InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Possession ❯ TwentyTwo ( Chapter 22 )
[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
Something cool slipped across her forehead and Kagome moaned, waking in unfamiliar pain. The back of her skull felt like it had been caved in and for a moment she was seriously afraid that she was going to be sick.
“Ah, Kagome. You are awake.”
I must be dreaming, she thought, her eyes still closed. She had to be dreaming because that was a voice that she'd never expected to hear again. Slowly, painfully, she opened her eyes. She nearly cried with relief that the room was in shadow, only the faintest light was coming from a shielded lamp set in the farthest corner. It was still enough for her to see the face of the woman who tended her, a face that had always filled her with a sense of warmth and trust in her well being.
“Kaede-sama,” she whispered. “How can you be here?”
“Hush, child,” the old woman said, her voice as calm and soothing as ever. Kagome heard the sound of water being rung from a rag and again the coolness slipped across her brow, scented with soothing herbs. “Do you feel ill? Natsu hit you much harder than he should have, but I don't think there's damage.”
Memories flooded over her, seeing the men as they attacked Inuyasha, beating him into the ground. She remembered screaming then, her own voice screaming as she tried desperately to break away from the man who'd held her. It had been sheer instinct that had driven her, a sane woman would have been afraid of the knife at her throat. But she couldn't stand the way they'd continued to strike and kick the helpless youkai, even after his body had stopped struggling, even after it was obvious that he was unconscious.
“Kaede-sama,” she said again, struggling to sit up even though the pain made her weak. “We were attacked, there were men who ambushed us. Why are you here now…”
Her voice trailed off, seeing Kaede's expression as it became closed. The woman turned away from her, lifting a small bowl and rising to take it across the room. Kagome followed her with her eyes, the realization dawning that after all these years even Kaede might have secrets. “Are…are you…” she began hesitantly.
Kaede nodded, still not quite looking at her as she began to slowly gather up packets of medicinal herbs and place them in the now empty bowl. “They brought you here,” she said quietly. “All of you.”
Rin shifted her legs under her and wished again, that if she absolutely had to be tied up they'd have had the decency to leave her in a more comfortable position. Her hands were behind her, making it impossible to rest her back against the sturdy pole. Another rope was around her midsection, just under her breasts and it kept her securely fastened to the pole, but the fool who had done the tying up had managed to leave her just a few inches too high.
The result was that she couldn't sit her bottom on the ground without feeling the ropes bite painfully into her chest. Kneeling was the only way she could position herself without pain, but her legs were going to sleep.
Grunting in what Jaken would definitely call an unladylike way, she strained against her bonds, trying to twist her bound wrists out of the way so she could lean back easier. It was no use and in frustration the girl rose up on her knees, trying to wiggle her way out of the confining ropes until a muttered curse made her stop.
“Damn it, you're pulling my hair. Just stop it, Rin. You're making it worse!”
“Shippou?” she whispered, glancing around to see if their captors had overheard them. “Are you awake now?”
“Yeah,” the kitsune answered, his voice sounding strangely heavy. His breathing sounded labored too, she decided, a little frown quirking between her brows. He groaned softly and Rin became alarmed, thinking he might be losing consciousness. Then she'd be alone again and in spite of all the fear she'd managed to suppress until now, Rin thought that she might start to panic anyway.
“Hey,” she said urgently. “Are you okay? Stay awake, Shippou!”
“I'm trying,” he muttered and Rin felt him shift against the ropes. They were back to back, both tied to a thick pole that didn't even move when she tried to shake it. She couldn't see his face but if she twisted her chin over her shoulder, she could just barely catch a glimpse of his red hair.
“It's the ropes,” Shippou said, his voice muffled. “They…hurt. They make me feel sick like I'm going to pass out. I can hardly keep my head up right now.”
“I don't feel anything,” she answered fearfully, wondering when the pain and weakness would hit her. It was scary enough without being sick too.
“Stupid,” he said and she heard a snorting sound. “It's only for demons, these ropes are cursed to make a youkai weak. You're just a human, it won't hurt you.”
Rin bit her lower lip, understanding what he meant. These people were youkai hunters, she remembered hearing Sesshomaru-sama's men talking about it. They would attack demons without warning, ambush and kill them. It didn't matter if they were lower demons, beast-like oni or monsters. These humans hid themselves in the forests, lurked near the roadways, always waiting for prey.
