InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Possession ❯ Nineteen ( Chapter 19 )
[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
The air around them had gone deathly still, an aura of malice and intent washing over the courtyard. Kagome found that she could barely even breathe; the power within her had flooded her heart and taken over her mind. In desperation and fear, she hadn't been able to call upon it. Not even to save herself, she hadn't been able to bring it to the surface when she'd really needed it.
Again it had burst from her unconsciously, exactly as it had the first time. She'd been fifteen and running for her life from a centipede demon. At the time she hadn't even known that she could do things like that, but now her very fingertips tingled with spiritual energy even as hatred made her heart darken and wither.
Not summoned by will or by fear or a need to protect her own life, the power had welled up from deep inside. It caught fire like never before, summoned by anger, by hatred and a sheer loathing for the demon in front of her. He could see it in her eyes, the absoluteness of her fury, the purity of her disgust. He was nothing but a beast, a monster that devoured children, a foul nightmare that had come to life.
He was youkai and youkai were to be destroyed.
“No!” a girl's voice cried, wrought with desperate fear. A slim body hurtled between the priestess and the monster, blocking the purifying power that would have erupted had she hesitated even a moment longer.
Rin was terrified, her face pale and drawn as she pleaded with Kagome. “I'm begging you,” she said, holding her hands out pleadingly. “Don't kill him!”
Immense power was barely restrained within Kagome's body, it made her head spin until she was dizzy. She'd never felt it so strong before, so far beyond what she'd been able to do in he past. This was a killing purification that could destroy a demon's body and soul with only a single touch.
“Rin,” Inuyasha said. His voice was cold with disapproval, sounding more like his older brother than himself. “This does not concern you.”
Gently, he grasped her shoulders and moved her to the side, out of Kagome's path. “It is between us. If this woman wants her revenge badly enough to kill me for it, she won't stop because of you.”
Rin seemed to sag in his grip for a moment before turning away. “You want to die?” she asked, her heart sounding broken.
He didn't answer; just stood staring at the priestess as she were the only salvation he'd ever seen, waiting for the blow that would take away all the doubt and uncertainty. Inuyasha was tired of living under the shadow of a past he couldn't remember. He'd tried hard to make a place for himself in his brother's world, among their father's people. But something was always missing, some vital, salient point of fact that he, damn it to hell, could not remember.
Better to die like this than have to live with the way she looked at him now. And know that he deserved it, even if he didn't know why.
The anger within Kagome was fading. It felt as if a fog had lifted from her mind, a fog of irrational hatred. As angry as she was at the bruises on Shippou's face, it wasn't worth this level of fury. She still wanted to go home, she still wanted to walk back into her office that she'd fought to hard for, her elegant condo that overlooked the sea. She'd earned her life, damn it, she'd paid in blood. This strange, euphoric rage…it wasn't hers. It didn't belong to the Kagome who had survived so much.
“Shippou,” she said, her voice tight. “Is it true? He didn't beat you up, not…not like before, right?”
Rin watched as an expression of old pain ghosted across the kitsune's face. He didn't answer the priestess, but she saw a strange eagerness in his eyes, a fatal sort of fascination and anger bubbled up inside her heart.
He wanted Inuyasha dead, he'd said as much to her earlier.
She ran at him, grabbing Shippou hard by his arms and forcing him to look in her eyes. “Stop her,” Rin demanded, her fingers clenching to emphasize her words. “Tell her that he didn't hurt you. Please, Shippou!”
The fox demon flushed and looked away from her. Rin could tell by the hard set of his jaw and the rigid feel of the muscles under her hands that he wasn't going to let go of his hate. She pushed away from him in disgust. “You bastard, you wanted this to happen. You want to see her murder him!”
“Yeah,” he muttered, his voice thick. Shippou looked over Rin's head, staring at Kagome and noticing for the first time the trembling that seemed about to shake her body apart. He wanted Inuyasha dead, the bastard deserved it. For Kagome to be the one who would end his worthless existence, finally gaining the vengeance he so badly wanted for her, was almost intoxicating, unbearably sweet.
A soft noise from behind them drew his attention. Turning slightly, he noticed a line of youkai soldiers, some grasping spears, others armed with bows. The sound he had heard was that of a dozen arrows being notched and Shippou swallowed hard, realizing that justice would be costly.
Kagome would destroy Inuyasha and die herself moments later.
He closed his eyes and took at deep breath, pushing Rin to the side as he stepped forward to place himself between the priestess he loved and the youkai he hated more than anything else. Inuyasha might deserve this death, but nothing, not anything, was worth Kagome's life. He'd failed to protect her once when he was just a child, but he wouldn't make that same mistake again.
Kouga had taught him something about honor after all; he doubted if the wolf would see Kagome's death as a favorable outcome of this confrontation.
