InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Possession ❯ TwentyNine ( Chapter 29 )
[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
Kagome cried out when she was shoved hard to the ground, finding herself with her nose in the dirt. She didn't even see him when he leapt over her head, only heard the angry shrieks of the monsters before they were destroyed. Desperate, she clawed her hands under her, trying to retreat.
“I said get down!”
A blur of red crossed her vision when she dared to look up, and then she gasped and ducked away as blood splattered around her. She heard cursing and the high-pitched death squall of a demon as it was torn apart. Kagome's heart was pounding in her chest, partially from panic and shock, but there was something else to it.
Why did he come for me?
“Damn it,” Inuyasha swore, glowering as the mass of monsters as they continued to dive at him. “What the hell were you doing out here by yourself, woman? Don't you have any sense at all?”
“I was taking a bath,” she answered, slowly pushing herself up. “I didn't know there were demons here!”
Kagome squeaked when Inuyasha grabbed her by her collar and hauled her to her feet. “There's too many,” he snarled, dragging her with him a quick pace. “I can't fight them unless we get out in the open!”
She opened her mouth to protest, still barefoot and weak-kneed as he pulled her over the rough ground. “Please,” she gasped out, clinging to his sleeve weakly as she nearly fell. “Slow down, Inuyasha!”
He stopped short and glared down at her. Her heart was in her throat, and for a moment as she thought he might leave her where she stood. “Stupid,” he hissed, casting his eyes upward again. “Haven't you figured out where they're going? This is an attack against Kouga's people, we need to hurry!”
“I…” she began, as fear set into her again at the thought of the wolf tribe with its young children suddenly the target of these monsters. Inuyasha grunted, wrapping an arm around her waist and tossing her over his shoulder.
“You can't run,” he snapped. “I can.”
He tore through the forest with her bouncing across his shoulders like a sack of grain. Kagome yelped as the brush ripped at her hair, putting her hands up over her head since Inuyasha seemed to have no intention at all of slowing down.
“You're going to help Kouga?” she shouted over her shoulder as branches whipped across her backside.
“I wouldn't help that mangy bastard,” Inuyasha snarled back, his claws flexing angrily on her legs. “But he's got all those damn kids, I'm not gonna stand there and watch `em get eaten!”
“Then why did you come for me?” she murmured, her voice almost lost in the haste of his movement. She yelped again in surprise as he stopped so fast that her body lurched dangerously, and dropped her on her feet without warning. She was trembling so badly that she couldn't stand, instead clinging to him like a helpless child.
“You think I'm some kind of monster?” he shouted, his hands gripping her shoulders so hard that she winced. “You think I'd let you die because you pissed me off?”
“No,” she said, almost babbling as she held tight to his sleeves. “No, I didn't say that, Inuyasha. I know you wouldn't…”
“Damn it,” he muttered, closing his eyes so he wouldn't have to look at her. “You think I'm just like those demons that attacked you. You think I'm just like them, but listen to me, you bitch. I'm not anything like them!”
“I don't…” she said, befuddled by the naked pain in his voice.
“You do,” he spat angrily. “I know what I did to you was bad, real bad. Maybe the worst thing I ever did to anyone, but,” he said, emphasizing his words with a hard shake that made her head rock back on her neck. “Whatever I did in the past, you're wrong about me now! I don't let helpless women die just because I didn't get what I want.”
She wanted to ask what he'd wanted, but the words were stuck to the roof of her mouth. Was he talking about what… She trembled at the thought. Was he talking about what had happened between them?
I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!
Like a dagger in his chest or a blade against his soul, she knew that she had hurt him at last.
Hurt him the way that he'd hurt her and Kagome sagged, realizing that whatever revenge she might have desired throughout those long and lonely, darkened years…this wasn't it.
“I'm sorry,” she whispered. “I never meant to…”
“Spare me,” he said, his voice bitter with sarcasm. “Aren't you the one that said sorry wasn't good enough?”
Before she could think of a way to answer that, he gripped her wrist again, his fingers leaving red welts on her skin. “Don't you fucking start feeling bad about it,” he said, turning away from her flushed gaze. “Don't you pretend that you care!”
She let him drag her again, stumbling over sharp stones that cut into her feet. Kagome no longer felt the pain, she'd gone numb, her mind every bit as bruised and battered, but she no longer cared that she hurt. Her panicked rejection, instinctive and primal as that of a wounded animal, had somehow reached deep into the core of his being. But…why?
