InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Possession ❯ TwentyOne ( Chapter 21 )
[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
“How's your nose?” Kagome asked him, for only the tenth time that day.
Shippou reached up to feel it, puffy and swollen was how it was, but he shrugged like it didn't matter. “It's healing,” he said shortly. “Don't worry about me.”
He glanced to the side to see if Inuyasha was paying attention to their conversation and saw the inuyoukai's eyes were dark as he stared at their campfire. Shippou scowled, not entirely sure if he liked this new development. For the past two days, Inuyasha had barely spoken to either of them. He didn't act angry either, not like he was seething underneath that calm exterior. Shippou decided he could stand a silent Inuyasha better than a loud-mouthed bastard, but he didn't like it just the same.
He didn't like the way the son of a bitch kept looking at Kagome. He liked even less the way she was also sneaking glances of her own. It made him feel like hitting something, a tree or a rock would have to do, but then he reined in the anger that made him want to explode.
He wouldn't give him the satisfaction.
Shippou sighed, leaning his head on his fist and watched the dancing flames. He closed his eyes almost all the way to make it look like he was falling asleep. It wasn't very late and he was anything but tired. He felt like a fool, he felt like the world's biggest idiot.
Kouga would laugh at him if he knew about it. Still, his foster-father would expect him to do his best even if it meant enduring Inuyasha's company. It would have been easy for him to just abandon them both, about as easy as cutting out his own heart. He tried to imagine he was back home, the only real home he could really remember. Back with the wolf tribe that had somehow accepted him as one of them, playing with the little ones, laughing with his friends.
He was homesick for his family.
If it was like this for him, what must it be like for Kagome? She'd said she'd made a life for herself on the other side of the well, he'd dreamed all these years that she was safe and happy. If he believed that, it made everything they'd been through somehow worth it. When he was the one who was lost and alone, she'd come out of nowhere to save him. She hadn't left him on the side of the road; she'd smiled at him, an orphaned fox, and said…come with us.
And he'd loved her since that day.
Through his eyelashes, across the dying fire, he saw Kagome yawn widely as she stretched. It hurt him to see how hard this was on her. The rough travel, the sleeping outside, they came as second nature to him. He felt strange when he was inside. He'd been even more uncomfortable at the fortress and not just because of the inuyoukai that were Kouga's dubious allies. It seemed more natural for him to be outside. He always wanted to be where he could see the stars.
Not for her, she was just a woman after all. Kagome had told him a little bit of her life over the past few days, little enough that he could comprehend. She talked a lot about something she called money, she talked about things she called comforts. Rich food, soft beds, a life of ease that had nothing to do with their current conditions and nothing he could really imagine.
He was just a dumb kitsune after all, what could he offer her? His heart, his loyalty, his love…they didn't go very far when he couldn't even make her comfortable. Why would he ever think that a woman like her would want to be with a brat like him?
But she didn't really talk about any friends, anyone she cared about other than her mother and her little brother. No one close, no one she really missed. Where were all the people who had to be missing her, worried sick for her? She mentioned her secretary, whatever that meant, and complained that her superiors in her `office' would be angry if several of her deals didn't go through.
It sounded like a lonely life to Shippou, but who was he to judge?
“Are you going to sleep at all tonight?”
Kagome's soft voice almost made Shippou jump; he was so deep inside his own thoughts. For a brief moment, he thought she might be talking to him but when he peeked through his eyelashes, he saw she wasn't even looking at in his direction. He lay quietly, hoping they'd think he was asleep. There were a few moments of silence, Kagome waiting for Inuyasha to answer her, Inuyasha waiting for Kagome to realize he was ignoring her.
“I heard you,” he muttered, looking of his shoulder and staring right at Shippou for a moment. The kitsune gave nothing away, kept his breathing even as if he had just slipped off to sleep. If they were going to talk about anything, he wanted to make sure he heard it.
“Then why don't you answer me?”
Inuyasha grunted and shook his head. “I'll stay up,” he said, his voice cold. “You two need the sleep a lot more than I do.”
That rankled Shippou's sensibilities. He did not need to sleep, not anymore than Inuyasha did, and he was used to living in the wilds. He for damn sure didn't need to be watched over like a little pup, like someone you couldn't trust to watch his own back. He was perfectly capable of taking care of himself, and Kagome too for that matter.
He heard Kagome sigh and shifted slightly so he could see her a little better. She did look tired but she wasn't making like she was ready to sleep. Instead she sat with her knees pulled up to her chin, arms wrapped around them like she was afraid to let go of whatever was bothering her. Shippou privately thought she might rest a little easier if she'd let him watch over her. He thought about it, how he'd let her rest her head on his lap while he sat watch over her. That was how it should be, not let that stupid bastard think that he…
“Come on, Inuyasha. You keep staring at the forest like you're expecting it to attack you. If we're in any danger…”
“Of course you're in danger, you stupid bitch,” he spat, sounding suddenly angry.
Shippou had to dig his claws into the ground, how dare he call her that! Kagome wasn't anyone's bitch; she didn't deserve to be sworn at either, not after what she'd been through. If Kouga were here, he would have put his fist into that dog's mouth for that, if Kouga were here, they wouldn't be having this conversation at all and Inuyasha would never get the chance to curse at Kagome or make her feel bad about anything ever again!
“I was just asking a simple question.”
Kagome's voice had that hard edge to it and sent a chill down Shippou's back. He lay very quietly, listening and hoping that Inuyasha couldn't hear the way that his pulse was racing.