“He didn't do it,” Shippou said. He reached out to touch Kagome's arm and saw her flinch away, withdrawing from him. He sighed, realizing that she was afraid she'd hurt him. There was a lost look in her eyes and he realized what it would have cost her inside to be the one to kill Inuyasha. After all this time, he had thought…
Some things didn't change.
“I'm sorry,” he murmured, reaching again for her and this time she leaned against his chest for just a moment. “He didn't do it, Kagome. You don't have to protect me from him, it's not like before.”
“It's not that,” she whispered, her voice so soft he had to strain to hear it. “Something happened to me, Shippou. For a minute, I felt like there was something else controlling my body, something angry…but it wasn't me.”
Shippou started to answer but his reply was interrupted by a harsh, mocking laugh. He turned to glare at Inuyasha, who was wearing a grin that looked both bitter and disappointed. “Some priestess you have there, brat,” he said. “I should have known she didn't have it in her.”
“What?” Kagome burst out, pushing Shippou out of the way. “What's that supposed to mean? You looked like you wanted to die!”
Inuyasha shrugged, the brief, fatalistic urge that had led him to anticipate purification had disappeared and left him feeling angry. Who did she think she was, to deal out justice or death in this place? His eyes narrowed slightly and he folded his arms over his chest.
“I meant,” he sneered, “that if you're going to threaten me, you'd better be prepared to go through with it. Isn't it the sacred duty of a priestess to destroy us filthy youkai?” His eyes flicked negligently at Shippou and he smiled again when he saw an angry flush cross over the kitsune's face. “Or at least destroy the youkai that aren't in love with you.”
“You son of a…” Shippou began heatedly.
“Shut up!” Inuyasha snarled. Even Rin flinched at his harsh tone, his rapid change of demeanor. Kagome glared at him, unafraid, as he slowly advanced on her and Shippou. There was an unpleasant gleam in his eyes and Kagome remembered that look all too well. This was the angry side of the demon, the wrathful, unforgiving nature of a creature that felt no compassion or regret. It was his true face, the one she'd seen too late to recognize.
“You come here,” he said softly, “and demand of my brother that I help you, that I owe you. That might be the case, bitch, but I've changed my mind. Get the fuck out of here and don't come back. I don't ever want to see your face again!”
“Fine with me,” Shippou snapped, making sure that he was still between Kagome and Inuyasha. “You're the one that dragged us here, remember? I don't remember asking you to take us to Sesshomaru. We can find another way.”
Kagome's hands balled into fists and suddenly she surged forward, shoving Shippou out of the way. Inuyasha didn't move when she seized the front of his haori and held him still while she glared up into his angry eyes. The hell he was going to decide about this, the hell it was Shippou's decision either. She had been angry enough to purify the life out of him just moments ago, now she was angry enough to beat it out of him.
“I didn't ask you,” she snapped, letting the venom seep into her voice. “I asked Sesshomaru and he agreed. I'm not asking for your protection, you son of a bitch.”
“Then what are you asking for?” he exploded. His shout blew the hair back from her eyes but Kagome didn't flinch. She hadn't survived worse than this to be bluffed away now. “What do you want from me, bitch?”
The woman just kept looking at him, that's what he hated. There was something in her eyes, some mystery that pulled at the corner of his mind, made something inside of him both furious and pained. He wanted to be the hell away from her more than ever now.
“You owe me,” she said quietly, her voice dark and cold. “I'm not asking for much. I just want to go home, Inuyasha. If you can do this, you'll never have to see me again. That's what we both really want, isn't it?”
Very slowly, he reached up and touched her face with his fingertips, letting her hair slide over his claws. “Tell me why I know you,” he whispered and for the first time she saw fear in his eyes. “Tell me why you hate me so much, why Shippou hates me so much. I want to know the truth.”
Kagome tore her eyes away from him to stare at Sesshomaru. The youkai lord looked as cold and forbidding as she'd ever seen him and Kagome knew instinctively that he did not want her to explain. If Sesshomaru had wanted Inuyasha to know the truth of his past, he would have explained it himself. She wanted to tell him, she wanted to see the look on Inuyasha's face when he finally realized the damage he had done, the lives he had destroyed.
You should tell him about the baby.
Miroku's words whispered into her mind as if the long-dead monk was standing behind her shoulder. Kagome shuddered convulsively, letting go of Inuyasha to wrap her arms around her body. No, she wasn't going to tell him. She wasn't going to tell anyone, not even Shippou. That secret was safely sealed away, far out of reach on the other side of the well. Where she wanted to be, so that she could forget about him again.
