InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Possession ❯ TwentyEight ( Chapter 28 )
[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
He was so cold; it felt like his body had been carved from ice. His limbs were stiff, even the tiny movements of breathing made him ache. Inuyasha's head was full of black fire, but this fire couldn't warm him. He'd never feel warmth again, not from the sun…not from the touch of a woman's hand.
If this was death, his battered brain mused, at least it was quiet.
Pick up the sword.
Except for that voice that didn't seem to be a voice at all, he could hear it in the marrow of his bones; he knew that this voice would follow him all the way to hell. It was soft, it was loud, it was insidious and had rousted him painfully from oblivion. He longed to sink back into nothingness, let his body and mind slide away forever. Just to find some kind of…peace.
Damn it, he thought, the tingle of anger starting to rise inside him. If I'm fucking dead, then let me be fucking dead!
Open your eyes, Inuyasha.
Silence seemed to stretch forever, binding him to eternity with a rope of nothingness. He was floating freely now, his body numb and light. Almost he could feel his flesh falling away, letting his soul rise even higher. It would be so easy to just let go, quit fighting…forget about her.
Without really meaning to, Inuyasha opened his eyes.
He found himself standing at a scene of bloodshed. Around him lay the bodies of twenty or so humans, bandits by the look of them. Some had been crudely beheaded, most looked like they'd been torn apart. It was eerily quiet, that's when he realized that he couldn't hear anything. He noticed the faces of the human women, most of them were crying, but oddly enough, he couldn't hear them.
He reached up to touch one of his ears, but his searching fingers couldn't find them. Bemused, he glanced down and saw dark hair tangled around very human looking fingers…
What the hell? He could remember when he'd been a hanyou, turning human on the night of the new moon…but that hadn't happened to him for years.
Movement at the edge of his vision made him turn around, still feeling strangely disconnected and he saw that there was still a battle going on. A tall figure in white against a wild looking creature in red and with a gasp that he only heard in his mind, he realized he knew one of them.
The next thing he knew, he was running towards his brother. His feet made no sound as he ran across the bloodied ground, but he felt each footfall jarring in his ankles and his knees. He ran faster, but it seemed like the earth itself was stretching out before him. Inuyasha tried to shout, tried to draw his brother's attention but Sesshomaru ignored him, focusing on his fight against…
Inuyasha stopped suddenly, staring. His heart was battering against his chest, a fast, staccato beat he could feel, his pulse racing and pounding in his temples. It hurt, this panic, this dreadful, awful feeling of sheer terror. Somehow, he had to reach his brother, had to make him stop…
There was a flash of light and he found himself standing over his own body. Yes…he knew himself now, staring down at the wide, crimson eyes of his unconscious demon self. He couldn't look away from the blood, his own and that of humans. It was all over the place, staining the white hair, the pale face of his own nightmare.
Was this what had happened to him? Was this what he couldn't remember? In the midst of some butchery, Sesshomaru had come to stop him. His brother's face was expressionless, stepping forward with a long and deadly blade in his hand, intent on putting an end to this abomination of a hanyou lost in the terror of his raging demon blood.
Just as he was certain he was about to witness his own execution, helpless and confused, a girl rushed forward to throw her body in Sesshomaru's path. Inuyasha felt a shiver go down his spine as the girl raised her head to scream at his older brother. He couldn't hear her words, but with a long, dreamlike fascination he stared down at her, watching as her soft mouth opened and closed, the tears on her cheeks. He knew her…he knew her from somewhere…
He heard her name in his own mind and stiffened in shock as she crouched over him. She was defending him…against Sesshomaru? Confusion made him dizzy and weak, sickened suddenly as he watched as his brother put away his sword.
Kagome…you should have let him kill me. Maybe then I never would have hurt you.
Sesshomaru was saying something, his expression disdainful as his mouth opened and closed around words Inuyasha couldn't hear. Whatever he said had an unexpected effect on the girl as she suddenly sat up, holding a sheathed blade in her hands. With a sudden jolt, he recognized Tessaiga.
That old thing…
Anticipation was making him tremble, his body, human or ghost, he did not know. All he knew was that he should know what was going to happen…some kind of dread was upon him and he couldn't look away, staring into his own transformed face as the girl…she was hardly more than a child really, leaned over him to press the hilt into his bloodstained hands.
Whatever was going to happen, he wouldn't be there to see it. A howling darkness appeared around him, whisking away the image of Kagome, tearing apart the landscape, the blood, the fear…and then…everything went black.
Take the sword!
Exhaustion made her legs tremble and Kagome felt so weak that for a moment, she didn't know if she were going to collapse or vomit. She'd done both, not long after she'd run away from Inuyasha. Stumbling through the thick forest until she'd fallen to her knees, trying to gasp for air and fight the nausea that was rising in her like a thousand red-hot needles in her gut. Her mind was in chaos and she didn't know how to calm herself.
I love you.