Yes, he thought angrily, tell him he can't talk to you like that anymore, tell him to go to hell, you don't need him. You've got me to protect you!
Inuyasha snorted softly and Shippou tensed when the youkai stood, walking past him slowly and rounding the campfire to stand over Kagome. He waited, his eyes starting to water from trying to keep from moving or blinking. It was taking all of Shippou's self control to just hold himself still.
“Then why did you ask?” Inuyasha said and Shippou could hear it as the demon crouched next to her. Kagome was giving him a cold glare for his trouble, not showing intimidation or fear. He was proud of her for that. But he couldn't stand it when Inuyasha reached out a single claw and moved a strand of dark hair away from her face.
Kagome didn't so much as flinch, meeting his eyes as calmly as a woman frozen in ice. “I'm asking because we have the right to know. For the past two days you've been looking over your shoulder every time we've stopped. You sit up all night without sleeping, glaring at the darkness.”
“And?” Inuyasha asked and Shippou bared his teeth, hating his tone of voice. It was too intimate, too familiar, and he could see through the flickering flames that Inuyasha was leaning very close to her. He should stop this; he had to protect her from him.
Protect her from herself, you mean. The thought whispered unwelcome into his mind and Shippou's fingers clenched into fists. Keep still, he told himself. Keep still and quiet as the rabbit in the bush, keep quiet and pay attention now. It's what Kouga would do if he wanted to know what Inuyasha was really plotting and planning. He might let it slip now, for Kagome's benefit, but not in front of Shippou who knew him all too well.
“And I think you should tell me why,” Kagome said quietly. She shifted slightly, turning to face him.
Inuyasha leaned close, inhaling deeply as if he wanted to get drunk on her scent. One of his hands came around her and settled on the ground right next to her knee. Shippou could see that she tensed, gave a little shudder as if she feared to have him to close to her. Or, his suspicious mind said quietly, as if she only wanted him to come closer.
“I think we're being followed,” Inuyasha murmured, his lips only inches from her throat. Kagome swallowed hard and had to keep herself from pulling away, determined to not lose the upper hand again. “In fact,” he continued, reaching around her as if he wanted to put his hand on her hip and pull her into his embrace. “I'm sure of it.”
“You're sure?” she whispered back, leaning away from him again. Inuyasha only smiled; planting his hands on either side of her body so he could loom over her, ready to push her on her back. Shippou's teeth ground together until he could taste blood in his mouth.
“Sure as I am that the brat is awake and listening to us,” Inuyasha said, grinning wickedly at Kagome as if he'd just let her in on the greatest joke. Her eyes were confused, searching his face until finally she put both her hands on his chest and shoved him away from her.
“What do you mean, following us?” Shippou snarled, sitting up and glaring at Inuyasha across the campfire. He knew that Inuyasha had been playing with him, seeing how far he could go with Kagome before the kitsune lost it in a jealous rage.
Kagome had asked him to control himself, not let Inuyasha get to him. Shippou was trying, damned if he wasn't trying his best, but something about seeing that white-haired bastard leaning close, ready to put his filthy hands on her made his heart contract with hate and grief. He wanted to jump to his feet and scream the words for the whole world to hear.
Didn't you hurt her enough the first time?
And Kagome had demanded of him that he say nothing to Inuyasha about their past. Not a word, not an accusation, nothing that might introduce the Inuyasha of the present to the bastard of the past. She made him promise and Shippou wasn't about to break a promise to her.
But damn it, Inuyasha wasn't going to make it easy. Still grinning, the inuyoukai stood and smirked as he returned to his place by the fire. The old Inuyasha would have blustered or cursed at him, maybe even chased him around the fire a few times for the hell of it. Shippou almost smiled, but the expression faded before it could appear, the warm memories slowly freezing inside his heart.
This Inuyasha regarded him coldly for a moment before turning away with a sullen glare. “I know we're being followed,” he said, his voice darker than the night sky. “I just can't smell them.”
“You can't smell them?” Shippou stretched his legs and leaned back on his elbows. Inuyasha had settled a few feet away from him, still in a ready crouch and obviously ill at ease. He couldn't help it; he enjoyed seeing the youkai looking so uncomfortable.
“If you can't even smell them,” Shippou asked, his voice snide as he picked idly at his claws. “What makes you so damn sure they're out there?”
He didn't miss Kagome's narrowed gaze or the warning in her eyes. When Inuyasha didn't even bother to answer him, he sighed heavily and lay down, pillowing his head on his arms. “Maybe you're just paranoid,” he said, almost to himself. “Maybe you're imagining things. That brain of yours has a lot of holes in it, I wouldn't be surprised if you made it all up just so you could act like you're the only thing keeping us alive.”
“Shippou,” Kagome hissed. “Stop it.”
“I don't know,” the kitsune continued, smirking a little at the annoyance in her voice. Let Kagome hear the truth, let Kagome realize that he wasn't buying Inuyasha's act for one minute and let Inuyasha know it too. “I think that we'd be doing just fine on our own, Kagome. He's really just baggage, you don't need him until you get to the well and…”
He was suddenly yanked off the ground by a hard hand that bunched in his shirt. Shippou yelped when Inuyasha swung him around, letting him dangle at the end of his arm like a toy or a baby pup. Inuyasha's eyes were gleaming fiercely as he held Shippou up to his face, staring at him as if he was contemplating how the kitsune's blood was going to taste.
