InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Possession ❯ Thirty ( Chapter 30 )
[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
A/N: Woo boy, I'm sorry it took me so long with this chapter! The holidays done kicked Wheezi in the butt, how about you guys? I hope to make up for my inexcusable lateness with this long chapter. Just to let you know, I'm also revising some of the earlier chapters.
Anyway, thanks to everyone for sticking with this story and continuing to make my day with your reviews and emails. I appreciate each and every one of them and thank you from the bottom of my heart.
It was dusk when she climbed out of the well for what she sincerely hoped would be the last time. The first thing that Kagome noticed, before she even slid back the door of the well house, was that the air finally smelled right. After so many weeks in the feudal era, it was hard not to notice the difference.
She smelled car exhaust, the heavy acrid tang of pollution. It wasn't anything she'd ever noticed in the past, just another part of the modern world to which she belonged. Now she felt it clearly and inhaled, filling her lungs with the taint of the future and exhaling what was left of the past.
Kagome Higurashi had at last returned home.
Relief made her knees weak and she leaned against the rough wood of the old door. She'd made it. So many years she'd wasted, hating herself, trying to forget everything. She'd thrown herself into the modern world like a sacrifice, expecting to die upon the sharp edges of success like a martyr.
Now she knew she'd only been punishing herself and if that was what she'd been meant to learn…she was grateful for what had happened. Everything…even meeting Inuyasha again…had been for a reason. Now she was no longer blind, no longer alienated from her own soul. Kagome Higurashi might have gone into the well as a woman in denial, but her eyes were wide open now.
She would be a better person this time. And a better friend to herself as well, it was time for her to stop running away. Kagome resolved that she would not waste this second chance, this reprieve for the sentence she'd imposed upon herself all those years ago.
The courtyard of the old shrine was deserted when she stepped outside and Kagome sighed wearily. She was so tired, so very tired, but also filled with elation. She was back and her bare feet slipped soundlessly over the cool pavement. The sky was painted in shades of violet and dark rose, a dying sunset over the bustling city.
“Mama,” she whispered, looking towards the darkened house. Tired as she was, she was desperate to see her mother's face. Most of all she wanted to throw herself into her mother's arms, sobbing like a schoolgirl, and promise to never let so much distance come between them again.
And she wasn't thinking of the miles of sea between Tokyo and Hawaii. More of the emotional distance, the brick wall that she'd built around herself since the last time she'd stepped out of that well. Her mother deserved to know the truth.
The house seemed encased in silence, its darkened windows ominous. Kagome glanced at the sky, wondering why her mother had turned off all the lights when it was nearly full dark. She tried the door and found it locked, a frown of frustration creasing her forehead.
Kagome knocked politely, and then banged the door with her fist a minute later when no one came to answer. Surely, even if her mother were asleep the noise would wake her? She knocked until her knuckles were sore and stepped back to swear at her ever-present bad luck.
Locked out of her mother's house in her bare feet. Kagome snorted and shook her head. She really didn't want anyone to see her like this, especially not the local police. She still had every intention of pressing charges against her dear ex-husband for attempted murder and the lawyer in her advised strongly against going to the cops while looking like a disheveled bag lady.
Circling the house, she decided to try the windows before looking for a better option. She hated the idea of waiting on the steps until her mother came back. The thought made her wistful, remembering how in the past she'd always counted on finding her family at home when she'd return from her other life in the feudal era.
Mama washing dishes at the sink…Souta and her grandfather sitting together in the kitchen talking. All of them ready to welcome her back, ask about her friends and her adventures as if it was a normal thing for a fifteen year old girl to travel across centuries to fight evil demons.
The windows were filthy and Kagome frowned, wiping the glass with her sleeve and trying to peer inside. She couldn't think of how the windows had gotten so dirty in just a few weeks. Her mother was diligent and took as much offense to dirt and grime on the outside of her home as the inside.
She must have really been worried sick to let it go this far…
At least the window was open and with a little effort, Kagome managed to climb inside, her grubby feet swinging over the sill and dropping to the floor. She pushed her hair back, already thinking of the long, hot shower that awaited her.
It was so good to be home, so very good…
She caught her breath as she looked around the deserted kitchen. Garbage was strewn across the floor carelessly, old papers and trash everywhere. It looked like her mother hadn't been home in some time and she started to be afraid.
She tried to turn on the lights, only to find the electricity was off. There was dirt everywhere and when she trailed her hand along the kitchen countertop, she felt grit and chalky dust. How had this happened, where was her mother? Had she taken ill, was it possible that her disappearance had caused her mother to break down after all?
Kagome choked back her tears, running to every room in her mother's house. She found more disarray and furniture covered by dusty sheets. It was obvious that no one lived here anymore. All of the family's personal belongings, other than furniture, were gone.
She moved like a ghost in the house, a memory of the life that had once dwelled within. With every step she felt her body going numb, her fingers stiff and chill as shock set in. Her mother, her brother…they were gone. They had just up and left without ever finding out what had happened to her.
A tight knot formed in her chest, painful and grieving. This wasn't home anymore, not without Mama and Souta. It was every nightmare she'd ever dreamed in the long years since she'd sealed the well and moved away. That one day she'd return home and find that she had no home to return to…
Kagome refused to give in to the crushing despair as she moved back to the kitchen. She'd contact the police; maybe her mother had filed a missing person report. They'd know where to find her, there had to be some kind of contact number or address. She didn't give a damn anymore about her appearance or what happened with Scott.
She was reaching for the telephone and stopped herself. She didn't have to pick it up to know that it was disconnected. Time to think, time to keep her composure before she ran screaming into the street. She'd faced death and she'd faced the past and beaten back the inner demons as well as real ones. She could find her family.
Opening her eyes, she found herself staring at an old newspaper, neatly folded and left next to the phone. It was so dark she could barely read, but she picked up the paper and carried it to the grimy window. Maybe there was something here, a story perhaps about a woman gone missing and the family that had searched for her.
