, isn't he?" Bunza asked, his eyes lit with concern and a choking sense of fear.
"I hope so," Miroku said, unable to summon more reassurance than that.
Sango winced. Something in his voice sounded so final—too final. Without thinking about it, she reached around him, squeezed Miroku's hand. Miroku spared her another glance and tried to smile. "We'll do what we can, right, Sango?"
Sango nodded and glanced over her shoulder to see Shippou's inflated form trailing behind them. So far away that Kagome appeared no more than a misshapen blob on the bright pink Shippou-balloon, Sango tried not to think about how wrong it seemed to her. Too used to seeing Kagome huddled against InuYasha's shoulder as the hanyou sprinted wherever they were heading, the sight of the miko with the youkai child . . . Somehow it made Sango want to cry . . .
InuYasha glared from his half-brother to the strange hanyou and back again. Defenses high as he cracked his knuckles and reached for Tetsusaiga, his glare narrowed when Sesshoumaru uttered an unnerving sound—one InuYasha had never heard from him before. He chuckled. "Be not a fool, InuYasha. This is neither the time nor place for me to see you dead."
"As if you could kill me!" InuYasha scoffed without taking his hand off Tetsusaiga's hilt. "What the fuck are you doing here, bastard?"
Bored gaze flicking over his half-brother in an entirely dismissive sort of way, Sesshoumaru didn't look away. "Where is your miko?"
Grinding his teeth together in an effort to suppress the pang brought on by the blatant reminder, InuYasha snorted. "Keh! None of your business."
"So you've misplaced her?"
"Shut the fuck up!"
Sesshoumaru smiled just a little though there was no actual humor in the expression, only a sense of condescending loathing. "Still as ill-tempered as ever, I see."
InuYasha's gaze shifted from his irritating sibling to the strange hanyou beside him before flicking back to Sesshoumaru's face once more. "Who the hell is that?" he demanded, jerking his head to indicate the intruder without actually acknowledging him.
"Who, indeed?" Sesshoumaru replied, his expression shifting into a narrow-eyed scowl.
"I'm not in the mood for your games, bastard," InuYasha snarled. "Either tell me what the hell you want, or get the fuck outta my forest."
"I see you did not exaggerate about his foul disposition," the strange hanyou commented, his gaze mocking, the half-smile on his face almost insincere.
"Odd. I thought I understated it," Sesshoumaru remarked dryly.
InuYasha glowered at Sesshoumaru for another minute before shifting his eyes to the side to assess the hanyou. "Who the hell are you?"
The hanyou started to speak. Sesshoumaru's hand shot out to silence him. "Who he is matters not. Your business is with me. This Sesshoumaru simply dispatched Sora to lead you here."
"That Sesshoumaru can kiss my ass," InuYasha growled without taking his eyes off the hanyou.
Sesshoumaru held his hand out. Sora bowed slightly before shrugging off the beat-up, dirty brown backpack. Scowling as he dug a black folder out of the bag, he handed it over before refastening the buckles and slinging it back over his shoulder again.
Sesshoumaru looked over the contents of the folder, an altogether nasty smile surfacing on his features before he tossed it onto the ground at InuYasha's feet.
"What the fuck is that?" InuYasha demanded without sparing the folder even a moment's glance.
Sesshoumaru's smile dissipated. "It's your future, baka."
"I don't want or need a thing from you," InuYasha assured him.
Sesshoumaru stepped forward slowly, deliberately. The strange clothing he wore—Kagome had called it a suit—seemed to add even more coldness to his already frigid façade. Something else struck him as strange, but he didn't bother to try to figure out why. "I don't care if you want it or not. Times are different, half-breed, and you will not embarrass me."
"All the more reason for you to shove that folder straight up your ass. As if I give a shit if I embarrass you or not."
"It matters not to me, InuYasha. Sora, call him."
The hanyou dug a little black device out of his pocket and flipped it open. The soft beeps that sounded as he pushed the buttons made InuYasha's hackles rise, and he couldn't quite stop the low growl as he jammed his hands up his sleeves to keep from using Tetsusaiga to silence it.
"Good day, Houjou-san . . . yes, this is Sora . . ."
InuYasha growled at the mention of that particular name, balling his hands into fists as he clenched his jaw and glared at his deranged half-sibling. Sesshoumaru didn't even blink.
"What the hell is that all about?" InuYasha demanded.
"I arranged for a tutor for you, baka. Houjou-san was to instruct you."
"Houjou?" he snarled, caught somewhere between outrage and disbelief. "As in, the little shit that used to bug Kagome all the time?"
This time, Sesshoumaru chuckled, as though he were enjoying InuYasha's displeasure. He probably was. "Yes, Houjou . . . I know nothing of his . . . bugging . . . the miko, however, he was highly recommended by the university, so unless you think that he is too smart for you . . ."
InuYasha erupted in a low growl again. "He ain't fucking smarter than me. Go to hell, bastard! I don't need your help."
The expression that surfaced on the youkai's features spoke volumes about his agreement with InuYasha's claim. "In any case, he's definitely the best one for this task."
InuYasha uttered a terse snort. "Keh."
Sesshoumaru stared at him for a long minute then shrugged. "I should have known that you would be too afraid to try."
"Afraid? To try what?"
Eyes narrowing in silent warning that InuYasha summarily ignored, Sesshoumaru raised an articulated eyebrow. "Afraid to carve out a life for yourself here . . . or are you giving up before you even try?"
"Go to hell, Sesshoumaru," InuYasha growled, cracking his knuckles. For reasons that InuYasha didn't understand and didn't really care to think about, Sora chuckled at him.
Sesshoumaru nodded at the folder on the ground. "Being a half-breed doesn't make you worthless, InuYasha. Being a coward does."
InuYasha started to reach for Tetsusaiga. Stifling a low growl, he stooped instead and retrieved the file. Scowling at the strange papers, he could only make sense out of one of them. 'Akamori InuYasha,' it said. "What the hell is all of this?"
"Those are everything you need to exist in this world, baka," Sesshoumaru said. "Take them and invent yourself or remain forever a worthless half-breed."
"Bastard," InuYasha gritted out from between tightly clenched teeth. "I hate your fucking riddles!"
Staring at him for several long seconds, Sesshoumaru's expression remained impassive. When he finally did speak, his words were clipped, as though InuYasha had succeeded in getting on his nerves at last. "As I've stated, InuYasha: either you do what needs to be done so that you don't dishonor your father or me, or you come to my house, and I'll see you dead."
Taking a step closer to his half-brother, InuYasha did not back down. "Why don't you shove your threats up your ass?"
"Would you like me to . . . take care of him for you?" Sora asked, keeping his gaze trained on InuYasha's face though his question was directed toward Sesshoumaru. The almost smug little grin on his face hadn't dissipated, and for reasons that InuYasha didn't really understand, that grin was almost enough to goad him into losing the little bit of patience that he had left.
"If you think you can, then by all means," InuYasha ground out.
"Do not waste your time, Sora," Sesshoumaru interrupted dryly as he turned on his heel to walk away. "We are finished here."
Sora spared a moment to bow before following Sesshoumaru without a word.
InuYasha didn't look away until the two had disappeared into the trees. Gaze falling back on the folder in his hand, he snorted. 'Keh! That bastard . . . always dishing out stupidity . . . I don't need his fucking help! I don't need—'
The sudden flash of brown eyes and black hair . . . the gentlest smile and softest laughter carried on the breeze. InuYasha gritted his teeth again, closing his eyes as he grimaced at the sharp pain that stabbed at his chest.
'Kagome . . .'
He opened his eyes, told himself not to bother looking around. She wouldn't be there, as much as he wished otherwise. He couldn't stand the disappointment, and yet . . .
And yet his gaze still traversed the forest. His chest still constricted painfully when he saw the trees, the leaves, the rich, brown earth, and no Kagome.
Dropping the folder on the ground, InuYasha jerked Tetsusaiga from the magnolia wood scabbard. Unleashing an infuriated howl as the blade transformed into the beloved sword of the fang, he heaved it over his head, holding the hilt in both hands before bringing it down onto the earth with a ferocity that shook the ground. Yellow-white streaks of flame shot out of the blade, ripping deep gashes in the dirt until the flames converged, exploding against a gnarled old tree. The detonation of wood splinters and dust clouded the air but did nothing to assuage the anger that still ravaged InuYasha's emotions.
Letting go of the sword, InuYasha fell to his hands and knees. Claws scraping the rich, damp earth only to leave empty indentations in the ground, he crumbled forward, rested his forehead against the forest floor. How could such an innocent wish be twisted into something so ugly, so tainted?
'I just wanted to stay with her,' he told himself, chanting it over and over in his head like a mantra. 'I just wanted to belong with Kagome . . .'
He hadn't felt quite so lost; quite so alone in such a long time. He hadn't felt that way since . . .
'Since Kagome woke me up . . . since Kagome saved me . . .'
Eyes stinging, nose tingling, he felt the tears rising. Squeezing his eyes closed, he shook his head, groaned softly as his chest constricted, another painful wave of desolation ripping through him with the force of a gale wind. The tears would not come. Maybe it wouldn't have been so painful if he had at least been left with some sort of hope. What hope could there be for a damned soul? What sort of answers could he find in something that held no logic, no reason? Kagome had given him a reason to fight. Kagome, Sango, Shippou, and Miroku . . . The friends he had told himself that he didn't need; the family he used to think he didn't want. They were all gone, weren't they? Five hundred years . . . They couldn't have survived five hundred years.
'Shippou!' InuYasha thought suddenly, head snapping up as he sat back on his heels. Sesshoumaru had lived through those years, hadn't he? If he had, then maybe Shippou . . .
If he could find him, maybe the kitsune could answer some of the questions that plagued him.
'Then again,' he amended with a grimace as he pushed himself to his feet once more. The questions about Kagome . . . Had she been happy? Had she found a life for herself that hadn't included him? InuYasha swallowed hard.
Maybe some questions were best left unanswered . . .
Kagome stared around at the smoldering embers and dying flames of the once proud lynx-youkai village. Smoke stung her eyes, burned her nose, and as she picked her way through the packed earth path, she slowly shook her head.
They were too late.
In the distance, she could hear Bunza's frantic cries as he called out time and again for his father, for anyone he knew. There were no answers; just the crackle of burning wooden supports and the blazing fields . . .
'If InuYasha had been here . . .'
She shook her head quickly. Thinking about him wouldn't really help at all. No matter how many times she wished that he were still here, it didn't change a thing. Even if he had been there, it wouldn't have guaranteed that he would have been able to stop the oni that had laid waste to the village.
It looked as though the lynx-youkai had fought bravely. The signs of struggle were conspicuous even in the rubble left behind. Shippou hopped onto Kagome's shoulder, covering his nose with his tiny paw-like hands. "Kagome? They're all gone, aren't they? All of them . . ."
Kagome swallowed hard and nodded. "Yes, Shippou. I think they are."
"And Bunza's father? He's gone, too?"
Kagome didn't answer right away. Lifting her chin and squinting as she tried to see through the billowing smoke, she spotted Miroku ducking into the huts, looking for any survivors while Sango did the same on the other side of the path. Bunza's voice was fading in the distance.
"I think . . . I think he's gone, as well."
"So he's an orphan, like me," Shippou mused sadly. "Will he stay with us, Kagome?"
"I . . . I don't know."
Shippou hopped down and shifted his gaze around the ruins. "Even if we had gotten here in time," he mumbled, dashing the back of his hand over his eyes, "without InuYasha . . ."
Kagome gritted her teeth and knelt beside the kitsune. "You listen to me, Shippou," she said, determination lending her voice a strength that she didn't really feel deep down. "Even if InuYasha . . . Even if he . . . that doesn't mean we'd have gotten here on time . . . besides that, we're strong, too. Miroku and Sango . . . and I can be strong . . . InuYasha wouldn't want us to give up. Don't you know that?"
Shippou bit back his tears and slowly turned to face Kagome. "You're right," he agreed. "I can be strong, too!"
"Of course you can," she assured him. "We all can, can't we?"
Shippou shuffled his feet in the dirt and scrunched up his shoulders, chin dropping as though he were afraid to look her in the eye. "Is he ever coming back?"
"I don't know," she said. "I just don't know."
Shippou whipped around suddenly, scanning the area behind them.
The kitsune darted off, scampering through the debris and completely ignoring Kagome. She got to her feet as he disappeared into the fog of smoke. "Shippou!"
"Kagome-chan, what's wrong?"
Kagome glanced at Sango as the youkai exterminator skidded to a stop beside her. "Shippou just ran off," she explained. "He acted like he heard something . . . or sensed something."
Sango didn't wait to hear more, and Kagome hurried along behind. The jingling of Miroku's Shakuju rang out as he joined the women. "Shippou!" Sango called, glancing back and forth as her high ponytail swung around her shoulders. "Shippou, answer me!"
The kitsune stepped out onto the path in front of them, a perplexed sort of expression creasing his brow as he scratched his head thoughtfully.
"Shippou!" Kagome exclaimed as she ran to the child and snatched him up. "Why did you run off like that?"
"I sensed . . . something," he told her.
"The oni?" she pressed. "But—"
"Not the oni," he insisted. "It felt like . . . like we were being watched."
Miroku scowled at the surrounding trees. "He's right," he agreed at length. "I can feel it, too." Raising his voice, he jammed the tip of his staff into the ground. "Whoever is there, come out and show yourself."
The forest remained still, silent—too silent. As though not even the trees dared to stir, the effect was eerie, and Kagome couldn't help but tighten her hold on Shippou's small frame.
"They're gone . . . all gone," Bunza said sadly, shuffling down the path from the village. His eyes were dull, vacant, too shocked to feel much of anything, Kagome supposed. As much as she hated to see the youth in such a state, maybe it was better that way. Time enough to mourn his loss later, when he wasn't standing in the midst of the place that he used to call 'home'.
"Bunza . . ." Sango began, taking a few halting steps toward the lynx-youkai.
Bunza drew himself up proudly, face screwing up in a determined scowl. "Thank you for your help," he told them. "I guess I don't need you anymore."
"Come with us," Kagome said, letting Shippou hop onto Miroku's shoulder so that she could step up beside Sango and kneel before the child. "You can't stay here alone . . . You can come with us, if you'd like."
Bunza's cheeks reddened as he shook his head. "I must rebuild my village," he decided. "That's what my father would have wanted."
"Your father would have wanted you to be safe, Bunza," Sango said softly. "My family—my village . . . they were all destroyed by Naraku. Come with us now, and someday you can come back here and rebuild your village, but in order to do that, you have to live, right?"
Bunza stared at Sango for a moment but finally nodded. "Humans are weak," he decided as a quickly dashed a trembling hand over his eyes. "I can protect you."
Kagome watched as Sango picked up the youth and hugged him close. The look on the slayer's face tore at Kagome's heart, and she choked back a wash of tears. Did it matter how many years it had been since Sango had first lost her village? No, Kagome supposed it didn't. In the end, the pain would always be there, just below the surface, and maybe the only thing that made it bearable was the support of those that she called her friends.
'InuYasha . . . I miss you . . .'
"Let's go," Miroku finally interrupted, though not unkindly. "There's nothing more we can do here."
They trudged along the path in silence, oblivious to the pale violet eyes that peered out at them from the darkest shadows of the trees.
Shakuju: Miroku's staff.
== == == == == == == == == ==
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Final Thought from Shippou:
I know I sensed something there …
InuYasha narrowed his gaze as he peered up through the branches of Goshinboku.
"What are you doing, Inu-no-nii-chan?"
He grunted in response but didn't turn to face Souta as he continued his perusal.
"He looks like he's trying to find something," Hitomi ventured.
"I can see that," Souta grumbled. "What are you looking for? Maybe we can help you find . . . whatever it is."
"Are you sure he can hear you?" Hitomi asked dubiously.
"Yeah, I can hear you," InuYasha growled, crouching down before leaping into the branches of the beloved tree. "I was trying to ignore you."
Hitomi lifted her hand to her forehead to shade her eyes and stared up through the branches. "Not very friendly, is he?"
"Sure, he's friendly," Souta shot back. "Maybe he just doesn't like you."
InuYasha settled back against the tree trunk and closed his eyes, set to ignore both Souta as well as his little friend as he crossed his arms under the generous folds of his haori sleeves. In the length of time he'd been forced to say at the shrine, it never ceased to annoy him whenever those two ended up arguing—which was all the time. If it wasn't one thing, it was another, and that was enough to set InuYasha's nerves on edge. They'd ended up arguing over the shade of green on a flyer that had been left on the front door earlier. It was stupid. It was senseless.
It made him miss Kagome just a little more, too.
'That ain't true,' he insisted. 'We didn't fight about stupid shit . . .'
Flinching inwardly when the memories of the number of times they'd done exactly that assailed him, InuYasha couldn't help the slight flattening of his ears. 'All right; so we did fight over some hella stupid shit . . .'
He sighed. He'd been doing that a lot of late. He missed Kagome so much that he hurt. Unable to eat, unable to sleep, he couldn't even stand the sight of the ramen he used to love. Mrs. Higurashi offered it to him, but when he'd looked up to take the food, he could only see Kagome's face smiling at him. How many times had she brought him ramen—even times when she professed to be upset with him . . .?
Cracking one eye open, InuYasha shifted slightly, gazing down through the mesh of branches. To his relief, he noticed that Souta and Hitomi were shuffling toward the door. Still arguing, they were, but at last InuYasha was left in blissful quiet. Turning his attention upward, he slowly got to his feet once more. About ten feet over his head, he spotted it: the branch. Five hundred years ago, it was the one that he used to sit on with Kagome all the time. It was the branch he wanted.
Leaping up to land on another branch just below the one he'd chosen, InuYasha cracked his knuckles and drew his hand back. The thick branch gave easily, and he watched with a self-satisfied grin as it crashed down to the ground. The network of branches below slowed the decent, but the tremendous sound of the branch hitting the pavement below the tree echoed through the air. He dropped out of the tree, landing neatly beside the fallen limb. Drawing Tetsusaiga with a flash of yellow light, he grasped the hilt in both hands and raised the sword over his head as the clatter of footsteps sounded behind him.