That was why Inuyasha had wanted to take Kagome and Shippou by river.
As if he were listening to her inner thoughts, Shippou stirred and she heard him hiss as the ropes tightened. “Rin,” he said, soft but urgent. “Did you see where they took Kagome? I don't see her…”
Of course that would be the first thing he'd worry about, Rin thought sullenly. Everyone was so concerned about Kagome, how much danger she was in, how important it was to take her…well, wherever it was. Rin could just barely remember the first time she'd seen Kagome, so many years ago. Just a pretty girl, friendly and sweet tempered. She couldn't imagine they were the same person.
“I didn't see where they took her,” she said at last. “When I woke up, I was tied here too.”
Shippou sighed heavily and shook his head, hoping to clear some of the fuzziness from his mind. All the strength was being drained from his body; he'd never felt this weak, not even as little kid. There had been rumors of these humans for months, but they weren't just defending their territory as youkai would do.
They were actively hunting for demons.
“Rin,” he said, fighting the lassitude with stubborn resolve. “This is really bad, we have to get away from here. These people, they're murderers. I've heard about what they do to demons when they capture them. I don't know what they'll do to you and Kagome for being caught with me and Inuyasha, but…”
The girl made a soft gasping sound and twisted around, trying to look at him. It made the ropes dig painfully into his body and Shippou felt a darkness rushing over him, falling into a chasm of unconsciousness and despair. He forced himself to breathe deeply, ride out the pain and just concentrate on staying awake. It would do nothing for them if he were to pass out again.
“Inuyasha,” the girl hissed urgently. “Where did they take him, I can't see where he is, Shippou!” Rin choked and Shippou heard her voice start to shake. “You…you don't think they…already…”
He had to keep her calm, if they could just keep talking it gave him something to concentrate on, keep the pain at bay. “Calm down,” he said, trying to sound reasonably confident. “I'm sure he's alive.”
“Really?” She was desperate to believe him now. “You think so?”
“They wouldn't have dragged us here and tied us if they were just going to kill us,” he answered. It sounded reasonable, why not just slaughter them and leave them in forest if that was all the hunters had planned? “We just have to hang on, Rin. We're still alive, that means something.”
“It means that you should keep your mouth shut, demon,” a rough voice sneered.
A shadow loomed over them and Rin held her breath, unwilling to show fear in front of their captors. Instead she glared up at him defiantly, her chin raised and her eyes glittering. She recognized him as being one of the band that had attacked them, the long scar down the right side of his face was hard to mistake. Dark eyes looked into hers, obvious in their contempt. Rin thought that she had never been looked at with so much hatred and felt her cheeks start to burn in response.
“So,” the man drawled, walking around to tower over Shippou. “A kitsune and a little girl. Traveling with a bastard dog and a false priestess. The gods haven't been kind to us today, took five of my men's lives to bring you in.”
“Bring us in?” Shippou asked, not bothering to hide the sarcasm in his voice. “What's that supposed to mean?”
Leaning down, the man flicked the tip of his finger across the bridge of Shippou's nose. “You don't ask the questions here, brat. I wouldn't have bothered with a young one like you, no fun unless you count the screaming you're gonna make for us later.”
“I'm not afraid of you,” the fox whispered, his claws twitching against the hateful ropes. “Untie me and let's fight one on one. Or are you so afraid of me that you won't let me loose of this spell?”
He'd expected the man to react with anger, maybe hit him for it, but he wasn't prepared when the human threw back his head with a harsh, mocking laugh. “Did you hear that, men?” he called over his shoulder. “The lad wants a chance to fight.”
“Unless you're scared,” Shippou shot back as more men came to stand around them. “I won't even use demon magic on the likes of you.”
At the mention of magic, the amusement slid away from their captors' faces. There was a dark murmur and then he heard a voice call out in sudden alarm. “Gag the beast, Natsu! Don't give him a chance to use his tricks!”
Chuckling again, but only hatred in his eyes, the man called Natsu shrugged. He pulled out a short knife and made a show of feeling the edge. “I'm so scared of you, little fox demon,” he said, menace and anger now filling his voice to the point where it sounded choked. “I don't think gagging you would be enough. I'll have to cut out your tongue.”