Don't you pretend that you care!
And sorry wasn't good enough, wasn't it her that had set those rules, refusing to allow him any chance at apology because she couldn't handle it? This Inuyasha, the one without a memory of the horrors he'd committed, had tried to break past the barriers she'd set around herself.
And succeeded, in spite of everything she'd done to stop him.
Deep inside, her heart ached like a shattered jewel, never to be whole again. This Inuyasha…he wasn't the same as the one she'd left behind all those years ago. The monster, insane and…she winced…so terribly wounded, had been banished. So that when she'd finally found her way back to him, instead of meeting the nightmare that she'd feared, she found the man that Inuyasha should have been.
The Inuyasha that she'd always loved!
He stopped again, oblivious to the turmoil seething inside Kagome. The realization had made panic bubble to the surface yet again, but this time it was accompanied by a strange giddiness that not only made her heart race, it made her want to cry out with joy.
He was the one that she had loved, always loved! Under the despair, the pain and self-loathing, her love for him had truly never left her. It was unwavering and steadfast, too strong to be cast aside. And that was why she'd tortured and punished herself for so many years, because in spite of everything he'd done…
She'd never stopped loving Inuyasha.
“Hey,” Inuyasha snarled, shaking her arm to snap her out of a daze. “You need to stay here, understand?”
She'd been staring blankly into space again, transfixed by her own release. Suddenly all the pain that had been like a knot in her soul was gone, the bitter hatred had seeped from her skin like a poisonous miasma. And left her feeling whole again for the first time in more than a decade.
Kagome's attention snapped back when Inuyasha spun her around, taking her face between his hands almost gently as he stared down into her eyes. “Are you all right?” he asked, made uncertain by the way her eyes were out of focus and her mind seemed far away.
“I'm fine,” she said, reaching up impulsively to cup his fingers with her own.
He pulled away, a wary look in his eyes. Inuyasha shoved his hands up his sleeves as if he were afraid she'd touch him again. “Stay here then,” he said gruffly. “Don't come out, I'll be back for you when it's safe.”
Inuyasha bounded away, diving into the thick brush. For a long moment, she knelt on the ground, listening to the sounds of the forest as the wind teased its way through the leaves. Suddenly it was far too quiet, she twisted her fingers together in her lap. It didn't seem right to her that he'd go off to fight alone.
No, she thought, her brow furrowing. He wouldn't be alone; Kouga and his men would be fighting for their lives. As their ally, at least in name, Inuyasha wouldn't abandon them to the attack. She could see him, sweeping down into battle, shouting with anger as he used his claws to rend and tear.
She shivered, thinking of all those times he'd tried to make her stay out of the battle, tried to protect her. And she'd never listened; instead she'd thrown herself into danger because she couldn't stand the thought of him being hurt. How could he expect her to sit safely while he fought for his life?
It reminded her of being weak…cowardly…too afraid to fight for what she loved. She hadn't been so weak in the past. No, she'd literally burned with fury when he was attacked, sensing somehow deep inside her heart that Inuyasha had always needed someone on his side.
Someone like her.
She was on her feet and running before she realized what she was doing was extremely stupid. Kagome told herself that she just wanted to look, make sure that he was all right. She wasn't going to put herself in danger…not unless she had to.
Creeping like a little forest creature, Kagome made her way to the edge of the trees. From here she should at least be able to watch the battle without being seen, Inuyasha would never know that she'd gotten this close. Then again, who was he to order to stay back? She had no intention of joining the fight, but waiting, passively waiting for the outcome, that was more than she could bear.
The edge of the forest was up the side of a hill, overlooking the small valley where the wolves had made their home. From here she could see the clearing where she'd had breakfast that morning and talked with Ayame. She was expecting to see Kouga's men battling fiercely, she had expected to see a full scale war taking place with Inuyasha fighting right alongside his brother's allies.
What she saw wasn't what she expected.
The massive swarm of demons seemed to have doubled and she caught her breath at the sight. There were so many of them! And the only one fighting, the only one who was defending the wolf youkai encampment…seemed to be Inuyasha.
Alone he struck at the horde, moving like a red flash as he fought furiously. The menace hanging over the compound was like a palpable force; she could feel the demons' rage as they attacked him. He was faster and stronger than most of them, but the sheer strength of their numbers was just overwhelming.
Where the hell was Kouga, she wondered furiously as her fingernails dug into the rough bark of a tree. Where were the men who were sworn to defend their territory? Why was Inuyasha the only one here, had they abandoned him to certain death while making their own escape?