"What on earth . . .?" Mrs. Higurashi exclaimed as she hurried over to InuYasha's side. "The branch broke?"
"With a little help," InuYasha mumbled as he shot her a dark look. "Stand back."
"He broke it on purpose!" Grandpa hollered as he pushed the door to one of the smaller storage rooms open and poked a spindly old finger in InuYasha's direction. "He's gone mad, I tell you! Mad!"
InuYasha snorted and rolled his eyes. "Ain't nothin' 'mad' about me, jiijii," he growled.
"Well," Mrs. Higurashi said quickly, glancing from InuYasha to Grandpa and back again. "The tree is still healthy enough . . . but InuYasha-kun, you really can't go around chopping off branches."
"He's trying to desecrate Goshinboku!" Grandpa yelled, stomping toward them.
"I'll desecrate you next," InuYasha snarled.
"Now, now . . . Come on, Grandpa," Mrs. Higurashi cut in as she hurried over to intercept the old man in an effort to stave off the coming altercation. "I just made some tea . . ."
Grandpa followed Mrs. Higurashi back into the shrine, muttering under his breath about irrational hanyou, foul-mouthed hooligans, and general desecration. InuYasha watched them until the door closed before he was satisfied that he was finally—mercifully—going to be left alone before turning back to the felled branch and wrinkling his nose.
The branch was heavy, sturdy—more than adequate for what he had in mind. 'It's all that damned Souta's fault,' he mused as he grasped the branch under one arm and dragged it toward the well-house. He'd mentioned that modern girls liked silly things like weird trinkets that were entirely useless and just sat around on decorative shelves made expressly for displaying those ridiculous things, and InuYasha wasn't entirely certain why, but he'd been obsessed with that idea ever since he'd heard it.
The inside of the building smelled stale and dusty. Ignoring the offensive stink, he pushed the branch down the steps with his foot, flattening his ears momentarily as the wood crashed against the side of the old well. It shuddered and shook but didn't break. He didn't expect it would. That thing had been standing for over five hundred years. He had serious doubts that anything could actually bring the sides down, especially not a paltry bit of timber.
Stomping down the steps after the fallen branch, InuYasha crouched down and scowled at the wood. It was simple enough to strip off the bark. It fell on the earthen floor under his deft fingers. Using his claws to carve deep into the branch, he carefully started to chip away hunks of wood, gaze glowing in the dim half-light as he settled down to work . . .
"She's doing better, don't you think?"
Sango glanced up from polishing Hiraikotsu to watch Kagome. The miko was kneeling on the ground near the fire, carefully scraping a couple fish that Shippou and Bunza had caught for dinner. The two children were far from getting along. Since hearing the story of InuYasha's disappearance, Bunza had seemed almost hostile toward Kagome. Maybe he blamed her for the fact that InuYasha wasn't there to help him save his tribe. Still Sango knew that Kagome blamed herself for his disappearance, too, and hearing the same thing from the youngster just wasn't something that was going to help anyone in the end. Miroku had taken to dragging Bunza everywhere he went, mostly to keep Bunza from saying things to Kagome that would only serve to deepen her depression. It helped, but Sango had to wonder just how long they could keep the child away from Kagome before he said something bad.
"Better? Maybe . . . she still misses him."
"I'm certain she does," Miroku agreed, thrusting the end of his shakuju into the soft earth beside the fallen log Sango was using as a bench. "She cared about him more than she wanted to admit."
"Sometimes it's difficult to admit your feelings to someone when he seems a little distant," Sango remarked, carefully keeping her eyes on Hiraikotsu and stubbornly refusing to inflict any emotion at all into her words that might give her away. He'd been distant himself of late. At first, she'd thought it had something to do with InuYasha's sudden disappearance. She had to wonder, though, if that really could be the case. Something about his behavior . . . She sighed. 'Maybe,' she told herself as she rubbed to remove a blemish from the weapon's smooth surface, 'I'm just reading too much into things . . .'
If Miroku sensed Sango's underlying meaning, he didn't remark on it. Hunkering down beside the log, he turned his head, staring off into the distance. "I suppose some things just aren't meant to be," he finally said, his voice quiet, tinged with a sort of bitterness that Sango felt deep inside.
"Houshi-sama . . ."
He turned his head slightly, gazing at her out of the corner of his violet eyes. "Don't worry, Sango. Everything will be as it should be. Fate is unavoidable."
Frowning at the sadness in his eyes, she watched as he stood up and headed off to gather more firewood. She had the feeling that he wasn't simply talking about InuYasha and Kagome, but was talking about them, instead.
"After we defeat Naraku . . . will you live with me? Bear my children . . .?"
Wincing at the memory of those words—words that had thrilled her even as they had frightened her, too—Sango bit her lip and stifled a sigh, unable to shake the notion that he was trying to push her away.
'But he promised . . .' she told herself with far more bravado than she was actually feeling. 'He said that was what he wanted . . . Houshi-sama never would have said it if he didn't mean it . . . He promised . . .'
The forest was darkened with the shadows of descending night as Chiyo moved through the trees. The gurgle of water somewhere to the distant east drew her toward the place where she said she would meet Tadao, but she didn't quicken her pace.
She was late, and he would be irritated, but that was of no real consequence. She'd heard all of his complaints before. He never had been able to grasp the concept of being patient. It was one of his flaws.
Stepping out of the trees near the small clearing near the stream, she wasn't surprised to see Tadao pacing to and fro near the water's edge. Indulging in a moment of watching him, she almost smiled to herself before ambling over to announce her presence. "Come now, Tadao. I'm not that late."
The dragon-youkai whirled around to face her, narrowing his ruby gaze as the tip of his forked tongue flicked out of his mouth for a split second. "You try my patience, Chiyo. What did you learn?"
"He is gone," she said simply.
A cold smile surfaced on his face; a hardened glimmer of satisfaction brightening his blood-red gaze. "So the prophecy cannot come to pass," he mused, more to himself than to her. "Excellent . . ."
She didn't confirm or deny his assertions. In truth, she was rather perplexed by it, too, and while she had yet to have another vision, the fact that InuYasha didn't seem to be anywhere didn't offer her the same level of reassurance. It was too . . . easy, she supposed, too neat and tidy, and if she had learned nothing else during her lifetime, she'd learned never to trust anything that appeared to be that simple.
"This calls for a celebration," he decided, casting her a calculated grin.
Chiyo shrugged and turned away. "Celebrate if that's your wish," she tossed over her shoulder. "Just remember that altering the future isn't as simple as you believe. If I were you, I'd make certain that what I have foreseen does not come to pass. There are more effective ways of ensuring that than simply relying on happenstance."
She left him standing there beside the water's edge as she disappeared back into the forest once more. He'd be angry, of course. He despised it when she left before he granted her leave. She'd learned long ago that he needed her. He relied on her abilities far too much to lose his temper with her, after all. 'Let him sit and stew over things for awhile . . . I am not as foolish as he. There is still a very real threat, whether he wants to believe it or not . . . those same dreams that foretold of his failure . . .'
Her pale violet eyes narrowed as she moved through the trees.
She could still feel the truth in those dreams, couldn't she?
Kagome sat on the edge of the Bone Eater's Well, clutching the slip of paper that fluttered in the breeze. She wasn't certain when the idea had occurred to her. It had started more as a passing whim than a concrete thought. She'd been looking through her backpack at a notebook that she'd used to work math problems, and she'd just started writing a letter to InuYasha.
She wasn't sure she actually expected him to get the letter. She just felt closer to him when she was here, at the well. Unfolding the letter, she heaved a sigh, her eyes hot, dry, burning.
'I don't know why I'm bothering with this letter. I don't really think you'll get it or anything. I suppose I just wanted to find a way to tell you that I miss you. I think about you every day in a part of me that hurts when I remember even the good times we shared. I feel as though I've broken the promise I made to you; the one I made when I said I'd never leave you.
'Bunza is with us now. He came here looking for you. He needed your help in saving his tribe. We went with him, and we tried to help, but we got there too late, and, well . . . We brought him back with us.
'All I wanted was to stay with you. That was the wish I'd made. I ask myself every day what went so wrong, and yet I know that your wish . . . you wanted to stay with me, didn't you? You gave up everything you knew? You did all of that just to stay with me . . . and that means more to me than you'll ever know. I only wish there were some way I could tell you all of this. A piece of paper can't last five hundred years, can it? Manmade things aren't meant to last, are they?
'I see you every time I turn around: in the whisper of the wind in the trees, in the constantly flowing waters of the streams we've crossed . . . I see you in the stars—I only saw the stars with you, did you know? Tokyo, even at night, even at the shrine . . . You can't really see the stars so well there. I guess you know that by now, don't you?
'I miss everyone—Mama and Grandpa, Souta and Buyou . . . but I miss you most of all, and I think about the silly arguments we've had, and I'm ashamed. I let my temper get the better of me, always taking for granted that you'd always be there. I catch myself thinking a thousand times a day, 'Oh, wait! I want to tell InuYasha about this . . .'
'And then I remember, and remembering hurts.
'I doubt you'll get this letter. I just wanted to write all of this down. I miss you more than you'll ever know, but I hope that you'll find a way to be happy in my time. If by some miracle you do get this, though, know that you're always in my mind and heart. Be well, InuYasha.
Wiping away a tear that streaked down her face, Kagome refolded the letter and pressed it against her heart. Every day she woke up and tried to smile until she remembered that InuYasha really was gone. Every day she told herself that it was okay; that whatever was meant to be, would be. Every day she forced herself to go through the motions of living so that she wouldn't worry her friends, and every day, she felt as though a part of her was dying . . .
She loved him, didn't she? She'd loved him for a long time. Grouchy, curt, arrogant, and oftentimes impossible, she couldn't remember a time when he wasn't there, and no matter what happened back then or even now, nothing could change her feelings, could they? Nothing could erase the sense of complete and utter loss; of desperation and despair that twisted her stomach until she felt as though she was going insane.
'Mama will help him, and Souta will, too,' she told herself as a wan smile surfaced on her face. Trembling and unsure, it flitted over her lips like a feather on the wind, and she sighed as her tears prickled her nostrils. A sudden, savage pang ripped through her, and she gasped, doubling over, nearly toppling headlong into the well. She didn't care. For the briefest of moments, she'd felt him, hadn't she? As close as he would have been if he were standing directly beside her, his youki had seemed so real, so encompassing . . . so comforting . . .
Turning at the sound of her name, she hurriedly dashed the back of her hand over her cheeks and swung her legs out of the well, waiting for Sango to catch up. "Yes?"
Sango hurried over and sank down beside Kagome, clutching the wooden lip of the well as she shot her a timid smile. "Kaede is looking for you. She wants to know if you're interested in starting your training."
Kagome nodded, digesting Sango's words. "I should, shouldn't I?" she said slowly, biting her lip as she pondered the options.
"That's up to you. If you don't want to, then don't. Just because you've got spiritual powers doesn't mean you have to be a miko."
Kagome sighed. "It's not that. I should learn how to use my powers. It's just . . ."
"You're tired of the comparisons to Kikyou?" Sango asked when Kagome trailed off.
"No . . . sort of . . . not really . . ." She sighed and shrugged, unsure how to explain her feelings to Sango when she wasn't at all positive that she understood them, herself. "It's just . . . a miko should be at peace; tranquil . . . and I'm not. I can't help but question and wonder and . . . and be a little angry. I mean, look at Midoriko. She was a miko, and I know she didn't have regrets, but she gave her life to fight youkai, and because of her, everything . . . and then Kikyou . . . Didn't she pay the ultimate price just because she fell in love with InuYasha?"
"But, Kagome, the Shikon no Tama is gone now. It can't hurt you anymore."
Stubbornly shaking her head, she blinked quickly to stave back the angry tears that rose up fast. "Don't you see? It already has, and I . . . I don't know if I can find the peace inside me to . . . It seemed so easy before. I thought . . . I thought I'd be sent back to my side of the well, or I thought that maybe I'd be allowed to stay here with InuYasha, but I never . . . I never thought that I'd be here without him."
"Anger is difficult to deal with," Sango agreed. "But I'm sure InuYasha wouldn't want you to be angry or to be sad . . ."
Standing abruptly, Kagome couldn't help the surge of rage that shot through her. "I can't help it!" she exclaimed. "I just can't!"
Stomping away, she broke into a sprint, unconsciously heading for the sanctuary of Goshinboku. Sango watched her go and sighed, heading back toward the path that led to the village.
Neither girl had noticed the folded paper sitting on the lip of the well after Kagome made her hasty retreat. The breeze caught the folded edges, pushing it closer to the edge of the wall. A light gust blew across the meadow, and with a whisper of movement, the paper teetered on the lip before careening down into the blackened depths of the well.
Perched on the edge of the well, InuYasha stared down into the murky depths with a melancholy sigh. He spent a lot of time here, and maybe he really thought that if he stared at it long enough, it would somehow open, and Kagome would appear. It was wishful thinking, surely, but he couldn't quite help himself, either.
He jumped into the well daily, all in the desperate hope that it would open up beneath him, and while he knew that it just wasn't going to happen, he couldn't help himself, either. The one day he didn't try it was bound to be the one time it would work . . . Then he'd spend an hour or two fighting off the overwhelming hopelessness inspired by the desolation of being alone.
He hated the stagnant smell of Tokyo; despised the noise and the constant motion. The only place he had to escape all of it was here, the well. Even the forest that stretched out behind the shrine wasn't immune to the 'modern conveniences'. The sound of the trees couldn't drown out the hundreds of thousands of noises that made up the world he was stuck in.
Scratching his chest—he despised the strange feel of the cloth of what Mrs. Higurashi had told him was a 'tee-shirt'. It wasn't rough, no, but the feel of it just felt disturbing, almost like he wasn't wearing anything at all. She'd dealt him dirty, waiting until he was in the bathtub—also her idea—before she barged right into the bathroom and snatched up his clothes with the promise of washing them for him and leaving behind the irritating and strange things she called 'jeans' along with the stupid tee-shirt. It had taken him nearly twenty minutes before he'd figured out that he was supposed to wear the thin cotton short pants—she called those 'boxers'—as underwear, and the jeans? He grimaced. How the hell he was supposed to fight in these things was completely beyond him . . . Then to add insult to injury, he'd located his regular clothes lying neatly on Kagome's bed. But they smelled like soap and fake scents. The washing machine had laundered out the last lingering remnants of Kagome, and that . . . Well, that pissed him off far worse than the clothes she'd bought for him . . .
His ears flattened as he grimaced. He still couldn't bring himself to go into that room. Her scent was still too strong in there, too overwhelming, and too comforting. The problem was that the comfort he garnered from it hurt him, too. He couldn't help but feel completely overwrought with guilt if he allowed himself to take comfort in anything that should remind him that she was stuck in the past because of him . . .
The kicker, though, had been her nonchalant announcement that Houjou would be arriving within the hour for his daily tutoring session. InuYasha had stomped out the back door with Tetsusaiga in hand, and now his beloved sword was doing the greatest task of all: it was lodged through the door handles, barring entrance against anyone who thought to interrupt his solitude.
With a sigh, he pushed himself off the edge of the well, dropping into the darkness and grimacing when he lit on the hardened earth beneath his feet. The familiar surge of sadness swept through him, and he couldn't suppress the half-moan that spilled over. "Kagome . . ." he whispered, closing his eyes against the darkness. Leaning forward, fists resting on the compacted dirt, he drew his arm back only to slam his fist into the ground. The earth shook, dislodging dirt that fell around him like rain. Pulling his other hand back, he punched the ground once more but blinked suddenly. His fist had smashed against something almost smooth. Scowling in the darkness, he saw the faint outline, and he picked up the item in question, staring at it with an expression akin to grudging curiosity writ in his gaze.
Leaping out of the well, he strode up the stairs and jerked his sword out of the door handles. Sunlight flooded the well house when he opened the doors, and he blinked for a moment as his eyes adjusted to the bright light of day. Turning the slip of folded paper over in his hand, he frowned. 'InuYasha' was written on one side of it, and he recognized the handwriting as his heart skipped a beat.
Vaulting over to the base of Goshinboku, he leapt into the branches, thankful for the cover provided by the thick foliage. Examining the paper, he scowled. It looked like it was crumbling before his very eyes. Wincing as he tried to use his claw to separate the weathered paper, he carefully managed to pry the first fold open before it broke in half. He could piece it back together, couldn't he? If he could get the bits apart, he could piece it together so he could read it . . .
The next fold wasn't nearly as easy to maneuver. The paper was just too old. Having spent five hundred years sitting in the bottom of the well—he could only figure that being in the enclosed well was the reason that it hadn't disintegrated long ago—but he desperately needed to read whatever Kagome had written . . .
A sound akin to a whine escaped him as another bit of the paper crumpled to dust in his hands. All he had left was half of the folded letter—the half with his name written on it. Swallowing the bitter wash of disappointment that assailed him, he tried to take comfort in the idea that she'd written him the letter, even if he couldn't read it.
'Kagome . . .'
Ears flattening as the sound of her laughter echoed through his head, he wrapped his arms around Tetsusaiga and tried not to think about how often he's sat in trees—this tree in particular—with Kagome. Too many times to count, and how often had they just sat without saying a word? They hadn't seemed necessary, after all, had they . . .? He winced. No, they weren't necessary at all because . . . because Kagome knew him better than he sometimes knew himself . . . Carefully clutching the remnant of paper as though it was his last lingering hope, he sighed again and let his head fall back against the tree trunk.
'Some way, somehow I'll find a way, Kagome,' he vowed. 'I'll get back to you . . . just . . . wait for me . . .'
Shakuju: Miroku's ringed staff.
Hiraikotsu: Sango's weapon.
Houshi-sama: Sango's 'pet name' for Miroku … a very archaic way of formally addressing a monk.
Miko: Shinto Priestess.