“No!” Rin screamed, kicking wildly with her legs when the men started to close in around them. Shippou bared his teeth and snarled, unable to defend himself any other way as two sturdy humans clamped their hands on his head, trying to pry apart his jaw. Rin's frantic shrieks of fury were suddenly cut off when one of the men backhanded her hard, slamming her head into the pole.
“Keep that little witch quiet,” Natsu muttered, leaning over Shippou again. “We'll have to see what the boss wants done with her. He doesn't want us killing humans, but I won't keep a demon's whore in our village.”
“I'm not anyone's whore!” Rin cried, almost spitting at him with her anger. She glared at each of the human in pure defiance, trying to shame them. “They are my friends, not a bunch of cowards like you!”
“Shut up, Rin,” Shippou hissed as the men's faces darkened at her challenge. On Natsu's face, something less pleasant than anger was evolving, a look of malice and predatory amusement.
“On the other hand,” Natsu grinned, looking down at the enraged Shippou. “She's a pretty little thing, seems kind of wasteful just to let her go.”
Shippou took a deep breath and put all the fury into his voice, keeping it as low and venomous as possible. “You touch one hair on her head and you won't live long enough to regret it.”
Natsu smirked, gesturing at his men with his knife. “Brat doesn't give up,” he said. “Maybe we won't kill this one, boys. Maybe we'll just cut the tendons in his legs and make him a pet. With his tongue cut out, he'll behave properly as an animal should.”
“You will do no such thing,” a new voice said calmly. The men instantly backed away from their leader, bowing their heads respectfully. Shippou noticed that Natsu was one who did not bow, instead looking irritated that the elderly priestess had interrupted him.
“Kaede-sama,” he said evenly.
The old woman didn't flinch from his gaze or the hard tone of his voice. “You did not bring them here for the purpose of torture,” she said. “He won't be happy if I have to tell him that you've again overstepped your bounds.”
Natsu smiled unpleasantly, slipping his knife back into his belt. “Our boss says that we must kill every demon we find, he won't mind if sometimes the killing is slower than others.”
“And this girl?” Kaede's hard gaze roved over Natsu and the men who had backed away. “Do you think he will forgive you for harming her? If you think I'm wrong, by all means continue.”
“Kaede,” Shippou whispered, shocked. He was stunned to see that she was still alive after all this time, but her demeanor had changed. The priestess he remembered would never sound so cold or calm about what was happening.
With a snort of disgust, Natsu turned away. “We're executing the fox and the dog at dusk,” he said bitterly. “Too quick a death for the likes of them, but have it your way. The boss will decide about the women, I don't really care.”
“Executing?” Rin asked, staring up at Kaede in horror.
“I do not make excuses for Natsu,” the old woman answered in a heavy voice, still not quite looking at Rin or Shippou. “His young wife and infant son were murdered by demons, the pain of their loss has made him vicious.”
“Kaede-sama,” Shippou burst out, straining against the ropes that held him. A pulse of power moved through him and left him gasping. He realized now what priestess must have cursed these ropes to be able to constrain a youkai's strength. “Don't you remember me?”
Moving slowly as if her body pained her, Kaede turned to leave, leaning heavily on a thick walking stick. “You are Shippou,” she murmured, nodding sadly. “I knew you when you were a child. It grieves me to see you again like this.”
Rin rose up on her knees, grunting a little as she twisted her body to face the elderly priestess. “Aren't you going to help us?” she asked, her tone soft and making her sound even younger. “Didn't you used to be their friend?”
When Kaede didn't answer, Shippou laughed, the sound bitter and dry. This was something unexpected, but he understood why she wasn't going to help them. His father had told him why when he was just a child, but he didn't believe it then. Kouga had told him the same thing later and he hadn't wanted to believe him either.
Humans and youkai were not meant to live together in peace.
They could never be friends.
Between their two races, there could only be war. It was survival, something a kitsune should have been brought up to know instinctively. It was kill or be killed and Kaede, for reasons of her own, had chosen to side with her own kind. That was why she was here now, with the very humans that had ambushed them without warning.