She couldn't believe it, not of Kouga. His people were his life, so Ayame had said. They'd rallied to him for protection, for the chance to survive. Kouga would never abandon his pack, not anymore than he would cut off his own legs. Their comrades meant everything to Kouga and Ayame. Their pack…he'd rebuilt everything he'd lost and now he'd just leave?
Cold gripped her heart and Kagome felt faint, leaning against the tree for support. Maybe Inuyasha had come too late; maybe the wolves had fought a desperate battle and lost. Wasn't it possible, that they'd already gone out to fight this swarm, drawing the fight away from their home to protect the women and children?
Could it be that they were all dead, lying in pieces or being dissolved in the bellies of their enemies? Kouga had remarked that many of the wolf youkai had been killed, both by Naraku's treachery years ago and now by these random attacks. He'd grieved for his fallen comrades, people known all his life.
Was it possible that the small force he'd met her with only a few days ago were really all that he had left to defend his people?
Kagome gasped, watching as one of the larger demons came in for a quick strike at Inuyasha. He evaded the gaping jaws just in time, springing up to slash with his claws. Blood was all over the ground; she could see it staining his hair and clothes. She found she was getting angry to see him fighting such a one-sided battle. He shouldn't have to fight alone!
Another monster gave a rasping cry, diving for the opening in the mountain that was the wolves' den. Inuyasha snarled, racing after it and threw himself between the demons and the entrance of the cave. She jumped to her feet, watching as he furiously battled the beast, keeping it from going inside.
My god, are the women and children still in there?
Her heart was pounding, this wasn't right! If Kouga, she closed her eyes in pain, if Kouga and his men were already dead, then the only one keeping those children safe was Inuyasha! She couldn't stand it; he had to have some help. Strong as he was, he couldn't fight indefinitely. Eventually he would weaken, overwhelmed by the number of enemies and then…
Inuyasha couldn't use Tessaiga anymore, he'd said as much. She didn't know if the sword had rejected him due to his full-blood status or if it was something more, but without the power of that weapon to rely on…
And if…when…he fell, she would be here alone to watch as Kouga's people were slaughtered. Damned if she could let that happen! She wouldn't stand by as Inuyasha was killed, if no one else was here to help him…it would have to be her!
Kagome burst from the trees, knowing her only chance was to make it to the den. What she could do…she couldn't be sure, but there had to be some way. What other reason did she have any spiritual power of her own? What good was she if she couldn't find a way to fight, to protect the one that she loved?
Running as fast as she could, Kagome stumbled down the hill in her bare feet. Luckily, it seemed that none of the demons had noticed her presence and she was over half way to the mouth of the den when she heard Inuyasha shout her name.
“Kagome! What the hell are you doing?”
She didn't have time to answer, just kept running with her pulse pounding in her ears. A loud shriek sounded over her shoulder and she kept going, praying that she'd make it in time. She didn't stop or turn around, already feeling them tracking her, bloodlust running high. Kagome grimly forced herself to keep moving, her legs already aching from her headlong run and threw herself into the dark opening of the cave just as blood splattered overhead.
“You crazy bitch!” Inuyasha was livid, barely able to keep them away. “I told you to stay…”
“I know!” she shouted. “I came to help you!”
Kagome stumbled and fell to her knees just inside the den, picking herself up and moving back with the instinct of self-preservation biting at her heels. “Ayame!” she cried, forcing herself to keep going. “Rin!”
Silence answered her and Kagome stopped, her eyes wide as she searched the den. It was a large cave, with many smaller openings and tunnels that led to other caves where the wolves could live as families. She hadn't the full tour, but Ayame had explained that the wolves lived communally in this larger area while using the smaller caves for sleeping or when they wanted privacy. She expected this was where the women and children would be gathered, but…
It was empty.
“Ayame!” she shouted, her hands curling into fists. “Where are you?”
Her voice echoed back to her hollowly and Kagome trembled, realizing that she had miscalculated. They weren't here, none of them were here! No sign of a struggle or fight, but it looked like they'd left in a hurry. Around her were signs of cooking, food preparation and household utensils, all dropped as if their owners had thrown them on the floor and run out in haste.
The wolves had evacuated their den, and Kagome groaned, covering her face with her hands. She was such a fool! They must have realized an attack was coming and left, taking their families to a safer location. They couldn't have known that Inuyasha would try to defend them, not anymore than they'd known that a stupid human woman would think that she alone would be able to save their lives.