Chiyo: Thousand years; eternal.
Tadao: Complacent; satisfied.
== == == == == == == == == ==
Shadow_Within ------ inuyashaloverr ------ serendith ------ Valdimarian ------ MidnightsKeeper ------ angelica incarnate ------ Aozora_Tennyo ------ crushed by a dandelion ------ Lady_Kagome ------ Kurisu no Ryuujin ------ InuyashaThinksImSexii ------ Tara222 ------ OROsan0677 ------ silvermoon maru ------ ColShaLin ------ Inuyoukaimama ------ Simonkal of Inuy ------ maroongoddess ------ concreteangel ------ stardragon ------ inuyasha-lover ------ DarklessVasion ------ FaBzZ ------ Descendant of Darkness ------ Krami ------ Kajunmom76 ------ BladesoftheValkyrie ------ tessie_fanfic ------ Amara LeWicked ------ AngelOfMusic ------ KikyoKitten ------ Jason C ------ Tree-Lynn ------ artemiswaterdragon ------ toyas_gurl ------ ShyEyesPlushy
Final Thought from InuYasha:
Damn it … what did it say …?
Kagome carefully nocked the arrow back and took aim, focusing her energy into the softly glowing tip. It was one of the exercises she did daily to keep her senses open and receptive, and she had to admit that, in the time since they'd defeated Naraku, she had grown a little rusty. It just hadn't been the same, and while they'd fought some youkai along the way, it wasn't like it had been before. Fighting every day . . . remaining on constant guard . . . She had let her focus drift, and she knew it.
She went through the motions of training with Kaede every day despite her preoccupation and the pain that was never very far away, and all the while, she tortured herself with questions and thoughts . . . 'What would InuYasha think of this . . .? Would he think I'm being stupid? Would he be angry? Would he think that I was trying to be too much like Kikyou . . .? Would he be proud of the progress I've made?'
The questions were enough to drive her insane.
The breeze caught her hair, tossing it into her face. She shook her head to clear her vision, focusing her energy into the arrow. Releasing it, watching as it zipped through the air, she saw it all with a certain level of detachment. The arrow struck the target dead center—an ofuda that Miroku had affixed to the trunk of a stout tree that held a barrier in place. The barrier was released with a flash of pink light. She turned away, lowering the bow as she strode away from the field as the ofuda burst into flame and curled up on itself.
She felt like a stranger in her own skin. With every day that passed, she felt more and more like she was standing back, simply watching someone else's life—someone who called herself Kagome but who wasn't; not really. Too bad she wasn't sure who the girl was.
'Was this how Kikyou felt . . . when she looked at . . . me . . .?'
Brushing the thought aside, she closed her eyes and kept walking toward the village. She could hear the sounds of children playing—laughing and yelling, the kinds of noises that were timeless and beautiful and somehow sad, just the same. The sun was shining, the breeze was gentle . . . the varying sounds of animals blended with it all to create a calm.
Yet the more peaceful that the day was seemed, the more fake it felt, and the biggest fake of all was Kagome.
Smiling brightly at a few children chasing after a makeshift ball, she wondered vaguely when the last time she'd felt like smiling really was, wondered if they could see right through it if they tried hard enough. "Will you play, Kagome-sama?" one of the children asked.
Her smile faltered. "Not today," she said, very aware that she always indulged the village children when they'd ask her to join them. Today, though . . .
Veering away from the village, she took the path that led toward the river nearby. Kaede had mentioned something about journeying to a neighboring village to exorcise an earth spirit that had taken up residence in a hilltop shrine. She'd wanted Kagome to come along; Kagome had sensed it—and had summarily ignored it. To her, it felt like everything was crashing down on her, crushing her, bearing down so heavily that she had to struggle just to breathe.
The sanctuary on the bank of the peaceful water soothed her, calmed her, as unbidden memories dug under the edges of her shaky façade. InuYasha, sitting on the cliff overhead as she bathed . . . It was the first time he'd looked at her with anything other than absolute disdain, and while she'd come to realize later that his curiosity had more to do with Kikyou than it did her, she'd never, ever forget the feel of those amazing golden eyes staring at her, either.
Crumpling to the ground beside the water, she covered her face in her hands and drew a steadying breath.
She didn't uncover her face at the sound of Miroku's voice. She didn't acknowledge him at all.
She heard the chimes of his shakuju coming closer, and he hunkered down beside her with a gentle sigh. "You did well in training today," he said softly.
"Did I?" she asked quietly.
Miroku cleared his throat, and somehow she knew that he was trying to weigh his words carefully. "You did," he finally allowed. "So well, in fact, that I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it for myself."
"That's what expected of me, isn't it?" she replied, her voice taking on a vague sort of monotone. "That's all I have left . . ."
"You don't really believe that, do you?"
Kagome sighed. "I don't know . . . I don't know anything. I think . . . I think I'm losing myself," she whispered, shaking her head as she tried to make him understand just what she was trying to say. "I can feel it every day . . . I'm losing those things that made me who I am . . ."
Miroku sighed and shifted to sit beside her. "Is that honestly how you see it?"
She nodded, finally lifting her face, closing her eyes as she allowed the gentle breeze to soothe her. "I . . . I don't know . . ."
"You don't want to be a miko?" he asked gently, lending voice to the singular question that had been plaguing Kagome for awhile.
"I . . ." With a sigh, she shook her head and bit her lip, staring out over the landscape, her eyes shifting quickly with every movement on the far side of the stream; waiting for a flash of silver, a blur of crimson . . . and when she realized what she was doing, she sank her teeth into the soft inside of her cheek, willing herself not to scream as a pang of loss so harsh, so strong, hit her yet again. It was those pangs that had convinced her that she was still alive, after all, but suddenly she had to wonder . . .
'If I look down, would I see my hands? My feet? Would I see . . . myself . . .?'
"You don't have to become a miko if it isn't what you want," Miroku said, breaking the silence that had fallen. "We simply thought it best for you to learn how to use the power you have. What you choose to do with that power is entirely up to you."
It was the same thing that he'd said before; that they'd all said before. In the beginning when the suggestion had been made, they'd all maintained that it was best to have Kaede teach her how to harness and use her spiritual power, and while Kagome knew deep down that they were trying to help her—maybe trying to distract her. In the end, she had to wonder if they weren't also trying to change her, even if they weren't really conscious of the intention . . .
Shooting to her feet rather abruptly, she gawped, dumbfounded, at the reflection mirrored on the water. Hair hanging down her back but caught toward the end by an insular white band of cloth . . . white haori . . . red hakama . . . the quiver of arrows peeking over her shoulder . . . even the expression on her face wasn't truly her own: a blankness that she'd seen far too often on another face at another time . . . Blinking once, twice, to clear her vision, she snatched up the bow and jammed it down hard in the center of the reflection, disbursing the image with a splash and a ripple.
It was too much, wasn't it? Too hard to look at herself; too difficult to separate herself from the image that had mocked her. 'I . . . I'm not . . .'
Turning on her heel and dashing away, she ignored Miroku's voice calling after her as she ran blindly through the trees.
Breaking through the forest into the clearing around the small village, she ignored the odd looks she garnered; ignored the voices calling out to her. Kaede's hut was mercifully empty. The old miko still hadn't returned. With a harsh cry, Kagome dropped to her knees, shaking her head as she frantically dug through the bag for the familiarity she needed. Clothes—her own clothes . . . whimpering softly, she pulled the clothes out with a shaking hand, yanking on the ties of the hakama with the other.
'I'm not Kikyou,' she thought, tugging and pulling at the clothes that didn't seem to want to be discarded. 'I'm not Kikyou; I'm not Kikyou . . .' Wincing as she struggled with the stubborn fastenings, she couldn't help the rising panic, the fierce surge of absolute fear that shot through her. "I'm Kagome," she whispered, a tear spilling over; coursing down her cheek. "Kagome . . . Kagome!"
Hurling the haori across the small hut, she dashed her hand over her eyes and snatched up the pale pink blouse, tugging it over her head in a reckless sort of way, she couldn't help the little sob that escaped her as the sense of familiarity of having her own clothing on buffered her.
"Kagome? Is something amiss?" Kaede asked as she pushed aside the mat covering the doorway and stepped into the hut.
Tugging the zipper on the side of the skirt up, Kagome managed a shaky little smile that was entirely too thin but would have to suffice. "No, not at all . . . I'm fine; just fine . . ." she assured the aging miko.
Kaede's eyes slowly shifted around the room, taking in the garments that Kagome had throw in her haste to be rid of them. "Be ye certain, child?"
"Of course," she insisted, her smile faltering despite her best efforts to keep from letting Kaede see through her upset.
Kaede nodded slowly, shuffling across the floor to take up a hunk of wood for the dying fire in the pit. She didn't speak as she hunkered down, carefully coaxing the fire back to life. "Kagome . . . do ye not wish to train as a miko?"
Taking her time adjusting the hem of her blouse, Kagome didn't respond right away. Sitting on the edge of the wooden platform floor, she carefully tugged off the long white stockings before pulling her bag over to root through it for a pair of her normal socks. "Training's fine," she allowed, careful to keep her gaze trained on the socks she gathered in her hands to pull the first one on.
"Ye fear that ye will lose yourself," Kaede ventured when Kagome didn't volunteer more information.
Giving up her pretense, Kagome hunched forward, wrapping her arms around her legs and letting her chin fall onto her knees. "I don't have an identity here," she murmured, her voice catching as emotion rose to choke her. "I . . . I don't guess I ever have."
"Of course ye have," Kaede said though not unkindly. "Ye never have given yourself enough credit."
She didn't respond for a moment, wishing that she could understand the things that had never made much sense. "Can I ask you something?" she finally ventured, watching a bird soaring through the crystal blue sky outside the hut through a window.
"What is it?"
She made a face and hugged her knees tighter. "Who do you see . . .? When you look at me . . .?"
"Ye are no more my sister than my sister could be you," she replied quietly. "Kagome, ye must forge your own path . . . and mayhap ye should stop looking to the past to better see the future."
'Stop . . . looking to the past . . .? To . . . InuYasha . . .'
Standing abruptly, she walked out of the hut without another word to the old miko. Blinking fast to stave back the hotness that poked at her eyelids, she knew deep down that Kaede was just trying to help her, and yet she couldn't suppress the rise of anger that nearly choked her, either. InuYasha had done so much for the village; protecting it from youkai and other threats. He'd become a part of her life; inseparable, really, and now . . .
'Stop? How? And how could they?' she fumed. After all was said and done, and it was so easy for them, wasn't it? Easy to shove him back, easy to lock the memories away, to allow him to become nothing more than a legend, a fairy tale, a bedtime story for children. All of the things he'd done, the times he'd stood up to protect them all, and now . . .
Smashing her fist against her lips, she broke into a sprint as she neared the path—the one that led to Goshinboku . . . the one that led to the well . . .
Miroku watched Kagome's hasty retreat with a thoughtful frown darkening his gaze as the breeze stirred his bangs. As abrupt as her behavior was, he had to admit, however grudgingly, that it was a good sign. She'd been walking around in an almost trance-like state for far too long, and he'd been worried that she'd never snap out of it. Even if she wasn't in the best of spirits, he had to allow that it was a relief,
A flash of color drew his attention, and he couldn't help the indulgent little smile that surfaced on his features as Sango stepped out from behind the foliage that otherwise blocked her from view. Spotting him hunkered down beside the water, she returned his smile, albeit a little shyly as she made her way to his side. "Have you seen Kagome-chan?" she asked, breaking the companionable silence.
"You didn't pass her?" he asked, his smile fading as he slowly got to his feet.
"No . . ."
"Hmm . . ."
He could feel her discerning gaze on him. "How did the training go?" she asked softly.
Miroku shrugged. "She's doing very well," he allowed.
"Why don't you sound as though that's a good thing?"
Casting her a half-hearted smile, Miroku shook his head. No doubt about it, Sango was far too perceptive. "She thinks she's losing touch with herself."
Sango considered that and slowly nodded. "It must be difficult for her."
There wasn't really anything that he could say to that. True enough, he knew. It was a tough thing when the one person who had always served to give Kagome a defining presence was no longer there.
"Where are the children?" he asked suddenly since Sango had taken Shippou and Bunza with her and Kaede to exorcise the hilltop shrine.
Letting out a deep breath, the taijya shook her head slowly. "Those two . . ." she began only to trail off with a sigh.
Miroku winced in commiseration. "Still not getting along well?"
Sango shot him a dark look, her meaning clear, and he chuckled. True enough. The two seemed to get along too well or just not well enough, depending. Judging from the look on Sango's face, though, Miroku figured that it was the latter of those options today.
"They fought over who got to help Kaede check the shrine," she admitted at length.
"They couldn't both help her?"
Kirara climbed into Sango's lap and yawned wide before curling up in a ball and closing her eyes for a nap. "No . . . and they interrupted Kaede's mantras a number of times before I thought to send them both off to find a few herbs that we didn't need."
"That's my smart girl," Miroku intoned with a soft chuckle. "Both wise and beautiful . . ."
The woman's cheeks pinked at the warmth of his praise, and she scrunched up her shoulders in a decidedly nervous sort of way. Biting her lip, she stared over the water's surface, and while Miroku didn't shift his gaze away from the rise of trees on the far side of the stream, he could feel the intensity of her stare time and again. It was dangerous, wasn't it? Sitting here with her . . . 'How ironic . . .' he thought with a sardonic little smile that held very little real humor.
'I cannot change things for you. I cannot lessen your fears nor can I dispel your doubts. I can tell you that the things you seek are not impossible. The path is troublesome, but you, Miroku . . . you must be certain that it is what you truly want.'
Closing his eyes just for a moment as he tried in vain to forget the meaning behind Midoriko's words, Miroku frowned.
That was the trouble, wasn't it? He knew what he truly wanted, and yet . . .
And yet those choices that Midoriko had alluded to . . . They were choices that he wasn't entirely certain that he could ask Sango to live with, either . . .
"You failed to mention exactly how . . . charming . . . he can be."
Sesshoumaru strode along the wide corridor illuminated by the ambient wall sconces that dotted the walls of the elegantly appointed office building. Sparing a glance at the hanyou who walked beside him, he didn't pause in his gait as they headed toward the grand staircase in the center of the area. "I told you that he was a baka," he intoned smoothly.
Sora's lips twisted into a sardonic little smile, and he shrugged as he stuffed his hands into his pockets and nodded at a woman hurrying past with her arms full of manila folders. "Was it really all right to leave him in the forest?" he asked at length.
Heels clicking against the cold marble floor, the Inu no Taisho's steps resounded in the comparative quiet. "Incidentals," Sesshoumaru remarked. "There are far more pressing matters at the moment. I cannot be bothered by the likes of InuYasha."
Neither man reached for the banister railing that lined either side of the immense staircase. For the moment, Sesshoumaru's words had taken the edge off Sora's very real concerns.
At least the meeting had proven interesting. He wasn't sure what, exactly, he'd expected. After having heard so much about the hanyou history called InuYasha, he had to admit that he was taken by surprise by the surly, defensive teenager that he'd led on a merry chase through the woods.
"I must confess, the stories I heard did not do him justice," Sora went on with a shake of his head as his smile widened slightly. "He's much more volatile than I was led to believe."
"I have cautioned you before not to trust everything you hear," Sesshoumaru reminded him.
Sora nodded vaguely. "You did," he agreed at length, lifting his gaze to the vast open ceiling of the skyplex. "She . . . She wasn't with him."
Considering Sora's observation for several long moments, Sesshoumaru nodded. "It doesn't matter."
Raising an eyebrow at Sesshoumaru's marked lack of concern, Sora frowned. Of course, it bothered him. But if Sesshoumaru didn't find anything amiss, then Sora could only assume that perhaps he was simply over-thinking the situation. "So what's next?"
"Next?" Sesshoumaru repeated. Sora could feel his gaze though the youkai hadn't bothered to turn his head. "Next . . . we wait."
"Why?" he challenged sharply, casting Sesshoumaru a questioning glance. "We know where he is . . ."
The look he garnered for daring to doubt Sesshoumaru's command was enough to diffuse the precluding sense of haste that had remained just below the surface of Sora's affected calm since the altercation in the woods days ago. It was a frightening expression, full of disdain and designed to let one know when he had overstepped his boundaries. It was simple to see exactly why Sesshoumaru was the undisputed Inu no Taisho, in Sora's estimation. "I apologize," he murmured, making a low bow. "I did not mean to be presumptuous."
"You show your true colors," Sesshoumaru mused.
The hanyou grinned. "Is that a compliment?"
"Take it as you will."
Sora chuckled softly, even as he reminded himself that the only thing that could help him now was to exercise the patience he'd struggled so long to learn. "And you are certain that he will come to you?"
Sesshoumaru considered Sora's last question. "He will," he decided, "and when he does . . . I trust you remember what you're to do."
Sora nodded slowly, his amused expression dissipating, only to be replaced with a steely glint of absolute determination. "Absolutely, Sesshoumaru-sama. Leave it to me."
InuYasha dug his claws into the table top and concentrated on the idea that he really, really, really couldn't tear the irritating human limb from limb—at least, he couldn't unless he wanted to endure what he figured would be a fairly nasty scolding from Mrs. Higurashi, that was . . .
"So if you take the numerator and multiply it by the denominator, then you'll get the product, and—"
'And I don't give a rat's ass!' he fumed, glowering across the table at the oblivious Houjou who had his nose buried so deeply in the text book that he wasn't even aware of the mutinous scowl he was receiving.
"—try the next problem. I'll bet you can get it if you just set your mind to it."
No doubt about it, Houjou's eternal optimism was stepping all over InuYasha's last nerve. With a muted growl, the pencil that he'd been gripping snapped in half, and that, at least, was enough to draw the human's attention. "Lesson's over," he snarled, standing up so abruptly that he shoved the chair back with a loud scrape.
"Uh, okay," Houjou agreed, looking completely perplexed as he started to gather his things. "Just work the rest of the problems on this page, then, and I'll . . . I'll be back tomorrow."