“No,” she whispered, trembling violently as the memory of his confession made her retch in reaction. Why had it hurt so much? Why had those simple words from his lips made her entire body almost destroy itself in an effort to escape them? After being sick, she wiped her mouth on her sleeve and pulled her knees up so she could rest her burning forehead against them.
At first, Kagome had fully expected he'd come after her, there had to be some kind of repercussion for her rejection. The monster he'd been would have torn after her, ready to pound her defenseless flesh into the ground. After all, how many times had he forced those same words from her?
In the midst of passion, when she'd been the most undone and helpless, he'd made her say them to him. Over and over, knowing the words were no less true just because he compelled them from her. When she'd give in to him…that's when he'd reward her with pleasure until she trembled with shame.
Kagome took a deep breath, leaning against the nearest tree for support. Yes, that was why…those words had become bitter as bile on her tongue. It shocked her, how completely he'd managed to own her in just those few short weeks after he'd changed. He'd ruled her with fear during the days; his outbursts, screaming at voices that it seemed only he could hear. Coming home to her after some unimaginable crime. But at night…
For the first time in years, Kagome forced herself to relive the memories. He always seemed to be fighting some battle within himself, as if moment to moment he couldn't decide if he should kill her and be done with it. In the darkness, when she was too sore and too tired to sleep, she'd hear him muttering and cursing in his dreams. And beside her his body would strain and shudder, twisting somewhere inside him while she was helpless to act.
And now she had to close her eyes against the memories that wanted to burn so bright they made her ache…he'd turn to her in the night sometimes, still sleeping and hold her tightly against him. There was desperation in those embraces, so much pain that she was breathless from fear, but on those nights she'd put her head on his shoulder and let him hold her.
Because it wasn't about sex, and nor was it about threats and fear. She let him hold her because she was all he had, maybe all he'd ever had, and she just couldn't abandon him.
You wish that you could save him…
“Stupid,” she muttered, grasping a rock between her fingers and squeezing hard. She hurled the rock against the nearest tree, watched it bounce off the bark like it was nothing. It was nothing, just her anger and her regret. And in the beginning, she'd been sure she would save him from himself. Kagome snorted, wiped her nose on the back of her fist. Who was she to save anyone?
Now she was probably too damaged to love anyone again, too far gone down the road she'd made, a road of ambition and self-hatred. She'd done so well, burying the pain until she could pretend it had gone away. All the while, she'd lied and seduced and torn her heart out. Always believing that if Inuyasha was still alive, sealed somewhere in the past, there was no way he'd ever need her again.
How wrong was that, she thought, a wry smile crossing her face for just a moment. Inuyasha…no longer insane or vicious, somehow without her he'd managed to grow beyond the damage of the sacred jewel. The hanyou boy she'd fallen so in love with was gone forever, living only in her memory now, but a man had replaced him.
A man who had just offered her his love, his protection and for all she knew he meant it. Kagome sighed heavily, pressing her forehead against her hands while she tried to regain some composure. So he'd meant it, so what? Hadn't she just proven her true feelings to him? He had to have no doubt of her now, or of her hatred. The problem was…it just wasn't true.
She could hate the Inuyasha who'd almost killed her, she could hate the bastard who'd tormented her mentally and fucked her half-insane. She could loathe him for lying to her, for deceiving her about how he'd wanted the jewel for himself. That doubt had always been somewhere between them, a chasm they could not cross and symbolized by a string of battered stones.
That rosary had become the bond between them and also everything that had kept them apart.
She'd reacted instinctively to protect herself, rejected his love just as she'd never been able to reject his desire.
Kagome was starting to wonder which one of them was worse. Inuyasha for losing himself to the jewel, or her for destroying herself because she just couldn't live with the fucking guilt…
Groaning, Kagome got to her feet and felt old. Old and tired, weak and used up like a tissue that was ready to be thrown away. It was too late for either of them, she decided sadly, forcing herself to find the path home. As she made her way through the forest, not even questioning the instinct that guided her back to wolf youkai tribe, she knew that she was already mourning for Inuyasha.
And worse, she was mourning for herself and the fucked up hell she'd made of her life.
Growling, Shippou struggled against the ropes that bound his wrists. He stumbled once or twice, only to be hauled back up on his feet by an irritated Natsu. The last time he'd been ready, kicking hard at the man's groin and getting a sharp cuff on the ear for his troubles.
“Quit squirming, you little rat,” Natsu snarled as he dragged the angry kitsune through the forest. “I'm gonna put a knife in your ribs if you don't settle down!”
“Screw you,” Shippou snapped, twisting away from the man again. Natsu grabbed him hard by the back of his hair and forced him to his knees. Shippou glowered up at him, furious.
“Just go ahead and kill me already,” he said, baring his teeth with a low growl. “What are you waiting for, get it over with!”