Kagome surged off the ground, both of her hands held out as she tried to fling herself between them. Inuyasha batted her away easily, shrugging off her hands as he marched over to a tree. Shippou refused to cry out, not willing to let Inuyasha see him plead or beg. If he wanted to beat the hell out of him, so be it. Let Kagome see that he hadn't changed at all, let her see the brutal demon they all knew that Inuyasha truly was.
“Don't you dare hurt him!”
Inuyasha didn't spare Kagome a glance, still staring at Shippou with that fierce light in his eyes. Abruptly, he dropped the kitsune and reached out a hand to snag Kagome's arm, shoving her hard at Shippou.
“Stay here,” he growled before he turned to plunge into the dark forest.
“Inuyasha?” Kagome called, clinging to Shippou as much as much from surprise as a need for support. He put his arm around her back, dumbfounded as Inuyasha's voice echoed back to them.
“Protect her, you stupid brat, or I'll tear your fucking head off the next time I see you!”
Like he needed to be told.
“Don't worry,” Shippou murmured as he gently pulled her close. “I won't let anything hurt you.”
Kagome shoved away from him as she slapped his hand from her waist. “Just what were you trying to prove, Shippou? Were you trying to see if you could get him pissed enough to beat the hell out of you?”
Hurt, he stared at the ground. “No, I was just…”
“You were just being an ass,” she shouted, stamping her way back to the fire. “You were pushing him and you know it! Have you forgotten that I need him to go through the well? Isn't that the whole point of this in the first place?”
He couldn't help her to get home. Inuyasha could. Scowling, Shippou kicked at the ground, hardly satisfied as a small shower of dirt and pebbles scattered around him.
“I guess you don't need me at all,” he said bitterly, knowing it was the truth. Son of a bitch. “If you want me to leave, just say so. I can take a hint.”
“What's that supposed to mean?” Kagome demanded, stalking back to stand in front of him. When he refused to meet her eyes, she reached up and put her hands on his face, forcing him to look at her. “You really believe that?”
“I can tell what's going on,” he whispered, wishing to hell it didn't hurt so much. “I see the way you look at him and you don't look at me like that.”
“Damn it,” she muttered, shaking her head. “Don't you get it, Shippou? I do need you; I need you here with me. I don't want to be alone with him.”
He felt the tiniest bit better, hearing her say that. No, of course she didn't want to be alone with him. The pain of what she'd already been through would be unbearable to her. She needed him to stand between them, make sure that the memories didn't overwhelm her. He felt embarrassed enough now, realizing that he'd been acting the jealous lover when she wasn't even his to begin with.
“Then…there's nothing going on between you? I was starting to think that you might still miss him. Might even still love…”
“Don't be stupid,” she said, her tone harsher than she intended. Kagome grimaced and reached up to brush the hair out of his eyes. He looked so young, so vulnerable, his love for her a great aching pain in his eyes.
Oh Shippou, she thought, a little sadly. You never really did understand.
“I don't deny it,” she whispered, hoping he'd hear the truth in her words. “I did love him, I loved him so much I would have thrown away my soul. I can't help it, Shippou, so don't ask me to apologize. Some part of me is still in love with the person Inuyasha used to be, or at least the person I wanted him to be.”
His hand curled warm around hers and the kitsune gave her a faint, shy smile. “I wanted him to be that person too, Kagome. I can't forget it either. That's why I hate him so much now, that's why I can't stand it when you look at him like you used to. He lied to us and he almost killed us both. We can't help it, but it still hurts.”
“Because we still love what we wanted him to be,” she murmured. Kagome gave his hand a quick, firm squeeze and then dropped it, walking away from the fire. Somewhere out in that darkness, Inuyasha was searching for god only knew what. Maybe Shippou was right and they couldn't really trust him, not anymore than they could trust their own feelings.
“Anyway,” she said, forcing a smile to her lips, “that doesn't mean that…”
She saw Shippou's eyes widen and she spun around, some instinct guiding her as she tried to throw her body behind the nearest tree. Kagome cried out as her arm caught and then stared in utter disbelief at the shaft of an arrow that had pinned her sleeve to the tree.
Shippou snarled at the dark forest, reaching down with a swiftness that surprised her to seize a rock and hurl it hard into the bushes. She thought she heard a muffled yelp as the kitsune ran to her side and planted himself between her and the direction the arrow had come from.
There was the sound of a brief, frantic struggle and then Inuyasha bounded out the woods with a flailing figure caught tight in his arms.
“Rin?” she asked incredulously as she recognized the young woman.
“Just as I thought,” Inuyasha growled happily. He gave Rin a little shake before setting her on her feet, keeping one hand clasped around the girl's arm so she couldn't make a run for it.
“I knew someone was tracking us, but it kept throwing me off that I couldn't catch the scent.” Rin flushed, glaring at the ground and refused to look at any of them. “You want to explain yourself, Rin?”
Sullenly, she twisted her arm out of his grasp and tucked her hands behind her back. “You told me I couldn't go with you,” she muttered, still scowling at the ground. “You never said I couldn't follow.”
Inuyasha gave a harsh bark of a laugh. “You snuck out again, didn't you? No way Sessh would have given you permission to follow me. Don't you understand how dangerous that is? What the hell was going through your head, you know better than to act like such a jealous brat.”
Kagome almost smiled; he sounded so much like a protective older brother.
Inuyasha sniffed at Rin's hair and the girl's face turned even redder. “So that explains it,” he said, grinning a little. “You used hunting herbs to mask your scent so I wouldn't know it was you. Sneaky little git, I might not have caught you at all if you hadn't scratched your head.”