Fool, she cursed at herself as she spun around, running back to the entrance. She'd put her life in danger; put Inuyasha's life in danger too now that he knew he had to defend her. Didn't he know they were gone?
Or like her, was he futilely trying to save people who'd had the good sense to run for their lives?
As she dashed out of the main cave and back up the passage, her gaze fell on something that had been left leaning against the wall. She stopped, reaching out to take the bow. It was Rin's; she must have left it here when she ran away with the wolves. Kagome whispered a quick prayer of thanks as she picked it up and slung the quiver of arrows over her shoulder.
It had been a long time since she'd had to fight with a bow, even if she had used it to bluff the youkai hunters at their village. She'd felt her own power inside her then, and known that her arrows would find their marks. Would she be able to call up on that strength now, when she needed to use it? Or would this be one of those times when her spiritual ability failed her?
Either way, she thought, grimly marching to the entrance of the cave. Either way she was going to find out!
She knelt at the entrance, notching an arrow as she brought the bow up and pulled the string tight. Inuyasha was a few yards in front of her; she wouldn't take the chance of hitting him. She could still hear him cursing and swearing as he fought, then she flushed a little bit as she picked out the words “stupid woman” now and then.
So he thought she was stupid and useless? Well, she thought sighting up toward the mass of demons; he was going to find out how useful she could be!
“Go!” she shouted, letting fly with the first arrow. It arched over Inuyasha's head, he didn't even see her fire, but Kagome held her breath, her heart beating fast in her chest as the tip of her arrow started to glow. It was shining like a small star, leaving a trail of light behind it and she gripped the bow until her knuckles turned white.
As soon as her arrow met the swarm, it exploded and suddenly a large number of youkai monsters were purified. She jumped to her feet in excitement as they faded away, made into nothingness and pinpoints of light. Kagome wanted to dance around in happiness, so pleased that at last she was able to make a difference.
Inuyasha skidded in front of her, staring at the sky as the demons tried to regroup. “That was your arrow?” he asked, looking confused. “I thought you said you weren't a priestess.”
“I'm not,” she said, almost giggling. It was shock and hysterical relief that she'd managed to purify the demons, but Inuyasha scowled at her. He grabbed her arm roughly, shoving her back into the cave. She was stunned to see the anger in his eyes; he looked like she'd betrayed him by firing that arrow.
“I don't know what game you think you're playing with me,” he said tightly. “Did you think it was funny to pretend you couldn't fight like she used to?”
Kagome paled in surprise at his accusation and then found that she was angry too. “Are you comparing me to Kikyou?” she demanded.
“No,” he snapped, glaring up at the demons still circling over their heads. One of them dove and he slashed viciously, tearing it into bloody pieces. “You're worse than her!”
Growling angrily, Kagome snatched an arrow from the quiver and notched it. Inuyasha ran out into the compound, attacking the demons again as they started to howl for his blood. With a grim smile, she fired again to spite him, this arrow burning even brighter and then the air shook with purification.
“You don't know what you're talking about!” she screamed, so angry that she forgot to be afraid. Inuyasha jumped into the air again, sinking his claws into a worm-like beast with three eyes. He glared at her, shoving his claws right through the monster until it split apart with a splatter.
“Shut up!” he shouted, running to attack again. “You're all the same, bitch! Every damn thing you say is a lie. Just like she lied to me, you're no better!”
“I didn't lie!” she screamed, firing again. This arrow cleared a large swath through the diminishing horde. “Neither did Kikyou, you selfish prick! She was betrayed, just like you were betrayed! It was Naraku, goddamn you!”
Panting, they faced each other grimly. “Why should I believe a word you say?” he asked sarcastically. Another demon roared down upon them and Inuyasha spun around and slugged it so hard that its head was knocked from its misshapen body.
“Because I'm telling you the truth,” Kagome answered, her voice low and deadly. Something was coming to life inside her, some kind of mysterious power. Almost she could see another battle in the back of her mind, a single priestess fighting against masses of demons after her blood. Only this priestess used a sword instead of a bow, but it was the same power that gave them strength.
As if they could read her mind, the attacking swarm hesitated. Until now they'd been focusing on Inuyasha and for the first time Kagome noticed something strange. These monsters…weren't they here to attack the wolf youkai tribe? Why were they still fighting?
“Inuyasha,” she whispered, her eyes wide as she stared up at the sky. More demons were gathering, waiting their turn, almost as if they were organized instead of just driven by mindless hunger or rage.