InuYasha snorted noncommittally, tossing the remnants of the pencil in the general vicinity of the trash can as he stomped out of the kitchen. Beneath the baseball cap that Mrs. Higurashi had reminded him to put on just before Houjou's arrival, his ears twitched nervously, and he grimaced. He started to reach up to yank it off only to stop when he spotted the old man leading a few tourists around the shrine grounds.
"Aww, for fuck's sake," he muttered, stopping short as he weighed his options. He could go hide in Kagome's room, but he still hated to go in there. Odd thing, really . . . being surrounded by Kagome's lingering scent both comforted and irritated him at the same time. 'Damn her,' he thought with an inward snort. 'Stupid girl . . . can't even make a wish right, can she? She's completely useless without me . . .'
The snort shifted into a soft little whine, and without stopping to consider his actions any further, he pushed the door open and stomped past the tourists who were all staring at him with varying degrees of interest—possibly because he'd managed to sniff out his old clothing and put it on, much to his satisfaction, and much to Mrs. Higurashi's dismay.
"There's an old legend about a terrible, ornery hanyou who was pinned by a sacred arrow to this very tree!" the old man was saying.
Ordinarily, InuYasha might have taken issue over the 'terrible, ornery hanyou' part, but he just didn't feel like spending the next hour yelling at the crazy old man, either. He kept moving toward the one place where he might find a modicum of peace, and only because it wasn't an area that was normally part of the tour—the well house.
To be honest, InuYasha had never really stopped to think about why the well wasn't part of the tour, though he had a feeling that it had more to do with the loss of Kagome than because an old dry well was less than fascinating. He felt it too, didn't he? Every time he stepped into the shadowy building, he couldn't help but remember the countless times that he'd traveled through that very well—sometimes to fetch Kagome, sometimes to bring her home to visit . . . sometimes just because he missed her . . . Maybe . . . Maybe he ought to have told her that last part a little more often . . .
Hunkering on the steps, he pulled the baseball cap off and let it tumble from his fingers as a thousand memories assailed him in the dimness and the quiet of the stagnant air.
'Kagome . . .'
What was she doing now? Was she helping the others to protect the village? He grimaced. 'That damned pervert and Sango better be taking care of her,' he thought with a decisive snort. 'Kami only knows the kind of trouble she'll get into if they leave her to her own devices . . .'
That was right, wasn't it? How many times had she gotten him into precarious situations simply because she never knew when to leave well enough alone? Jumping right into the fray when Sesshoumaru had tracked him down to challenge him over the ownership of Tetsusaiga . . . getting herself kidnapped by that moron, Kouga . . . nearly dying from poison in that damned burning shrine . . . so many more times than he really wanted to consider, and still he couldn't help the sad little smile that turned up the corners of his lips as he remembered the feeling of contentment that he'd gotten just knowing that she was there with him. She wanted to be, that's what she'd said, even if he hadn't deserved her devotion.
'Keh! If she wanted to be with me, why isn't she now?' he fumed, shaking his head as a rapid gush of anger shoved the melancholy feelings aside. As though he couldn't control the need to move, he shot to his feet and stomped across the well house to retrieve the carefully wrapped piece of wood that he had stashed under the platform that ran around the perimeter of the building.
Strange how the parcel seemed to temper his anger. Frowning at the smudgy cloth that he'd carefully wrapped around the simple shelf he'd fashioned out of the branch of Goshinboku he'd cut down, he let out a deep breath and felt his ears flatten momentarily.
He supposed that it was stupid. There was a strange sense of urgency that he couldn't shake, an unreasonable fear that if he didn't hurry, something terrible would happen. It didn't matter that he knew damn well that nothing would be able to bring her back, he couldn't help but think that maybe, if he could finish this . . . maybe . . .
With a deft hop, he lit on the edge of the well, holding the shelf against his chest, he stared down into the darkened void. He hadn't been inside it since he'd found the letter she had written him. Almost afraid that he would find another one, he had ignored the urge to test the portal since he knew deep down that the well really was closed.
Settling down with a dejected sigh and a shake of his head, InuYasha carefully unwrapped the piece of wood that he'd been carving. A small shelf carved out of a solitary branch from Goshinboku, it was simple—almost plain—yet he had a strange feeling that it would please Kagome.
'If she ever sees it . . .'
Wincing inwardly as the truth behind that statement struck a little too close to home, InuYasha ground his teeth together, willing away the familiar ache that always accompanied his thoughts of Kagome, of the time that he knew and the life he'd left behind. From the moment he'd started to fade—the moment he'd realized that Kagome had wished for something entirely different—he felt as though he'd somehow stopped living, existing on the edge of nothing. He'd lost everything in that moment, hadn't he? His reason to fight, his feeling that he was worth something, after all . . . Somehow in the course of the years since he'd first met her so long ago, she'd quietly and gently and without his ever having realized it . . . She'd become all of those things to him, and he . . .
Kami, he missed her.
'There has to be a way,' he thought with a scowl as he shaved away bits of wood here and there along the plane of the shelf. 'Just have to figure out how . . .'
Too bad there wasn't someone who could just tell him how to do it. He'd been thinking about it ever since the night everything had happened, to no avail. He'd thought so hard that his head hurt, and he wasn't any closer to figuring out if there was anything he could do than he had been in the beginning.
Rubbing the wood with the pad of his thumb, he sighed again and slowly shook his head, his scowl resurfacing as he concentrated on the task at hand.
If there were someone who knew and understood his problem, maybe they could help him figure out how to fix it all . . .
Someone . . . someone . . .
Sitting up straight, InuYasha's eyes flared as an insular thought occurred to him. "That's . . . That's right . . ." he murmured.
The shelf thumped on the packed earth floor as he shot to his feet and stomped toward the stairs, pausing only long enough to snatch up the baseball cap as he snorted indelicately since he really had to wonder exactly why he hadn't thought of it sooner. It was all-too obvious, wasn't it? Well, provided he could find him, anyway . . .
'He'd know, wouldn't he?' he fumed as he shoved out of the well house and into the hazy afternoon sunshine. 'That damned old bastard . . . of course he would . . .'
Taijya: Youkai exterminator.
== == == == == == == == == ==
kds1222 ------ OROsan0677 ------ YangofYin ------ Ochiko ------ JasonC ------ kamackie21 ------ lere ------ inuyashaloverr ------ Aozora_Tennyo ------ BladesoftheValkyrie ------ cwillia ------ xbitternessx ------ Braden ------ MidnightsKeeper ------ KAZ1167 ------ Xoblackchildxo ------ stardragon ------ Autumn_the_Reviewer ------ mysereye12 ------ Aozora_Tennyo ------ MetsukiKaraTen ------ cynbad146 ------ rainydays ------ Lady_Kaede23 ----- Dark Inu Fan ------ flrsblue ------ Vanquisher ------ Hopelessly Escaflowne ------ Ravashing ------ Cynbad146 ------ saygoodnight ------ iloveanimecartoons ------ ThisIsMeSmiling ------ littleolme ------ Sesshomaru4Kagura4ever
OROsan0677 ------ My Own Self ------ cutechick18 ------ psycho_chick32 ------ Mangaluva
Final Thought from InuYasha:
What the hell do I need to know math for…?
Stopping on the edge of the flat rooftop as he scanned the horizon of the city they called 'Tokyo', InuYasha rubbed a weary hand over his face and heaved a sigh. He hurt, damn it. Senses nearing overload, it wasn't the first time he'd thought that maybe he'd made a huge mistake in leaving the shrine grounds. Nose overwhelmed by the layers of stench that made locating the one he wanted almost impossible, ears throbbing from the combined rumble of too many cars, too many people, as well as sounds that he just couldn't identify . . . Why hadn't he noticed these things before? He'd ventured into the city with Kagome a number of times, hadn't he? Why were they so much harder to deal with now?
With a grunt, InuYasha pushed off the building, springing forward to land on the next one.
He hadn't told anyone that he was leaving the shrine. He honestly hadn't thought to. After the idea had occurred to him, he'd been too anxious to see if his suspicions were true, but he hadn't anticipated how difficult the task of finding that baka might be.
He should have, he knew. Even then, that wouldn't have eased the trouble, would it? It reminded him of the times they'd spent, traveling all over when they'd been trying to track down Naraku's stronghold. It had been hidden behind a barrier that had stopped InuYasha from being able to sense or smell him, but in the end, he'd found the castle, and if it hadn't been for his baka half-brother, Naraku would have been dealt with then.
'Yeah, that's not entirely true,' he thought as his scowl deepened, as he leapt across the city's skyline. They'd done well to flush him out of hiding at the time, he supposed. Of course, he'd bite his own tongue off before he'd ever admit that Sesshoumaru had done anything well. Something about that particular youkai made InuYasha's blood boil, damn it . . .
'And just who the fuck was that little brat with him?' he fumed, remembering the snide smirk on the strange hanyou's face. Just thinking about that one pissed him off even more, and he grunted as he pushed off the flat rooftop to make the leap to the next building. It was entirely possible that the hanyou was older than him—and why that ticked him off, he wasn't entirely sure, but it did, nonetheless. In fact, as far as InuYasha was concerned, the two of them—Sesshoumaru and the one he'd called 'Sora'—were some sort of unholy union that he wanted no part of.
Grimacing as a particularly loud car horn pierced through the sounds of the city, he nearly stumbled in his stride but caught himself and kept moving. A gust of wind caught the visor of his baseball cap, and the pitiful bit of fabric flew off before he could catch it. Muttering a curse under his breath, InuYasha decided against going after it since he had bigger fish to fry.
'If I can just find that bastard,' he thought with a low growl, 'maybe I can get some answers . . .'
Irritated all over again at how stupid he'd been, InuYasha pushed himself harder. He should have thought of it sooner, shouldn't he? After all, if anyone knew anything, then it stood to reason that he did, didn't it? Knowing him, he was probably sitting back somewhere, laughing his ass off at InuYasha, and why not? He'd been sitting around, feeling sorry for himself in a strange time that he didn't know surrounded by even stranger things that would probably never make much sense to him and missing the best friend he'd somehow managed to lose along the way . . .
But no, the longer he thought about it, the more certain he became. There had to be a way back, didn't there? It just didn't matter that he was here and she was there. They shared a bond, didn't they? Even he had known that. She'd saved him time after time—saved him because she was the only one who could. He simply couldn't accept that he wouldn't ever see her again. It just . . . well, it wasn't possible, was it?
Hell, no, it wasn't! He didn't believe in the idea that there were simply souls that were never meant to be together, and sure, he'd been foolish with Kikyou. Because of her—because of her sacrifices—he'd always vowed that things would be different with Kagome. He'd faltered now and again, but wasn't that natural, too? No, he absolutely couldn't accept the idea that she was beyond his reach. He refused, damn it . . .
Skidding to a halt on the edge of a flat topped building where a bunch of plants were potted and flourishing, InuYasha frowned and hunkered down, sniffling deep as the unsettlingly familiar scent wafted to him from somewhere down below. The darkened alley was difficult to discern, and any noises that he might have recognized were far too muddled in a dull buzz of a thousand other sounds.
But that scent . . .
Unconsciously erupting in a harsh growl, InuYasha dug his claws into the weathered concrete rim that ran around the perimeter of the roof, crumbling it as easily as it would have had it been formed from sand and water on the beach.
A surge of anger shot through him, and before he could talk himself out of it, InuYasha hopped forward, pushing himself off the ledge and into the darkness below.
He landed with a dull thump in the middle of the alley, crouching low just behind two shadowy figures that were poking around with flashlights in their hands, wearing strange suits. He'd been right, after all, and even as he got to his feet, he couldn't help the rumbling growl that issued from him, either.
"—obvious that the perpetrator ran down here, tossing the weapon over this way where we found it. We know he didn't run in there—they'd have seen him, and he couldn't have gone all the way to that end since there's a security camera by that door, so he'd have had to duck in there . . ."
The two men stopped talking and slowly turned to face him. InuYasha ignored the one—he didn't know or give a damn who he was, even though the man's face shifted into an expression of mild shock, as though he couldn't quite believe just what he was seeing. Cracking his knuckles—they popped inordinately loudly in the confines of the alley, InuYasha bared his fangs, his eyes glowing in the darkness.
The second being—the one who had been talking—eyed him up and down as a slow, lazy grin that looked almost more like a sneer broke over his features, and he nodded as though he recognized something despite the amused glint in his eyes that InuYasha really didn't trust. The grin widened as he shook his head, as though he simply couldn't quite reconcile the idea that InuYasha had literally dropped in out of nowhere . . .
"Well, hello, dog-shit . . . Long time, no see, huh?"
"Those two are going to kill each other, yet," Sango remarked ruefully, shaking her head as she watched Shippou and Bunza face off nearby. The children were glaring at each other without blinking, their arms drawn back as though they were ready to dash forward, their teeth bared, which might have been less humorous and more serious had they been a little bigger.
Kagome didn't comment as she slowly sipped a cup of tea and did her best to ignore the altercation.
"What are they fighting about this time?" Miroku asked as he tucked a stack of ofuda into his kimono.
"The last onigiri," Sango replied, offering the rice ball in question to Kirara in her open palm. The fire-cat-youkai sniffed it once, twice, then grabbed it in her mouth before curling up in a ball beside Sango to eat her unexpected serving.
"They get along almost as well as Kouga-kun and InuYasha," Kagome remarked idly, lowering her cup to her lap. "Knock it off, you two!" she hollered.
Sango and Miroku exchanged significant looks behind the young miko's back. They could understand, of course, that Kagome's temper of late had been a little short, and in all honesty, they couldn't really blame her for that. Still, it was unusual for her to snap at the kitsune, and that, more than anything, worried them.
"Kagome-chan . . ." Sango began. Miroku shook his head in warning.
Kagome's gaze shifted to her friend, and Sango, taking Miroku's warning to heart, forced a bright smile and shook her head. "Why don't we go fill the water jugs?" she ventured instead.
Kagome considered that then nodded. "Can you keep an eye on them?" she asked Miroku.
"Absolutely," he assured them. "Take your time."
Miroku let out a deep breath as the two women disappeared over the rise of the small hill in the direction of the nearby stream. "All right, you two," he called, trying to draw the children's attention.
"That's my onigiri, baka!" Bunza yelled indignantly.
"Yeah, right!" Shippou shot back. "You got the extra fish last night, and I know you ate the last of the rice this morning! You're fat enough, Bunza! That rice ball is mine!"
"Actually, the rice ball was Kirara's," Miroku commented.
That got their attention. Both little heads swiveled to stare at him, and Miroku sighed. "You two need to stop arguing. The womenfolk are beginning to find it tiresome."
That seemed to stop them both in their tracks. Their shoulders slumped and they dropped their contentious stances, stomping back over to the campsite though Miroku didn't miss the sulky glowers that they cast one another, either. "Don't you think that the two of you can learn to get along?" he asked when they'd both sat down on opposite sides of the area.
"It's his fault," they said in unison, each indicating the other.
Miroku heaved a sigh and shook his head. 'I should have known better than to ask . . .'
Sango crested the low rise of the hill and wandered over to them, sitting quietly beside Miroku, who cast her a cursory glance. "Where's Kagome?" he asked, his expression quizzical.
She sighed and shook her head. "She asked that I leave her alone for awhile," she admitted. "Houshi-sama . . . I'm really starting to worry about her."
He considered that as he stood up to drop a few more pieces of wood onto the fire. The sun was sinking rapidly, and with it came the slightly chillier night air. "Everyone grieves at this or her own pace," he said at length. "To Kagome, InuYasha's disappearance is like he died, never to be seen . . . It will take some time before she can cope with the truth of the situation—that we really may never see InuYasha again. It's not surprising, given how close the two of them have always been."
Sango nodded, staring pensively at the flickering flames of the fire. "It seems like there is more to it than that."
"All we can do is to offer her our full support," Miroku concluded with a shake of his head.
"Even if she's being crabby for no good reason," Bunza grumbled.
Half expecting the young kitsune to snap at his arch enemy for that comment, Miroku only blinked and stared as Shippou hopped off the fallen log where he'd been sitting since returning to the group. Without a word, he started away, heading over the hill.
Kagome heaved a sigh and tightened her wrists around her ankles, resting her chin on her raised knees as she stared at the world around her without seeing any of it. Miroku and Sango had tried to tell her that she didn't have to come along. They were only traveling as far as an outlying village to perform an easy youkai extermination of an old barn that was said to be a haven for fire-rats. Sure, the two of them could have easily handled the mission. No, it was more that Kagome needed to get away from the ever-watchful eyes in the village. As though they'd all made some sort of pact, it seemed to her that there was always someone there watching, observing, and even if it weren't true, did that really matter when she felt like it was?
'They think I'm going to break down, don't they? They think that I'm nothing without . . . without InuYasha . . .'
Wincing at the almost bitter sound of her words, she closed her eyes and sighed. Wasn't a loss like that supposed to get easier to deal with? Wasn't every day that she awoke and stared at the morning sun supposed to bring her just a little closer to a sense of closure?
But it didn't, did it? With every sunrise came the harsh realization that InuYasha really wasn't there, and with every sunset came the night, and it was during the night when she lay awake, listening to the sounds of her friends as they slept that she missed him the most—missed looking up into the tall branches of the trees and seeing his profile—so strong, almost peaceful—the few times that he seemed almost pensive . . . Lost in thought as he stared out over the forest that he so loved, and every so often, he would glance at her, a half-smile on his lips—one devoid of the overlying emotions that he tried so hard to hide behind . . . Those had always been the moments when she'd felt closer to him, when she'd felt as though he understood how she felt, and that maybe he really did feel the same way . . .
'Oh, what does it matter now?' she thought suddenly; angrily. 'Is this really how it was meant to be?'
There was no answer. She hadn't really expected one: the whisper of the wind, the gurgle of the water . . . It was peaceful, wasn't it? Peaceful and beautiful and . . .
'And completely empty . . . without InuYasha . . .'
'Kagome . . .'