Sesshomaru sighed and a flicker of annoyance crossed his usually impassive face. He had agreed to this and Inuyasha would abide by their agreement. He reflected again that it would be far easier to simply kill the human and the kitsune, but it wouldn't serve a purpose. Another empty death, another piece of truth to be forgotten and discarded.
Each day he thought he could see his brother slipping closer to the madness that would eventually consume him, the waiting death that could not be avoided. Tenseiga had failed to fully heal Inuyasha, just as its mate Tessaiga had failed to save him from his demon blood all those years ago.
Idly, he wondered if that was how their father had intended it to be, that he would learn compassion when it was too late to be of use, that his brother would learn the folly of reaching for a power he was better off to never attain. It was most bitter to Sesshomaru, who liked to be in control of events, that he should be the one to grieve for Inuyasha when his former friends sought his death.
No matter, this was how things were meant to be. Quietly, he placed a hand on his brother's shoulder. “I understand your reluctance, little brother,” he said, a hint of dark humor in his tone. “But you would not have me go back on my word to a human, would you?”
Inuyasha scowled and set his jaw, that stubborn look that made him look more like a sulky child than the powerful youkai he had become. Sesshomaru slowly tightened his grip until his brother flushed and shook his head.
“Of course not, Sessh,” he said, staring at the ground. “Forgive me.”
The youkai lord smiled faintly; at least Inuyasha had learned obedience if nothing else. He noticed the woman watching them closely and met her eyes with a direct and unthreatening stare. “Priestess,” he murmured. “Might I speak to you privately?”
She nodded slowly and followed him from the courtyard. Sesshomaru could smell her confusion, it hinted at despair and resolution. Stupid woman, he wasn't doing this for her. And he knew that it might be that he was responsible for the drama that had nearly unfurled in his own courtyard.
“You are wondering why I haven't told him anything,” he said, his voice light and dry with an unconcern he did not feel. “You are thinking that I am playing with my brother, no doubt for a sadistic reason, that I am hoping he will suddenly recover his memory and slaughter you in a rage.”
“The thought had crossed my mind,” she answered. He stopped and glanced down at her, surprised again by the shrewd intelligence behind her gaze. The girl he remembered seemed to have gone, the impulsive child who threw herself into battle with demons. Quite well he remembered her, defending Inuyasha, trying to protect him while he, Sesshomaru, was the aggressor.
“Do you think that is my reason, human?” he asked, one long claw reaching up to flick away a piece on non-existent lint from his silken robes.
“I don't know,” she answered readily, watching him with that careful gaze. “I haven't figured out why you bothered to save him, I can't begin to understand why you haven't told him anything else.”
That made him smile, so she still thought that she was capable of understanding the reasons of youkai. Like other humans, she was arrogant in that way. But he did not seek her death, from the beginning Kagome had been beneath his notice and now he still struggled with the necessity of explanation to a lower being than himself.
“Inuyasha's mind was damaged by the transformation of your jewel,” he said. She started to protest and he simply held up a hand for silence. “I am not accusing you, priestess. I understand that you considered yourself his friend and would not have knowingly allowed him to use jewel if you understood this would be the result. I will not debate with you the blame.”
“Then why?” she whispered. Her expression was honest and open, much like the child he remembered. Again, he thought that he would not have expected her to have grown into such a beauty, but unlike his brother, his tastes did not run to baser flesh.
“It is my belief that if you tell him what happened, what he became when he transformed, it will drive him to madness again. That is not what I wish to happen. Nor do I think that it is what you seek.”
Kagome smiled tightly. “Go on,” she said, forcing herself to keep her tone as light as his. “I'm fascinated to hear why you care.”
“I do not care what happens to you,” he said softly. “It is not my concern. What concerns me is that if my brother does descend into such madness again, I will be the only one capable of stopping him. His demon blood is still far stronger than he realizes, should it ascend I do not believe that even your power will protect you.”
Kagome was silent, her lips pursed slightly as she considered his words. Then it came to her, surprising her as much as everything seemed to surprise her these days.
“You don't want to be the one to kill him,” she murmured, comprehension dawning on her features. She studied the chill demon and then shook her head, smiling. “You've changed, Sesshomaru. I never believed that you'd ever admit that you cared about Inuyasha.”
“Perhaps you should ask yourself why I might have changed,” Sesshomaru answered quietly. “Perhaps you should ask yourself why you are here. If what you told me is true, perhaps there is a reason you have returned.”
Her eyes flashed. “It was an accident,” she said, anger starting to color her tone.
“I believe in no such thing as coincidence,” he said, and for the first time she caught a hint of dark humor in his voice. He turned and smiled at her, a strangely gentle and sweet smile…like a forgotten ghost.
“In any case, I am not one to argue with fate. Inuyasha will do as you ask, because I have requested it of him. He is no longer your dog to order and no longer your friend. And if you tell him the truth, what you were and who were and how he came to be a pure demon, he will almost certainly descend again madness.”