Natsu grinned at him and yanked hard on Shippou's hair until the furious fox gasped in pain. “Who said I was gonna kill you, miserable demon?” Then the human laughed harshly and pulled him to his feet again. “You should be so fucking lucky as to be killed.”
Shippou planted his feet, resisting stubbornly even when Natsu's hand nearly tore the hair from his scalp. “What do you mean I'd be lucky?” he demanded. “Where the hell are you taking me?”
He gasped when Natsu hit him hard in the gut, knocking the wind out of his questions. “My boss wants to see you. When he's done with his questions, maybe you'll realize why you'd be better off dead.”
Kagome wiped the sweat from her forehead and the back of her neck, wishing again she had something to use for tying up her hair. Ayame smiled at her, gesturing for her to come closer. “Did you enjoy your walk?”
She stopped, searching the wolf demon's face for any indication of what Shippou had probably told her. Finding none, she sighed deeply. Apparently she didn't know, or at least she was hiding it well. But she couldn't see any deception or censure in Ayame's expression, or in Rin's friendly smile.
It seemed that Shippou hadn't told them after all.
“Yes,” she said slowly, going to sit between them. She smiled faintly, glad that at least she wasn't going to have to face awkward questions. “I feel better now.”
“Really?” Rin asked, her brow furrowing with concern. “You look very pale.”
“I'm fine,” she said, wishing they'd just drop it. Damn what a mess, she didn't know what she was going to say to Shippou, or if it would even make a difference. She couldn't explain what she'd done or her feelings, but he deserved something from her. For too long she'd let her own desires rule her actions, never answering for the mistakes she'd made. No, she'd never even thought about the people she'd hurt, as long as she got what she wanted.
This had to end now. Before she lost the nerve.
“Is Shippou back yet?” she asked, resting her face in her palm. Ayame frowned, moving closer and touched Kagome's shoulder with a gentle hand.
“I haven't seen him since early this morning,” she answered. “Kouga told me that he was going into the forest to keep an eye out for…intruders.”
“For Inuyasha, you mean,” Kagome said bluntly, surprising Ayame as she raised her head to meet the wolf demon's green eyes. “Damn it, Kouga should have known better than to let him go.”
Ayame's expression hardened a little at her implied criticism, but Kagome impulsively reached for her hand, squeezing it. “That's not what I meant,” she explained, knowing that Ayame couldn't understand why. “Kouga wouldn't have let him go if he thought there was anything to be concerned about, am I right?”
Ayame bit her lip, meeting Rin's confused eyes before turning back to Kagome. “I suppose so,” she said, understanding that Kagome was searching for something although she wasn't sure what she had to offer. “It's not that unusual, Kagome. Shippou's not a child, he's taken his turn in patrolling the forest in case there were foreign youkai nearby.”
“Did Kouga know that Inuyasha was there?”
“He is?” Rin asked, sitting up a little straighter. “He said he'd come back for me when he was ready. Does this mean I have to go home?”
Kagome grinned at Rin's disappointed tone, catching a knowing look from Ayame. “That's not exactly what I was getting at,” she said with a wry twist of her mouth. “I was asking because I wanted to know if Kouga let Shippou go because he thought Inuyasha was a threat.”
“No,” Ayame said softly, glancing toward the forest. “Kouga knew he was most probably out there, but if you're asking if we thought him dangerous, my answer is no.”
Kagome put her chin in her hand and studied Ayame's face. “Why not? Inuyasha nearly killed Kouga just two days ago. Isn't it possible that he was here for that, not just to collect Rin?”
Smiling faintly, Ayame shook her head. “Every time they encounter each other, it comes to blows despite Sesshomaru's orders.”
That was interesting, Kagome thought, looking out at the forest as if she expected answers. “I didn't know,” she confessed. “I thought this was the first time they'd seen each other since…”
Ayame patted her shoulder. “Hardly. But they've had an uneasy truce for the past few years. They're supposed to be allies now so killing each other would make things awkward.”
Grinning, Rin leaned against Kagome. “See,” she said, her eyes twinkling. “It's really not your fault that they're such stubborn asses. Inuyasha wouldn't have killed him.”
“I'm not so sure,” Kagome murmured. Rin only knew the Inuyasha that she'd grown up with; she didn't know his darker side. And her presence would only have made it worse. “I think I'm more to blame than you realize.”
Ayame poked her arm with a sharp claw. “Don't make excuses,” she said sternly. “I know my husband, Kagome, and I know his temper. Kouga will say the same if you ask him.” Then her expression clouded and sadness dimmed her bright eyes. “Being allies with Inuyasha and his brother has been difficult for him, but necessary. You are not to blame for what happened.”
It seemed as if no one was going to let her take responsibility. Kagome pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. It made her feel like a child that had to be allowed to have its way…or a woman not to be trusted.
“I've been wondering about that,” she murmured. “Why did they become allies? I got the impression it was Sesshomaru's idea, but I can't see why Kouga would listen to him.”