Her hands were shaking so hard that the paper trembled and rustled before slipping from her numb fingers. It had been folded open to the obituaries and when she saw the name Higurashi…she thought it was for her grandfather. But she was wrong, the obituary wasn't an announcement of an old man's death. Rather it was for a woman, an old woman with the same name as her mother…
“No!” she screamed, throwing the paper on the floor and running from the house. It was the same name as her mother's; it was her mother's date of birth as well. Survived by one son, Higurashi Souta, and one daughter, Higurashi Kagome…missing. But what really tore her apart wasn't seeing her mother's name in a listing of the dead…it was her date of death…some thirty years in the future…
“What have you done to me?” she screamed at the sky, raking her hands through her hair until the strands broke on her fingers. Her heart was going to explode; her eyes were burning with tears that streaked like fire down her cold face. Sobbing, broken, she staggered across the shrine grounds like a drunkard or a helpless child.
She heard her name whispered, but so loud that the stones beneath her feet could feel it. Kagome stood very still, her breath coming in ragged gasps as listened hard. It was a voice, it was his voice, and she thought for a long moment that maybe he'd followed her through the well somehow.
No, it's in my mind, she thought, pressing the heels of her hands to her temples. Inuyasha isn't here; the well doesn't work for him. He wouldn't come here now anyway…why would he…when I…
She headed for the tree, suddenly sure she'd find him waiting for her. To take her back with him, knowing there was nothing left for her here. She'd gone thirty years too far; out of a damned cursed well that once again had sucked away everything.
Slowly, she approached the wide trunk, one hand reaching out to touch the rough bark. Now that she was looking, she could see how the grounds were overgrown. Her grandfather had taken such pride in their family shrine, it hurt to see it neglected and forgotten like this. And the tree…
Inuyasha was pinned the tree, a single arrow protruding from his chest. She reached to touch him and her fingers found sticky blood. It was fresh, warm and she started to come apart when he opened his eyes and looked at her. This wasn't how it was supposed to be.
His eyes were dark, black as the hair that fell over his shoulders. Human Inuyasha gasped in pain, his face a mask of agony. Wordlessly, he pleaded with her for help, the scent of death heavy in the air and his face so pale against the dark blood of his wounds.
“W…what happened to you?” she managed to whisper. He just stared at her with pain in his eyes and did not speak. Trembling, she touched the arrow and he winced, frightened as a tormented child. She didn't know why he was here, why she was here, but she had to save him…somehow.
She pulled the arrow with all her strength, but it was stuck fast to the tree. She'd expected to vanish, but instead the shaft was hard in her grasp. Inuyasha gasped, his eyes closing against the pain and fresh blood spilled from his chest. He coughed, more blood flecking his lips and Kagome backed away from him, bringing her stained fingers to her mouth in horror.
“Tell me what happened,” she begged, so helpless that she couldn't stand it. She'd never seen him look so weak, so close to death. Inuyasha was bleeding to death in front of her and she couldn't do a damn thing! She had to find help for him, an ambulance, a doctor. He couldn't seem to speak, barely managing to raise his hand and touch her tear-streaked face.
His expression was tender and sad, as if bidding her goodbye forever. Her heart was breaking, now after all this, she had to watch him die as well?
“Hold on,” she said, her voice breaking. “I'll find someone, they'll help you…I won't leave you here, Inuyasha!”
For a moment, the pain in his eyes seemed to soften, becoming infinitely sad. His hand fell away from her face, hanging limp at his side as his head drooped forward. No, this wasn't happening, she could never stand to see him hurt. She'd always hated to see him wounded, always felt his pain as if it had been her own.
Tenderly, she reached for his face, his skin already going chill. “Inuyasha,” she whispered, stroking the dark hair away from his eyes. “Tell me what I'm supposed to do.”
Tell me what I'm supposed to do!
His eyes just barely opened, the pupils dilated. He seemed to be struggling; she could see his throat move as he tried to force words from his punctured chest. Leaning close, she caught the barest whisper, the last thing she would ever hear from Inuyasha's lips.
A hand seized the back of her hair and she screamed, full out screamed in sudden terror. She was lifted off her feet, a tearing pain in her scalp, and swung around to face a monster. Glowing crimson eyes from a nightmare met hers; long fangs glinting as he opened his twisted mouth. Shock poured through her body at the sight of his ravaged, scarred face, his white hair a wild mess as his claws buried themselves deep in her throat.
“You killed me, bitch,” he hissed, anger rolling off him in waves. “Now you will die too.”
Kagome gasped, sitting up and holding her head in her hands while the terror still pounded in her blood. A dream…but horrifyingly real.
It was hardly the first time that she'd dreamed of her own death, but this nightmare took a new twist. That she'd make it home, only to find that her mother was dead, her brother gone and everything in her life had vanished. She ached from the tension in her body; it made her tremble. She was exhausted, it seemed like every time she tried to sleep, her subconscious was determined to attack her.
Sighing, she glanced across their tiny camp, the banked coals of their fire glowing in the pre-dawn darkness. Shippou was snoring, lying flat on his back with one arm cocked under his head like a pillow. She remembered when he was a child and he'd beg to sleep next to her. Chances are that he still would, but things couldn't ever be the same.
On her right, Rin was a dark huddle. Her breathing was deep and even, obviously not troubled by visions or guilt. And why should it? More and more Rin was coming to remind Kagome of her past self, so bold and full of life.
Kagome smiled slightly as she watched the younger woman sleep. Perhaps Rin's confidence had come from her adoptive father. One thing that Sesshomaru had never seemed to lack was confidence, utterly sure of himself and his place in the world. Inuyasha was a bit like that now, as if all the ghosts of his lonely childhood had somehow been put to rest by his full youkai blood, or his full youkai brother's acceptance.
On her left, there was a mystery. Kohaku was utterly still in sleep, unmoving and barely breathing it seemed. She could see the scars on his cheek as he slept, highlighted by slight glow of the fire. A terrible injury, the death his sister had saved him from had still cost him his eye. Again, here was another person from her past who had somehow healed his life.