For the survival of what she held dear…
The small hut was dim, but she didn't really want to open her eyes again. The pain had faded away to a dull ache, but Kagome continued to rest on the thin pallet, thinking. She had assumed that Kaede had long since passed away, if not from violence then from natural causes. She had been old and not in the best of health ten years ago and Kagome was well acquainted with the hardships of this era.
Maybe it was just that the changes in Kaede were a bitter mirror for the way that she herself had changed. And that was a dark mirror that Kagome didn't want to peer too deeply into, whatever the cost. She sat up slowly, her hair hanging in her face and crouched over the tight pain her chest. It was an old injury, one that didn't have any visible scars, but it had never really healed.
She started, surprised by the soft voice and turned to face a young girl. Nervously, the child looked down at her feet and twisted her hands behind her back. Kagome smiled a little bit, wondering what the girl would think if she tried again to protest that she was not a priestess.
“Yes,” she said kindly, thinking that it was probably better to try and pretend that she was on friendly terms.
The girl looked relieved and straightened slightly. “Kaede-sama said that I should see if you're hungry. If you wish, I will bring you something to eat.”
She decided she'd had enough rest and stood up, brushing her hair back over her shoulder. She'd lost the scrap of the cloth she'd been using to tie it with and the loose waves felt heavy on her back. Her usually sleek and sophisticated style had fallen to an unruly mass the way it always did without careful grooming.
Another inconvenience of feudal life, she thought wryly.
“Thank you,” she told the girl as she brushed at the wrinkles on her white sleeves. “You don't need to wait on me, I'm capable of serving myself if you'll just show me where to go.”
“But…Kaede-sama said I was to attend you,” the girl stammered. Her small face was pale and anxious under her tanned complexion. “You shouldn't leave the hut.”
Kagome's mouth quirked in amusement. “Don't worry,” she said with a reassuring smile. “I can take care of myself.”
As soon as she lifted the thick tarp that served the hut for a door, she knew why the girl hadn't wanted her go outside. The sun was just beginning to set, lighting the scene before her in streaks of crimson. Shadows crept across the sky, stark contrast to the dying sunlight that painted the huddle of battered looking huts with touches of gold and red. In the center of the small village, she could see two sturdy posts, but there was a crowd of people around one of them.
“Shippou,” she called out, seeing her kitsune friend tied to one of the posts. He was kneeling, his body leaning forward as if she would have fallen on his face if the ropes hadn't held him secure. He raised his head at the sound of her voice, a frantic look in his eyes and he shook his head wildly when she came running to his side.
“Kagome!” he shouted, grimacing as if a sudden pain filled him. She stopped short at the urgency in his voice. “Kagome, stay away!”
“What?” She spun around, looking for answers and found Rin's frightened eyes. The girl had been gagged, but tears were streaking her face and she struggled weakly against the man that was holding her back. Rin's hands were tied in front of her but she kept trying to squirm away from her captor. Anger flooded Kagome's body at seeing them bound and mistreated like this and she advanced on the man holding Rin.
“Let her go,” she snarled, her hands balling into fists. “You have no right to treat them like this!”
“Kagome.” Kaede's calm voice stopped her and she turned to look at the elderly priestess. “I am sorry, I had hoped that you might be spared this.”
“What the hell is going on?” she demanded, holding Kaede's gaze with her own. The crowd of people parted to let the old woman hobble towards her, leaning heavily on her walking stick. Kagome's face suddenly flushed as she realized that Kaede had probably given her something to make her sleep.
It made no sense, she'd explained to her old friend why she was here, how she'd fallen down the well and not been able to return home. She'd told her about how she'd met Shippou, about how they'd encountered Inuyasha in the forest and that his memories of their travels together had mysteriously vanished. How she had confronted Sesshomaru and asked for his help, taking the chance that Inuyasha might be able to open the well for her.
Then she'd felt suddenly tired, weak almost, and had lain back down to rest her eyes.
The last thing she remembered was Kaede's hand on her forehead, murmuring something about how it would be taken care of, how things would be settled. She had been a fool, she hadn't asked about her companions and years ago that would have been the first thing on her mind. Instead she'd babbled everything to Kaede with the trust of the child she had been, trusting again in the older woman's wisdom and compassion.