With a startled gasp, she sat up straight, her eyes brightening as she scanned the area, as she searched in vain for the face that went along with the voice. As though he had spoken from there beside her, it was the first time that she hadn't felt entirely lost, entirely alone, in such a long time . . .
But there was no one—no surly hanyou clad in crimson . . . and she heaved a sigh, dropping her chin into the cradle of her arms, resting atop her raised knees. 'Even my own imagination is playing mean tricks on me . . .'
Something familiar brushed over her, but she refused to turn around. She sensed the being but didn't really hear him approach. No more than a movement in the falling night, a breath of familiarity that she neither welcomed nor refuted.
"Oi, Kagome . . . how goes it?"
"Hey, Kouga-kun," she replied, her tone vague, a million miles away.
"Am I dreamin' or do I really not smell the scent of that bastard with you or your friends?"
"InuYasha's . . . not here," she forced herself to say, shivering slightly as the breeze blowing through the trees picked up.
"Yeah? Where'd he run off to? Don't tell me he left you alone."
"It wasn't like that," she replied sharply, casting the wolf-youkai a scathing glower. "It's not like he chose to leave . . ."
'Except that he did,' an unwelcome voice whispered in the back of her mind. 'He chose it . . . wherever 'it' is . . .'
Kouga, as usual, only heard the part that he wanted to hear. "Figures . . . damn mutt-face . . . Next time I see him, I'll punch him in the damn nose. See if I don't!" he fumed.
Pushing herself to her feet, Kagome brushed her skirt off and bit down the rising irritation that roiled inside her. "So why are you out this way?" she asked instead, more to change the subject than because she really wanted to know.
Kouga rolled his eyes and sighed—a strange sound from the cocky youkai she'd come to know. "Eh, I have to go talk to old Banai," he explained. "He's been raiding some of my wolves lately—holy contributions, he's calling it—and while they can take care of themselves, I figure it's time to let the bastard know that he's overstepping his boundaries when he attacks my kin."
"Banai? Who is he?" she pressed. In truth, she hadn't ever heard of this 'Banai' fellow, but from the way Kouga talked about it, it was obvious that he thought that everyone had.
"Just a crazy old loon, really . . . a boar-youkai who thinks that he's a priest, if you can imagine that." Kouga laughed suddenly and shook his head. "He hasn't actually killed anyone, though it hardly matters. I don't take kindly to unwarranted attacks against my wolves."
"A youkai who thinks that he's a priest?" she echoed, blinking in abject disbelief. "Isn't that kind of an oxymoron?"
Kouga snorted and shrugged indifferently. "Well, you got the 'moron' part right . . ." Trailing off, he suddenly glanced at her, his dark blue eyes taking on a suspect shimmer. "You know, Kagome, why don't you come with me? You know, if you don't got anything better to do . . ."
She opened her mouth to say no. She was traveling with Miroku and Sango, after all . . . "Okay," she said, much to her own surprise. 'Wh—What? Where did that come from . . .?'
Kouga looked shocked for all of thirty seconds. Then he barked out a loud guffaw, scooping up a protesting Kagome and dashing away into the forest . . .
"W-Wait, Kouga! I need to—"
His laughter cut her off. "Where's your sense of adventure? You'll have fun, I promise!"
Shippou stopped short and stared in gape-mouthed surprise. 'Kagome . . . why would you go with Kouga . . .?' he wondered as he blinked at the emptiness around him.
The only answer he got was the gentle whisper of the trees.
InuYasha narrowed his eyes on the mangy wolf-youkai before him. Irritating smirk still firmly in place, he looked entirely strange in the modern clothing and yet completely familiar, too. "What the fuck are you doing here, Kouga?" he demanded.
The other man—a human, InuYasha could tell—looked entirely uncomfortable as he shifted his gaze from Kouga to InuYasha and back again.
"Ookami-san . . . Do you see what I see . . .?"
Kouga shot his partner a cursory glance. "What?" he replied, casting InuYasha a quick look. "Oh . . . Don't worry about that. Cosplayer."
"O-Oh . . ."
Ears flicking in abject irritation, InuYasha snorted. He didn't have to understand the terms 'cosplayer' to realize that Kouga and his little human buddy were talking about him, anyway . . .
Brushing off the human's obvious concern, Kouga flicked a hand in the general direction of a nearby door. "Anyway, Katsuragi-san . . . why don't you go question the owner of that club for me?"
He didn't look like he wanted to do what Kouga said, but he bowed once then strode away.
Kouga watched him go, jamming his hands into his pockets before shifting his gaze up and down the alley to make sure that they were alone, his black ponytail falling over his shoulder as he slowly smiled. "So this is where you ended up . . . I wondered, of course . . . not that I cared . . ."
"Cut the crap, Kouga," InuYasha spat. "What the hell are you doing here?"
The wolf-youkai rolled his eyes. "I live here . . . well, not here, exactly . . . Right now, I'm working."
Shaking his head, Kouga looked vaguely amused. "Yes, working, dog-breath . . . earning money . . . Surely you've heard of it. You work for it . . . spend it on things you need . . . It's not that new a concept, really."
InuYasha snorted indelicately and cracked his knuckles, indication clear: if Kouga wanted a fight, he'd be more than happy to oblige him. "What about your damn pack? You just leave them to fend for themselves, you coward?"
"My . . .?" To his surprise, the wolf-youkai laughed—a sound that still got InuYasha's hackles up, just the same.
"Why, you . . ."
"Aw, relax, relax . . . Ginta and Hakkaku are livin' in Los Angeles making gay porn . . . and I take care of my business."
"Keh!" InuYasha snorted, since he didn't actually understand most of what Kouga had just said. Didn't matter to him, anyway, did it? Who the hell cared what those two bakas were doing, anyway? "Tell me what you know about Kagome!" he demanded, wishing that he'd bothered to go inside for his sword before leaving the shrine. He felt completely naked without it, damn it, and dealing with Kouga without having it on hand . . . well, it only exacerbated the situation, as far as InuYasha could tell.
"Kagome," Kouga repeated, as an entirely suspicious glint ignited in his eyes—as that damned mocking smirk of his widened even more. "What do you want to know, dog-shit?"
"Don't fuck with me, Kouga!" he snarled, taking a swing at the youkai and missing when Kouga calmly stepped out of the way of InuYasha's descending claws. "Tell me now or I'll tear you apart with my bare hands!"
"Now, see, InuYasha, you've always had an impulse control problem, and I have to tell you that she's none of your business, you know."
"Since when?" he shot back, taking another swing at Kouga, who leaned to the side to avoid the contact.
Kouga's grin turned downright nasty as he uttered a menacing chuckle. "Since she became my wife . . . baka."
magedelbene ------ OROsan0677 ------ inuyashaloverr ------ nymphminxgoddess ------ cwillia ------ littleolme ------ dewrose ------ Raniatlw ------ wbk
Final Thought from InuYasha:
… D-Did he just say … wife …?
Kagome shivered and scooted closer to the fire, holding up her hands to warm as she stifled a sigh and slowly shook her head.
'Oh, boy . . . How did this happen? I didn't want to go with Kouga . . . Why on earth did I agree?'
An owl in a nearby tree hooted in answer to her thoughts.
'Even worse, I didn't get a chance to tell Sango and Miroku . . . I hope they aren't worried . . .'
Gasping out a little squeak as a freshly killed rabbit thumped on the ground in front of her, Kagome jerked back, bumping into Kouga's legs. She hadn't heard him return, though she vaguely recalled him saying that he was going to hunt down some dinner. Staring at it, unable to mask her distaste, she swallowed hard and tried to force a smile since the wolf-youkai looked entirely too pleased with himself. "What's the matter, Kagome? Not hungry?" he asked.
"Uhh," she hedged, trying not to think about the idea that InuYasha always—always—skinned and cleaned whatever he caught before he handed it over for her to cook. Of course, he said it was because he didn't like getting mouthfuls of fur, but . . . but she rather thought more than once that maybe there was more to it than that; that maybe he had just understood that staring at a carcass like the one that Kouga had just tossed down before her just might be a little more than she could take . . .
To her horror, Kouga reached over her shoulder and tore off the rabbit's left rear haunch before handing the mutilated thing back to her. "Uhh," she said again, pinching a front leg between her thumb and index finger before very quickly setting it aside.
Kouga didn't seem to notice her reluctance, though, and he stretched out on his side, casually munching on the raw haunch, though he did pause to spit tufts of fur aside. Kagome quickly looked away.
"So, if this Banai guy claims to be a priest, why is he raiding your clan?" Kagome asked, mostly to sidetrack her own thoughts before she did something completely shameful, like vomit.
"Says he's taking up donations or something." Clicking his tongue against his teeth before gnawing on one of the rabbit's leg bones, Kouga shrugged one shoulder carelessly. "He's a damn fool," the wolf-youkai insisted airily. "He also says that youkai are evil and that they ought to be destroyed. I'm pretty sure that he's forgotten that he is one himself. He's usually pretty harmless, but to hear tale of it, something's got him all stirred up."
"Like what?" she couldn't help asking. The story was starting to get stranger and stranger. "More importantly, just how could he forget that he's youkai?"
Kouga snorted and thumped his feet on the ground. "Well, he's always been a little crazy. Guess it just got worse," he said. "Anyway, it's no big deal. I'll just give him a friendly warning, and we'll be on our way."
"Yeah," she allowed slowly, lifting her gaze skyward, staring at the empty tree branches so high above, wishing in vain to see that flash of crimson, the streak of silver, and knowing in her heart that he was nothing but a memory.
"So, uh . . . Tell me, Kagome. Where is that mongrel, anyway?" Kouga asked as he pushed himself up and chucked the bones over his shoulder. There was something in his tone, though, a hint of reluctance, as though he realized that there was something seriously wrong—or maybe he simply realized that she . . .
Letting out a deep breath, Kagome winced. It was going to become common knowledge soon enough, wasn't it? "InuYasha . . ." Swallowing hard, she tried to find the words, but they wouldn't come. Clearing her throat a few times, she shook her head, unsure where she could begin; unsure what she really wanted to say. "We . . . We purified the Shikon no Tama, and . . . and Midoriko asked us what we wanted. He . . . he chose my . . . my home, and I . . ." The bitter stab of cruel irony hit her hard, and she couldn't contain the harsh, humorless laugh that slipped from her. "I chose his."
Kouga said nothing for a minute. Kagome didn't notice. Too busy, trying to cover up the fresh surge of pain brought on by the explanation that she'd given, she didn't notice anything—until Kouga barked out a guffaw of laughter, anyway . . .
"Is that right?" he finally choked out, wiping laughter-induced tears out of his eyes. "I always knew he was stupid, but damn! That's pretty retarded, even for him!"
That earned him a formidable glower from the miko that would have been much more effective had he actually been paying attention to her. He was still too busy laughing, which only served to further Kagome's rapidly escalating irritation with him.
"Oi! Where are you going?" he called after her when she shot to her feet, grabbed her backpack along with her bow and arrows, and started to stomp away from the campsite.
"Goodbye, Kouga," she said stiffly. "I think agreeing to come along with you was a mistake."
Heaving a sigh, Kouga pushed himself off the ground and caught Kagome's hand. "Okay, I'm sorry," he said, though he didn't sound particularly apologetic. "The subject of dog-face is touchy for you. I get it."
Kagome opened her mouth to retort, yanking her arm away from the wolf-youkai, but the sudden rustle in the nearby foliage stopped her. Blinking in surprise as she watched five youkai step out of the trees, she couldn't miss the low grunt from Kouga—or the dour priest's robes worn by the middle youkai—a huge boar-youkai with thick tusks , thick fingers, a thick belly, and a very pronounced pig snout.
"Banai . . . how nice of you to save me the trouble of hunting you down," Kouga remarked.
'Banai,' Kagome thought as she stared at the boar-youkai. 'That's him . . .?'
"Kouga, leader of the wolf-youkai tribe," Banai remarked, slowly nodding as he took a step closer. His men spread out, stepped into place surrounding Kouga and Kagome, and while they didn't seem particularly hostile at the moment, Kagome couldn't help the unbidden surge of nerves, either. "What do you here? Know you that you're standing upon sacred ground?"
"Sacred ground?" Kouga repeated, shaking his head as a look of feigned surprise surfaced since they had made camp beside a small stream basically in the middle of nowhere. "Nothing sacred about this place, Banai."
"That's High Priest Banai to you, you lowly wolf . . . and you've been poaching our sacred rabbits, too," one of Banai's followers accused. Kagome squeaked and inadvertently moved in a little closer to Kouga's side when he thrust the mutilated carcass from Kouga's dinner over her shoulder to present the evidence to the 'high priest'.
"The poaching of a sacred rabbit is a crime, punishable by law," Banai proclaimed. "Bring them along. We'll decide their punishment at the shrine."
"Wait! This is just ridiculous—" Cutting herself off as she yanked her arm away from Banai's henchman, she stomped over to the 'priest' and planted her hands on her hips, glowering up at the youkai stubbornly. "And there are no such things as 'sacred rabbits'!"
To her surprise—and irritation—Kouga rolled his eyes and slung an arm around her shoulders to propel her around the high priest and toward the forest while the boar-youkai and his men fell in behind them. "Come on, Kagome. Just humor them. I did mention that he's crazy, right?" he murmured in her ear.
Heaving a heavy sigh, Kagome didn't argue. Considering there were five of them and one of her? Well, two if one counted Kouga, but he seemed to be way too amused by it all to bother trying to dissuade them from taking any rash actions. She should have known better than to make such a stupid, impetuous choice as going with Kouga in the first place. Why, oh why did she have the feeling that it just wasn't going to end well . . .?
"Wh . . . What . . .?"
Kouga blinked as his grin widened, thoroughly enjoying the shocked disbelief that InuYasha couldn't hide. Fast on the heels of that, however, was the anger that InuYasha knew better, and it was that emotion that spoke for him. "You're lying," he stated flatly, straightening his back, glowering murderously at the wolf-youkai. "You're fucking lying!"
"Am I?" Kouga taunted. "What the hell would you know? You got any idea just how lonely she was after you disappeared? Did you think she'd stay alone forever? And why not me? At least I'm not dumb enough to wish for something that could hurt her—unlike some people I know."
Erupting in a low growl, InuYasha grabbed the front of Kouga's shirt and shoved him back against the wall without letting go. "You don't know shit about it, wolf, so don't pretend that you do. As for Kagome, she'd never marry someone like you."
"Shows you what you think you know, baka," Kouga shot back.
"I know Kagome!" InuYasha shot back, giving Kouga yet another rough shake.
Sparing a moment to glance down at InuYasha's hand pointedly before shifting his gaze back to his face once more, Kouga broke into a grin that was closer to a snarl than a show of amusement. "You know, Kagome, huh . . .? It doesn't really matter because you weren't there, were you?"
That barb struck home. "Shut the fuck up, you scrawny wolf," InuYasha growled. "Just tell me the damned truth!"
"I am telling you the damned truth," Kouga retorted although his tone was mild, almost bored. "Anyway, I should probably tell you that I'm a detective, and you could be arrested right now—easily."
InuYasha snorted and dealt Kouga another sound thump against the wall. He wasn't sure what this 'arrested' meant, but he couldn't quite work up the need to care at the moment, either. "Like I give a damn."
"Will you calm down already?" Kouga asked, rolling his eyes as though InuYasha should know enough on his own. "You're wrinkling my shirt."
"Don't give a damn about that, either," InuYasha ground out. "Now tell me the truth about Kagome!"
Kouga rolled his eyes. "I am," he stated once more. "We were married—not long after you ended up here, I think . . ."
InuYasha erupted in a low growl, eyes brightening, his pulse thundering in his ears as he realized a moment too late that he'd forgotten Tetsusaiga back at the shrine. Too bad he didn't much care if he lost control or not, given the circumstances. Tearing Kouga limb from limb was sounding better and better by the second . . .
"Ookami-san . . .?"
Kouga's gaze flicked over InuYasha's shoulder as Katsuragi stepped back out of the building. Then he sighed and knocked InuYasha's hands away, looking far more irritated than he had before. Whether it was due to the interruption or something else entirely, InuYasha didn't know—and really didn't care. "Had to do this the hard way, didn't you, mutt-face?" he muttered under his breath.
"What the fuck are you—?"
The snick of something cold on his wrist cut him off, and before InuYasha could get a good look at whatever it was, the damn wolf grabbed his other arm, giving a good yank that spun him around seconds before another 'snick' resounded in his ears. Tugging on his hands did nothing to regain his freedom, and InuYasha growled. "What the hell are these?" he demanded, jerking hard enough on the chain behind his back that held his hands together to draw blood. "Kouga, damn it—"
"Calm down, baka," Kouga insisted, grabbing InuYasha's arm and propelling him forward as he leaned in just enough to be heard, speaking in a tone so low that an ordinary human wouldn't hear him at all. "Always gotta do things the hard way, don't you?" Heaving a sigh, Kouga shook his head, grip tightening on InuYasha's arm when the hanyou tried again to jerk away. "Can't say your brother's going to be pleased about this one . . ."
InuYasha snorted, glowering at Kouga as the latter smashed a hand against his head to force InuYasha into the nondescript black sedan. "If you're talking about Sesshoumaru, he can go straight to hell—along with you."
"I'm going to take him down to the station. Continue the investigation until I get back," Kouga called over his shoulder at his partner.
Just what the hell was going on? Yanking again on the restraints, InuYasha couldn't stop the growl that rose inside him. They were just stupid metal cuffs, right? So why couldn't he break them?
"They've got ofuda in them," Kouga remarked, peering into the rearview mirror as he closed the door and started the engine.
The sound of the engine was enough to set off another round of growling and yanking against the handcuffs. He wasn't sure exactly what he was in for, but judging from the sound and smell of the beast he'd been forced into, he was certain that it wasn't good. "What the fuck, Kouga? Let me the hell outta here!"
"Can't do that, dog-shit," Kouga remarked calmly as the beast started to move. "Now be a good boy and just shut the hell up, will you?"