And done a better job of it than herself. Like Kouga, he'd gathered the strength to live and found something to fight for, something to believe in. He was strong like his sister had been, but Kagome wondered if Sango would approve of the choices her younger brother had made.
He's nothing like Souta, she thought to herself, watching as the dark hair over his nose stirred slightly. The deadly young man Kohaku had become had nothing in common with her easygoing brother. But it made her wonder just the same. If she'd never returned from the well that last time, if she hadn't come back to them wearing invisible scars on her heart and body, would Souta have found a way to take the path of revenge?
Would he have become grim and silent, his eyes banked with resolute anger? It was a question she'd never have the answer for, and one that she didn't want to dwell upon in the dark hours before dawn. Not after having visions of a future that mocked her dreams with futility.
It wasn't futile. There was still hope. She'd learned what she needed to learn while here and now it was time to go home.
She hadn't known what to say when Kohaku had told her there was a way home for her.
“How?” she asked, suspicious of anyone who'd offer her such a dream. It was too convenient, too neat. And Kagome had learned to be suspicious of things that weren't messy.
“I can't make any promises,” Kohaku said, his voice soft. “Only that she might help you.” His gaze lifted over her shoulder and she saw something cold in his face as he looked at Inuyasha's unconscious figure.
“Or perhaps not as she has no love of youkai.”
Kagome studied him, his quiet stance, and his stern resolve. No love of youkai, but someone that might help her?
“Who?” she asked, befuddled. “A…priestess?”
“A very old woman,” Kohaku answered. “She lives alone in the deepest part of the forest. I guess you might say that she's something of a hermit, but she's been much help to my people.”
Spelled ropes and bindings. Weapons that were strong enough to put humans on the level to attack, capture, and kill much stronger beings. She'd assumed that Kaede had been the one helping the youkai hunters.
“You say she's helped you in destroying youkai,” Kagome said, her tone carefully neutral. “Even if they hadn't attacked humans?”
Kohaku stiffened a bit at her words. “She's helped us to defend ourselves,” he told her, an undertone of quiet strength in his voice.
“Kagome,” Shippou's soft voice broke in, “she might help you just the same. It's not your fault that you were brought here and…”
He didn't say it, but she could hear the words echo in her mind. Just to get you away from Inuyasha.
Everyone seemed so damned determined to protect her from herself. She'd had enough; if she were to go before this woman she wouldn't be doing it out of fear or to beg for help. She'd do it because the truth was…she didn't belong here.
“Is it far?” she asked. She needed to know what she was asking of him. She'd already disrupted enough lives and like Kouga, Kohaku obviously had a responsibility to his people first.
“Not far,” Kohaku said, glancing out at the quiet forest. “But it will be dangerous. I'm the only one who knows the way, and I can't ask any of my men to come with us. Since you were my sister's friend, I will take you there myself.”
Her eyes misted when he said that, reminding her of what he'd already lost. In a way, she was responsible…if she hadn't shattered the jewel, Kohaku's family wouldn't have been killed when Naraku stole the shards they'd been protecting.
But what Ayame had said came back to her. She couldn't keep the blame for everything Naraku had done as her own. Out of shame, she'd found a way to make herself think that she'd deserved all that guilt, pretending that she'd been the catalyst for the destruction of so many lives.
Thinking of the wolf demon's earnest words, she suddenly remembered that Kouga's people were missing. “Shippou,” she said, urgent now. “Where did Kouga go? When Inuyasha and I got here, the camp was abandoned.”
Shippou frowned, rubbing the back of his neck. “Kouga has men set to watch for attacks,” he admitted, not quite looking in Kohaku's direction. “If they knew that swarm was heading this way, he would have sent everyone to the caves down by the river. It's the safest place for the women and children to hide, he wouldn't have them stay here and be vulnerable if the fight went badly.”
Kohaku smiled faintly. “That's quite intelligent of him, they'd be a liability in battle.”
“I supposed you'd think so!”
They all turned at the sound of Kouga's angry voice to see the wolf youkai appear from the tree line, followed by a dozen of his men. The demon hunters immediately took a defensive stance, readying their swords and spears. Kouga looked absolutely furious, stalking across the compound with hatred in his eyes. Kohaku folded his arms and waited, apparently not intimidated in the least.
“You have no business here,” the wolf growled, pointing a finger at Kohaku's men. “You think I don't know how many of my people you've murdered? I should kill you where you stand, bastard!”
“And how many humans have you killed?” Natsu shouted angrily. Kohaku's men snarled their assent, ready to attack the wolves at Kohaku's signal. In response, Kouga's wolf demons growled in challenge, their claws ready for battle as they started to advance.
“No,” Shippou broke in, grabbing for Kouga's arm. His foster father shook him off, glaring at the kitsune.
“You brought them here?” he demanded, not taking his eyes from Kohaku. “Damn it, Shippou! What the hell were you thinking? Now that they know where we are, we won't be safe here!”
“I'm not here to attack you, Kouga,” Kohaku said in an even, deadly voice. “This doesn't have to get violent.”
“Fuck you,” the wolf sneered, his eyes glinting with fury. “You're butchers, murderers! Not one of my men had attacked a human settlement, but you still cut them down like animals!”
“You are animals,” Natsu shouted, stepping forward with his spear clenched in his hands. “You're filthy youkai that deserve to be wiped from the earth!”
“Natsu,” Kohaku said, his voice like a lash. “I've warned you…”
“Keep that bastard's mouth shut,” Kouga hissed. “You ambush my men and slaughter our wolves, but you're exposed right now. I've been waiting for the chance to take you down.”
“You want to take me on yourself, wolf?” Kohaku asked, his body tense like a steel spring. Slowly, he drew his curved blade, the chain rattling as he pulled it taut like a threat. “I didn't come here to fight you, Kouga. But if that's what you want, you can have your battle now.”