“Kaede, what's going on here?” she asked in a low voice, fighting against the nameless dread that was creeping over her like a chill shroud. “You…you told me that you'd help me, you said that we'd find a way…”
The old woman sighed, her face pulled into tired lines of grief. “It is our way, child,” she said gently. “I have no choice. These people have suffered so much, sacrificed so much, and I am old. If you knew what we had been through…”
Kagome shook her head wildly, her hair flapping around her shoulders like a cloak of despair. “Why is Rin gagged? Why do you have Shippou trussed up like that? Kaede, you know me! You know Shippou, he's no threat to you.”
Kaede met her eyes steadily. “What about Inuyasha? Is he a threat to humans? I would think that you, Kagome, would know that better than anyone.”
Her face turned red, thinking about how much Kaede knew about her. Was that why the elderly priestess looked at her with such distrust? Her lower lip caught between her teeth, Kagome dropped her eyes. The weight of Kaede's unspoken accusation made her want to crumble. It had been her weakness that had caused the destruction of Kaede's village, if she had only been strong enough then…
Slowly, she turned away from Kaede, turned away from her own dark past. The villagers, silent and accusing, parted in front of her. It shook her that even Kaede would be turned by bitterness, in the end as vulnerable as a teenage girl. Somehow she'd trusted, deep in secret places of her heart, that Kaede would always be understanding and compassionate.
Shippou was about to be executed. These people killed demons just for being demons, because they were a threat.
Why hadn't she heard Inuyasha's voice? Was she already too late to say…goodbye? Not wanting to look if that was the case, she forced herself to turn and raise her eyes.
He was tied to a post just like Shippou, the only difference being that he had three times as much rope holding him. She blinked, realizing suddenly that those ropes were meant to constrain his youki and make him utterly helpless. Sickened, she remembered the rosary that had bound them together for so long, how its power had restrained him and all the times she'd used it just because…just because she could.
Because that was when she'd had the power to control him.
No wonder he'd lied to her. No wonder he'd hated her in the end. To be reduced like that, it must have been unbearable and the wedge that had stood between them. As soon as he'd had enough power, taken from the cursed and evil jewel, he'd broken it with his own hand and turned on her.
“Inuyasha?” she asked softly, approaching him. He didn't answer, his head hanging limply as the breeze stirred his hair. That's when she noticed how much blood was on the ground, the way it stained the ropes around his body. Shivering, feeling a nightmare clawing at the back of her mind, she reached out to touch his face. “Inuyasha?”
He was still alive and she let out the breath she'd been holding in a slow hiss. Inuyasha's face was a mess, he was badly bruised and someone had cut into him, leaving long, open gashes where his facial markings were. They'd stabbed him through the ropes as well, that was where all the blood had come from. He was completely bound from shoulders to hips with the spelled ropes, resting on his knees as if he'd somehow been begging for mercy even while unconscious.
“What have you done to him?” she cried, spinning around and glaring at them accusingly. “Have you been torturing him, what kind of monsters are you? He's helpless, he can't even defend himself!”
“He is a demon.”
She instantly recognized the man's voice, searching out his scarred face in the crowd. Natsu's eyes were hard as he glared back at the priestess, a long knife in his hand. “We execute demons,” he said coldly. “I respect Kaede-sama for her wisdom, but we would be fools to let these youkai live and risk their attacks later.”
“We didn't attack anyone,” Kagome protested hotly, feeling the angry eyes of the other villagers upon her. “Shippou would never hurt a human, you're making a mistake!”
Natsu reached out to seize her arm before she could react and dragged her away from Inuyasha. “Hey,” she said, digging in her heels and trying to break his hold. “What do you think you're doing? Take your hand off of me!”
The people parted silently as Natsu dragged the priestess forward and flung her hard to the ground. “No threat to you?” he demanded sarcastically as she glared up at him. “All demons are a threat, all demons are monsters that must be exterminated to protect the innocent. If someone had thought this way, if someone had come to show us this way years ago, my family might still be alive.”
“But it wasn't these demons that killed them,” Kagome hissed, sitting up on her knees to look around her. “How can you just murder…”
“It's not murder, they are demons!” Natsu shouted. He reached out and grabbed her by the hair, yanking the woman to her feet. “I was a farmer until my family was driven from our home by inuyoukai soldiers. It seemed the lord of the West didn't like having humans in his territory, land that he claimed for himself without ever considering the people that had lived there for generations.”