There was a lump on Rin's forehead and a bit of blood had trickled down her cheek. Shippou reached the same conclusion as Kagome and cursed softly. “You're the one who shot that arrow!”
“What arrow?” Inuyasha noticed for the first time that Kagome's sleeve was pinned to the tree. His gaze darkened considerably as he watched the kitsune break the shaft so that Kagome could pull her arm free without tearing her sleeve apart. She poked a finger through the small hole and found that she was no longer amused.
Rin hated her so much that she wanted to kill her?
“Why?” Kagome whispered.
The girl folded her arms over her chest and looked away, her cheeks still stained with embarrassment. “I wasn't going to kill her,” she said, her tone thick with contempt. “Just wanted to see what she'd do if I gave her a scare.”
“You little bitch!” Shippou was absolutely furious, he looked like he wanted to tear Rin's arms off and use them to beat her. He even took a menacing step forward before being stopped by Inuyasha's low growl. “She fucking shot at Kagome,” he snarled. “You're not going to defend her, are you? What if she hadn't missed?”
“I didn't miss, stupid,” Rin shot back, glowering at Shippou in return. She glanced up at Inuyasha and met his threatening scowl. “I'm a damn good archer, Inuyasha! If I'd wanted to kill her, I would have. You know that Jano taught me everything about how to shoot, just like you taught me how to take care of myself in the wilds. I'm not a little kid!”
“Is that so?” Inuyasha's voice was soft and deadly calm; it made the hair on the back of Kagome's neck stand up. It seemed to have the same effect on Rin, because the girl suddenly paled and took a step backwards.
“You…you always treat me like I'm still a child,” she stammered. Nervous now, she twisted her hands together and her voice rose with a pleading note. “I swear I wasn't going to hurt anyone.”
The air seemed too still and thick, the tension surrounding them made it difficult to breathe. Kagome chewed on her lower lip as she watched them. Inuyasha's expression was dark and unreadable, threatening in some way she couldn't define. He didn't so much as glance at her or Shippou, his attention was all for Rin's scared face.
“You want to be treated like an adult?” he asked quietly. She hesitated for a moment and then nodded. His hand flashed out, a sharp claw pointing right at Kagome. “Then act like one, Rin. Apologize to her.”
“Apologize to her?” Rin said, her eyes wide and incredulous. She sent a scathing glance at the priestess and squared her jaw. “Are you kidding me? That's the same woman who almost killed you! Are you just going to forgive that?”
Angry again, Rin shook her head and tossed her long hair over shoulder. “I will not!”
Inuyasha shrugged, a nasty smile playing at the corner of his mouth. “Suit yourself, Rin. I'll treat you like the disobedient brat you are.”
He grabbed the girl by the arm and dragged her over to a fallen log. Rin yelped as he sat down and yanked her across his lap, one hand holding both of her wrists in a vice-like grip. She started to struggle then, her legs kicking wildly. Inuyasha's expression was almost serene as he kept her from escaping.
“What is he doing?” Kagome murmured to Shippou, one hand going to her mouth in disbelief.
“Something my brother should have done a long time ago,” Inuyasha muttered and brought the palm of his hand down on Rin's rear with a loud smack. Rin squeaked and twisted to look up at him in shock.
Rin cursed and swore, sounding much like a wild demon herself. She started to fight against him for real, twisting and writhing on Inuyasha's lap like a captured mouse held in the talons of a hawk. He struck the girl's bottom again, much harder than before and Rin made a strangled sound somewhere between a yelp and a whimper. He raised his hand a third time and shook his head.
“You ready to apologize to Kagome?” At her silence, he spanked the girl hard, not pulling his blows and ignoring her soft cries of pain.
“What if you'd miscalculated?” Inuyasha asked gently, his voice at odds with his actions as his hand descended again and again while the quiet forest echoed with the sound of punishment. “What if you'd seriously hurt her, is that what you wanted?”
“No,” Rin whispered, no longer fighting him and tears streaking her face. Her body shook with silent sobs as she bit her lips to keep from crying out. It was obvious she was in real pain and it wasn't just about embarrassment anymore.
“Then shouldn't you say that you're sorry?”
Kagome saw that the girl's pride was hurting at least as much as her bottom, she could see the shame in her eyes. Still Rin kept her mouth clamped tightly shut, her lips trembling as she felt Inuyasha raise his arm again.
“Inuyasha,” Kagome said, reaching out to catch his wrist. “That's enough.”
He pulled his arm away from her, letting Rin slide off his lap. “No,” he answered, his voice hard again, “it's not enough. She owes you an apology.”
“Isn't that for me to decide?” Kagome asked quietly. Ignoring him, she looked down at Rin's sullen expression. She should have been angry, she should have wanted to smack the girl herself, but something in Rin's eyes made her heart twist in her chest.
She knew what it was like to love someone so much that you'd do anything for them, anything to protect them. How it felt to burn with the desire to right the wrongs that had been done to them, to throw yourself into the fire for their sake.
Kagome fingered the hole in her sleeve and sighed wearily. Yes, she could read Rin entirely too well, enough that it made her ache. To love someone that much and to have them choose another over you…that was the worst pain of all. And she was much too tired to deal with those feelings, either Rin's or her own.
“It's late,” she said, speaking to no one in particular. “Maybe we should all just try to get some sleep.”