“Please,” Kagome whispered, her eyes burning as they faced each other. “This isn't what you want, either of you.” It looked like there was no way to stop this fight, no way to turn them aside. Desperately, she looked at Shippou, hoping he'd somehow find a way to make Kouga back down. His face was red, his eyes panicked as he saw Kouga and Kohaku start to circle each other, menace and old hatred filling the air.
“Prepare to die, human,” Kouga snarled, ready to leap at his enemy.
“We shall see,” Kohaku returned as he raised his blade.
Oh god no!
“If you bastards are going to fight,” an annoyed voice broke in, “could you at least be fucking quiet about it?”
“Inuyasha,” Kagome murmured, a strange happiness filling her heart as she saw the inuyoukai slowly getting to his feet. He staggered a bit, looking pale and ill. Concern washed over her as she went to help him. He brushed her aside, putting his hand to his forehead with a wince.
“Are you okay?” she asked, worried at how sick he looked.
“I'd be better if these assholes would just shut up,” he growled. Sighing heavily, he dropped his hand and glared at them. “My head is fucking killing me.”
“This isn't your problem,” Kouga said, but some of the fury had receded in his eyes. “Don't interfere, mutt.”
Inuyasha snorted. “Like I give a fuck if you two kill each other,” he said, some of the color coming back into his face. “But I'm gonna pound the both of you into the ground if you don't stop yelling about it.”
“He doesn't look strong enough to pound sand into a hole,” Natsu muttered.
Kohaku nodded slowly and slipped his blade back into his belt. “This is not the time to be fighting,” he said, casting a stern look at his men. “Kagome, my offer to help you stands. Will you come with me or not?”
He'd grown up so much, and into such a strong person, she thought. Kohaku's scarred face and covered eye reminded her of the nature of sacrifices. Wasn't it cowardly of her to run away after being told that there was something she needed to do?
Or could it be that she was now looking for an excuse to stay with Inuyasha? She bit her lip and thought about it. Her selfishness had cost her nearly everything in the past, but how could she not try to get when it might be her only chance to do so?
“Yes,” she said at last. “I think I have to try, no matter what the danger is.”
A warm arm fell across her shoulders. “You won't be alone,” Shippou said quietly. “I promised to watch out for you, Kagome. I want to make sure that you're safe, wherever you are.”
Kagome smiled, honestly touched by his offer. It meant so much to her, that he didn't resent her or hate her for what he'd seen. The child he'd been wouldn't have been able to forgive her for what he had to think of as a betrayal. But here he was now, still trying to find a way to protect the ones he cared about.
The warm feeling in her heart vanished though, when Shippou turned to face Inuyasha. “Guess you aren't needed here,” he said, his voice cold and angry. “Why don't you go back to where you belong and leave us alone?”
“Shippou,” she burst out, shocked by the undertone of hatred in his words.
Surprisingly, Inuyasha didn't look angry at all. “Guess you're right about that, runt,” he said softly, meeting her eyes. She felt the distance between them suddenly widen as if he stood on the other side of a massive gulf. There was something bitter in his expression, a regret she'd never seen before.
And it tore at her. She was leaving him…again.
Kohaku cleared his throat. “Actually, you might be wrong about that, Shippou,” he said, his voice soft and serious. “I'm sure you've noticed that the youkai attacks have been getting more frequent. I can't spare any of my men for this journey. I think, if possible, Inuyasha should accompany us.”
“What?” Shippou asked, outraged. “You want him with us?”
Nodding, the young exterminator turned to look Inuyasha in the eye. “I definitely think so. If a swarm like the one that attacked here comes again, you and I might not be able to fight them off. I want to help, but I have no intention of throwing my life away. He should come with us.”
“That's not my problem,” Inuyasha said, staring back at Kohaku. His expression was as cold and remote as Sesshomaru's had ever been. He looked untouchable, a calm center of the conflict around him.
“Inuyasha,” she whispered, hearing every bit of the dismissal in his voice.
He shrugged and looked away. “Has nothing to do with me. Just like Shippou said.”
She was shook to the soles of her feet by his abrupt change. He'd made love to her, sworn that he wanted her. And now, because she was trying to go, he was willing to abandon her to whatever fate had in store? She flushed, realizing that whatever he'd said about his feelings for her, he'd expected them to be on his terms.
And now that she could accept the fact that she'd never stopped loving him, he'd turn off his feelings and just let her go. But she couldn't very well beg him to come with her, expecting him to follow like a desperate suitor. He wouldn't do it, not then and not now.
“I understand,” she said, her voice calm as if her heart weren't breaking all over again.
“Well I don't!” Kouga exploded, glaring at them all. Angrily, he stalked over to Inuyasha and grabbed his arm hard. “Stupid mutt,” he ground out. “If she needs you now, you owe it to her to help!”
Inuyasha yanked his arm away, returning Kouga's glare. “You don't tell me what to do,” he snapped. “Fucking go yourself, wolf-turd, if you're that damned worried.”
Growling with annoyance, Kouga grabbed Inuyasha by the ear. The inuyoukai's face went dark red and he suddenly seized Kouga's throat with his claws. “Kouga,” he hissed, “I'm warning you…”
“Listen to me,” the wolf said, his voice harsh. “I don't give a damn about you, or what you want. You're the same selfish prick you've always been.”
Inuyasha shoved Kouga away and folded his arms over his chest. “What about it?” he asked mockingly. “Since when do you get to give me orders, you can't even protect your own territory.”
“We'll go without you,” Shippou growled, thrusting himself between Kouga and Inuyasha. He fixed Inuyasha with a glare. “You promised to protect Kagome and you let her down. I won't let you do it again!”
“You can't stop me from doing anything,” Inuyasha hissed, suddenly vicious. He glared around him as if daring them to fight. “Like hell I'm going to follow some damn exterminator into the forest, visit some damn bitch priestess. It sounds like a fucking trap.”