“Yeah, I noticed too,” he said, his voice low. “They were waiting for me. I didn't see any sign they'd attacked the wolves until I got here.”
Kagome's mouth was dry and she found that her hands were starting to shake. This wasn't like in the past, and dread started to take hold of her. It was as if…as if they'd been sent here to find Inuyasha and herself. Urgent, she grabbed at his sleeve while they watched the demons swarm and gather overhead.
“Think,” she whispered softly. “How did you know they were here?”
“Saw `em,” he answered tensely, gritting his teeth. “I was on my way back here when I saw them overhead. Couldn't have missed them, they made sure of it.”
Her breath little more than a hiss, Kagome pulled him closer. “And no one was here?” His eyes narrowed at her, then his jaw clenched and he pushed her hand away.
“Someone warned them,” he growled, anger glinting in his eyes. “Who the fuck would have done that?”
She didn't have the slightest clue, only knew that she had been caught in the trap with him. Kouga and his people had never been the target of this attack. It had been set for Inuyasha…and her.
“Any ideas?” she asked, backing up to the mouth of the cave. “Can we make a run for it?”
Inuyasha grunted and shook his head. “They'd be on us the minute we made a move,” he said at last. “Only thing I can think of is to try to make them take so much damage that they'll give up.”
“What about the den? Can't we just use that for cover?”
Scowling, Inuyasha pushed her back. “No, that's what they're hoping for. If we go in, they'll just come after us. I can't hold them off indefinitely.”
“Then what are we going to do?” Kagome asked, her voice rising almost hysterically. “You can't take them on like this forever, sooner or later…” She choked on the words, unwilling to voice them. Resolutely, she reached for her last arrow, knowing already that it wasn't going to be enough. If they were going to die, she decided, panic making her fierce; at least they'd die fighting.
“Don't,” Inuyasha snapped, holding up arm before she could rush out to fire her last arrow. “You can't take them all with one arrow!”
“We've got to do something,” she whispered, staring up at the mass of demons. “If we fight together, maybe…”
“No!” His voice made her flinch and step back. She stared as he took position in front of her, grimly drawing Tessaiga from its sheath. The rusty blade gleamed dully, it looked far too small in his hands, as if her mind couldn't help but compare the ancient blade to its former glory.
“You can't use that,” she burst out, helpless to stop herself. Inuyasha shot her a glare over his shoulder, his scowl silencing her protests.
“Shut up and let me protect you!” he snarled like a ghost from his forgotten past. Kagome's eyes went wide, leaning heavily against the rocky entrance of the cave as he moved out. He'd said those words to her once before…a very long time ago when he was holding the Tessaiga for the very first time.
“Inuyasha,” she whispered, wondering what could possibly be going through his mind.
“All right, you bastards,” Inuyasha muttered, going out to stand before them with the drawn blade. He gripped it with both hands, holding it ready against the swarm as if they were butterflies he could shoo away. “Come and get it! You think you want a piece of her, you're gonna have to get through me!”
Her heart almost stopped when she felt a sudden pulse of power. It was faint, like a rumble coming from deep within the earth itself. Like a heartbeat muffled in the snow, she hadn't felt it in so long that she almost convinced herself it was wishful thinking. Kagome held her breath, too afraid to dare to hope…
Let me protect you!
Inuyasha had called out to Tessaiga…and Tessaiga had answered.
The second pulse was much stronger and she heard Inuyasha's exclamation when the blade suddenly transformed. It grew longer in an instant, glowing, taking the shape of a fang. Inuyasha looked stunned, lifting the massive sword up as easily as a twig and stared at it in shock.
“What the hell…” he muttered. “Tessaiga?”
An angry shriek brought her attention back to their assailants, still circling overhead like a black cloud of fury. The sight of the transformed blade seemed to drive them into a frenzy, whatever had been holding them back had slipped its hold over them and they dove at Inuyasha. They moved as one, the teeming swarm attacking to overwhelm the lone inuyoukai with their sheer mass if not their deadly claws and fangs.
Kagome stood frozen, unable to do more than watch as the mass of youkai suddenly gathered. The menace was growing stronger, blotting out the sun with an ever-growing cloud of night-dark youki. It seemed to steal the air from her lungs, making her feel painfully compressed and small in the face of so much hatred.