Sighing heavily, Ayame got to her feet. “I keep forgetting that you weren't there,” she said, looking up at the sky. “After Naraku's defeat, things were quiet at first. We thought we could live here in peace, but about five years ago there was a sudden increase in attacks. Powerful youkai started to appear, driven for some reason to attack constantly. Kouga was worried that perhaps Naraku hadn't disappeared after all.”
Kagome looked up to see Rin nodding in agreement. “I remember,” she said, her voice soft. “They didn't seem to attack humans, only other demons. Sesshomaru-sama thought that there was someone behind it, but he's never discovered the source.”
“Nor did we,” Ayame agreed.
“So they decided to ally with each other to protect their territories,” Kagome mused, playing with a loose thread from her sleeve. She wrapped her fingers around the dangling string, pulling it tight. “But it didn't solve the problem. The attacks didn't stop.”
“No,” a deep voice answered, causing the women to look up in surprise. Kouga was standing over them with a grin. “But we keep fighting them off, that's the important thing. If it means I have to put up with that condescending asshole Sesshomaru now and then, it's worth it.”
“Kouga,” Ayame said, a warning note in her voice. She'd noticed that Rin had gone very quiet and didn't want to make the girl more uncomfortable.
He gave his wife a flash of a smile. “I'm not saying anything now that I don't say to his face,” the wolf said, reaching out to stroke Ayame's cheek.
“That's the problem,” Ayame answered tartly. Rin flushed and looked away, then got to her feet and smiled.
“Kouga-sama,” the girl said politely, bowing to the wolf demon that looked at her amusement. “To the best my knowledge, Sesshomaru-sama has always dealt with your people honestly.”
Kouga snorted and folded his arms, eyes twinkling. “Are you saying that Sesshomaru-sama takes you into his confidence, little girl? Somehow I find it hard to believe.”
Rin nodded firmly. “You're right, he doesn't tell me everything. But Jaken knows, and he does tell me whatever I ask…as long as I ask the right questions.”
The wolf laughed. “The toad?” he asked, grinning down at her. “What does he know about me?”
The girl met his eyes seriously. “That Sesshomaru-sama says as long as Kouga-sama remains honest, he has nothing to fear.”
“Who said I feared him anyway?” Kouga grumbled. “It's that mangy mutt of his that gets on my nerves, stupid bastard. If he didn't have his brother watching over his ass, I would have…”
“Kouga,” Ayame warned again, watching as Rin's face flushed.
“A long time ago, Ayame!” the wolf demon bit out, glaring at his wife. “I would have put him in his grave if it was up to me!”
Ayame stood quickly and went to Rin's side. “That's enough,” she said in a soft aside to her husband. “Quit blustering, Kouga. Neither Rin nor Kagome are impressed by your wish for Inuyasha's death. Especially…” she shot a piercing look at Kagome after sniffing the air carefully. “Especially not right now.”
Without another word for Kouga or Kagome, the youkai woman led Rin away, saying something about helping with the pack's dinner. Kagome watched them go and swallowed hard, realizing that Ayame might have guessed what she'd really been doing in the forest. Kouga's expression was dark, his jaw clenched as he stared across the compound without seeing it.
“You really hate him, don't you?” she found herself murmuring.
Kouga came to sit next to her, crouching on his heels. “Yeah,” he muttered, sounding somewhat ashamed for his outburst. “But there's nothing I can do about it, not without risking my people's lives.”
He looked up and offered her a weak smile. “I'm sorry, Kagome. I should have…”
“No,” she answered quickly. “No, Kouga, don't. I don't expect you to get revenge for what happened. It wasn't your fault.”
“Nah,” he said easily, turning away from her. “I just don't like seeing my friends hurt. That means you too, Kagome.”
She sighed, running her hands over her hair and thinking. Even if he wasn't still in love with her, Kouga was honorable. And that sense of honor demanded some retribution for the past. It must have been bitter for him to deal with Inuyasha all these years, knowing what had happened.
But she couldn't keep secrets anymore; she didn't want to see another friend hurt either. And like it or not, what had happened with Shippou was every bit as much her fault as Inuyasha's. Grimly, Kagome pushed her hair back from her face and straightened her shoulders.
“I need to talk to you,” she said quietly. “About Shippou.”
Kouga snorted. “What did he do this time?” the wolf asked genially. “Did he propose marriage or something?”
“No,” she murmured. This was harder than she'd thought possible. “I need to talk to him…but he hasn't returned. Do you know where he might have gone?”
The dark haired wolf demon glanced at her, a bit of confusion registering in his eyes. “Did something happen, Kagome?” he asked quietly. “Is there a reason he might be hiding from you?”
Her face flushed. It wasn't that Shippou was really hiding, but she hated the thought of him being alone with his anger. If nothing else, he deserved her apologies…and perhaps an explanation. The words rose up in her throat, straining for release, but it was too much. She couldn't tell Kouga, not with what he'd already been through over her.