He turned and walked away, moving deeper into the fortress and left her standing in the passage, the light of day on one side of her and the dark shadows of mystery on the other. Suddenly, she felt that she needed to answer him, make him understand. It wasn't all about vengeance, it was about survival.
“You don't understand,” Kagome cried, letting her voice carry after the daiyoukai. “I stayed by him even when he transformed, I didn't abandon him! He betrayed me, not the other way around. He was my friend!”
Silence answered her and Kagome clenched her fist and hit the wall hard, not caring that her knuckles were bruised on the unforgiving stone. Of course, Sesshomaru didn't give a damn what had really happened between her and Inuyasha, of course he didn't care what she had been through. It had nearly killed her to leave at the end, but it would have killed her to stay. Her hand aching, she turned to go back to the courtyard and leave this mysterious fortress of youkai that she couldn't understand and didn't begin to believe in.
His voice returned to her out of the darkness, echoing against the cool stone of the walls and the timelessness of age.
“He was your friend, priestess. I do not doubt it. But if you remind him of it, if you tell him the extent of his betrayal, of the monster that he has become, it will break his mind. Inuyasha will not become the hanyou that you knew.
“He will become your executioner.”
Ten Years Earlier
The morning had dawned unseasonably cool. Every year winter seemed to come earlier, just as predictable as an old woman's arthritis. The elderly priestess smiled to herself, enjoying the pale sunshine on her face even if the air did have a bit of a bite to it. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day.
Her garden, on the other hand, was in dire need of her attention. Kaede hummed softly as she knelt among the herbs and vegetables. Here and there she saw the leaves of a saucy weed or two trying to invade her domain. She'd spent every moment of her spare time in preparing the sutras for Kagome's escape and her garden was showing the signs of neglect.
She sighed heavily, working the delicate green stems between her fingers. The ground felt cool and damp under her knees, but the earth had a rich, fallow smell to it. No, she had done the right thing. Kagome needed to leave as soon as possible. She had seen the despair creeping over the girl's face, the waning hope that Inuyasha would ever return from the dark place where he had sealed away his human soul.
His transformation had grieved her, for she had watched eagerly as the young hanyou had become less callous and closed. Kagome had tamed him, bit by bit, until he'd felt free enough to run around with the village children in games. She knew he hadn't had much of a childhood. For that matter, neither had she with having to become a priestess at a young age. Kaede had seen much in her long life, too much to keep fifty years of grief and resentment locked inside her heart.
But now…everything had gone wrong. Kagome and Inuyasha had lost their friends to Naraku's evil, nearly lost their own lives as well. They had conquered him at last, but Kaede never would have thought to have Naraku's end to be the beginning of another nightmare.
It had astonished her, how very wrong she'd been about Inuyasha. An old woman's pride had suffered from that, but nothing like Kagome was suffering now. There were few things that Kaede could recall to be as bitter and lonely as watching a young girl's love slowly poison her until nothing remained but an empty-eyed shell.
And there was something else, stories of something horrible rampaging through the forest, slaughtering anything in its path. This thing fed upon the bodies of its prey. Some animals, some humans, even lower youkai weren't safe from it. Kaede didn't know it to be Inuyasha's work or not, but just the same she kept her own counsel and didn't tell Kagome. The girl had enough to worry about.
She sensed his presence before she actually saw him. Kaede found herself rising quickly to her feet, her gaze drawn upwards to the edge of the forest. Someone was watching her; she could feel the eyes pulling at her skin and as a priestess for many years, Kaede trusted her instincts when they said danger.
“Saiyu,” she murmured, gesturing to one of the children who were playing nearby. The boy ran over to her obediently and started to look up to where she was staring. Kaede's hand came down on his shoulder, her finger turning his chin so he wouldn't see what was coming out of the forest.
“I need you to find the village headman,” she said kindly, making very sure she had his attention. “I want you to tell him that I say the time is now.”
“Now?” the child asked, looking up at her with wide, innocent eyes. “What does that mean, Kaede-sama?”
“He will understand.” She'd explained the necessity of an escape plan to the village elders. Luckily, they'd had enough years of having their village attacked by demons that the elders had not questioned her. At her signal, the women and children would make a run for the dubious shelter of the caves down by the river. The men of the village, however, knew to gather their weapons.
And fight for their lives.
She'd expected this. Kaede understood a demon's nature to know how and when she would be called to protect her people. It grieved her, it made an old woman's heart ache with regret, but she couldn't allow him to come any closer to the village.
The hanyou boy whose gruff exterior had hidden a more gentle heart was dead.
The thing that was approaching her was only a ghost of the Inuyasha that Kagome had loved.