“Oh no, you don't,” she heard Inuyasha mutter, raising Tessaiga's blade. She could see pale blue-white light beginning to encircle the sword, wrapping around it like a protective lover. Could be…that instinct alone…he was going to use…
There was crackling sound that made her hair stand up, feeling the power surge over her as Tessaiga unleashed a wave of destruction. The ground shook as huge cracks formed, splitting the earth as if monstrous claws had gouged it apart. Her gaze was drawn upwards, seeing the spiral of Tessaiga's Kaze no Kizu connect and destroy the demon horde as easily as child might blow apart a dandelion.
Then it was eerily quiet, only the sound of chunks of flesh falling around them. Kagome couldn't bring herself to speak, only watch in stunned silence. He'd said the sword was useless, that he couldn't use it…that it was just a worthless, rusted and dull piece of…
Let me protect you!
Oh Inuyasha, she thought, feeling a tear slide down her cheek. She used the back of her grubby fist to wipe it away, suddenly feeling proud and so sad at the same time, she didn't know if she should cheer him or weep with relief.
“Shit,” Inuyasha said, staring at the huge sword with a stunned expression. “I guess I was wrong about you, Tessaiga.” Then he turned to look at Kagome, offering her a lopsided grin of apology. “I guess I was wrong about you too, Kagome.”
She choked back a laugh, afraid that she was going to start crying after all. “Yes,” she said thickly, trying to smile at him. “I think we've both been very wrong about a lot of things, Inuyasha.”
He grinned at that, turning around to face her with Tessaiga still hanging in his hands. “Then neither of us should say we're sorry, huh?”
She would have answered, but she was finding it hard not to rush over to his side and throw her arms around him. It was still a bit too soon; she didn't want to spoil this moment. Then without warning, she felt Tessaiga's power stir again.
“What?” Inuyasha stared as the sword started to shake violently. “What the hell's going on?”
Tessaiga was still glowing, its power throbbing in angry waves, burning brighter with each pulse. Inuyasha's surprise turned to concern as the blade's energy seemed to grow stronger, but he could barely control it as the massive sword started to pitch and jerk like it was trying to escape from him.
Kagome ran forward, a nameless dread moving her body before she could think clearly. “Let it go!” she shouted. “Inuyasha, drop the sword!”
“I can't,” he said, gritting his teeth as if in pain. “I can't let go of it! My hands…I think it's going to…”
Kagome dropped to her knees, covering her face with her arms when light exploded all around her. The air burned with a foul, acrid stench and when she raised her head, she saw that Inuyasha had been thrown to the ground. Crying out wordlessly, she scrambled to her feet and then gasped when Tessaiga suddenly buried itself in the ground right where she'd been crouched.
The sword had been flung high into the air and come down hard; the un-transformed blade sunk half way up to its hilt in the soft earth. Nervously, she stepped around it and dashed to Inuyasha's side. He was out cold, she thought, running her hands over his face. Then her nose wrinkled at the smell of scorched flesh and she saw terrible burns on his hands and arms.
It seemed the blade had lashed out against him, but for what reason she couldn't guess. Kagome sighed, wearily pushing her hair back as she bowed her head and felt abjectly sad. Perhaps Tessaiga itself was angry with him, as if it also couldn't forgive the crimes he'd committed as a full youkai. And if that were true, it had exacted its own punishment for being awakened.
“Inuyasha,” she said, murmuring his name as she shook him. “You have to wake up, I need you.”
“Move away, woman.”
Cold went down Kagome's spine when she heard the horrible, grating voice. She spun around, crouching protectively over Inuyasha's voice to face another demon. This one was more human looking that the others, deformed and massive. His face was ugly and misshapen, as if a lunatic had formed him from clay. Long fangs gaped from his mouth, saliva dripping from them as he stared at her with glowing eyes. In one hand he held a massive club, which he used to point at the unconscious Inuyasha.
“Run and you live,” he gargled, almost spitting the words through his twisted mouth. Kagome flinched, almost unable to look at him. His skin seemed decayed, greenish and blackened in places and wildly she wondered if he had once been a human being…before a demon had taken over his body.
“No,” she whispered, making herself stand. “I won't let you touch him.”
He raised the club ominously. The smell of him sickened her, and again she thought he smelled more like a rotting corpse than anything else. Kagome stared hard at him, forcing herself to assess her opponent. Yes…he might have been a human once, but one look into those mad eyes and she knew that his human soul had long since left him.
“You want to die?” His voice was thick and congested, painful. “I will take him.”