Kohaku put up his hand, silencing the angry mutters of his men. “You're right to be suspicious,” he said quietly. “To be honest, I don't want you to come with us. This would be your chance to murder me as well, Inuyasha.”
“Then why take the chance?” Inuyasha demanded. He turned to look at Kagome and she caught her breath as his lip curled in contempt. “What do you think you'll get out of her for your help?”
“You just want to keep her here for yourself,” Shippou snarled, shoving his way past Kouga when the wolf tried to hold him back. “Kohaku isn't trying to get anything from Kagome, or you, or anyone. You don't remember a goddamn thing! Who the hell are you to accuse him or anyone else?”
Inuyasha laughed, his voice cruel. “What makes you think I want to keep her?” he sneered. Shippou flushed and then jumped when Inuyasha flicked the tip of his nose with a sharp claw. “She ain't nothing to me.” His eyes slid to Kagome's and she thought she saw a ghost of something there before he turned away.
“Inuyasha,” she whispered, the pain like a knot in her chest. “You…you came back here to save me. You used Tessaiga. Doesn't that mean…”
“Absolutely nothing,” he bit out. He glared at her like she'd torn out his heart and laughed. “You hate me, remember? I only saved your life because…”
His words seemed to fade away, dry up in his throat like sand. Inuyasha swallowed and then shrugged. “Because you were stupid enough to believe me when I said I loved you.”
The breath went out of her body, hissing past her lips like a dry ghost. For a long moment, she wanted to sag to her knees, let herself drown. Again…he'd lied to her again and she'd believed him. And this time she couldn't conveniently try to blame a jewel for her mistakes.
This time…he'd known exactly what he'd been doing and there could be no denying it.
“I don't believe you,” she ground out, her hands clenching into fists. “You're a fucking liar, Inuyasha. You're lying to me now, but you weren't lying to me then!”
He stared at her for a long moment and Kagome forgot that there were others watching. Kouga, Kohaku and his offer of help…Shippou's anger and jealousy, it all faded into the background. She run in terror from his love before, just as she'd run away from the wild youkai of the past. His words cut her to the bone, but she was no longer afraid.
“Believe what you want,” Inuyasha muttered. “It doesn't make a damn difference to me. Go back to where you belong, Kagome.”
“I will,” she spat, furious with herself for believing him. Deliberately, she turned her back on Inuyasha, facing Kohaku with a serious gaze. “I'm willing to take the risk, whatever the danger,” she said, making her voice cold as ice. “As he said, I should go back to where I belong.”
Kohaku rubbed the back of his head and sighed. “I don't like this,” he said thoughtfully, watching Inuyasha's face. “If you want Kagome to go home where she belongs, won't you at least help me see her safely there?”
“I have no reason to care what happens to that woman,” Inuyasha muttered. Kouga growled and he shot the wolf a furious glare. “And I sure as hell don't care about what you think either!”
“And what do you care about?” a new voice broke in, lighter but no less angry than the others.
Kagome turned to see Rin, standing beside a silent Ayame as the wolf tribe's women and children started to make their way back into camp. The girl looked upset and it was obvious she'd overheard most, if not all, of the conversation.
“Rin, this isn't your…”
“Sesshomaru-sama told you to help her,” Rin said in an accusing tone. “I don't believe you'd turn your back on Kagome just because there's nothing in it for you.”
Inuyasha glared at her, folding his arms over his chest with a sneer. “You don't know what you're talking about, little girl,” he said. “You think you can tell me what's right just because my damn brother lets you have your way all the time? Like hell I'm taking orders from a spoiled brat!”
Rin jumped at him, slapping the startled youkai with her open palm. He took a step back, confused and then his face flushed angrily. “I've always defended you,” she said, glaring up at him. “Whatever anyone said back home, I always took your side. I'd be ashamed to think I was wrong about you, Inuyasha.”
Kagome couldn't think of what to say, only that she felt responsible for this too. Reaching for the girl's arm, she tried to smooth things over. “Rin, don't…”
“You're wrong about him, Rin,” Shippou said, bitterness seeping from his voice. “He doesn't give a damn about anyone but himself and never has. It's always been a lie!”
The air around them went very still, almost breathless with anticipation. Then Inuyasha snorted, shaking back his hair as he stared right at Kagome. “Of course it was a lie,” he said, his voice softly intimate. “You keep telling me how I betrayed you, turned on you. Most likely I'll do it again.”
“Inuyasha,” she whispered, unable to speak more than his name.
“Just go home,” he said, something lost in his eyes when he looked at her. “Don't you get it? I don't want you anymore.”
She closed her eyes, feeling her heart being crushed by his words. Her knees trembled but she pulled herself together, fighting it. Her hands slowly closed into fists, her back stiff as she turned away. She wouldn't let him see her cry…no, she wouldn't do that.
“If you want her to go home, then you should come with us,” Kohaku said. The young exterminator seemed unmoved by what had been said, instead focusing on the reality of the situation.
“Yes,” Rin said softly, her own eyes welling at the pain in Kagome's face. “At least that much, Inuyasha.”
He sighed, utterly defeated and glanced around him, seeing half-hostile glares from the wolves and open suspicion from the youkai hunters. He glared back at them before shrugging his shoulders. “Yeah, whatever,” he growled softly, turning back to Rin. “Just quit bitching at me.”
Rin's face broke into a happy smile and Kagome wished her heart could feel glad. Home, she might be going home. But she couldn't make herself feel happy about it now, not with Inuyasha's cold rejection lodged in her heart like an arrow. It seemed like he was never going to run out of ways to hurt her.
I hate you.
Oh but she didn't, even now when he wouldn't look at her, when he told her to go. Slowly, she turned to face him, her feet dragging and resignation in her eyes. She could only pray that Kohaku's mysterious, youkai-despising woman of the forest might give her hope. But for now, at least she could be with him a little while longer. Maybe enough to heal what was left of her heart, so that she could leave him on his side of the well without regrets.
“Thank you,” she said, and meant it. “Thank you for doing this for me.”