She took this as a sign that the girl had indeed escaped.
Slowly, Kaede drew her bow from her shoulder. She'd gotten herself into the habit of carrying it again even though there hadn't been much youkai activity in the region for some time. Since before Naraku had been defeated, in fact. Kaede had never been sure if it was coincidence or if it was because word had gotten around that this village was under the protection of not just a priestess, but a half-demon of unusual power.
Things used to be so much simpler.
He was coming closer, but moving more slowly than she'd ever seen him. The Inuyasha she'd known had been all restless energy, willful temper and insolent language. The creature coming towards her now was staggering, moving like a wounded animal rather than a dangerous demon. His chest was bare, but bloodstains were all over his pale skin, marking him with an obscene mantle of gore. She swallowed, noticing that his claws were still dripping, leaving a carmine trail in the fresh green grass.
Covered in blood, bathed in it. Oh please gods, she implored whatever might be listening. Be it not Kagome's blood!
The bowstring stretched tight, trembling slightly as her grip was no longer what it once had been. She was too old for this; far too old for everything that she'd seen. Kaede had wished that a young apprentice might take her place, but there had been no suitable girl to train in the ancient ways.
Only Kagome, after all these years, why had it been only Kagome?
“Inuyasha,” she called, watching as the demon made his way from the edge of the forest to the small path that would take him to the village. “That's far enough.”
She was surprised that her voice reached him; surprised that he stopped when she spoke to him. The soft white ears on his head twitched, but it unnerved Kaede that she couldn't see his face to read his expression. It made the hair on the back of her neck stand straight up, but she needed to stop him here if only to give the villagers time to escape.
An aura of pure malice was radiating from him, making Kaede feel light headed, sick from it. It was like nothing she'd ever sensed before and again an old woman wondered how Kagome had endured being bedded by this…thing. For it was no true youkai that confronted her, no hanyou or even simple beast that she challenged. It was an abomination; a corruption and Kaede felt her gorge rise and tears of pity spring to her eyes.
Inuyasha, what have you done to yourself?
“Old woman,” he whispered, his voice a dry husk. “If you don't want to die, you'd better get out of my way.”
She couldn't afford to be intimidated, not now. Not when every second was precious. It was her sworn duty as priestess to protect her people from darkness, from evil so thick that it poisoned the air between them. She wouldn't let him pass, not even at the expense of her own life.
“I cannot let you go to the village,” she said, her voice steady and firm. “Go and leave these people in peace. They have done nothing to you.”
His hair swept over his shoulders, lifted by a light wind that Kaede couldn't feel. She thought she saw him smirk and her lips parted slightly when she detected a trembling in the demon's body. What did it mean? Then, with a fatal and sickly realization, she understood.
He was laughing.
“It doesn't matter what they've done,” he hissed, the darkness radiating from him in ever-stronger waves. “It matters that I'm going to do. I've been hungry for a very long time, old hag.”
Horrified, Kaede planted her feet and held the bowstring taut. She might not have her sister's legendary power, but she was far from helpless. If Inuyasha wanted to get past her, he was going to take damage. And she was going to buy a few more seconds of precious time for the village.
“You're making a mistake,” she said, her voice clear and strong. “You don't want to hurt these people. And I won't let you!”
She fired, but he was already moving, a flash of silvery hair and speed, far outmatching the reflexes of an old woman. Kaede found herself flying through the air from a blow that she never even saw coming. Her bow snapped like kindling in her fist, breaking apart and falling to the ground in a hundred tiny pieces. She landed hard, losing her breath but still needing to survive this attack. Desperate to escape him now, she rolled on her belly and started to crawl away.
A fist grabbed her by her hair and hauled her upwards, letting her dangle from his hand like a rabbit caught in a snare. Her struggles died as he swung her around to face him, getting a good look at him for the first time. Kaede thought her heart would stop from sheer horror, it was all that she could do not to be sick on the ground at his feet.
His eyes were bottomless pools of crimson fire, no humanity, not even sanity lurked inside them. His face was gouged and torn, it was too obvious that he'd attacked himself and Kaede realized that no small amount of the blood on his body was actually his own. Something horrifying had happened to him, some desperate struggle had been fought…and lost.
What remained was hatred given form, dark power that was far beyond what she'd thought him capable of possessing. In that moment, Kaede realized the terrible truth about Inuyasha's transformation.
And she grieved for him in spite of the death that was waiting for her at his hands.
“Old woman,” he whispered slowly, his tone almost loving. “I'm going to tear out your other eye and make you eat it.”
Even as the demon's hands closed around her throat, preparing to throttle the life out of her, she needed to know the truth. “Inuyasha, where is Kagome? Did she escape you?”
