Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha or Naruto. The only thing I own is the plot.
Beta: Michelle T.
Chapter 4: Sugar and Secrets
He left her shivering on the floor, in her own sweat and tears, closed the door behind him and didn't look back.
A couple more minutes, during which her breath grew less and less painful and the pressure lightened from her chest, the door opened again and in walked two women. They walked around her, looked at each other without saying a word, then one knelt down next to her head and touched Kagome's battered neck. Her touch was soft, tentative, but it still hurt. She moaned a little and the touch let up.
Then the next thing she knew she was held up in strong—but definitely feminine—arms and carried out of the room. Past the door, she thought she saw vague figures in the corner of her eyes but she couldn't be sure.
They moved in the shadows, out of sight, leaping from places to places with the agility of jungle cats, and even while they were jumping about—travelling significant distance in the shade of the village buildings—not once did their rocky movements disturb Kagome in any way. These warrior women reminded her of Sango.
A couple more minutes then they stopped. Their destination was, much to Kagome's surprise, a bathhouse of all thing.
Well, not really a bathhouse proper. It was nowhere near as big as the ones she used to frequent for once. There was no shallow pool, only pots and bowls of various sizes and two off-white clay tubs in the middle. Only then did Kagome remember she hadn't once washed herself since coming to this world. Not out of choice but rather out of a complete lack of water to begin with. In a desert nation, only the rich had enough water for anything other than was absolutely vital for everyday life and she had been spending the few last months with the poorest of the village.
There were layers and layers of accumulated grime and dirt on her skin and if it weren't for the sterile environment of the desert and the daily scotching of the sun, she probably would have stank to high heaven by now.
There was a flurry of movements and suddenly she was naked and gently lowered into the half-filled tub where the two warrior women proceeded to give her the fastest and probably most water conserving washing in her life. They wiped her down with wet towels, gingerly inching around the golden bracelet that clasped her right wrist in a vice-like embrace, and rinsed her hair - coarse with several months worth of sand grain and filth on them - with a single bucket of water. They brushed her teeth, brushed her hair and cut off the split ends with weird knife things when they were at it, put some salve on her tender throat and bandaged it up, rubbed her blistering, dry skin moist with ointment. Then she was taken out, fluffed down in fuzzy white towels, set on her feet and came away squeaky clean and smelling faintly of tundra cotton.
All of this was done within a short five minutes, with sharp, precise and almost frantic but amazingly well coordinated movements of their arms and hands, and once they were done they regarded her with a shared look, as if checking if the end result of their labor met with the standard of… whoever made them do this. Probably that grouchy Mr. Shadow of the Wind Satoosa.
During all of this five minute express washing experience, Kagome said not a word. Not the first time she had been brought through a mildly bewildering washing experience, only this time even if she wanted to protest (Which she didn't. The grime really was driving her up the wall), she had no words with which to voice her complaint.
One of the warrior women, this one wearing a dark veil that hid half her face, brought a mirror and put it right in front of her and in its reflection, wavering in the weak sunlight that streamed through little wind holes in the roof and the sides of the bathhouse, Kagome saw herself.
For a moment, she couldn't recognize the girl standing naked in the low light right in front of her. The face, wan with hardship long since past but could never be forgotten, and while the features were smooth and plump with youth there was an underset of a bottomless melancholy. The body, edged and raw with months going without the proper nutrition, brown and brittle with the sun and the wind, seemed sanded down by the desert itself. The neck, bruised and painted in blots of red and purple from Satoosa's grip. The bandages hid most but in the fraying edges they could still be seen.
The golden bracelet glinted in its place on her wrist. It was breathtaking with its delicately looping vines and blossoms but it also felt cold and heavy and rife with dark promises but she was long since caring what such promises meant.
Kagome put a hand on the girl in the mirror's face and said - "Smile" - and watched her managed something almost half hearted - "You must live. So smile"
They took away the mirror and wrapped her in clean, white linen, the design of the clothes - simple but clearly of fine quality shirt, skirt, shaw and coat - reminiscent of Sengoku Jidai fashion if a little looser.
"Miko-san…" The warrior women called her, then spoke to her in low, soft murmurs as if reassuring a child. They led her out of the bathhouse, carried her in their arms and took off in their gazelle-like leaping in the shadow of the village.