“Never mind,” she muttered, staring at her hands. “I'll talk to him when I see him, I don't want to trouble you or Ayame any more than I already have.”
Kouga leaned close, his breath warming her cheek. “Does it have something to do with Inuyasha's scent being all over you?” he whispered.
She jerked away from him, startled. Kouga shrugged, reaching up with one hand to rub his eyes. “I didn't want to say anything in front of Rin,” he said, his voice carefully neutral. “But I'll warn you, Ayame probably figured it out too. Nothing gets by that woman's nose.”
“Great,” she said bitterly. “I keep forgetting how hard it is to hide anything around here.” She glanced up and was surprised to see sympathy in his eyes. “You aren't angry?”
“Angry?” Kouga seemed to contemplate the word for longer than necessary. But he didn't seem shocked or disgusted by her. “I'm surprised, but no…not angry.” His expression darkened again and he stiffened, one clawed hand going to rest on her shoulder. “Unless there's a reason I should be angry, which you'd better tell me if that's the case.”
She swallowed hard. “No,” she said, her voice shaking just a bit. “Not like that, Kouga. But Shippou…” Embarrassed, she dropped her eyes. “He saw me with Inuyasha. He saw everything.”
“Fuck.” Kouga shook his head, looking tired. “I told him to leave it alone, but that damned kid…” His voice trailed off and Kouga sighed. “He's in love with you, Kagome. I'm sure you knew that.”
“He's made it clear,” she answered, remembering the pain and jealousy in the kitsune's eyes. “You don't think he'd do something stupid, do you?”
“What? Like challenge Inuyasha to a fight over your honor?” Kouga shrugged, and then rubbed the back of his neck ruefully. “After listening to me go off about that damned mutt, yeah, he probably would.” Then his gaze hardened. “Treaty or not, I won't forgive that son of bitch if he hurts him.”
“I don't think you need to worry about that,” Kagome said quietly. Deep in her heart, she knew that Inuyasha wouldn't kill the angry young fox. Not after what she'd said to him…and him to her. It wasn't about Shippou to Inuyasha; he didn't give a damn what the kitsune's outraged pride demanded. Most likely he'd just knock him unconscious…unless her vicious rejection had made him thirsty for revenge.
“I need to find Shippou,” she said seriously. “Before anyone does anything stupid. I need to make him understand that I'm the one at fault, that I'm the one that's…weak. And,” she met Kouga's eyes resolutely, “and he needs to understand that it's over now.”
Kagome ducked away from the question, reaching between her knees to trace her finger in the dirt. The truth was that she wasn't certain if it would ever be over for her, nothing could take back the past. She could only atone for the mistakes she made, but still…in her heart…
“It's over,” she said coldly.
Kouga's eyebrows rose, a smile quirking at the edge of his mouth. “And the mutt just accepted that? Stupid bastard might be dense as a tree stump, but he doesn't give up when he wants something.”
She went cold all over, knowing that it was the truth. If Inuyasha decided that he really wanted her, no matter what she felt, he was more than capable of forcing her to stay with him. And she couldn't say for certain that Sesshomaru wouldn't allow it. After all, Inuyasha was his brother and unlike in the past, now Sesshomaru treated him as one.
“If so, that's my problem,” she said, her voice hardening. She met Kouga's gaze firmly. “I won't let you or Shippou get involved.”
Kouga scowled briefly, turning away from her resolve. “Like hell, if that damned mutt tried to take you away by force, we'd stop him. Damn the treaty to hell anyway, I couldn't live with myself if I didn't…”
She reached out and pressed her finger to his lips to stop his angry words. “And I couldn't live with myself if he hurt you or Shippou. For gods' sake, Kouga, don't you think I have enough to hate myself for?”
“Hate yourself?” Kouga sat back, a troubled look in his eyes. “Kagome, you haven't done anything you should hate yourself for.”
“Haven't I?” Her smile was deceptive and she brushed Kouga's hair away from his eyes, letting her fingers rest on his cheek. “You don't know me as well as you think.”
He pulled away from her touch, suddenly looking uncomfortable. Kagome saw him flush and rose up on her knees, facing him. “What's the matter?” she asked, using the same voice that had worked on so many men. “I remember how you used to say that you were in love with me, Kouga. Has that changed after so many years?”
Kagome placed her hand on his knee, sliding it up his thigh. Self-destruction…it always gave her a thrill. That and knowing that she could have a man whenever she wanted. She didn't need Inuyasha…no; he was far too dangerous, embedded as he was in her heart. But Kouga still saw her as the innocent girl she'd been so long ago.
And more than anything, Kagome wanted to destroy that image of herself. In his eyes…in anyone else's. She leaned even closer, wondering if he'd pull her into his embrace. Her hands rested on his bare legs, she could feel the heat of his skin, the strength of his legs. After all, why had she rejected him so long ago? Kouga was strong, desirable, but she'd never been able to see him because of her misplaced love for another.