She waited, breathless for the answer as blackness gathered at the edges of her vision. The whole world was nothing but red fire and pain. Kaede was prepared to shed her aged body and welcomed the cool touch of mortality. She would be relieved to die just as soon as he gave her his answer.
But it was not what she expected.
Smiling faintly, the demon drew her closer until her nose brushed against his. His fangs glittered, impossibly long and his breath was rank with the scent of blood. His voice was hardly above a whisper, but it still sent waves of fear coursing through her body when he answered her question with one of his own.
“Who is Kagome?”
“I'm gonna be sick,” Shippou muttered, moving to the side of the boat and draping his body over the edge.
“Not again,” Inuyasha groaned. He leaned on the pole he was using to steer the flat-bottomed craft and glowered at the kitsune who was retching loudly. “I'm getting damn tired of smelling your puke, brat!”
“Leave him alone, Inuyasha,” Kagome sighed, resting her head on her knees. “He can't help it. I told you he gets seasick.”
Inuyasha's ears twitched and he deliberately turned his face to the wind, hoping that most of the stench would be borne away downwind. The brat and the priestess had protested when he'd told them that they'd have to travel by river, the forests and roads being too dangerous. Just a few days before he'd found them in the wilds, an innocent hunting party from the fortress had been attacked and slain at the hands of unknown assailants.
Humans, he thought bitterly, thinking of the good men who had died. According to the scouts that had found the missing hunters, it had been an ambush. His brother had been livid when the news had reached him that was why Sesshomaru had sent him along with Shiou and Haru into that part of the deep forest. For his people to have been attacked and murdered on the very borders of his territory was an insult that the youkai lord couldn't ignore.
“No way,” Shippou had said, shaking his head and all but stamping his feet. “I'm not getting on any damn boat! We can go back the way we came!”
Inuyasha growled at him, thinking the kitsune was just being difficult. “If we don't go by river, it's going to add weeks to this journey,” he said, glaring at the priestess as if he expected her to jump in with some outlandish suggestion of her own. “I want to make this trip quick, brat!”
Kagome sighed, rubbing her eyes. “Maybe if you explained why,” she began.
He scowled at her, thinking that the easiest and fastest way to do this was just to hit the fox until he couldn't move anymore, then tie him up and drag him to the river. “That territory is too dangerous,” he said shortly. “We had some people killed just a few days ago, I can't rely on you two to back me up. My brother might have forced me to take you to your damn village, but I'm not going to get myself killed for you either!”
“I know that,” she said waspishly. “And we aren't asking you to protect us. Shippou and I can take care of ourselves, I thought we'd already decided that!”
He leaned close to her, pointing one sharp claw between her eyes like a threat. “I ain't worried about you, bitch,” he snapped. “You should be worried about that brat of yours.”
“Me?” Shippou asked, sounding outraged at the very idea. “What's that supposed to mean? You think I can't protect Kagome and myself? You're full of shit, Inuyasha. I knew we couldn't trust you, I knew you had some kinda game planned!”
“Shippou,” the woman snapped and Inuyasha almost smirked when he saw the brat flinch at the uncompromising tone of her voice. For some reason he really enjoyed watching her discipline the kitsune. It was so painfully obvious that Shippou worshiped the ground she walked upon and also obvious that his desires weren't going to be returned.
Inuyasha grinned again when he saw her turn back to him, arms folded and fingers drumming with impatience on her arms. Too bad that she was such a bitch, he rather liked the way she carried herself with such authority. Again, too bad for him that she was just a bitchy human priestess.
“What's the problem?” Kagome asked. She didn't trust him either, not for a moment and regardless of Sesshomaru's assurances, she wasn't going to let her guard down. She could have told Sesshomaru that she'd had no intention of revealing the past to Inuyasha, but it wasn't any of his damn business about why. Let him think that it was because of his warning; she really didn't give a damn.
He took a deep breath and then sighed, deciding that maybe she'd be reasonable if he told her why they couldn't travel by foot. The fox was still glaring death at him, but that didn't concern Inuyasha. What concerned him was what that woman and his brother had discussed in private. She'd come back with her jaw clamped like she'd been chewing on her own death and it had left a bitter taste in her mouth.
Sesshomaru had that effect on people, he thought wryly. Priestesses were no exception. In either case, she'd curtly apologized, apologized, for accusing him of beating hell out of Shippou. Nothing about almost purifying him out of the world and he was glad about that. He didn't like remembering that feeling, wondering why he had suddenly been swept with a wave of despair that had left him craving her deadly touch.
It was better not to think of it at all.