InuYasha gritted his teeth, thoughts preoccupied at least for the moment by the monstrosity that seemed to be moving of its own accord. Sure, he'd seen these things before, and yes, he had realized that people in the modern era used them to travel from here to there. He had just not seen the need to have or be in one before—and he couldn't rightfully say that he liked it now, anyway. Mrs. Higurashi didn't have anything like this—a small compensation, he figured—but as the thing pulled onto the street, InuYasha had to wonder just how the hell it managed to move. "Where are you taking me?" he demanded, gritting his teeth as the smell of his blood grew stronger with his struggling. The pain was a minor thing in comparison. Ofuda? Didn't that just fucking figure . . .?
What was it that Kagome had called them? Wracking his brain, he grimaced. Oh, yes, a car, wasn't it? That's what she'd said these damn things were. Just how the hell would he ever be able to get used to something as unnatural as this? 'No fucking way,' he grumbled.
Unfortunately, though, that brought his mind right back to square one. Kagome.
'She . . . she wouldn't have married that damn bastard,' he told himself as his ears flicked nervously. 'She wouldn't have, right? She didn't . . . didn't love him! Why the fuck would she . . .?'
"What the hell do you know? You got any idea just how lonely she was after you disappeared? Did you think she'd stay alone forever? And why not me? At least I'm not dumb enough to wish for something that could hurt her—unlike some people I know."
Lonely? Okay, he'd buy that, and he didn't need Kouga to tell him just how dumb his wish really was. Still . . . even if she was lonely, to have married Kouga . . .? There just wasn't any way, was there . . .?
'Keh! Don't be fucking stupid! Of course she wouldn't have married Kouga!'
That was true, wasn't it? No matter how lonely she might have been, there was just no way . . .
Unfortunately, too, there was no way he was going to get a straight answer out of Kouga, either. Damned wolf loved to heckle InuYasha, and what better way than to dangle such an abhorrent idea in front of him to see how badly he'd unravel, right?
Still . . . Still there was just a kernel of a doubt still lodged in his brain. What if . . . What if she had really married him . . .? That question hurt him more than he could credit, but it was that question that stilled his tongue, that kept him from saying another word as he stared out the window, wondering for the millionth time, just how things had gone so horribly awry.
Kouga sighed but didn't speak during the fifteen minute trip through the congested streets of Tokyo. InuYasha was having distinct problems trying to tell himself that he really didn't need to panic—something else to add to his growing list of grievances against Kagome's time. There was an underlying feeling of complete helplessness that he just couldn't abide, and whether it was caused by the moving monstrosity he was being forced to endure or the idea that he just couldn't get his hands freed, he couldn't stand it; not at all.
Pulling the car to a stop in front of a very large building, Kouga came around and roughly yanked InuYasha out of the car but said nothing as he escorted him inside. "I can fucking walk," InuYasha snarled, jerking away from Kouga. Kouga sighed and grabbed InuYasha's arm once more.
"Shut up and move, will you?"
He opened his mouth to let Kouga know just what he thought of all of this, but he didn't get a chance as the wolf-youkai pushed open the doors and dragged InuYasha through the busy station and into a very small, very plain gray-walled box of a room—no windows, no nothing but a small metal table and two opposing chairs.
"Listen, InuYasha. I could nail your balls to the wall right now on any number of charges: obstruction of justice, attempted assault of a police officer, verbal battery . . . and I might, just for spite . . . Care to spend some time in jail?" Kouga stated flatly after letting go of the angry hanyou and stuffing his hands into his pockets.
InuYasha snorted. "Go to hell, Kouga," he ground out, yanking on the handcuffs yet again—and again getting absolutely nowhere.
"Ookami-san," a very smooth, very feminine voice interrupted. "Katsuragi-san called and said you were bringing in someone who was trying to interfere with your investigation . . . The break-in case downtown? Anyway, Katsuragi-san said that he needed your help with a couple of leads down there, so if you'll be so kind as to give me a brief overview, I'll take it from here."
InuYasha blinked, his eyes widening as he slowly turned his head to see the woman who had spoken. Mouth falling open in surprise, he couldn't quite grasp what he saw. It was impossible, wasn't it . . .? Impossible and . . . but . . . "Y . . . You . . . How . . .?"
Stomping into the familiar miko's hut in the village she knew as well as she knew her own home, Kagome's temper was well past boiling and rapidly approaching total melt down as she dropped her backpack and bow and arrows onto the floor in a huff.
"Kagome-chan! Where on earth did you go?" Sango was the first to ask as she recovered from her initial shock. "Why did you leave with Kouga?"
Just the mention of that name was enough to send her temper soaring higher, and before she could stop herself she turned her formidable glower on the taijya. "Don't even mention him to me, ever again," she bit out, balling her hands into fists so tightly that her fingers turned white.
Sango blinked and shot Miroku a quick glance, like he'd know just what was bothering Kagome, and for some reason, that only served to irritate her more.
"Something vexes ye, child?" Kaede asked mildly and without looking up from the bowl of herbs she was pulverizing.
Face contorting in a marked scowl, she stooped down to dig around in her backpack for small, white cloth bag that she kept her dirty clothes in as well as the plastic container that held the bar soap she'd originally bought for InuYasha since it was about as close to unscented as she could find, but had been using for laundry. "I don't want to talk about it," she replied in a clipped tone as she stood up and headed for the door once more, leaving behind some very confused friends.
'That stupid Kouga!' she fumed as she pushed aside the bamboo mat that covered the doorway. 'If I see him again in the next hundred years or so, it'll be way too soon!'
Wincing as her teeth ground together at the very sound of that particular voice, Kagome shook her head and started stomping down the path that led to the river, determined to ignore the one person she'd rather kill than talk to at the moment. She should have known that her bad luck of late was still holding . . . Kouga dashed forward, skidding to a stop before her as she heaved a longsuffering sigh. "Got your things together?" he asked in lieu of a proper greeting.
Kagome didn't answer right away, spending precious seconds trying to get a grip on her rapidly rising ire. Her cause wasn't helped in the least when the ignorant wolf broke into a very cocky grin. "I told you once, Kouga-kun," she managed to say without screaming, "I'm not going anywhere with you."
"You have to," he pointed out calmly—too calmly. "You're my wife now, after all."
Jamming a finger under his nose, Kagome issued a very savage growl—proof of her inability to deal with much more—if he were willing to listen to her, that was. She wasn't at all sure that he wanted to, given that they'd already had this very same conversation at least a dozen times on the way back to the village. "I'm not your wife!" she hollered.
Rolling his eyes, Kouga grasped her forearms and leaned down to look into her face. "You say that now, but once you get used to the idea, you'll like it; I promise! Not just anyone can say that her husband's the leader of the wolf-youkai tribe."
Grinding her teeth together since he'd said that like he truly believed that it was a great honor, she knocked his hands away and spun around to stomp back into Kaede's hut once more. "One question," she called out, interrupting whatever discussion they were having, and since she figured it was about her, anyway, she didn't feel very bad about her perceived rudeness. "How does one go about getting a divorce these days?"
Five faces completely blanked at her question, though she figured that the children probably didn't really understand what she was asking, anyway. 'Stunned' was a good word for it, she figured. Miroku was the first to recover, but he had to clear his throat a few times before answering. "Divorce?" he echoed. "Uh . . . is . . . is one . . . necessary . . .?"
Making a face, Kagome scowled at the monk and tried her best not to blush. "Well, I guess an annulment would do. It's not like anything like that happened—or will happen," she grumbled.
Judging from the look on Miroku's face, he wasn't entirely sure what an annulment was, but he certainly did understand the concept of divorce. "Why . . . Why don't you tell us how you ended up . . . married . . .?" he asked, carefully measuring his words.
Heaving a sigh, Kagome shuffled into the hut and plopped down on the edge of the platform around the fire pit, completely and utterly ignoring Kouga as he followed her inside.
Kagome wasn't exactly inclined to answer, but apparently, Kouga didn't mind filling the rest of them in. "We went to go talk to this old crackpot, Banai, and when we stopped for the night, he shows up, declaring that we're desecrating sacred grounds and killing sacred rabbits—" Holding up his hand to stop Miroku's question—probably something to do with the idea of 'sacred rabbits'—before he went on. "So he hauls us back to his shrine, said that the fine for poaching one sacred rabbit is fifty head of cattle—like anyone has fifty head of cattle, just laying around to give to the old lunatic—and then when he figures out that we're not married, he says that he'll waive the fee if we agreed to let him marry us since traveling together alone is a sin, blah blah blah—You get where I'm going here, right?"
Miroku and Sango exchanged looks. Kagome heaved a sigh since she'd have to be blind not to see the amusement awash in their gazes. That just figured, didn't it? She rolled her eyes, wishing that she could see the humor of the situation when she really just could not.
"Who is this 'Banai'?" Miroku went on, scratching his chin thoughtfully.
Stifling a growl of abject frustration, Kagome began, "He's some crazy pig—"
"Boar," Kouga corrected calmly.
Tamping down the urge to kick the maddening wolf, Kagome nodded. "—Boar-youkai who thinks he's a priest and has been forcibly taking up 'donations' from Kouga's clansmen," she grumbled.
Miroku's smile widened. "A youkai that thinks he's a priest?" He laughed. Sango smacked him with the back of her hand to make him stop since Kagome still didn't think any part of this whole situation was funny. Too bad the taijya looked way too amused, too . . .
"Aww, don't worry about it, Kagome," Kouga drawled. "Once you get used to the pack, you'll love it."
"I'm not getting used to anything, Kouga!" she growled, slowly rising to her feet. "For the last time, I—"
"Well, unless this Banai is really an ordained priest, then you're not really married, Kagome," Miroku cut in before Kagome could give in to the urge to have a nervous breakdown.
"Kouga! Kouga! Congratulations are in order, right?"
"Welcome to the family, nee-chan!"
"We're not married," Kagome said, raising her voice to be heard over the din.
An epidemic of coughing broke out behind her as Ginta and Hakkaku burst into the already crowded hut.
Kouga's smug grin widened. "How'd you two find out?"
Ginta squatted down on his haunches to catch his breath. "High Priest Banai sent word earlier today. We gave his messenger a few stacks of deer pelts for his trouble."
Kouga snorted though the smile on his face had yet to diminish. "Probably what he wanted all along," he mused.
Kagome narrowed her eyes on the wolf-youkai. "You knew, didn't you? That we weren't really married?"
He didn't deny it, and, in fact, winked at her, which very nearly sent her careening right over the proverbial edge.
"The others wanted us to tell you to hurry home because they're planning a feast," Hakkaku informed them happily.
"Yeah! It's not every day our leader gets married!" Ginta added.
"For the last time, we're not married!" Kagome bellowed.
The three wolf-youkai squeaked and retreated to the far corner, cowering together as Kagome loomed over them. At least Kouga tried not to look terrified, which was more than could be said for the two clansmen.
"That reminds me of someone else," Miroku muttered, leaning toward Sango. "Don't you agree?"
"It does," Sango agreed.
"So . . . does that mean the feast is off?" Ginta asked Kouga.
Kouga, at least, was trying to act like he wasn't affected by Kagome's tirade. "Maybe not a wedding feast," he muttered, cheeks pinking as he tried to pass himself off as unconcerned.
"Is . . . Is she finished yelling at us?" Hakkaku asked, pushing himself further behind the other two.
"Scary," Bunta muttered, peeking out from behind Miroku.
"InuYasha used to cower like that, too," Shippou pointed out indelicately.
Kouga grinned and slowly pushed himself to his feet, but he didn't come closer to Kagome. "Well . . . think of it this way, Kagome. At least you got that damned mutt off your mind for a couple days."
Heaving a sigh, Kagome retrieved her laundry and headed for the door again. If they wanted to laugh at her, then they were more than welcome to do so, but she didn't have to sit around and take it. As for getting her mind off InuYasha? 'Like that would ever happen,' she thought with an inward sigh. 'InuYasha . . . I . . . I miss you . . .'
The Japanese justice system is vastly different from ours. As such, InuYasha has not been formally informed of the charges that he's facing, They can hold suspects for up to 48 hours without charging them formally, and if they want more time to build a case, they can get a request to hold a person for up to 20 days without charging them. Let's hope for his sake that they don't decide to toss him in jail, too, because ninety-nine percent of those charged in Japan are found guilty …
== == == == == == == == == ==
maxwellcave ——— Simonkal of Inuy ——— inuyashaloverr ——— ThisIsMeSmiling ——— OROsan0677 ——— angelica_incarnate ——— Miss_Marilyn69 ——— wbk ——— oblivion-bringr ——— Sailor Draca ——— xfalsetruth06x ——— handypup ——— Chase65 ——— smpsnt ——— Im a Kitsune ——— AtamaHitoride ——— Ryo5492 ——— inuy01 ——— iheartinuyasha426 ——— sakuralovesinuyasha ——— Finesse
Final Thought from InuYasha:
I shoulda killed him long ago …
'It . . . It's not possible . . . It's just not possible . . .'
"Tell me, why aren't you hiding those?"
InuYasha narrowed his eyes at the woman. "Hiding what?"
"Your ears—among other things," she replied dryly as she straightened the sleeves of the gray no-nonsense jacket she wore over a simple white cotton blouse.
Letting out a deep breath, she must have realized that he wasn't about to answer, and while InuYasha wasn't entirely sure that she was going to let it drop, she waved a hand toward the chair on the far side of the table instead. "Sit."
InuYasha stomped around the small table in the nondescript cement room and flopped into the cold metal chair, without taking his glower off the woman. She'd finished speaking with Kouga in the hallway before she'd addressed InuYasha as she slipped quietly into the chair across from him. Black hair drawn up in a sensible chignon, she had a rather stern air to her otherwise pretty face, and she took her time, pushing a pair of black rimmed, blue lensed glasses up as she regarded him for several moments without speaking.
"Keh. InuYasha," he broke in with a stubborn shake of his head. Akamori might be the name that was printed on what Mrs. Higurashi had told him was a 'birth certificate', but it meant absolutely nothing to him.
She nodded slowly. "Okay, InuYasha-san . . . It seems as though you've got some fairly significant charges levied against you: obstruction of justice, attempted assault of an officer, hindering an official investigation, verbal battery . . . Do you have anything you wish to say for yourself?"
"How the fuck are you still alive?" he blurted before he could reconsider or stop himself. "You died. I know you died. I saw you die . . ."
The woman blinked, her eyebrows lifting in obvious challenge. "Well, I would guess that it's pretty obvious that I'm not dead. In fact, I'm certain that I've never met you before, so if you don't mind, can we get back to you?"
He frowned. "So you're not Kagura?"
Staring at him for several seconds, she looked like she was trying to figure something out, she sat back and crossed her arms over her chest. "That name means absolutely nothing to me," she stated flatly, eyes flashing behind the blue tinted lenses of her glasses. "Now why don't you tell me about the altercation with Ookami-san. Is there a reason you went after him? Tried to attack him?"
"Ookami-san?" InuYasha echoed, shaking his head in confusion. "That damned Kouga, you mean?"
"I guess I can see where the verbal battery comes into it," she muttered dryly to herself before leveling another stern look at InuYasha. "Yes, Akamo—InuYasha-san: Ookami Kouga—Ookami-san."
InuYasha snorted. "Weren't no 'altercation' about it," he retorted hotly. "He's a fucking liar. I was gonna beat the truth out of him; that's all."
Folding her hands before her, she leaned back slightly, pasted on what could only be called a tolerant smile as she regarded him for several moments. "Oh? And just what was Ookami-san lying about?"
InuYasha gritted his teeth together so hard that his jaw ached. He didn't like the altogether patronizing tone in her voice, and there was no way in hell he was about to tell this woman—whoever she was—what he and Kouga were talking about. "None of your fucking business," he ground out instead.
She didn't look like she was inclined to believe him, and she didn't look like she particularly cared for his answer, either. "That does nothing to excuse your behavior, Akamori-san," she replied in a clipped, brusque intonation.
He snorted indelicately. "I don't really give a fuck, Kagura."
He could see the flash of irritation in her magenta gaze despite the glasses that might have been intended to hide the startling color of her eyes. As it was, however, a soft knock on the door interrupted the interrogation, and after sparing a moment to narrow her gaze on InuYasha, the woman got up to open it.
"Sorry for the interruption, Namikaze-san. If I could speak to you for a minute . . .?"
She glanced back at InuYasha before following the man into the hallway and closing the door behind herself. InuYasha's frown darkened as he considered it all. 'Namikaze-san . . .? But if she says she ain't Kagura, then . . . So she's gotta be Kagura's reincarnation . . .?'
InuYasha let out a deep breath, scowling around the otherwise empty room. He didn't really give a shit about whether or not that woman was Kagura's reincarnation, did he? It didn't really change anything. He'd just been a little shocked to come face to face with her in any form. Besides, the little patience that he had was sorely stretched to its limit already, and all he wanted to do was to get the hell out of there so that he could go find that damned wolf to demand answers. No matter how he looked at it, he just could not accept the idea that Kagome might actually have married the miserable bastard. To have done so shortly after he'd gotten swept into her world? No, the Kagome he knew would never have done something that rash so quickly, no matter what.
Kouga was just being an ass, right? He had to be because . . . Well, he just had to be. Anything else was entirely unthinkable.
'Maybe not . . . Not if she really thought that there was no way you'd ever find your way back to her . . .'
Shaking his head as a low growl escaped him, InuYasha rejected that thought as quickly as it had come. There just wasn't any way that he could accept that.
"InuYasha, will you let me stay . . .?"
Why did those words come back to him now? All of the anger that had carried him along seemed to melt in the face of those words. Spoken so long ago, and yet . . .
Namikaze-san strode back into the room, the chunky heels of her shoes echoing with a disturbingly loud resonance in the tiny cubicle. She closed the door quietly behind herself before turning to pin him with a calculating look. He sensed her irritation, but it was more than that. There was an underlying sense of hostility, though he didn't necessarily think that it was entirely directed at him, either. No, she seemed to be bothered by something more, as though the situation itself was the source of her feelings. InuYasha didn't really care, one way or the other. No, he just wanted to get the hell out of there, to get back to the shrine and the comparative quiet so that he could assimilate everything—and so that he could figure out how to verify what Kouga was saying. "Stand up," she finally said, gesturing with her hand, as though she were trying to hurry him along.