“I'm not a little girl anymore,” she whispered, her lips only inches from his. “And I'm not in love with Inuyasha. Haven't you been jealous of him for all these years? Isn't that why you hate him? He took what you wanted for yourself…because I was fool enough to let him?”
Warm hands gripped her wrists and for just a moment, she thought he was about to grab her up and take her away. Conflict was in his eyes, deep conflict and…sorrow. She paled slightly as he pulled her hands away from him, setting them carefully back in her lap.
“If you think screwing me will help you forget about Inuyasha, you're wrong,” he said, his voice very quiet. “I don't know why you think that hurting yourself is always going to be the answer, Kagome. But I won't let you use me as your weapon.”
Ashamed, she flushed and looked down, her fingers gripping each other so tightly that her knuckles were white. She felt filthy, so sickened by her behavior that she wanted to retch. The impulse to seduce him had come out of nowhere, without thinking. And he already had Ayame…how many husbands had she pulled from their wives for a night, used them only for her convenience?
Now she'd do the same to a friend, and the husband of a friend, just to make herself forget what had happened. Her panic, her frantic rejection when Inuyasha had said he loved her. So easily she fell into her own traps, the paths she'd laid out for herself. How could anyone still desire her, want her…love her?
Couldn't he see her for what she was?
“I'm sorry,” she muttered, unable to look him in the eye.
Kouga reached down and touched her chin, forcing her gaze up to meet his. She was surprised to see him grinning at her, a warmth and security about himself that went beyond the cocky wolf she'd known in the past. It was the face of a man who'd grown into his responsibilities and welcomed them. Not like her, she who had practiced running from herself until it became an art.
Or second nature.
“Don't worry about it,” Kouga said softly. “If you'd really wanted to seduce me, you wouldn't do it out here in the open where anyone could see. It's not me you want…it never was.”
She ducked away from his smile, withdrawing into herself and Kouga sighed as he stood up. She heard him move away from her, leaving her alone to contemplate his words. Somehow…across so many years and so much pain, he knew her better than she'd guessed.
“And,” he called out, catching her eye from across the compound. “Don't worry about Shippou. He'll come back when he's over being pissed, but it might be better if you didn't talk to him while you still smell like that mangy mutt.”
He had the feeling that a nest of snakes had taken up residence inside his mouth. Inuyasha groaned loudly, waking up with the kind of pounding headache that would make human men swear off drink. He had no idea what had happened, but his whole body felt like it had been pummeled with sharp rocks.
Really big rocks.
“What the hell happened to me?” he muttered, trying to sit up so he could look around. The last thing he remembered was Kagome screaming that she hated him. Right after he'd told her that he was in love with her. Inuyasha flinched from the memory and put up his left hand to cradle his aching head. The smell hit him like a blow and he found himself staring at his own claws.
They were covered in blood. He sniffed tentatively and was vastly relieved to find it was only animal blood, not human or kitsune. Looking down, he saw dark stains on his haori and sighed wearily. Shit. He'd had blackouts in the past where he'd come to and had no memory of what he'd been doing, but it had been a really long since he'd lost it like this.
His left hand was bloody, but his right ached painfully from gripping the blade of a rusty, dull sword. Slowly, he opened his fingers and stared into his palm like it would divine answers for him. If the blade weren't so damned dull, he probably would have cut himself, that was the only answer he had.
“Tessaiga,” he murmured. He had no memory of making his way back for it, but now he found himself sitting on the same grassy hill where he'd met with Kagome. It didn't make any sense. In a state of mindless, ravenous violence, he'd come for it. Or it had drawn him back. Somehow his father's sword had reached to him the blackness of his insanity, drawn him to it and then…
And then what? Inuyasha snorted to himself, disgusted again by his weakness. A damaged brain pulled back by a useless sword? It had to be coincidence.
Or Tessaiga was more than it looked like, his brother had always hinted as such. Being the mate of the mysterious Tenseiga, perhaps it too had a power over his blood. As Tenseiga had healed, but not cured him already, what could this useless memento of his long dead father offer him?
It couldn't give him back his memory and it couldn't take back the past. It couldn't…it could not make her love him and he'd better get that stupid idea out of his head right now. She didn't love him; she said that she hated him. And he wished he could forget her, but he already knew better than to try.
Like Kikyou, this woman had left her brand on his heart. He'd never gotten over that betrayal, but now he understood it. The blood on his hands was all the explanation he needed. He didn't deserve their love, and the universe was just vicious enough to keep dangling the hope of it before his eyes.
“Fuck this,” Inuyasha grunted. It was time for him to face facts and quit acting like a love-starved fool or an animal that only wanted to rut. That's probably how she saw him, why she pushed him away so hard that it broke his heart.
Carefully, he sheathed the blade and looked around. Everything seemed quiet. Just down the hill, around the bend in the river, the wolf youkai camp wasn't far away. He had an obligation to bring Rin home safely, as much as he dreaded walking down there and seeing that woman again, it looked like he didn't have a choice.