“We've been having trouble on the borders,” he said bluntly, ignoring the way Shippou hissed in disgust. “There are bands of renegade youkai roaming these territories. We've been able to keep them out of inuyoukai lands…”
“Thanks to us,” Shippou snarled. “You let the wolves take the brunt of those attacks while you fucking dogs sit behind your borders and don't even send…”
“I didn't make the treaty,” Inuyasha snapped at him. “You talk to Kouga about it if you have a fucking problem, brat. Tell Kouga to secure his own damn border to the south! He's letting them run wild and then he screams for our help when he can't even do his fucking part. That mangy excuse for a wolf…”
“Enough!” Kagome rubbed her eyes. She didn't have to shout to get their attention, her terse outburst was sufficient. Their constant bickering was giving her a headache and she found herself longing for the days when she could have put an end to it with a simple sit and a piece of candy. She had a feeling that Shippou was making it a point to argue with everything Inuyasha said, just to make sure the other demon knew he wasn't in control.
Perhaps she was wrong, nothing had changed after all.
“Just explain to me why we have to go by river,” she said simply, leveling a serious expression at Inuyasha. “We'll take the route you think is best, I just need to know why.”
Inuyasha snorted and looked away. “It's not just renegade youkai that we have to worry about. There's humans in this forest, humans who attack anything that looks like a demon and kill them.”
Kagome raised an eyebrow. “And that worries you? Since when are you afraid of humans, Inuyasha?”
“I'm not,” he spat. “But I want to get this over with as fast as possible and get back to the fortress. I can't do that if I have to worry about being attacked the whole time. And they don't just kill demons, they torture them to death. Good men, men I'd call friends have died for no other reason than they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“And I suppose they didn't do anything to piss off those humans?” Shippou asked sarcastically. “They're just humans, they don't have any right to defend their families or villages?”
“There are no human villages in this area anymore,” Inuyasha said quietly.
Kagome put her hand on Shippou's arm to silence him. She sensed that there was more than she had guessed going on and again she wondered about the strange sensation of grief that had brought both her and Shippou to their knees. It still made her skin crawl.
“There's something else, isn't there?” she murmured. “Something driving peaceful people from their homes, making youkai run wild. I felt it earlier, so did Shippou. What is really going on?”
“Wish to fuck I knew,” Inuyasha answered bitterly. “Sessh has sent his men into the forest to find out, but none have ever returned. Whatever it is, it attacks humans and youkai, but the reason is still a mystery.”
It had been a good enough reason for her, Kagome thought, watching as the peaceful lands rolled by. The river was calm, deserted, and they were making good time. She leaned back on her hands, trying to ignore the occasional groan of misery from Shippou. Poor kid, he just never could stand being on the water.
The sun was warm on her upturned face and she sighed, feeling her body relax for the first time in what seemed like ages. It was peaceful here, only the sound of the water slapping gently against the hull of the boat and the light breeze that lifted her hair. Kagome suddenly realized how tired she was, how exhausting it had been for her at the fortress. Strange, but she felt more at ease now, even with Inuyasha standing nearby, than she had since she'd come through the well.
She found herself thinking of Sesshomaru's words and his enigmatic warning about not telling Inuyasha the truth. Perhaps he was right, if she could just get home, home to where she belonged, none of it would matter. So he didn't remember her, so he didn't even know what he'd done, let alone regret it.
Could she live with that? Could she live with that and still pretend that she was happy with her life? For the first time in what felt like forever, her mind turned back to Scott and she wondered if he'd left Japan. She smiled to herself, thinking of how satisfying it was going to be to have him arrested and put away for his attack on her. If that didn't work out, she would see to it that he never bothered her again, one way or another.
“That's a pretty vindictive smile,” Inuyasha commented with a grunt, steering their craft into the faster current of the river. “You thinking about me?”
“Not at all,” she said coldly. “Don't flatter yourself.”
She heard him chuckle and opened her eyes to look up at him. The light breeze wafted across her face and sent his hair flying around him. For a long moment, they regarded each other until he dropped his eyes and looked away.
“You look tired,” he muttered. “Why don't you try to sleep or something?”
A ghost of a smile crossed her lips. “Maybe I'm not as tired as you think I am.”
He didn't look at her. “Doesn't matter to me what you do. I just thought you looked tired.”
Annoyed, she leaned back and rested her head on her fist as she watched him guide the small boat. She watched his hands, strong and sure, as they gripped the long pole. There was a faint scar on the back of one of them and that perplexed her, as she remembered all too well that he didn't scar easily.
Her eyes traveled up to his face as he stared fixedly into the distance, watching the river. She had thought he looked exactly the same as he had when she'd first met him, so many years ago. Now she thought he looked older, more mature at least. The set of his jaw, the calmness of his gaze, they didn't seem to belong to the angry young hanyou she remembered.
“Why are you staring at me?” he asked quietly without looking down at her.
“I was just wondering,” she answered, not really thinking before she spoke. “What have you been doing for the past ten years? Sesshomaru said that you were sick, is that true?”