Kohaku insisted on leaving immediately, but Kagome wished they'd had a chance to rest. She knew Inuyasha hadn't full recovered from the battle yet, or Tessaiga's backlash. She could tell by the way he walked a little slower and kept putting his hand to his head as if in pain. But Kohaku said they couldn't linger here for very long, they'd only put the wolf demon tribe in danger if they stayed.
Kouga had found that comment to be exceptionally funny, laughing harshly as he loudly announced to his people that the exterminator was concerned for their safety. Kagome could see that they didn't believe a word of it, not even relaxing when Kohaku sent his men off without him.
“It's a few days journey to our village,” he told Kagome in a quiet aside. “They'll go ahead and make sure there's nothing ugly waiting for us.”
“Your village?” she asked, confused. “We were there, that's not where you said we would go.”
He shook his head, still as quiet and sober as she remembered. “Not that village, my people have spread out. We're the most vulnerable if we're all in the same place, so I don't allow my men to stay anywhere very long. We'll stop and get supplies there.” Then he smiled shyly, not quite looking at her. “And I want you to meet my wife.”
Kagome stopped, a faint grin on her face as Kohaku flushed slightly. “You have a wife?” she asked. Well, why not? Kohaku was an adult, not a child anymore than Shippou was. Of course he'd have someone and she felt her heart lift at the idea, knowing how glad Sango would have been to know her brother had some happiness.
His expression remained serious. “After…after my sister saved my life, I was badly burned, near death,” he explained as the smile died in her eyes. “I probably would have died, but a girl found me. She went for help and the people from her village came to get me. I spent months trying to recover while she and her mother nursed my wounds. I've been with them ever since.”
“And you married this girl,” Kagome finished, reaching for his hand. He looked startled when she gave his fingers a squeeze. “Kohaku, I'm happy for you.”
“We're expecting our first child very soon,” he said, his face creasing around his scars in a smile. “My wife thinks I want a son, but I really want a daughter. I'd like to name her after my sister.”
Warmth filled her heart and Kagome was able to believe for a moment that people could be happy. “Sango would love that,” she said, her voice husky as she remembered her brave friend. “She would be so proud of you, Kohaku.”
She'd expected him to be pleased when she said that, but a shadow crossed his face and Kohaku dropped her hand. “I expect she would,” he answered, his voice without a trace of emotion. Then he walked away, giving last minute instructions to his men before they disappeared into the forest ahead of them.
“He's changed quite a bit,” Rin said softly, coming to stand next to Kagome. “I remember him as a boy, how sad he was. At the time I didn't understand what had been…had been done to him.”
Kagome didn't answer, remembering that once Kohaku had nearly killed Rin, and also that he'd nearly killed her too while under Naraku's influence. Too well she remembered Sango's pain over her brother's manipulation, how devastated she had been by his crimes. She supposed that this was his way of making up for what he'd done, the innocents he'd murdered while acting as Naraku's executioner.
Sango would be proud of her brother now, she was sure of it.
“I still think we should leave without Inuyasha,” Shippou grumbled. Kagome raised her eyebrows when Rin turned on the young kitsune, her eyes flashing.
“This isn't about you,” she scolded, shaking a finger at the fox. “Can't you let go of your hate, Shippou? We're all trying to help Kagome, isn't that what you want?”
“She's right,” a deep voice murmured. Shippou turned to glare at Kouga, who only gave him a condescending grin. “You're making an ass of yourself, Shippou. And you're making Kagome damn uncomfortable. If you can't behave yourself, I'm going make you stay here.”
Shippou's eyes widened. “You…what the hell, Kouga? You hate him as much as I do, don't tell me you're gonna start trusting Inuyasha now!”
“I don't,” the wolf said, his eyes narrowed into slits. “But I'm trusting you to watch over her, you stupid brat. And you can't do that when you're looking for a fucking fight. It's not about you, so quit acting like a little kid.”
“The hell!” Shippou said hotly. His face was crimson with embarrassment and Kagome had to hide a smile. Kouga merely raised his eyebrows and shot Kagome a wicked smile.
“Of course,” Kouga taunted, “if you were more of a man, you'd know what an ass you're making of yourself. Been a long time since I had to put you in your place, kid. You want me to do it now?”
Shippou sputtered angrily, his face going even redder before Rin grabbed his arm and shook it. “Let's go help Ayame with the supplies,” she said, giving his hair a quick tug to make him look at her. “I want you to come with me to say goodbye to her and the children. They look up to you, Shippou, so act like you deserve it.”
The fox was still grumbling as she pulled him away, half dragging the kitsune with the determined air of a girl who was used to having her way. Kouga burst out laughing, actually wiping tears from eyes as he watched Rin bully the sullen Shippou.
“That girl of Sesshomaru's is a feisty one,” he said, grinning down at Kagome. “Must come from being raised around dogs, she's almost a demon herself.”
“You were provoking him,” Kagome answered, smiling. “Kouga, I can't tell you how grateful I am for everything you did for Shippou.”
The wolf brushed off her compliment. “I was trying to provoke him,” he said with a smirk. “Only way to get him to stop thinking about himself.”
“He's still so angry,” she murmured. Kagome sighed heavily and rubbed her eyes. “And I'm not making it easier for him.”
Kouga's hand fell on her shoulder and turned her to face him. “No, it's not about you,” he told her quietly, his expression going quite serious. “He says it is, but it's not. He's still hurt from what Inuyasha did in the past and not just because of what he did to you. He's going to have to find a way to deal with it sooner or later, so just let him be.”
Her eyes bleak, she stared up at Kouga. “You think so, I don't know that it's better this way. Maybe he shouldn't go with us; I don't know what will happen. If he can't get over his anger, it's going to be rough for us all.”
Kouga was silent, staring at the forest where Inuyasha had disappeared just before Kohaku's men had left. “I think you're in for a rough time anyway,” the wolf mused. “I don't trust him, Kagome.”