Inuyasha glanced down at the smooth wooden sheath in his hands. The feel of it was familiar, haunting, and for a long moment he stood with it in his hands. If he closed his eyes, he could see himself drawing the sword, its blade transforming in his hands. That pulse of power, of recognition…he wanted it so badly it hurt.
If he could use this sword again, would she be able to forgive him? If he got down on his knees and begged her, right in front of that damn kitsune and his pack of wolves, if he crawled in the dirt for her…
“Stop it,” he whispered, his fingers going white as he held the sheath. Was this her idea of punishment? No, he didn't think so, not Kagome. She'd looked absolutely terrified, frightened damn near out of her skin when he'd said that he loved her. Did she think he didn't mean it?
She thought it was a lie, his mind whispered, sinister in its truthfulness. She thought it was a lie and a ploy to fool her. She knows you couldn't mean it, because she already knows you too well. You're not fit to love that woman, or any other woman, not after the crimes you've committed.
“I'm sorry,” his voice sounded hollow and despairing even to his own ears. He was sorry right down to the marrow of his bones, deep in the dark places of his mind. He ached with sorrow and regret, a misery that only comes when love is rejected…cast away as if it were nothing.
And he understood now in a way he couldn't have understood before, what he'd done to her. His feelings mirrored hers, and Inuyasha was ashamed that he'd been the one to break her heart.
It was too late for shame and too late for remorse. He hadn't even known how much he'd meant those words until now, but against the fury of her hatred, all his promises were no better than ash in his mouth.
After she'd made such an ass of herself in front of Kouga, Kagome found that she couldn't face anyone. Instead she decided to take his advice and clean herself up. She was sweaty and sticky after her panicked run through the forest, not to mention her other activities before that. Knowing how sensitive their noses were, Kagome knew she had to reek of sex and fear. No wonder Ayame had excused herself and not only to spare Rin's feelings.
Unfortunately, the only place for her to bathe was a small pool behind the den, fed by a lightly splashing waterfall. At least it was private, surrounded by thick brush and trees and far enough away from the rest of the youkai. She had no way to know if anyone else had noticed her conversation with Kouga, as it was, she wasn't sure she could face either him or Ayame again.
Not that she had a choice. She had to stay here or leave on her own. Going home with Inuyasha had never been an option and damn it, she wasn't going to pretend like it ever had been. Just like her to ruin things again, with no way home and no place to go, she was alone and lost in this world.
Kagome stripped and stepped into the water, hissing at its icy touch. The pool wasn't deep, it only came to her knees and she slowly sank down to kneel on the soft, sandy bottom. Again, she wished for some kind of soap, but she'd been far too embarrassed to go ask for anything like that. Instead she scoured herself harshly with the sand, thinking it was better than nothing.
Her fingers were red with the rough sand and cold from the water, but she didn't care. She ducked her head under just long enough to rinse her hair, dragging her fingers through the tangles until it hurt so much she wanted to cry. When she sat back up, she saw long dark strands twisted around her fingers. So she'd yanked out her own hair, what did it matter?
This world wouldn't notice if she punished herself, it wouldn't notice if she just gave up and died. Perhaps Rin and Shippou would mourn for her, but Kagome found that she just didn't give a damn. And that was selfish of her too, but time again, she'd proved herself to be a selfish woman.
“Stop feeling so sorry for yourself,” she muttered, climbing out of the chilly pool. Her skin warmed instantly in the sun and she sighed in relief. She was being a fool and foolishness made her angry. It was time to stop blaming everyone else, she knew she'd made mistakes and heartily wished she could take them back.
“Maybe he really did mean it,” Kagome said, staring up at the bright sky as she pulled on her clothes. “I can't panic and run like a scared kid, I'm supposed to be stronger than this. But,” she closed her eyes against the light, “I am still afraid of you, Inuyasha.”
She heard her name and was reaching for a rock to throw before she even realized what she was doing. Her wet hair plastered to her face, her body was already crouching to ward off a blow that didn't come and she stared into the waterfall as it suddenly darkened, something taking shape inside it.
Somehow it made perfect sense that Miroku was here again.
Kagome sighed and pushed her hair back, letting it fall wet against the back of her shirt. “You're too late,” she said, hoping she sounded as confident as she didn't feel. “I'm already dressed, Miroku.”
The smile died on her lips at his stern, unforgiving expression. Even in life, she'd never seen Miroku look at her like that. She felt as if she'd failed some kind of test and she felt her face grow hot. Then tears pricked from behind her eyelids and she dropped her gaze, unwilling to see such censure in her dead friend's eyes.
“Why do you look at me like that?”
He still didn't smile, standing still in the cold water. The ripples from the waterfall passed through him, undisturbed by a long dead monk. His face seemed to be made from ice, it might crack if she spoke and she waited as the air around her seemed to darken with foreboding.