“Try it,” she muttered, gritting her teeth even as her knees shook. Damn, why had she dropped her bow in the cave? She raised her arms, wondering if there was truly any power left within her to face this thing. If she could touch him, maybe…just maybe she could purify this mutilated corpse, drive out the demon possessing it. For all she claimed not to be a priestess, it seemed the right thing to do.
He moved, thick arms swinging to bash her skull in, knock her out of the way. Kagome braced herself, knowing she had to keep in contact with him if she had any hope of purifying the unclean, walking corpse. She readied herself for the blow, thinking if she could just hang on, get a grip on the twisted flesh, she might have a hope of saving Inuyasha even if she herself was injured.
Just before she would have been hit, she heard the sound of metal against metal, like a steel chain being thrown. Something bright streaked across her vision, a long, curved blade that slung itself around the throat of the hulking monster and then neatly decapitated him. Kagome flinched as fetid blood hit the ground in front of her, trying not to retch from the foul smell.
When she was able to look up, she found herself staring at the young man who was holding the end of the chain. He returned her gaze calmly, as if nothing were out of the ordinary, as if he hadn't just saved her life. As he slowly approached, something about him seemed so familiar…
His clothing maybe? He wore close-fitting black, with dark armor tied over his shoulders and knees. His lower face covered by an ornate mask and his left eye hidden by a dark patch, but she could still see the scars on his left cheek. When he was standing only a few yards from her and Inuyasha, he stopped and gave a practiced yank to the long chain, and caught the flying blade in his palm with an audible slap.
It couldn't…it could not be…
Kagome held her breath as he reached up to pull the mask away, memories washing over her in a bitter tide. His hair was longer now, making him look so much like his sister that it hurt. She'd had enough of ghosts and glanced down at the beheaded corpse as if to reassure herself that he was real, not just a dream walking out of the past.
“Kagome,” he said softly, his voice still as gentle as she remembered. “It is you after all.”
“Kohaku,” she whispered, swallowing hard against the tears in her throat.
He smiled faintly, bemused at her shocked expression. “I wasn't sure what to think when Kaede told me you had returned,” the young man said. “Are you surprised to see me?”
The words caught in her throat. Surprised didn't even begin to cover it. “I thought you were dead,” she answered, her voice breaking a bit.
Kohaku nodded. “I had thought the same of you,” he said, nonchalantly raising his hand in an odd gesture. Behind him, she saw other humans emerge from the forest, dressed similarly to Kohaku and realized with a start that they were from the youkai hunters' village. She recognized Natsu immediately from his scarred face and right behind him…
“Kagome!” Shippou shouted, running to her side. He took her arm gently, an anxious look on his face. “Are you hurt?”
“No,” she murmured, barely able to look away from Kohaku's face. “I'm…I'm fine, but…” She flung a glance over her shoulder back at the still unconscious Inuyasha and then grabbed Shippou by his arms.
“Where have you been?” she demanded urgently. “Shippou, you ran off…I was worried that you were going to do something stupid!”
His smile faded a bit at her words, old hurt in his eyes. “I'm fine,” he said, his voice noticeably colder. “I was angry, Kagome. I just needed some time to think. You know I wouldn't abandon you. Then…” He turned slowly, his arm sliding around hers protectively. “Then I met Kohaku and I knew I had to bring him to you.”
She felt like falling to her knees, the adrenaline of the fight had deserted her and left her weak.
“Where's Kouga?” she managed to get out. “We were attacked here, it was like they were waiting for us. How did you find Kohaku and…” She dragged her eyes back to the slim young man and shivered slightly, too many ghosts and painful memories surfacing every time she looked at him.
Too many questions, it was getting the better of her. Kagome honestly didn't know how much more she could take before she started screaming. So she settled for leaning heavily on Shippou's shoulder as she looked at Sango's little brother, Sango's very much alive little brother…
“How?” she asked, that question finding its way first to her lips. “Your sister…is she…”
Kohaku's expression darkened slightly, a look of bitter regret. “No,” he said, that tone of cold finality in his voice again. “She's not…alive.” He pushed his hair back from his forehead, sighing heavily. “I can't explain it very well, Kagome. She saved me, her and Kirara. When I fell into the fire, they caught me somehow and dragged me out.”
“We searched for you,” Kagome said, her voice hushed. “Inuyasha and I searched for you, just in case you'd made it out. We couldn't find you…we found Miroku, but you and Sango were just…”
He moved closer, one of his hands reaching for hers. “I was badly burned, I could hardly move. I don't know how I survived, or why I'm still alive after Naraku removed the jewel shard.” Kohaku's expression grew somber. “Kirara must have carried me as far as she could, but I woke up alone.”