The morning dawned bright and clear and Kagome awoke to the sensation of sunlight warming her face. She remembered too well that this time of year the days were warm and humid, but the temperatures could drop to an uncomfortable chill at night. Yawning, she sat up and realized that a blanket had been dropped over her while she slept.
“Where the hell did this come from?” she murmured. Glancing up, she saw that Shippou and Inuyasha were already awake and out of sight, but Rin was sitting next to the campfire.
“I brought it,” the girl said, not quite looking in her direction. “Inuyasha said that you lost all your supplies in the river, so I gave you the extra blanket I brought with me.”
“Thank you,” Kagome said sincerely. Maybe things wouldn't be so terrible; perhaps this was Rin's way of apologizing for shooting at her. It still disturbed her, how much the girl must hate her to do something like that. Although she had confessed that she wasn't trying to hurt her, the hole in Kagome's sleeve had made her realize how close it could have come.
“Don't thank me,” Rin said, smiling at her with a false sweetness. “Inuyasha made me give it to you. I would have let you freeze if it was up to me.”
The warm feeling in the pit of her stomach chilled over and Kagome felt her spine straighten a bit at the harshness underlying the girl's tone. Carefully, she folded the blanket and went to Rin's side and dropped it.
“Then I take back my thanks,” she said stiffly, watching as Rin slowly pulled the offending blanket into her lap. “Next time, don't bother. I don't need anything from either of you.”
She turned her back on Rin, rubbing her face and wished she had some water to wash with. Sleeping in her clothes made her feel so grimy and the way her hips and shoulders ached meant she really hadn't gotten any rest. She was glad that Inuyasha and Shippou weren't here; it would be hard to hide her exhaustion. The last thing she needed now was a venomous brat to take shots at her. Damn it, all she wanted was to go home.
“Kagome, wait,” Rin said, this time sounding embarrassed. “I…I should apologize for shooting at you. My…Sesshomaru-sama will be ashamed of me when he finds out. I was just so angry that I couldn't go with Inuyasha; he used to let me go with him when he left the fortress. And I thought that maybe I could just follow him this time, just in case he…”
“In case I attacked him?” Kagome couldn't keep the sarcasm out of her voice as she turned back to face Rin. “Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds? I'm just a mortal woman, Rin.”
“No,” Rin replied earnestly, standing up to approach Kagome. “You're not just a mortal woman. You're a priestess and I've grown up hearing the legends about what you used to do. Didn't you destroy Naraku?”
Kagome stared at her. “No,” she said, biting off the words. “I didn't. That was Kikyou and Inuyasha; they were able to defeat him together. It wasn't me.”
Rin gave her a suspicious look. “I thought that you were after the jewel, that's why you destroyed Naraku, because you wanted the jewel's power for yourself.”
“No,” she said again, wishing that Rin would just drop it. “I only went after the shards to stop Naraku, I never wanted the jewel for myself. What would I do with it?”
The girl hesitated, clearly confused by her continued denials. “But isn't it true that you enslaved Inuyasha with a cursed necklace? Didn't you hire a monk and a demon exterminator to keep him from escaping and force him to help you fight Naraku? Then when you had the jewel in your hands, you forced it on him and turned him into a full demon so that you could control him with it?”
Kagome's mouth dropped open, she could hardly believe what she was hearing. This was the story that Rin had grown up with? This was what that sweet, innocent little girl had been told was the truth? It made sense that Rin would hate her so much; it made sense that everyone would fear her like she was the true monster in the story. It was more than she could stand.
Rin backed away when the woman started to laugh; it was an eerie sound, forced and painful, that made a chill go down her spine. That the priestess was insane wasn't also part of the legend, but now Rin wondered if Kagome's mind had indeed snapped. Maybe she'd always been crazy, dangerous too, and nervously she crept backwards towards her bow.
The priestess was almost doubled over, laughing so hard that tears came from her eyes. “No,” she choked out, her laughter turning bitter. “That's not what happened, Rin. You have it all wrong.”
Straightening, Kagome wiped the tears from her eyes and gave Rin a long, serious look before continuing. “Those stories are not true. Miroku and Sango were my friends they were Inuyasha's friends as well. Ask Shippou, he was there and he'll tell you the truth.”
“He already did,” Rin answered, still looked at her most strangely. It suddenly occurred to Kagome that Rin hadn't just been asking questions; she'd been searching for something. Was she trying to confirm what Shippou had told her? Or was she really trying to catch Kagome in a lie?
Scowling, Kagome folded her arms over her chest and fixed Rin with a searching stare. “Why are you really here, Rin? It wasn't just that you were jealous, not just that your precious Inuyasha-sama left you behind. Did Sesshomaru really tell you to follow us? Did he change his mind about letting Inuyasha help me and sent you along so that his brother wouldn't have to decide if he should kill me himself?”
Rin flushed and looked away. “No,” she answered. “That's not why he sent me after you. Sesshomaru-sama keeps his promises.”
“Then tell me the truth,” Kagome said in a hard voice.
“I'd like to hear that myself.”
Both women started and turned to face Inuyasha as he stepped from the forest. Shippou was just behind him, a surprised expression showing that he'd heard most of the conversation himself. Without a word, he went to Kagome's side as if he was preparing to defend her against some nameless attack.
“I knew we couldn't trust them,” he whispered in Kagome's ear.
Inuyasha looked like he wanted to echo those thoughts, but Rin didn't flinch as he dropped a pair of freshly killed rabbits at her feet. Breakfast, Kagome thought, realizing why they'd been away from the campsite.