“You've wasted too much time,” he said, his voice reaching to her like cold and hollow wind. “There are those depending on you, Kagome. You must not fail.”
She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, feeling for all the world like a naughty child receiving a reprimand. Then she looked up, her eyes flashing in defensive anger at his words. “What are you talking about, Miroku? Maybe if you told me what I was supposed to do, I wouldn't have wasted time.”
As he stared at her, she noticed that his eyes were like dark pools, unreachable across the chasm of the death. For the first time, she felt that he might be more than just a ghost, or a hallucination of her addled mind. The sense of creeping dread was stronger now, overwhelming really.
“Please,” she said softly, begging now. “Tell me what I'm supposed to do. How can I go home again, Miroku? I…I can't stay here. I've…I…Inuyasha…”
“It's not about Inuyasha,” he answered, his voice cold as the grave. “It's not about your selfish desires or your fears. You have something you need to do here, Kagome Higurashi. Do not think the universe bends to your whim.”
She actually flinched at his words, the dark censure in his voice. In life, Miroku had never been so stern, not with her. She'd seen him angry over needless death and destruction, grieving for dead children. But he'd never turned against her, never once spoken harshly. He'd always been so strong, never losing hope and making sure the rest of them stayed on their path to Naraku's destruction.
“What do you want from me?” she asked quietly, moving forward until she was also standing in the water. The hem of her hakama was soaked, heavy against her legs, but Kagome didn't feel the chill. She sensed the truth in his words, that there was some task, some mission left uncompleted.
“I cannot tell you, the path is yours to find.”
Sudden anger filled her, rage against her again disrupted life. “I don't want to find the path,” she shouted, her hands balled into fists. “I'm sick of this, Miroku! I hate being here; do you know what I've been going through? Every minute I spend with him is like torture, every day I'm here I'm becoming less of who I am!”
She took a deep breath to calm herself, her body was shaking and any minute she felt like she was going to shatter into a thousand pieces. Just like the jewel, that cursed, sacred, long vanished jewel that had so ruthlessly cut apart her life.
“You don't have the right to make me do anything,” she said sullenly, hating him for being so cold. “I've done enough, damn it. I want to go home.”
His expression remained distant, only the darkness in his eyes seemed to register her anger, her despair. Slowly, as if each movement were a difficult pass across time, he moved closer until they were only inches apart. His body was transparent, less substantial than ever before, but she wasn't afraid of his ghost…only what he asked of her.
“If I told you exactly what to do, how to find your way back to your homeland, would you do it then?” he asked, his voice like a fading dream.
“Of course,” she whispered, not looking away from his gaze. She felt like a fly trapped in his web, he had caught her with that promise of redemption. To go home…to forget everything again, pick up the pieces and this time seal them away forever.
She'd do anything…
“That is why I cannot tell you,” he said, his tone simple and direct. “It's important for you to find your own way. There's more at stake than your life or Inuyasha's, Kagome. I cannot give you what you seek, but I will tell you that you must not fail. We are depending on you, on your compassion and…” He reached out his hand to her. “We are depending on your love.”
His hand fell on her shoulder and Kagome's eyes went wide with shock. She felt him…she could feel his hand and her legs trembled. Then the sensation faded as suddenly as it had come and she was staring at empty air.
“Who are you?” she murmured, her heart racing until she was sure she was going to pass out. “You aren't Miroku, you never were!”
The voice whispered into her mind, lighter and softer than before and Kagome staggered, flailing towards the bank so that she didn't fall on her face in the icy water. The ground was solid under her palms, her fingers dug into the soft earth as if she could find some substance there. Something real that couldn't be denied, that had nothing to do with ghosts that weren't ghosts at all.
We are part of you, the voice said. We are of you and within you, Kagome. Do not fail us. Do not fail yourself.
Kagome whimpered, covering her face with her dirty hands and crouching on the ground. “No,” she sobbed, “I don't care anymore. I'm going crazy, I'm hallucinating, seeing things. Please just leave me alone.”
Just as she thought she would drown in her own despair, she felt something coming towards her. A feeling of furious anger, of rage and hatred, and underlying that…a ravenous hunger that could only be fed by blood. Startled, she pulled her face up from the ground and searched the sky with frantic eyes. It was coming…
Like foul wind it swept down upon her, Kagome sat frozen with her face turned upwards, hands clasped in front of her as if she were pleading for her life. Or perhaps as if praying for some kind of salvation that would never come. A massive swarm of demons, monsters deformed and corrupt had appeared, blotting out the sun and the bright blue of the sky.
She couldn't move, couldn't even breathe. Only the hard hammering of her pulse in her ears seemed real. This had to be a dream, a nightmare!
They saw her sitting alone, a defenseless human woman, and lunged at her, long fangs and claws outstretched…
Oh god, help me!
Kagome closed her eyes and waited for the end.