“Are you telling me that Sesshomaru killed your family?” she asked, a bit befuddled. Somehow even knowing Inuyasha's brother as she did, she found it hard to believe. Humans were less than nothing to him; she could see him driving them out of his territory. She couldn't see him ordering the deaths of innocent and helpless humans. Not the same demon that took offense because she'd questioned his honor.
“Not directly,” Natsu said in a tight, hateful voice. “We left as we were told and came here, to this forest. I had thought we might find some kind of refuge, to hide and survive until we could find a new place to live. We wanted to be left in peace, but one night a horde of demons set upon us and my wife and son were among those killed.”
“And so for revenge you tortured Inuyasha?” Kagome folded her arms over her breasts and glared at him in disgust. “I feel for your loss, for all of your losses, but this is wrong.”
“Not for revenge,” Natsu said coldly. “But for justice. We cut him to make sure that he isn't just pretending to be unconscious.”
Kagome raked her hand through her hair and closed her eyes. She wasn't lying; she did feel for Natsu and the other humans. She knew first hand the kind of devastation a hungry monster could wreak upon helpless villagers. And she wasn't unsympathetic to their perspective. She knew how it felt to be that helpless, to be ready to die for just a chance to get justice. There was a time when thoughts of revenge were all that kept her alive, when she might have asked Natsu for his knife so that she could taste a bit of justice herself.
Now thoughts like that left her cold and empty, a dry shell of the girl she had been. Naïve and stupidly trusting, yes she had been that. But she had also been the one who asked for mercy for those who didn't deserve it. And even in their darkest days of pursuing Naraku, it hadn't been hatred or vengeance that drove her forward. It had been love and a need to stop the pain and destruction that had spun out like a whirlwind from the jewel that she had shattered.
It was time for her to remember who she really was. And do better.
“I can't let you do this,” she said quietly. “I won't stand by and let you murder Shippou and Inuyasha. I know that they are youkai, but I refuse to believe that makes them guilty just by being alive.”
“Fine,” Natsu said easily. Kagome was surprised when he lowered his blade, smiling a little. She hadn't expected him to give in, not without a lot more argument. She was relieved; this didn't have to turn into a bloodbath.
“Hold her back, boys.”
“What?” Kagome cried as two men rushed forward to seize her arms. Natsu grinned, stepping close to her and flicking the tip of her nose with his finger. “You can die right along with them. Our boss doesn't want us to kill humans, even if they conspire with demons, but a demon's whore like you won't be missed. I'll take responsibility for it.”
“Natsu.” Kaede's voice brought a chill to the air and Kagome saw the pain in her face as she moved forward slowly. “You will not harm her. Kagome is…Kagome is right. She has committed no crime and she has also suffered more than you know. I will not stand by silently any longer.”
“Kaede-sama,” Natsu growled softly, glaring at her. “I thought you were resolved, I thought our boss had convinced you. Are you changing your mind to side with these demons?”
The elderly priestess shook her head. “Not at all. I still believe that our best path is to defend ourselves by destroying those who would destroy us. But these women are not our enemy. We should let them go.”
She nodded to the men who held Kagome and after a moment, they both released her. Kagome rubbed her arms, grimacing where their hands had left bruises. She knew she'd been right, Kaede had just needed to see for herself what was happening, to be reminded of the way she had been.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
Kaede met her eyes soberly. “Don't thank me yet,” she murmured, gestured for the man holding Rin to untie her. “I said that you and Rin were not our enemy, Kagome. And Shippou has never once harmed a human. I cannot say the same for Inuyasha. I know you say that he doesn't remember what happened, but he is responsible for the deaths of many innocent people.”
“No,” Kagome said, shaking her head. “You don't mean that. Whatever he did, it's in the past now. He's not even the same person I knew before he used the jewel, Kaede. It would still be murder.”
“And it is a burden I must bear,” the old woman said in a tired voice. “Just as the burden of his destructive madness is in part my fault. I trusted him as well, Kagome. I should have foreseen what could happen.”
Rin had pulled the gag from her mouth and rushed to start untying Shippou. As soon as the ropes dropped away from his body, the kitsune was able to stand, a light coming back to his green eyes. Fury like he'd never felt filled his blood, his energy rushing back into his body like a torrent of power.