She sighed and put her hand over his. “I know, Kouga. But if Kohaku thinks Inuyasha should go with us, I think we should…”
“I'm not talking about Inuyasha,” he said, interrupting her. He took her hand and pulled her to the side, glancing over at where Ayame was standing with Shippou and Rin. “I'm talking about Kohaku. Don't trust him, Kagome. I know he's the brother of your dead friend, but…don't trust him.”
“Kouga,” she said, surprised. He nodded once, harshly, and turned a smile on her that didn't have much heart in it.
“Ayame and I agree,” he said soberly. “If you've got any misgivings about this, you are welcome to stay here as long as you want. I might not like Inuyasha; I hate his guts in fact. But I know him, maybe better than you think. Something happened to him out there, not just losing his memory.”
He shook himself, obvious chilled by his own thoughts. “In any case,” Kouga said, forcing his voice to sound light. “You don't have to go. Inuyasha…you can handle it, Kagome. But watch that boy; don't think that his loyalty is yours just because you trusted his sister. I've lost too many friends to his butchers for me to think he's only acting out of compassion.”
It was a serious warning and she took it as such. Now, sitting in the darkness with her own dreams to haunt her, she thought about his warning again.
Kohaku had no real reason to help her, none other than for his sister's memory. But he was still willing to take her to this mysterious woman…he was even risking his ally by having Shippou, Rin, and Inuyasha with them. Shippou's loyalty was to the wolves, more importantly, Rin and Inuyasha were loyal to Sesshomaru. And Sesshomaru and Kouga had both suffered the loss of many lives at the hands of Kohaku's men.
Wouldn't this be a prime opportunity for revenge?
It would, and Kagome sighed, letting her forehead rest on her knees as her companions slept on. But Shippou was the one who had brought Kohaku to her, risking Kouga's anger in the process, not to mention the lives of his adopted family. And she wouldn't believe Rin capable of betraying anyone. The girl was blunt and honest, perhaps more skilled than she realized…but honest.
Kohaku had practically insisted that Inuyasha come with them. She would have thought Sesshomaru's brother would be the last person Kohaku would let near his most important ally. He didn't just allow it, he demanded it. As if there was no point in even trying to reach their goal without Inuyasha's help.
Was it possible that something out there had Kohaku so scared he'd even allow an enemy into his home village? Where he had a family, a pregnant wife? She'd think that they'd be at the top of his list when it came to someone to protect. And his men had looked nervous too, but not about the wolves or Inuyasha.
They looked like men who'd learned fear until it came as easy as breathing.
“Shit,” she muttered, rubbing the back of her neck. It was possible there was more to what was going on. It wasn't about her and cursed herself for being blind. She'd let her feelings for Inuyasha cloud her judgment all right, but not in the way she'd expected.
And then she thought about the nameless, horrifying presence of grief and terror stalking the forest. It was more than a ghost, less than a monster, but it had been following her since the moment she'd stepped out of that damned well…
Following…her? Was it possible that the attack on Kouga's tribe hadn't been aimed at the wolves at all? Instead, that swarm of youkai might have been hunting for someone else, someone not of the wolf youkai
Shit! Groaning, Kagome covered her eyes with her hand. Miroku…or whoever he was…had insisted she was here to do something. Something very important, something vital. It had to be that presence, but…what was she to do about it?
Tell me what to do!
Kagome got to her feet with a grimace, taking care not to wake Shippou or the others. She needed to tell Inuyasha about this. Like it or not, he had to know what they were getting into, if only so that he could be prepared. She should have told him about Miroku's visits, the things he'd said.
Tell him about the baby!
She winced, she wasn't ready…not yet. But she promised herself that she'd tell him before she left, if she left at all. Right now hope seemed as distant as the stars, but she had to know. The path of cowardice wasn't leaving here, it was in staying, hoping for ignorance and letting herself become numb. Kagome had learned that she could feel again, and she wasn't going to turn her back on that.
Muttering to herself, she made her way to the forest. Inuyasha was here somewhere, having wandered into the trees at dusk. He hadn't said a word to anyone, just left to be alone with his own grim thoughts. She couldn't blame him; things were so tense between them. And what he'd said, she knew he couldn't take it back. If he even wanted to.
Almost as soon as she'd stepped into the brush, she felt him watching her. Silent, waiting…as if he'd expected her to seek him out. She had things to say that weren't for anyone else's ears. She had to tell him what she'd been thinking, how the presence might be connected to her and that it seemed Kohaku had reason to fear it.
And she had things to ask him as well. Like why he'd lied to her. She didn't believe for one minute he'd been lying when he'd said he loved her, oh hell no. But she wanted…needed…to know why he lied afterward and treated her with such contempt that it should have sent her into a screaming rage of betrayal.
Kagome stopped, knowing he was standing right behind her. Without turning around, she lifted her gaze the sky. “Inuyasha.”
She heard his sleeves rustle. “What do you want?”
Deliberately, she dropped her eyes to the ground, still not turning to face him. “What do you think I want, Inuyasha? I want to talk to you.”
“Maybe I don't want to talk to you.”
She spun around and shoved him, surprising him with her sudden fury. “That's too goddamn bad!” Because she didn't have to keep her emotions to herself right now, Kagome hit him again, pounding his chest with her fists under the strain of her arms forced her to stop. It felt so good to lash out, like all the pain and fear found a focus once she struck Inuyasha.
Panting, she dropped her hands and leaned on her knees, cocking her head to look up at him. His expression was no longer a mask, instead he looked shocked, appalled at what he'd done to her. Then the veil dropped over his eyes again and he looked away.
“Why?” she gasped. “Why did you lie to me, Inuyasha? Why did you say those things? I know they aren't true, but every time I start to believe in you, you just hurt me again!”
“I know,” he whispered. “That's why I want you to leave.”
Strangely enough, it made her laugh. “You want me to stay, then you want me to leave. What the hell are you trying to do, drive me crazy?”
Gently, he took her shoulders and pulled her up, looking down into her eyes with an expression she couldn't define. “No.”