“So you didn't leave the fortress without permission,” Inuyasha muttered. “What, did he send you to spy on me? What's going on, Rin? Does my damn brother think that I'm going to kill and eat a human and a kitsune the minute I leave his territory?”
Rin blushed at the accusing tone of his voice. “You know that's not true.”
“Then why?” he demanded angrily. “If he changed his mind, say so! He did let you come after me for a reason and I want to know what it is. Unless…” Inuyasha's expression darkened considerably. “Unless he doesn't trust me. Does he think I'll let some human bitch lead me around by my dick?”
Shippou growled softly and Kagome put a hand on his arm. “Let it go,” she murmured. She was more interested in hearing Rin's explanation that Shippou's idea of defending her honor. She'd already let that part of herself go a long time ago, now she understood the world a bit better and knew there was no such thing.
“Of course he trusts you,” Rin burst out, looked entirely shocked by Inuyasha's accusation. “When has he ever lied to you before?”
Kagome could think of at least one time when he'd done just that, but she deliberately kept her mouth shut and squeezed Shippou's arm hard in case the kitsune got any ideas.
Rin sighed and her shoulders slumped. “It's all my fault,” she murmured sadly. “I just wanted so badly to be able to help you. Please forgive me, I thought you might need it.”
She reached down to pick up the quiver of arrows that she'd brought with her and for the first time, Kagome noticed something strange about it. One of the arrows was longer than the rest and wrapped carefully. Rin drew it out and presented it to Inuyasha.
“Sesshomaru-sama agreed with me that you might need it, even if you don't want it and don't think it could be useful.”
Kagome paled as Inuyasha unwrapped the package, instantly recognizing the battered looking hilt of a very old katana. “Tessaiga,” she whispered.
Inuyasha shot a piercing look at her. “You know it?”
Flushing, she couldn't deny it no matter how much she wanted to do just that. “Yes,” she answered, “I know it.”
Inuyasha held the sword in his hands, glaring at the sheathed blade as if it was deliberately holding back secrets from him. “And you saw me use it?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
Rin bit her lip as a series of expressions flickered over Inuyasha's face. Confusion, suspicion, denial and at last, a pained longing as if he too wished he could remember being able to use this last memento of his father. Grimly, he slung the blade at his hip and nodded sharply.
“We're wasting good traveling light. It's time we were on our way.”
Inuyasha was furious, but he'd learned one thing while living at his brother's fortress. He'd learned how to keep his emotions from being easily read. No, he'd never be able to achieve the perfect, stony indifference of Sesshomaru but he no longer let every single thing he felt rule his actions. Instead he'd learned to seethe and gnaw on his anger like a mutt chewing an old bone that no longer held any flavor. Unsatisfying, but it gave him something to do.
He had too much to think about already. Sesshomaru must have lost his mind to send Rin out here. And with a damn sword he couldn't even use! Still, it felt oddly familiar to him to be carrying it now. So strange, the smell of the forest was tickling in his nose, the way the wind made the trees rustle in a way they seemed to speak only to him. It was familiar, it was terrifying, but it felt…right.
He pushed the feelings away from him, determined to not let them draw him into the dark and empty hole where his memories no longer lived. He didn't want the past and he didn't need it. It was a useless blade, a rusty sword that only gathered dust. But his hand had a mind of its own and wanted to reach for the hilt, wrap fingers around it to draw the blade from the scabbard. He wanted to feel something from it; he could almost imagine the power singing in his blood, filling him with a pulse of energy. He could almost see the blade transforming and becoming like an extension of his living body.
If the sword had ever held magic, it was long since gone. It might be a sword made from his father's fang, but in his hands it became nothing. And Inuyasha hated nothing more than to be reminded of how it felt to be nothing.
Her voice carried forward to him as she spoke to the fox again. Her voice was like this sword, a vessel that had once held the taste of meaning only to become a ghost on his lips. What was he doing, thinking so much about a human woman? He made himself push the thought of her behind him; he made himself push the memory of her lips from his conscious mind. And along with that memory, he tried to tuck away a bit of truth he wanted to deny.
If Sesshomaru had sent Rin to give him the Tessaiga, that woman must be far more dangerous than he'd realized. Nothing else would have prompted such an action from his brother, a youkai who was not known for hedging his bets or trying to be cautious. Was it truly a trap set by Kouga or another enemy, a trap designed to lure him out in the open and away from Sesshomaru's influence?
He snorted to himself. According to Sesshomaru, Kouga wasn't that subtle and nothing he'd ever heard about the wolf said otherwise. No, he wasn't stupid enough to provoke the lord of the West by using a woman to kill his brother. And if he was that stupid, even Kouga would have never sent his own adopted son into a situation where he might take the brunt of the punishment for such a betrayal.
It had to be something else.
His nerves were definitely on edge; he'd thought this feeling of being watched would fade away when he'd caught Rin. The feeling hadn't gone away, if anything it had only increased. It was a feeling of dread, the sensation of wires being drawn tight, and a trap being set. He'd felt it when he'd first seen her in those clothes, looking so much like Kikyou it made his heart want to break. Pain was what he'd felt then and he'd acted on that pain like a wounded animal willing to claw or tear his way to freedom.