“Everyone just calm down,” Kagome said, her voice ringing out as she saw the humans grab up weapons. Shippou looked pissed enough to take them all on, but at least Rin had enough sense to stop him. “We're going, we can't fight this many.”
“But what about Inuyasha?” Rin cried out. She made a wild run at where the youkai was still tied unconscious to the post, only to be stopped by Shippou. His arm went around her waist, instinctively separating her from the other humans. She fought against him, crying as she tried to reach Inuyasha's side. Kagome reached for her, trying to calm the frantic girl. She could feel the villagers' anger and fear like a palpable force. They had to go, and now, before things turned even more ugly.
“We can't just leave him like this,” Rin pleaded, clutching at Kagome's hands. “They're going to kill him!”
Kagome met Shippou's eyes and nodded slowly. “I don't think we have any choice, Rin,” he muttered. “They'll kill us all if we don't leave. Inuyasha…wouldn't want us to die for him.”
“He wouldn't leave us either!”
Painfully, Kagome realized it was true. Inuyasha would have never abandoned her. Never. Even now, with no clear memory of who she really was, he wouldn't have abandoned her. But to stay meant certain death for her, Shippou and Rin. Kagome wasn't prepared to sacrifice their lives as well.
“No,” Rin whimpered, struggling again to get away from Shippou's tight grip. Kagome put her hand on the girl's cheek and looked deep into her angry, grieving eyes.
“Trust me,” she said quietly.
“You only care about saving your own skin,” Rin hissed hatefully. “You make me sick!” She lunged forward at Kagome, spitting in her face. Shippou growled softly and dug his fingers into the furious girl's arm.
“She's trying to save you too,” he said, his voice low and fast. “I trust Kagome, we don't have any choice. They won't get away with it, you have to go home and tell Sesshomaru what happened.”
Kagome saw clearly what he meant and groaned inwardly. Sesshomaru was going to be enraged that his brother had been murdered. Once Rin returned to fortress and told him about these people, he would probably retaliate. Her eyes roamed over the crowd, seeing women and children clinging to their husbands and fathers. Not everyone in this village was a youkai hunter, most were just refugees that had been driven from their homes by war.
Searching for some kind of way out of this mess, her eyes fell upon a battered scabbard that had been casually tossed to the side. It did look like a piece of junk, but an idea slowly evolved in her mind.
I will always protect you!
She straightened her shoulders and faced the crowd fearlessly, deliberately not meeting Natsu's angry eyes, instead settling her gaze upon Kaede. “I understand,” she said softly. “Thank you for sparing Shippou. We will go now.”
Kagome slowly walked towards the forest, leading Shippou and the distraught Rin. She kept her eyes focused on the forest, it was very nearly full dark and the only light was the communal fire that was burning in the middle of the village. She was only a few feet away from that scabbard blade, trying to draw courage from just looking at it.
I will always protect you!
Damned if she was going to let it end this way!
As they approached the tree line, Kagome put her hand on Shippou's arm. “If you trust me,” she said in a low, taut voice, “you'll do exactly what I tell you.”
The kitsune stared at her, confused. “Of course I trust you,” he whispered over Rin's head. “What are you…”
“When I say so, you take Rin and you run into the forest. Keep running; don't stop until you're safely out of their reach. Go to the old village, I'll meet you there if I can. If I don't come, make sure that you get Rin safely home. Then tell Sesshomaru and Kouga what happened. It's the best I can give them.”
“What?” Rin breathed, stopping to stare at the other woman. “What are you going to do?”
Kagome smiled grimly. “The best I can.”
She didn't let herself think about it, suddenly tearing away from them and running back to the center of the village. “Run, Shippou,” she shouted, hoping that just for once he'd do what she asked and not question her. She didn't look back to make sure.
“Hey, what are you doing?”
She ignored the shouts as she stormed back into the village, knowing that if she let them stop her now, she had no hope at all. Her heart was hammering in her chest and she knew that she probably wasn't going to live through what she was about to try. She was a fool to sacrifice herself like this, for Inuyasha, for the man who had done more than any other living creature to hurt her.