Her hands gripped his wrists, squeezing as tightly as she could. “Then don't lie to me anymore,” she pleaded. “Don't confuse me or pretend I'm nothing to you. You heartless bastard, I've been tearing myself apart ever since I saw first saw you!”
Then she broke down completely, sobbing as she clung to his arms. She ached; she just plain ached and knew that she couldn't take it anymore. To hell with getting home and to hell with Kohaku's mystery priestess. She just wanted it all to stop.
Inuyasha held her against him, one hand drifting up to stroke her hair. “Don't cry,” he murmured, speaking as if to a child. “Don't cry over me, Kagome. I'm…not worth your tears.”
That only made her cry harder, burying her face against his chest until his haori was damp. She snuffled, her nose irritated by the rough material. Inuyasha sighed heavily, leaning against a tree until her sobs died away. For a long moment, she was content to let him hold her, feeling the warmth of his embrace as if it were the last good thing she'd ever feel.
Presently, he tipped her face up to his, carefully wiping her wet cheek with the back of a finger. Once again, he seemed a different man. This one gentle and tender instead of rough, kind instead of cruel. She didn't get him, maybe never had, but once she'd dreamed of loving him only to have that dream torn away.
Kagome's breath hissed between her teeth, wanting him. Urgently, she pressed against him, running her hands down his chest, caressing his body. Inuyasha only closed his eyes, letting his head fall back as if in surrender. She kissed his neck, pressing her teeth against the skin, working down his collarbone in a line of sensuous abandon.
He was trembling, his hands no longer gentle but gripping her shoulders and his breath only short gasps. Kagome kissed his chest, carefully working at the ties of his haori to expose more skin. She pressed her lips against the smooth flesh, the muscles beneath rippling at her touch. She wanted taste him, run her tongue down the length of him and take him inside her mouth.
She pushed aside the haori and licked his left nipple, heard him gasp. Still he made no move to hold her closer. Kagome took that for his agreement, he'd let her do what she wanted and ask nothing else. Her body was on fire for him, she could feel the heat between her thighs. Moaning softly, she rubbed against him, the friction of her body against his a delicious torment of anticipation.
Her hand slid down his chest, fingers warm against his skin. She wanted it to last forever, she wanted to revel in him. The smooth skin of his stomach was hers to touch, sliding her hand under his haori to ghost over the taut muscles. Kagome knew that she hadn't said what she'd come to say, but nothing mattered now. She wanted him to feel what she felt, know what she knew, and the best way for that to happen was to show him.
Inuyasha gasped when her hand dropped below his waist, finding the stiffness that was growing there. She squeezed him firmly, letting her hand move along his length until she felt him start to shake. It was too much for him to bear, she could feel him straining against the material of his hakama. But he was so warm in her hand, so burningly hot, she had to quench his fire the only way she knew.
One hand at the waist of his hakama, she started to drag it past his hips as she knelt, her lips already moist, her tongue flicking past her teeth. So hungry, so ready to taste him now, she'd make him understand what she felt when he touched her, how much she needed to be at his side.
Inuyasha grunted, suddenly straightening and seized her wrists. Kagome looked up in surprise, hardly expecting to be stopped at this point. His face was flushed, his eyes seemed almost desperate, but he held her away from him as if it was the most difficult moment of his life.
“Don't,” he said, his voice a husky rasp. “You don't have to do this.”
“I want to,” she whispered, trying to twist her hands free. He wouldn't let her go and then with a groan, he yanked her to her feet. Kagome staggered against him, but he pushed her back, holding her at arms length.
“You don't want to,” he said roughly.
“Of course I do,” she said, moving towards him eagerly. “Inuyasha, I…”
“Stop it!” he shouted, shoving at her hard when she tried to cling to him. “Damn it, Kagome!”
Trembling, she stared as him as he tied his hakama, pulled his haori shut. His expression was dark and unreadable, his eyes glinting like golden sparks. He looked so angry and she was lost, befuddled again and dropped her hands to her sides in frustration.
“Why?” she asked, almost ashamed to hear that pleading note in her voice.
He'd turned away, resting his arm against the tree as he needed it to hold him steady. “Is this your plan after all?” he asked, his voice hollow and dry. “You think you can control me that way, you think I'm going to let you lead me around by my cock? It's not going to work, Kagome.”
Her eyes went wide. “Y…you think…I'd do something like that? Why?”
“You've already got what you want,” he said bitterly. “I'm going with you, aren't I? We're going to see Kohaku's witch and find out if she can send you back where you belong.”
He misunderstood. He thought she was trying to manipulate him, as if all the heartfelt sobs had been staged. Like she'd let herself break down like that, openly showing the bastard how much she needed him. Not because she wanted him to save her or help her or do anything she asked like a dog running after a bitch in heat.
She just wanted him so much that it hurt to breathe.
Now she trembled, her hands cold as she clenched her fists. “Inuyasha, I wasn't doing anything like that,” she said, her voice thin with anger. “I just…I just want to be with you. While I can and…”
He grimaced as if her words hurt more than he could bear. “No,” he said, his tone as final as a grave. “You don't want that and neither do I. It was a mistake…I made a mistake. Now I'm going to do whatever I have to in order to fix it, Kagome. And that means there has to be nothing else between us.”
His harsh words before had been meant to drive her away, but he'd been done in by his own desires. Kagome reached out to him, her hand shaking as she caught his sleeve. She crept closer, her arms sliding around him as she rested her head against his back.
“Inuyasha,” she whispered, saying his name because it was the only thing she could say. Another word and she'd start screaming, or crying, or just collapse from the weight of his love in her heart.
His hand closed over hers, fingers desperately clenched. “I have to protect you,” he said, sounding like he wished he could cry along with her. “Even from myself. I won't let you be hurt again. That means I got to let you go.”
Pained, Kagome lifted her face as he turned slowly to face her. Seeing her tears again, he pressed his finger against her lips and whispered so softly that she would have missed his words if she hadn't been watching for them.
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