Yes, that was it. He was being manipulated and the thought of being used like this made a low rumble start deep in his chest. Inuyasha smiled to himself, looking down at his sharp claws. Who needed a sword? Whatever master was pulling these puppet strings, he was in for a big surprise when he finally sprung that trap and made his intentions plain. He was in for more than a surprise, he was in for bloodshed…
He heard the panic in her voice and snarled to himself as he spun around. The woman's eyes were wide and frightened, searching around her almost frantically as she raised her hands to ward of an invisible blow. Behind her, Rin and Shippou had stopped and were also scanning the quiet forest.
“What's the matter, Kagome?” the fox wanted to know.
“Don't you feel it?” she whispered. Inuyasha reached out and snagged her by the wrist, somehow needed to keep a hand on her, just in case he needed to protect her. She barely noticed, letting him pull her closer than she'd like, but he wasn't thinking of having her now. Her confused panic wasn't any act; he could smell it on her like old death, like the scent of dried blood that was left in the sun. It was unmistakable, it was real and genuine, and not something she could fake.
It was fear.
“What's the matter?” he hissed, despising the way his own pulse speeded up to match hers. What the hell was it; did he have to believe her so instinctively? Was he blind or was he just a fool? It she was the one who was playing with them, he'd gladly tear out her heart.
He couldn't stand it if he found out she played false.
“I feel it,” she whispered, almost swooning against him. Crazy woman, she had to be out of her mind if she thought he'd fall for that old trick. A youkai knew his instincts, trusted them like he'd trust his brother, and believed in them when his eyes or his ears or his nose might be tricked. Instinct was always to be believed.
That's when it hit him so hard he almost staggered. A feeling, a pure emotion of aching sadness, of unbearable grief. Suddenly his heart turned over in his chest with a sickening thump and he found himself clinging to Kagome like a weak child. Her flesh was warm and firm under his hands, the curves of her body pressed unnoticed against his. Inuyasha couldn't think, the overwhelming sadness taking him completely by surprise.
He'd closed his eyes without meaning to, sinking to his knees with the priestess clasped in his arms. His nose was buried in his hair and for a moment he thought the earth was shaking under them, trembling as if the ground had turned to shifting sands, sucking them down into a deep chasm of pure and bitter pain. Then he caught himself and knew that the ground wasn't shaking, it was the woman in his arms. She was sobbing so hard that he thought she might tear herself apart and he along with her. The inconsolable feeling was passing, growing faint again.
When he opened his eyes, he knew he wouldn't have been surprised if the forest had been torn away from them. He'd never felt anything like that, the wave of anguish so poignant it brought tears to his eyes. To feel like that, to grieve like that, it wasn't possible.
No mortal creature could endure such an emotion. All the heartbreak and terror he'd ever felt, at his mother's deathbed, at his own abandonment, at the tip of Kikyou's arrow meant nothing compared to this. A living heart would shatter, a living soul would be torn apart. An emotion like that could only come from the echo of a tormented spirit, a trapped and helpless soul that was denied the peace of death and the mercy of nothingness.
“What the hell is it?” he whispered, his hands automatically going to stroke the woman's hair. He made the soothing gesture without realizing it, without realizing that her arms had tightened around him, desperate to keep herself from falling to pieces and being swept away on that flowing tide of sadness.
He looked up at last and saw that Rin and Shippou must have felt it too. The fox youkai was kneeling on the ground as well, Rin's head resting against his chest. Her eyes were open, but her face was streaked with tears. Meeting his eyes, she gave him the smallest of smiles before letting her head fall forward and her hair cover her eyes.
“We felt it before in the village,” Kagome murmured, sitting up a little so that she wasn't quite so close to him. “It must have grown stronger, the last time it didn't feel so overwhelming. At least, I didn't think it was.”
“You felt it before?” he asked stupidly, not letting go of her. He felt like his hands had fused on her somehow, she was his lifeline, she was his sanity and it made no fucking sense to Inuyasha why he'd find strength just by touching her.
When she didn't answer, Inuyasha felt a bit of impatience creep into him and he welcomed the sensation. It drove away the cobwebs, it made his hands stop shaking and he felt like he could rise to his feet. Kagome didn't seem to notice as he gently helped her up, a befuddled and sick expression still in her eyes.
“What was it?” he demanded, thinking again that she might be holding out on him. She hadn't mentioned anything like that when she'd asked for Sesshomaru's help, he was damned sure she hadn't. Maybe this was the betrayal he'd been expecting; only it seemed that her own trap might affect her.
Either that or she was the most magnificent liar who'd ever been born.
Kagome shook her head, her face as pale and wan as an invalid's, but she managed to get her legs to support her as she gently pulled away from him. “I don't know,” she said quietly. “It doesn't make sense.”
“Is that your trap?” he asked, a bitter note creeping into his voice. “What are you trying to pull, priestess? What game are you trying to play with us?”
She stared at him and shook her head again. “You're paranoid,” she answered. “I told you I don't know what it was.”
The panic he'd felt was still singeing his blood, lighting his nerves with a need to make it understood. She was keeping secrets from him, he was sure that she was just like Kikyou and now was leading them all into a betrayal. Maybe the fox was even innocent, how could he know when all he understood to be true had played false in the end?
“Do you think I'm stupid?” he shouted suddenly and saw that even Rin was surprised by his outburst. Nameless fear ate at the back of his mind and with sudden clarity; something was speaking to him in whispers that he couldn't hear. It didn't matter how much she denied it, this time he wouldn't believe her.
Not this time, not this time, it was beating in his mind like a mantra. She'd almost had him believing her story, almost had him thinking that she wasn't going to run away, wasn't going to leave him…
“Leave her alone!”