If she hadn't been so scared, she might have laughed at the irony. Or cried in despair, because even after everything that had happened, she just could not let go of him. She thought she'd healed and moved on, maybe she had, maybe she'd just learned a new path for self-destruction. But she wasn't going to leave him behind, not like this. The Inuyasha who had risked everything for her once up on a time deserved better than to die alone at the hands of men gone mad with hatred.
One hand wrapped around the ancient scabbard, the other found Rin's bow. She knew that she couldn't use Tessaiga, but she wouldn't leave the sword here either. If they were about to die, she was going to make sure it stayed with Inuyasha. He might not remember it, but she remembered it for him.
She saw Natsu running towards her, the glitter of his knife in her eyes. Kagome forgot that she was just an ordinary woman, forgot that she didn't know anything about fighting. It had been a long time, but her body suddenly woke up and she instinctively used the sheathed Tessaiga as a club.
Chest heaving from her headlong run, Kagome planted herself in front of Inuyasha. Defiantly, she threw Tessaiga at her feet as if the ancient katana would create a barrier between her and the enemy. As if she'd never been out of practice, she had an arrow notched in her bow. To her utter surprise, the tip of the arrow started to glow.
“What's that light? Kaede-sama, you must stop her!”
I am not afraid anymore. I can't forgive you, Inuyasha, but I can't let you die either. Not when it would haunt me for the rest of my life. I've already given you too much; I won't carry the guilt for your death as well!
“This ends now!” she shouted, her hands steady as she saw the men raising their swords and spears. Any moment, they would attack and she might be cut down by their vengeful anger. It didn't matter, she would convince them to let Inuyasha go or she would die here, but her conscience would be clean. And she so badly wanted to stop hating herself.
Kaede stepped forward, her old face drawn in sadness. “Kagome,” she murmured. “Please understand, this is not your time to die.”
“I hope not,” Kagome answered softly. A tear slipped down her cheek as she pointed the arrow at Kaede. “I'm so sorry, Kaede. I can't…I can't just let you kill him. I know what he's done, but I won't abandon him now. He wouldn't abandon me.”
“He betrayed you, Kagome,” Kaede said, still advancing slowly. “He hurt you, he raped you, and he very nearly killed you. Don't waste your life for Inuyasha. He doesn't deserve it.”
“Maybe not,” she answered. “But I'm tired of running away from the person I used to be.” She raised her eyes and looked at the villagers, men that were ready to attack her. “Don't come any closer, I won't let you kill him.”
“Don't.” Her voice was rough. “I don't want to kill you, Kaede. Just let him go.”
The tip of the arrow was glowing. It seemed to grow brighter, filling Kagome with a strange peace and resolve. The girl she had been would have never pointed her weapon at another human, the woman she had become couldn't see any other way.
“Kagome, that's enough. You don't have to kill anyone.”
A hand fell on her shoulder, startled her so much she very nearly dropped her bow. She looked up at him in confusion, her hands trembling as she tried to keep the string taut. “Inuyasha?”
The ropes lay on the ground where he'd shredded them. Dried blood marked his cheeks, making him look savage. The look in his eyes promised violence and she caught her breath when he smiled at the crowd. She knew that smile; she'd seen it in her nightmares. She hadn't tried to save him for this.
“You miserable bastards,” he said, his mouth twisted in disgust. “You call yourself hunters of youkai but you're nothing but thugs. You'd kill a woman for defending her companions, but you're cowering with fear now. I can smell it in the air. Did you think your fucking spell could keep me bound?”
The frightened villagers started to back away as he stepped forward, fangs glinting in the firelight. “Did you think I'd let you execute me?” he snarled, cracking his knuckles like he'd been waiting for this moment. “I'm bored with waiting for you to make your move. It's time to get things started.”
He'd never been bound by the spell!
Kagome swallowed hard, realizing that he'd just been faking it, waiting for his chance to attack. They'd been caught by surprise, but Inuyasha had allowed them to take him prisoner, take them back to their village. So that he could take them out more efficiently. After all, they had attacked him first and he was a demon. What else did they expect to happen?
He'd been planning to kill them all, just waiting for the chance when the risks would be minimized. When her and Rin would be out of the way, when Shippou would be able to defend them. When they wouldn't be able to stop him.
“Oh my god,” Kagome muttered, closing her eyes. “What have I done?”