“Yeah.” There was silence for a few moments after that and Kagome thought that he probably wouldn't elaborate on it further. Not that she was really curious, it didn't matter to her what he'd done. The past was the past and no part of her future. The Kagome who had been innocent and fallen in love was long dead and the Kagome who survived cared nothing for Inuyasha.
“I don't remember,” he said at last, glancing back down at her with an unreadable expression. “I was sick for years after Sessh found me. There're a lot of things I can't recall about that time.”
“Lucky you,” she murmured. Inuyasha glared at her, scowling as if she'd insulted him somehow.
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“Just what I said.”
There was a loud groan from the rear of the boat and Shippou flopped onto his back with a thud. “I'm dying,” the kitsune announced painfully. “Can't we stop just for a little while?”
Inuyasha grinned. “Too dangerous,” he said calmly, regarding the sickened young demon with amusement. “It's better to keep moving right now. We'll have to stop at sunset. You can rest your guts then.”
“Why is it dangerous?” Kagome wanted to know. She eased back and curled on her side with her arm tucked under her head. Like it or not, she was feeling very tired and a brief nap was enormously appealing. I'm not dropping my guard, she told herself stubbornly. But it's not likely he's going to attack us right now or dump us in the river.
“It's dangerous because there have been a lot of strange demons around here,” Inuyasha said, scanning the bank of the river as if he expected something to come flying out to attack them. “I can feel them watching us.”
“What?” Shippou sat up, his face pale and almost green. “You can feel them watching, why the hell didn't you say anything before?”
“Because you were too busy feeding the fish,” Inuyasha grunted.
Kagome slowly pulled herself to her feet, wobbling a little when the boat gave a small jerk as the current pushed it along. A sense of unease passed over her, like a little chill that felt like cold fingers touching her spine. She shivered, wondering what it meant. Something was watching them? Why hadn't she sensed it before?
Then she felt it, strong and icy, the hand of ghost gripping her heart. She fought down the instinct to panic, clenching her teeth against the racing of her pulse. Something was watching them. She could feel it now, malicious and corrupt, a vicious anger that came bubbling her way.
“Inuyasha,” she murmured, reaching out to grab his sleeve. “We've got to get off the river.”
“I already told you…”
She shook her head, hardly able to stand the sense of fear that was filling her now. “I know, but you're wrong…”
Her voice trailed off and darkness washed over her.
He was so wrong, it wasn't just watching them…it was waiting.
Kagome shrieked as the deck of the boat suddenly surged beneath her feet. She lost her balance and was flung hard into Inuyasha's arms as a tentacle broke through the bottom of the boat and lashed at them.
“What the fuck is that?” Inuyasha shouted, swinging Kagome behind him. She staggered against the edge, catching herself hard enough to get slivers in her palms. Inuyasha snarled and threw himself at the tentacle that was literally ripping the boat apart under them.
She spun around just in time to see Shippou fighting with another tentacle. It had wrapped itself around his body and was dragging him into the water. Blood was pouring from numerous scratches as Shippou tore frantically at the slimy thing with his claws.
Kagome didn't hesitate, she planted her feet and threw herself across the bashed in deck of the boat and grabbed Shippou's leg. “No, you don't,” she snarled, wrestling with the monster for possession of her friend. “You aren't taking him!”
“You stupid bitch,” Inuyasha shouted, shredding the tentacle with his claws. He ran to the side of the boat and caught her by the ankles. Kagome screamed as Shippou was wrenched out of her grip and disappeared beneath the surface of the water.
“Shippou!” Kagome pushed Inuyasha away and tried to go after Shippou but it was too late, he was gone.
Water was pouring into the boat now, it was sinking fast. “Come on,” Inuyasha growled, wrapping his arms around her waist. “We've got to get out of here.”
“Not without Shippou,” she cried, struggling with him. “I won't leave him!”
“You can't help him,” Inuyasha hissed, holding tight to her. “Quit fighting me!”
Angrily, she spun around and raked her fingernails down his cheek. “Let me go!”
The deck under their feet shattered abruptly, exploding as more tentacles suddenly shot out of the murky water and threw them apart. Kagome hit the water hard, floundering as she tried to get her bearings and keep her head up. She swallowed a mouthful of water and coughed, surfacing once to take a deep breath before something slimy wrapped itself around her legs and dragged her under.
The tentacle squeezed hard and Kagome screamed without realizing it, wasting her last breath of air. The slimy monster wrapped itself around her body, squeezing her even tighter as she thrashed and fought desperately, pulling her deep under the surface. Darkness engulfed her and Kagome felt the strength leaving her body, her lungs burning with cold fire, aching for oxygen even as she closed her eyes.