Shippou's fist connected with his jaw and Inuyasha realized he had seized the priestess by her shoulders and was shaking her violently. He'd been saying something, he'd been asking her for something, something she couldn't give him, something he needed most desperately to hear.
He just wanted her to tell him the truth.
“Are you crazy?” Kagome screamed, snapping him out of his daze. Her eyes were wild; there was nothing but pure fury in her voice. “I'm telling you the truth, you miserable bastard! I don't know what it was, I didn't cause it and I for damn sure wasn't trying to trick you!”
“I…” He was at a loss for words, he didn't even know what he was trying to get her to admit to, why it meant so much. The sensation had faded and left him cold, hardly more than a shell of mysterious feelings that came and went with the wind. A mistake, he decided miserably, he'd made a terrible mistake.
“And don't you even think about saying your sorry,” the priestess said in a waspish voice of anger. “Don't you ever put your hands on me again, Inuyasha!”
He agreed. He wasn't in control himself, it had all been broken by one unexplainable rush of anguish that didn't even belong to him. Inuyasha knew that he'd been unreasonable for a moment, demanding answers from her when he had no proof that it was any part of her plan. However, it wasn't in his nature to cave in to her anger, even if it was justified and he deserved it.
“Whatever,” he said, waving away her fury like it meant nothing to him. “Keep your secrets, bitch. It won't do you a damn bit of good when the truth comes out. It won't protect you if I find out that you've been lying to Sesshomaru about the real reason you wanted me to take you to this village of yours.”
“Real reason?” she demanded, her eyes still sparkling. Anger only made her beautiful and he didn't feel like being seduced by it right now. It didn't matter if her cheeks were flushed, if her lips seemed redder and more succulent as she cursed at him. He wanted to grab her and kiss that liar's mouth as hard as he could, he wanted to rake his hands through that dark and glossy hair, pull her naked body against his and make her answer him honestly as a woman should.
Inuyasha found that he'd quite lost track of what she was screaming about. Couldn't matter anyway, if he couldn't trust that his instincts weren't being manipulated, he for damn sure couldn't believe what she had to say.
Maybe that was the reason he didn't notice it sooner, and maybe his senses were still unnerved by the eerie sensations of grief and fear, but he turned his gaze to the forest just in time to catch a flash of movement as they attacked. Snarling, he shoved Kagome to the side to slash at the man who had raised his sword, ready to swing it and take the priestess' head from her shoulders.
Shippou reacted at almost the same time Inuyasha did, grabbing Rin's shoulder and throwing the girl to the ground as he narrowly avoided a blade that had been heading right for his belly. A dozen or more humans had poured from the quiet forest, well armed and moving with the synchronized precision of a well practiced team.
“Ambush!” the kitsune cried as he spun around, kicking and punching frantically to keep the men from overpowering him. Inuyasha didn't answer, moving swiftly to slash and tear into muscled flesh. The humans seemed to be wary of his claws, keeping him at a sword length's distance, trying to surround the youkai that fought with them.
Inuyasha feinted a grab at the nearest man and drove his claws deep into the belly of the next, heard the man scream in sudden agony as vital organs were punctured and torn. His hand came away sticky with blood, but Inuyasha didn't stop to finish him off. Another man had leapt onto his back with the clear intention of dragging him to the ground. He tumbled quickly, gaining his feet with ease as he kicked his attacker in the face.
One after another, they ran at him, and sometimes they attacked in twos and threes. Inuyasha had learned at a young age what happened when you let a mob take you down. They'd beat him to death and he'd been close enough to that feeling as a young hanyou to make sure it never happened again.
Snarling, he spun around in time to see another human use a blunt club to hit Shippou in the back of the head. The kitsune dropped helplessly and he heard Rin's screech of anger when she attacked Shippou's assailant with a short knife. She hadn't had time to notch an arrow in this close fight, but the man was a bit faster than her as she made a clumsy lunge for his throat and hit her across the face. Fury flooded him and Inuyasha surged forward with every intention of tearing that bastard's heart out for hitting Rin like that.
“I said to halt, demon, or I'll slit this woman's throat!”
Inuyasha turned and saw that one of their attackers had seized Kagome, holding the priestess tightly by her hair while he pressed a blade against the soft skin of her neck. He bared his teeth at the human, showing his fangs with undisguised desire for the man's blood.
“Do it and it will be the last thing you do.”
“I understand,” the man said calmly, no fear in his voice but the sheen of sweat covered his face. “She'll still be dead, is that what you want?”
Inuyasha cast a frantic glance around him. Maybe a half dozen of them were still on their feet, Shippou and Rin unconscious or nearly. The odds weren't in his favor and Kagome would certainly die if he tried to rush them. It wasn't what he wanted, but they had him. Slowly, he dropped to his knees with his hands held out and spread to show that he wasn't going to try anything stupid.
“Good,” the man said easily, not taking his knife from Kagome's throat. “You're smart for a damn youkai, looks like you want us to keep your woman alive.”
“Let her go,” he hissed, his eyes glinting dangerously. “If you hurt her…”
The man didn't answer, but Inuyasha saw his gaze slide up to fix on a point behind him. He straightened suddenly, realizing what was coming and turned just as another human rushed up and struck him hard at his temple. For a moment, the world swam red before his eyes and then he fell forward, not unconscious from such a blow as his head was harder than most, but he felt a sick dizziness overcome him.
“Bind him with the spelled ropes,” a voice said over his head. “This one is stronger than most, only the power of a priestess can restrain him.”