Shippou was holding her up, she realized that now and Kagome was intensely grateful. She'd never been the kind of woman to faint under stress or shock, but right now her legs were like jelly and her whole body ached. Kohaku looked away from her for a moment, his eyes resting on Inuyasha.
“Is he dead?”
Kagome shook her head, rubbing her face with her hands. Finding she could stand on her own after all, she stepped away from Shippou's protective embrace. “No, he's unconscious,” she said and then her fingers twitched, remembering suddenly that Kohaku might not be happy to hear that Inuyasha had survived.
“You…” she said, her back stiffening. Kagome shook her head, unable to even think of fighting anyone. “You aren't going to hurt him, are you?”
Kohaku didn't quite meet her eyes, his gaze resting somewhere over her shoulder. “He is a youkai. I've heard stories of the things Inuyasha has done. Kaede told me about how he turned on you, Kagome. She told me how he destroyed her village, slaughtered innocent people.”
She couldn't deny it, but her face flushed. “I know that,” she bit out. “You don't have to tell me about what Inuyasha has done, but he's different now.”
“You really believe that?” Kohaku murmured, still without looking at her. “Isn't it possible you're just seeing him the way you want, instead of for what he truly is?”
Her mouth dropped open a little, hearing neither censure nor approval in his words, and her cheeks burned. “Shippou,” she ground out, turning on the kitsune. “What did you tell them?”
“The truth,” Shippou snapped angrily. “I don't trust him, Kagome, and you can't trust yourself when it comes to Inuyasha. He could lie right to your face and you'd never know it.”
Her breath hissed between her teeth. “Is that why you brought Kohaku here?” she demanded. “To kill Inuyasha? Have you lost your mind, Shippou?”
“I'm not planning on killing anyone,” Kohaku broke in, reaching out to touch her shoulder gently. “And Shippou didn't ask me to, but I need to know if you really believe he's changed.” His expression flickered and Kagome saw old pain twist Kohaku's face.
“Shippou told me that Inuyasha used the jewel,” the young man said quietly. “It changes you, don't you think I know that better than anyone?”
Her heart contracted painfully and Kagome felt her shoulders sag. This wasn't just a young man from the past; this was Sango's brother. This was Kohaku who had endured a shard in his body, a half-life borrowed from a corrupt jewel. He knew what it meant to have your will stolen; he knew it meant to betray everyone you loved…to lose everything.
The way she'd lost everything when Inuyasha used the jewel.
“I'm sorry,” she said, her apology more than heartfelt. She covered Kohaku's hand with her own. “I understand what you're trying to say, but I trust Inuyasha now.” She surprised herself with how much she meant it. “What we just went through here…”
Let me protect you!
Kagome lifted her chin defiantly. She wanted them to believe her, the way she'd come to believe in Inuyasha. This Inuyasha…not the one who'd made a terrible mistake or lost himself. They needed to understand.
“He came for me, protected me,” she said at last. Kagome turned to look at Shippou. “He didn't have to save me, he didn't have to come here to try and protect Kouga's people either. Don't you believe that he's changed?”
Shippou flushed, staring at the ground so he wouldn't have to look at her. “I can't stand by and let him hurt you again,” he muttered. “I can't just forgive him or forget what he did.”
She understood so well what he was feeling, in a way, Shippou had endured everything with her in the past, it was only to be expected he'd carry her scars as well. Letting go of those feelings, it was so hard. Just when she'd think that she was free of the past, it would rise up to slap her in the face again. She was ready to put it behind her now, move on. She wanted that for Shippou as well.
“I've come to a decision,” Kohaku said, his quiet voice breaking the tension between Shippou and Kagome. “If you believe he's to be trusted, then I will believe so too. For my sister's memory…I will take the chance.”
Kagome blinked, struck by the strange formality of Kohaku's tone. Was he saying he wouldn't attack Inuyasha now? There seemed to be something more to it and she felt Shippou's body tense, a surprised eagerness in his eyes.
“Kohaku?” she asked. “What kind of chance are you talking about?”
His expression was very serious. “Shippou told me how you came to be here,” he said, stating the fact as if it were simple to him. “I know someone who might be able to help you, someone who might be able to make your well work again.”
He paused and then Kohaku smiled, and this time his smile was warm.
“You can go home.”