He almost refused, just on principle, but considering he still couldn't move his arms, he knew damn well that he was at a distinct disadvantage, at least, at the moment . . .
She wasted no time in crossing over to him and unlocking the handcuffs. They sprang open with a very loud click, and he couldn't quite resist the urge to rub at his chafed wrists. "Your brother is here to pick you up. Apparently, Ookami-san called him and told him to make sure you calm down before you end up being arrested for real."
"Keh! Bastard ain't my brother—just a half-brother," InuYasha spit out.
When she stepped around him again, she crossed her arms over her chest, pinned him with what could only be described as a completely unimpressed look. "If it were up to me, I'd throw you in jail," she informed him, her eyes narrowing as a rather nasty little smirk surfaced. "You ought to be grateful that you have connections in such high places, though I wouldn't go around looking for trouble. Next time, who knows if he can be bothered to pull the strings to get you out of it."
Something in her tone surprised him. It almost sounded as though she hated Sesshoumaru—not that he could blame her if that really were the case. He wasn't particularly fond of Sesshoumaru, either, but . . . But Kagura . . . At least back then, she hadn't seemed to mind Sesshoumaru at all . . . "Yeah, well, he ain't doing me any favors," InuYasha grumbled.
She stared at him for another long moment before turning on her heel and pushing out of the room once more.
Stepping out from behind the thin paper wall, Chiyo clucked her tongue at the small girl who skidded to a halt before her, her light mauve eyes bright, her cheeks flushed as she caught her breath.
"And just what have I told you about running about when you're inside?" Chiyo asked, pointedly arching a delicate eyebrow in a more stern voice than she felt.
Minako's cheeks flushed deeper as she sheepishly ducked her head. "Sorry," she blurted miserably. Chiyo schooled her features since she knew well enough that Minako did so hate to displease anyone, most especially, her.
She waited a moment to satisfy herself that Minako had understood the correction before breaking into a small smile as she knelt on the pillow at the front of the room, she held out her hands to the child. "Come, Minako," she coaxed gently.
The girl hesitated for a heartbeat before skittering across the floor and into her sister's waiting arms. Chiyo idly stroked Minako's downy hair, savoring the absolute peace that she was rarely afforded, and usually only in a moment such as this. "Tell me about your lessons today?"
For the briefest of moments, Minako stiffened in Chiyo's arms before relaxing and turning an impish smile on her. "Tetsuo-sensei said that I did well," she replied, eyes widening without blinking, as though she were trying to brainwash Chiyo into accepting her answer as truth.
"Is that what he said?" Chiyo challenged with an arched eyebrow. "I could have sworn he told me that he had exceptional trouble getting you to pay attention today."
Wrinkling her nose as her cheeks deepened into a brighter pink tone, Minako heaved a melodramatic sigh as she turned around and plopped down in her sister's lap. "Why do I need to learn the human arts of writing and reading?" she suddenly blurted, a hint of belligerence coloring her otherwise sing-song voice.
Chiyo laughed softly. "Because one day, it may come in useful, Minako. Besides, knowledge is precious, and failure is born of ignorance."
Minako sighed but nodded slowly, twisting a long lock of raven-black hair around her index finger, a nervous habit that she had stopped doing most of the time, unless she was busy thinking. "That's what chichi-ue said before he left to—" Cutting herself off abruptly, she stubbornly shook her head. "Do you think he will come home soon?"
Biting her lip, Chiyo's pleasant expression faltered. The child didn't see it, busy looking at her hands as she was. There had been no word as yet, but there didn't have to be. Chiyo had seen it all in her dreams.
The distinctive whistle outside the window drew her attention, and Chiyo forced a small smile for her sister's benefit. "Minako, it sounds like Atsushi-kun is here . . . You don't want to keep him waiting, do you?"
With a giggle, Minako shot to her feet, impatiently straightening her short summer kimono. "We are going to check the cave we found in the forest!" she informed Chiyo as she started to run toward the door.
"Minako . . ." she called after the child. Minako immediately slowed her gait. "Be home before dark," she reminded her.
"I will, onee-sama," Minako replied without bothering to stop.
Letting out a deep breath that didn't sound at all like a noise she normally made, Chiyo slowly stood and wandered over to the window to watch as her sister and her best friend sped off toward the forest.
"You're going to have to tell her what you saw in your dreams soon."
Chiyo didn't acknowledge the other visitor who had so quietly slipped into the room during Minako's hasty departure.
"That one such as your father—the great Yoshiaki-sama—could be so easily defeated by Sesshoumaru . . ."
"Silence, Tetsuo," Chiyo bit out coldly, spinning around to pin the diminutive ermine-youkai with an icy glower. "It's water under the bridge . . . and Minako doesn't need to know."
The old and dedicated youkai recoiled from the vehemence in her tone more than from the power of her withering glare. "Forgive me, Chiyo-sama," he hurried to say, bowing low once, twice as he backed toward the doors.
Biting down on her lip so hard that the tinge of blood filled her mouth, Chiyo strode across the room and back as she struggled to regain control over her emotions. The dreams about the hanyou had been bad enough, and though she was reasonably sure that the situation was under control, she wasn't foolish enough to let her guard down yet, but the dreams of her father? Those were infinitely worse. She had learned long ago that having a dream once was a premonition, but if she had the same exact one twice, then it was truth, and the dream about her father? She'd suffered that one too many times to count, and it was always the same. No matter how many times she screamed, yelled, tried to make her father hear her, he couldn't, and the shockwave from that wretched and vile sword, Bakusaiga . . .
"It was his own fault for daring to challenge one who is rumored to be unbeatable. Yoshiaki-sama was strong. Sesshoumaru-sama is . . . fearsome . . . or so they say."
Chiyo turned her head, spotting Tadao as he lounged casually against the wall near the main door. The derision in his tone when he spoke of the current Lord of the Western Lands was thinly masked. "I wish not to hear you laud the virtues of that monster."
"Monster?" Tadao echoed, mocking her choice of words. "Interesting choice of words."
She folded her arms together under the billowing sleeves of her outer robe, struggling for a calm to replace the unsettling rage that always surged up whenever she considered those dreams of her father. "Why are you here?"
Tadao's face twisted into an affectation of a smile. It was far better to describe it as a pleased grimace. He had forgotten how to smile years ago . . . "Atsushi asked me to come."
"And you simply love your brother so," Chiyo remarked, not even attempting to cover the derision in her tone.
He shrugged. "I was considering a contingency plan, if you must know," he admitted at length. "Hahaue is convinced that Atsushi has the gift."
"The gift . . ." Chiyo repeated as she pondered Tadao's words. "There hasn't been one in a thousand years that had the power to do that," she reminded him.
Tadao nodded. "True enough," he allowed. "It is a lost art."
Chiyo tilted her head to the side, silently regarding Tadao for several seconds. The arrogant youkai looked as though he may or may not share his mother's belief, but Chiyo wasn't so sure. Certainly she had yet to find any hints in her dreams, her visions, but that did not mean that it could not come to pass, and if it did . . .
"It could be just the thing I require," Tadao mused, more to himself than to Chiyo.
"And how would you use that?"
The smile returned, and this one seemed almost real. "I wouldn't need to challenge that wretch, Sesshoumaru," he stated thoughtfully.
"Can you take control of the Western Lands if you do not?"
He chuckled—a grating sort of sound. "As long as I controlled one who could."
"Thank you! Thank you so much! You have no idea, how much this means to our village!"
"You're welcome," Miroku said, holding his hand perpendicular to his face and offering a bow. "It's the least we could do."
"Please, please! It isn't much, but we would like to give you these baskets of rice," the headman went on, waving a hand at the small cart laden with woven baskets.
"That is very kind of you," Miroku assured him. "We humbly accept your gracious gift."
Kagome leaned toward Sango without taking her eyes off the men. "So were there really any youkai in the storehouse?"
"Two little mouse-youkai," Sango replied, keeping her voice low, too.
Kagome considered than for a moment then shrugged. InuYasha would have pointed out that Miroku was ripping off the village, but she figured that Miroku's logic was sound enough. After all, two mouse-youkai could easily multiply into the thousands if they weren't taken care of, couldn't they?
"If you'd like, we'd be happy to prepare rooms for you to stay the night," the headman added.
Miroku opened his mouth to reply. Sango beat him to it. "Thank you, but we must decline. We're expected back at home tonight."
"Never mind that there's a good chance that Kaede-baachan is probably well and truly fed up with the two we left behind," Kagome muttered more to herself than to her companions. Shippou and Bunza were actually getting along today, but Kagome wasn't so sure that it would last for more than an hour, at best.
Sango shot her a knowing look. "There's that, too," she agreed.
The villagers that were gathered around looked rather crestfallen, and Kagome watched, blatantly amused, as Sango stepped back and let Miroku step behind the bar of the wagon to pull it along.
"Should we offer to help him?" Kagome asked at length as they made their way out of the village and back onto the road home.
"Oh, I think that he can manage just fine," she said, turning a very pleasant smile on her friend. "We shouldn't have even taken half of that rice for that job . . ."
"Ah, but there's really nothing wrong with stocking up for winter, is there, Sango, my sweet?" Miroku quipped.
Sango shot him a look but said nothing as she slowly shook her head.
"That's enough rice for a year, you know," Kagome pointed out, shielding her eyes with one hand as she peered up at the sky. The sun was out, and the late afternoon was beautiful. Still, the clouds on the distant horizon looked rather foreboding, and as she watched, they seemed to be moving just a little faster. Thick, dense, heavy with rain, and the breeze that blew in from that direction carried that certain smell, too, of the rain, of the ground, of the freshness that only came with the weather. "Let's hope we get back to the village before that rolls in," she remarked.
The taijya and monk's heads turned in the direction that Kagome had nodded. "Hmm, that doesn't look very good, now does it?" Miroku mused, lowering his shoulders as he pushed harder against the cart. Sango and Kagome exchanged looks before ducking under the wooden brace to help out.
"Now, now, ladies, I'm sure I can handle this by myself," Miroku said, his voice distorting due to the efforts of pushing the heavily-laden wagon.
"All the rice will be ruined if we get caught in the rain," Sango told him. "Less talking, houshi-sama, and more pushing."
"Too . . . bad . . . InuYasha's . . . not . . . here . . ." Miroku added.
Kagome laughed. "If he was, he'd be complaining that we're using him as a pack horse," she allowed.
"Well, at least he was consistent," Sango quipped.
Kagome made a face, glancing at the rapidly-approaching line of storm clouds as she dug in her heels to push harder. "Next time, ask them for a horse, too."
Sango gasped then laughed. "You're starting to sound more and more like InuYasha every day," she said.
Kagome blinked and stopped pushing for a moment. For some reason, the teasing statement struck a nerve somewhere deep down. Sounding like InuYasha? Was she?
"Look, houshi-sama. There's a cave over there," Sango pointed out.
The three of them glanced at it for a moment then back up at the sky, and without a word, they all turned sharply to the right, toward the cave that would at least keep the rice dry until after the rain had passed.
They barely made it under cover when the first crack of thunder rumbled the earth under their feet. Miroku let out a deep breath and darted out of the cave to gather some firewood, and Sango quickly dug the one pot they'd brought along out of Kagome's backpack before hurrying out after the monk. Kagome busied herself by using her feet to scrape the debris littering the cave floor outside. They hadn't bothered with any bedrolls since the village they'd gone to help was only about an hour's walk from home. Now Kagome wished they had.
"You're starting to sound more and more like InuYasha every day . . ."
Shoving a couple boulders over to the side, Kagome frowned. Just how many times had Kagome teased InuYasha about his viable lack of manners, his often abrasive way of talking? And even if Sango had been teasing at the time, Kagome had to wonder if there weren't some measure of truth in her words. It was true, she knew, that she hadn't really been herself in the weeks since InuYasha's disappearance. She spent way too much time, dwelling on the past, and she knew it but it wasn't something that she could make herself let go of, either. She'd never stopped to really think about why InuYasha might say some of the things he'd said, had she? Yet here she was, saying the same kinds of things—thinking the same kinds of things, too . . .
It was anger, but there was more to it than that. Melancholy? Sadness? Loneliness? Sure, she had friends. Sango and Miroku were as close as family to her, not to mention Shippou, but none of them could fill the significant void that InuYasha had left behind, either. Those emotions were the ones that were affecting her, and as much as she might want to pretend that it were otherwise, she knew it. But how to move on without letting go of him? How on earth was she supposed to smile and pretend that she was all right? She wasn't, and that was the hardest thing of all. To be completely honest, she wasn't entirely sure that she ever would be.
She'd tried to rationalize it in her head. She'd tried to tell herself that they were just best friends. Once in a while, she might even believe that, but she knew. She'd known for a long, long time. She loved him, but there was more to it than that. There was a bond between them, the kind of bond that some people searched for their whole lives, and even fewer were lucky enough to find. He'd taken a part of her with him when he'd disappeared that night—the best part of her—and what remained . . .
Flinching as a bolt of lightning struck the ground so close that the unmistakable smell of charred earth wafted to him moments later, Miroku tried to hurry about his task despite the nagging feeling that anything he collected at this point was going to be much too wet to have any hope of burning. Still, he snatched up a couple more good-sized pieces before turning around and running back to the cave.
Kagome started when he dropped the wood on the ground. At least the cave was up on a slight hill, enough so that the rain wasn't able to reach much farther inside past the opening . . . "Sango's not back yet with the water?"
Miroku stared out into the hazy grayness of the falling rain with a frown. The river that ran past the village shouldn't be too far away—definitely not far enough to explain why Sango hadn't returned yet, anyway. "I'll go look for her," he said.
"Okay," Kagome said, digging a big box of matches out of her bag and hunkering down to pick through the haphazard stack of wood for the driest pieces. "Wait . . ."
He stopped and turned back while Kagome dug into the bag once more, this time, coming up with a bright blue umbrella. "I don't know how much it'll help, bu-u-ut . . ." she drawled, grimacing apologetically as she held it out to him.
He chuckled and popped it open as he neared the cave entrance once more. "Thank you," he called over his shoulder before he stepped back out into the rain again.
True enough, he was already pretty well soaked. Stopping long enough to scan the area, his frown deepened. There was no sign of Sango. "Sango!" he called, raising his voice, knowing deep down that there wasn't a chance that she would hear him over the storm. As if to mock him, the wind seemed to strengthen, and with a muttered curse, he ran in the direction of the river.
Breaking through the trees beside the water, Miroku stopped abruptly as Sango came into view. She wasn't alone. Standing there as the rain fell, already drenched to the skin but seemingly unaware, she stood, silent, motionless, as she watched her younger brother slowly walk away. The very air around her seemed sad, wrapped in the somber shades of endless gray. Scowling as he started forward, he tamped down the urge to run after Kohaku, the urge to try to make the boy understand just what it was he was doing to Sango every time he left her. But as much as Miroku might want to do something, it was Sango's battle, wasn't it? Something she had to do herself—something she had to learn for herself—even if Miroku hated the role of helpless bystander.
"I was getting worried about you," Miroku remarked in what he hoped was a neutral enough tone as he held the umbrella over the both of them.
Sango sighed and slowly turned her face up toward him, her eyes unnaturally bright—completely horrifying when she tried to smile. "He just wanted to check on me. He wanted to let me know that he's well," she said.
"You don't believe him?"
She quickly shook her head. "No, I do," she insisted despite the hint of uncertainty in her voice. "He . . . He was smiling while he was talking," she whispered, barely audible above the winds and rain and occasional cracks of thunder. "He's traveled as far north as he could go, helping whoever needs it when he's heard stories of aggressive youkai. It seems like . . . like he's healing."
Slipping an arm around Sango's shoulders, drawing him closer against his side, Miroku smiled. "We all are," he agreed. She drew a deep breath, looked up at him for a moment. There was something else; he could see it in her gaze. Those soft brown eyes hid nothing. Sango was honest to a fault. "What is it?" he coaxed gently.
"I told him . . . I told him that I wanted to rebuild our village," she admitted. "I . . . I asked him if he'd help me do it."
"And what did he say?"
Sango sighed, and while she didn't cry, he had to wonder just how far off those tears really were. "He said that he's not ready yet . . . but someday . . ." Taking a deep breath, she finally managed a smile—a real smile—and it was as bright and radiant as the sun rising over the horizon in the morning. "He said that someday, he wants to have a place to return to, as well."
Miroku smiled and gave Sango's shoulders an encouraging squeeze. "Well, I guess that settles it, then," he told her.
She shook her head as though she were confused. "Settles what?"
Miroku chuckled and reached out to take the pot from Sango. "It settles what we're going to do now. When do you want to head back to your village, Sango?"
The look she shot him was full of silent thanks, unspoken words that really weren't necessary. "You'll help me farm the fields and rebuild the houses and training grounds?"
"Can't say I'm much of a farmer," he admitted, letting Sango take the handle of the umbrella as they headed back into the forest. "Not sure how good I'll be with a hammer, either, but I suppose I can learn as I go."
She thought about that for a long moment then sighed. "Well, it's too late in the season for planting, and there's not a lot of anything left in the old village . . . I think we should stay here and work on collecting the things we'll need for spring."
Miroku grinned at her and rolled his eyes. "Whatever you want, Sango . . . whatever you want."
Onee-sama: highly respectful address for Big Sister.
Minako: Beautiful Child.
Chichiue: archaic and highly respectful way to say 'father'.
Hahaue: archaic and highly respectul way to address one's 'mother'.
== == == == == == == == == ==
kamackie21 ——— smpnst ——— koronagomu ——— RavenShadow ——— inyu01 ——— Dark Inu Fan
Final Thought from Kagome :
Like InuYasha, huh …
InuYasha snorted indelicately as Sesshoumaru strode into the small cubicle of a room. Sparing a moment to regard InuYasha as though he might be trying to read InuYasha's mind, he finally shook his head. "You simply cannot be left to your own devices for more than ten minutes, can you, baka?"
"What the hell do you want?" InuYasha growled in kind.
Sesshoumaru's eyes narrowed slightly. Instead of addressing him, however, he turned and regarded Namikaze-san in much the same way. "I would like to be left alone with my . . . half-brother," he said. Despite the politeness of his words, the absolute authority in his tone was unquestionable. It only served to rankle InuYasha's nerves just a little more.
Namikaze-san arched her eyebrows as she pinned Sesshoumaru with a somewhat bored stare, and InuYasha blinked at the brief sense of open hostility that he sensed in her before she managed to school her features and give a curt nod. "Of course," she replied stiffly, turning on her heel and striding toward the exit.
Sesshoumaru said nothing as the woman slipped out of the room and closed the door behind her. "Where's your little friend?" InuYasha grumbled.
"He is not with me," Sesshoumaru remarked, "and in any case, he is none of your concern."
Shaking his head since he honestly didn't care, one way or the other, InuYasha started to head for the door—until Sesshoumaru stepped into his path, that was.
"You are not free to go yet," Sesshoumaru said in a tone that suggested that InuYasha ought to know as much already.
"Then say whatever it is you wanna say, and get outta my way, bastard," InuYasha bit out, rapidly losing the slight hold he had over his rising irritation.
"I think I have told you before, but you cannot run around causing trouble these days, InuYasha," Sesshoumaru pointed out coldly.
"Weren't causing no trouble," InuYasha growled. "But that damned Kouga is gonna answer a few questions for me whether he likes it or not."
Sesshoumaru wasn't impressed by InuYasha's show of bravado. "Be not a fool, you worthless half-breed. Anything that draws attention to youkai is causing trouble."
"Look," InuYasha growled as the very last of his patience unraveled, "I don't give a damn about any of that! The only thing—the only thing—I care about is finding a way back to Kagome!"
There was no change in Sesshoumaru's expression—not entirely surprising, given that InuYasha had serious doubts that the bastard had ever experienced any kind of real emotion, in the first place. The youkai leaned back against the closed door, staring at InuYasha in the entirely lazy kind of way that was enough to set the hanyou's hackles rising once more. "The miko . . ." he mused thoughtfully, trailing off for a moment as he considered InuYasha's statement. "And where is she, InuYasha?" he finally asked.
Gritting his teeth at the condescending way that Sesshoumaru had asked the question, InuYasha snorted indelicately. "Keh! None of your damn business, bastard."
"When she purified that tainted relic, you somehow ended up here," Sesshoumaru went on, though he sounded more like he was talking to himself than looking for verification of his conclusions. "Yet she managed to remain in the past . . ."
Having it so eloquently spelled out to him did nothing to assuage InuYasha's irritation as he erupted in a low growl, unable to help himself as his lip curled, as he bared his fangs at Sesshoumaru. "Thanks for the rehash," he snarled. "Appreciate it. Now fucking move."
"And you honestly believe that there is a way for you to go back in time? Be not a fool, ignorant half-breed," Sesshoumaru retorted without a change in inflection. "This is not some farcical science fiction or outlandish anime tale."
InuYasha glowered at his half-brother, mostly because he wasn't entirely sure what Sesshoumaru was referencing, anyway. "I said it once, and I'll say it again: get the hell outta my way."
"Stop being a baka, InuYasha," Sesshoumaru said, his tone lowering, his gaze narrowing just slightly—a tell-tale sign that he was nearing the end of his patience. That was fine with InuYasha, considering he was, too. "Understand that you are fighting against everything—everything—that might be of aid to you, and if that, alone, is not foolish, then perhaps you should consider taking me up on my offer to dispatch you from this life."
Grinding his teeth together, InuYasha smelled the blood that pooled in his palms as his fists tightened, as his claws broke the flesh of his palms. "As if you could," InuYasha growled back. "Now move, bastard."
"It's obvious that you're not going to listen to reason," Sesshoumaru remarked calmly, mildly, almost emotionlessly. Then he shrugged. "Very well, InuYasha. When you grow weary of chasing your own tail, use your . . . nose . . . to come find me."
That said, he pushed himself away from the door and let himself out of the room, finally, blessedly, leaving InuYasha alone. It all just figured, didn't it? The way his luck was going, he was never going to find even a modicum of peace in this era.
Willing away the desire to smash something, the hanyou stifled a menacing growl. Damn Sesshoumaru for his endless riddles, and damn Kouga for his ridiculous claims. Kagome, marrying that damned wolf bastard? 'The hell she would,' he snarled to himself.
And damn him for feeling as though there wasn't a single thing he could do to find out the truth.
Willing back the trace irritation that clung to him like an unwelcome shroud, Sesshoumaru let the door fall closed behind him with a definitive 'thud'. Flicking his wrist to check the expensive timepiece he wore, he stifled an irritated sigh since he had been so unceremoniously dragged out of the meeting he was supposed to be having with the current owner of a small tech company that he had spent the last few months trying to acquire. Tetsuo-san, the owner of the company, was notoriously temperamental to deal with, and this unwelcome delay was going to cost him—no thanks to that baka half-breed, half-brother of his, anyway.
"Sesshoumaru-sama, I assume we can release InuYasha into your custody?."
The soft, almost sultry tone of voice was completely at odds with the venom dripping from the detective's tone—and almost brought a slight smile to Sesshoumaru's lips—almost. "You can simply release him, Byakuren," he replied. "He need not come with me."
A faint flicker of irritation on her features from Sesshoumaru's unwelcome use of her first name was covered quickly enough as she chose to ignore it. "How is it that that one is your brother?"
"Half-brother," Sesshoumaru corrected matter-of-factly.
She snorted indelicately. "Fine, then. Tell me why you haven't bothered to adequately conceal your half-brother."
Sesshoumaru's gaze shifted to the side, flicking coolly over Namikaze's blatantly irritated visage. "InuYasha is none of your concern," he pointed out evenly.
She flicked a hand in dismissal. "He is when he's running around unhidden," she countered. "Surely the great and powerful Inu no Taisho would know this."
The sarcasm that fairly dripped from her words was not lost on him. "I will say this once more: InuYasha is none of your concern. I will deal with him in my own time, and in my own way."
Magenta eyes hidden behind the blue glass lenses she wore sparked dangerously just before she narrowed her gaze on Sesshoumaru. "Aren't you the one who insisted that we hide our true natures from the world?" she countered, but only after glancing around to make sure that her words wouldn't be overheard. "Is this brother of yours so important that you would jeopardize our kind, simply to coddle him?"
Sesshoumaru crossed his arms over his chest, barely quirking an eyebrow to attest to his vague irritation, though the rest of his expression remained impassive. "And you dare to question my decisions?"
The insincere smile that twisted the woman's lips was telling. "When it involves the safety of many versus the comfort of one? Yes, I think I do."
That didn't deserve an answer, as far as Sesshoumaru was concerned. Stepping away from the door, he headed for the exit. "Do not call me down here for something so trivial again," he warned as he kept moving.
'InuYasha . . .' he mused as he stepped through the automatic doorway that slid open silently ahead of him. The murky smog of the city cast a foggy mist in the air as he strode down the steps and across the sidewalk to the black sedan that was waiting for him.
He should have known that it wasn't going to be as simple as he had thought or perhaps foolishly had hoped. Nothing was ever easy when it came to that volatile baka, now was it? Even so, the very real problem was something that no one, not even Sesshoumaru, had the power to manipulate. No, as much as it irritated Sesshoumaru to have to admit, the truth of it was that the only one who could do anything about it was InuYasha himself. If he would only settle down and do the things that were necessary, then it would all come together in the end. Unfortunately, Sesshoumaru was all too aware of just how high the stakes really were. After all, at least three lives hung in the balance directly—so many more if things went disastrously awry . . . All it would take was one moment of stupidity to bring the proverbial entire house of cards crashing down around them, and InuYasha . . .
Stifling a sigh along with the irritation that he should be so inclined to utter such a sound, to begin with, Sesshoumaru's gaze darkened.
Too bad InuYasha was nothing. if not entirely too well versed in those aforementioned moments of stupidity.
"Th-This place . . ."
Atsushi narrowed his eyes in the darkness of the cavern, taking in the strangely misshapen rock formations that hung from the ceiling, that jutted out of the floor. It was pitch black, but his dragon eyes could discern it all easily enough.
"It's cold in here."
Sparing a moment to glance back at Minako, he rolled his eyes and wrinkled his nose. "It's not that bad," he countered. "You can go back if you don't want to look around with me."
He wasn't surprised when Minako straightened her back stubbornly, despite the anxiety she tried to hide. "It's just really dark," she murmured, stepping closer to Atsushi's side, slipping her hand into his. He could feel the slight tremor in her body, the silent proof of the fear she was trying to hide from him.
"Here," he said, stooping to retrieve a blunt stick. He sucked in a deep breath and blew out a small stream of fire, enough to catch the end of the stick. Satisfied with his handiwork, he handed the makeshift torch to Minako before resuming his inspection of the cave.
"There's nothing here," he muttered at last, as disappointment sank in. Still, if he listened hard enough he could hear the whispers, couldn't he? But there were no faces, no bodies. He was used to that. His mother had said before that they were the voices of the dead, and that Atsushi could hear them because he was special. She said that if he worked at it, he would be able to understand those voices one day, too.
"If you train yourself to hear them, if you can make out what they say to you, one day you can harness them, Atsushi, and if you can do that, no one would ever be able to stand against you."
Tightening his fists around the hem of his clothes, Atsushi frowned thoughtfully as he scrunched up his shoulders, as he leaned forward on the pillow situated on the tatami mat before the short dais where his mother sat. "But I don't want to harness them," he ventured quietly.
His mother laughed softly. "For the sake of our clan, you must," she insisted. "It's a power that few have ever possessed . . . It can restore us to our rightful place."
"For . . . our clan . . ."
"Oh!" Minako exclaimed softly, effectively shattering the memory, as she darted away to pick up a shining rock nearby. The colors of the broken crystal seemed to glow in the wavering light of the torch, and Minako smiled happily as she inspected her find, then held it out to Atsushi for his inspection. "I'm going to take this back for onee-sama!"
Atsushi broke into an indulgent smile. Being two years older than Minako often resulted in a slightly superior air that would manifest itself at moments like this. "It's just a crystal," he told her.
Minako made a face, her eyes glowing softly in the wan light. "A really pretty crystal," she corrected. "It's like . . . a treasure . . ."
"If you say so," he allowed with a good-natured shake of the head. Wandering a little further into the cavern, he lifted his face, closed his eyes as he bid the spirits speak to him. Try as he might, however, the whispers did not grow louder, and he sighed.
"Are there voices?" she asked, her voice dropping so that she didn't interrupt his concentration.
Slowly, he nodded. "Yeah," he agreed. "I can't make out what they're saying, though."
She smiled encouragingly. "You will someday," she insisted. "I know it!"
"I have to," he corrected, a very real sense of gravity entering his eyes as he scowled around the darkened cavern. "For my clan . . ."
"For your clan?" she echoed, hurrying to his side, leaning forward and holding up the torch to get a better look at his face. "Why?"
He shrugged, absently noting how much deeper black her hair seemed in the stingy light, how much paler her skin seemed in the darkness. She almost seemed to glow, almost like a ghost or apparition . . . "Hahaue says that they stole everything," he admitted.
She considered that in silence. He really didn't know how much of it made sense to her, but since it didn't really make a lot of sense to him, either, he figured that it was all right. "Anyway," he went on with a mental shrug, his voice growing louder, stronger, "I must do it. I must restore everything."
She pondered that another moment, then she smiled. It was enough to bring a grin to his face as he glanced at her. "Then I'll help you!" she decided matter-of-factly. The conviction in her tone, the brightness behind her gaze . . . Minako's unwavering belief was something that he loved about his best friend, after all . . .
Wandering around the base of Goshinboku, Kagome stared up through the branches with a marked frown of concentration as she tried to figure out if there was a good way for her to climb it. There weren't really any good footholds that she could see.
'This was so much easier when InuYasha was here . . .'
Heaving a sigh, she circled the tree a few more times, hoping that she would notice something that she hadn't before, something that would help her in her wish to climb up to the branch that she used to share with him.
It kind of figured, didn't it? She'd thought that being up there might help, might give her a feeling of being near to him despite the years between them. Turning her back to the tree, she let out a deep breath as she plopped onto the cool earth below. The rough bark chafed her through the thin fabric of her blouse. Kagome didn't care. The brilliance of the picturesque afternoon was lost on her. The clouds could roll in, unleashing thunder, lightning, the very wrath of the earth, and she probably wouldn't have noticed. Odd how the world seemed so much duller since he'd gone . . .
Taking in a deep breath, Kagome stood up once more, whirling around to give the tree a critical eye once more. Failure wasn't an option, now was it? Not when she couldn't shake the feeling that, if she could just get up into that tree, she might well feel closer to InuYasha . . .
She stepped over, jammed her fingers into a couple of knotholes as she kicked off her loafers and carefully wiggled her toes into a lower hollow. Carefully picking her handholds, meticulously feeling around with her toes, she slowly managed to get herself about halfway up the solid trunk. The lowest branch was almost within reach, and she frowned in utter concentration as she picked the next knothole.
After what seemed like forever, she finally flopped over the branch, pulled her legs up as she shifted around and sat up, leaning back against the tree trunk as she wiped the perspiration off her brow, savoring the feeling of accomplishment as she shifted her gaze over the landscape. The air was cooler up here. The usual sounds of the forest seemed oddly distorted. Deliberately trying not to think about just how many times she'd sat up here with InuYasha, she allowed herself a small smile as she ignored the little voice in the back of her head that asked her just how she was planning on getting down later.
She scooted back, bracing herself against the trunk. The branch was good and sturdy, much thicker than some of the ones farther up. Crossing her arms on her raised knees, Kagome let her face drop into the cradle of they created and sighed. Closing her eyes, she drew a deep breath, then two. The calm was a palpable thing, and something about the very proximity of Goshinboku was enough to quell the ache that was never very far away. It brought a curious sense of well-being—a feeling that Kagome hadn't truly felt in weeks.
'I wonder if InuYasha's sitting in Goshinboku right now?'
Biting her lip as she pondered that question, she almost smiled. Even if it wasn't entirely possible to know, she wanted to believe that he was. As often as he retreated to the boughs of the tree, it wasn't impossible, either. Her smile faltered and faded, though, as her thoughts roamed a little more. She hoped that he was adjusting well, even though she rather figured that it wasn't entirely likely. The hanyou gave 'stubborn' an entirely new definition, after all, and she, better than anyone else, knew that, too.
Even so, he'd have to try eventually. She truly hoped he'd be able to carve out a place for himself, and maybe he'd even find some friends, too . . .
Shoving aside the slight surge of misplaced upset that accompanied the thought of InuYasha finding ways of going on without her, she grimaced. Was she really so bad that she'd want him to be alone, simply because she couldn't be with him?
She wasn't, was she? Biting her lip as a wash of complete shame surged through her, Kagome shook her head, as though to refute her own negative thoughts. Of course, she'd never want that, any more than InuYasha would want the same for her, and she knew it. Swallowing back the despair that welled up, she winced inwardly. Just what kind of person was she turning into . . .?
"Kagome-chan! What are you doing up there?"
Leaning to the side, peering down at the ground so far below, Kagome spotted Shippou at the base of Goshinboku. "I climbed," she replied simply.
Shippou considered that for a moment. "Oh . . ."
She watched in silence as Shippou darted up the tree in much the same manner as she'd seen squirrels climb trees before. He didn't stop until he was sitting on the branch in front of her, gripping the bark in his small hands. "Sango and Miroku asked me to come find you," he said.
Letting out a deep breath, Kagome nodded. "They're back?"
Shippou nodded. The taijya and the monk had gone to help out a nearby village with a blessing on a newly constructed shrine. They'd asked her to come along, but Kagome had pretended as though she hadn't heard them, and they didn't press the issue, either.
"Miroku was talking to Kaede about a rumor they heard about."
"What kind of rumor?"
Shippou shrugged. "Something about an enchanted lake to the north. They said that the story goes that people have fallen into the lake, only to disappear . . . Sango said she thinks maybe it's been bewitched by some kind of youkai, but Miroku didn't seem to think it was anything at all."
"An enchanted lake, huh?" she echoed, her gaze clouding over as she pondered it. It sounded odd, sure, but then, she'd seen so many weird things since she had fallen through the well, she couldn't rightfully discount something just because it seemed implausible.
"Oh, look!" Shippou suddenly exclaimed, hopping to his feet as he rummaged in his shirt for something. Oblivious to Kagome's darker thoughts, the child giggled as he produced a small scroll and shoved it at her.
It was an invitation for the young kit to join the next kitsune examinations. Puffing up his chest proudly, he waited for Kagome's reaction.
She smiled. "You'll do great," she told him since she knew that's what he really wanted to hear.
"Maybe I can earn another rank!" he said. A sudden hint of doubt flickered to life, though, and he leaned against Kagome's leg. "You think I can?"
"I know you can," she replied, affectionately ruffling his russet mop of hair.
He positively beamed at her, and her smile widened just a little. "Thanks! Uh, do you want me to help you down?"
"Okay, okay," she said. To be honest, she didn't actually want to get down, not yet, but she'd have trouble doing it herself, she figured. Besides, she might as well find out what Sango and Miroku wanted to tell her, anyway.
Shippou hopped off the branch and, with a pop, he transformed into his floating form, hovering just below the branch as he waited for her.
'An enchanted lake, huh . . .?' Kagome mused as she carefully scooted off the branch and onto the kitsune. Maybe Miroku and Sango wanted to go check it out. At least it was something to do . . .
Byakuren: White Lotus.
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Final Thought from Miroku:
… An enchanted … lake … Uh huh ...