The second destination was a building carved out from the jutting edge of the mountain itself. It stood, head in the sun and feet deep in the depth of its own shadow. The gigantic door gaped open in waiting and something told her that this was the final destination for the day.
A group of people came out to greet them. Two… bald-headed monks… escorted by a squad of the warrioress' male counterparts. A couple women dressed in modest sandy colored garb trailed behind, peering at her with eyes half curious half reverent.
Gently, the duo deposited her in front of the waiting retinue and with a soft nudge, pushed her towards them. She got what they were trying to say immediately without their needing to say another word. Months living without proper communication with another human, the incident with Satoosa excluded, had conditioned her for languages of the unspoken kind. She gave a good long look at the building in front of her.
Austere, as the desert in which it made its home in, and with an air that said this was no mere abode of someone of high status, if the Bodhisattva-like statues she could see past the waiting doorway and the monk presence were anything to go by. This was a temple and by the elaborately gilded twin statues guarding the doorway, not one of any small importance either.
Fitting, considering that she had made sure she was known as a priestess. She supposed this was what Satoosa meant when he said she would be 'taken care of'.
"Is this to be my new home?" She asked no one in particular. One of the monks said something in reply, making a beckoning gesture. She smiled at him, happy at the welcoming motion. "I shall not deny anything that is given to me in good faith."
She crossed the stretch of empty, dusty street in between in steps. When she was almost to the other side, a sound, choked, barely audible and somehow filled with regret stopped her in her track. Looking back behind her shoulder, she saw one of the two warrior women who had brought her here had double down, her hands clutching something tightly to her chest, then, under Kagome's gaze, she opened them, revealing tiny blue seeds in her palms. Her eyes begged, but the eyes of her comrades turned cold and hard and unforgiving.
Someone said something in harsh, cutting tones, but the woman was wreathed in a deep red pain that only she could see. Unlike Satoosa, Kagome didn't need to reach out to read her heart. It was open and the strength of its grief did not whisper but scream in tones of silence. It reached out to her, visceral and almost blinding, the kind of manic, hysterical pain that could only come after years of being repressed, simmering underneath the surface of normality, simmering to the point of boiling, overflowing, bursting forth from underneath in violent ruptures once it found its outlet.
She saw flashes of a desert gravesite, blue flowers in a cracked vase on the table, a child waiting forlornly in an empty room in the warrior woman's mind, looking out the window, forever looking out the empty window, waiting, waiting, waiting for someone to come back and fill the emptiness in the frame. The flowers bloomed blue, bloomed green, bloomed red, bloomed yellow and wilted in the blistering desert sun, in the withering desert night wind, but the window frame was ever empty. Why didn't he come back? Where was he? Did he leave forever?
Without preamble and against the wishes of the harsh calls on her sides, Kagome backtracked two steps, held out one hand in the air. The sheer strength of the warrioress' desire beckoned her, called to her to fulfill her purpose. The disembodied Shikon jewel that now beat in the place of her human heart pulsed, glowed, breathed and awakened. The seeds in the warrioress' hands came to life, unfurled, blooming a brilliant blue before her wide, disbelieving eyes and open mouth.
There was a stunned silence to the clearing and its occupants now.
" Ariga..." The warrioress said something, gasping through the tears that came welling from her eyes. The depth of her gratitude bled into her words and carried her will past the barrier of language.
Kagome had just enough time to smile encouragingly in return before she herself was whisked inside the temple and the door slammed close.
"What happened in there?" Said Chiyo to the back of her village Kage. He was still trembling but the quivers of his frame so subtle and well hidden that only the most observant of eyes could see. A miniscule motion to the side of his jaws was the only indication that he had heard her.
"Yondaime." She pushed, having witnessed the strange turns of events that transpired in the sealing room, between the Kazekage and the girl, and the her being subsequently carted off to the Sand Temple. "I've never seen you this shaken before. Not after the Third War." She said. "What did that girl do to you?"
A sudden stillness came over him and very slowly, he turned around to face her.
"Nothing." He said. "Absolutely nothing."
"Lying is unbecoming of you, Kazekage-sama." She admonished. "You lost control. We have both established that the girl's power is too useful for us to look the other way. Even if she were dangerous… especially if she were dangerous, she must be kept alive and her power harvested and bred into our bloodline for the sake of Sunagakure, until her blood itself becomes our legacy, ours to own and use. You yourself were adamant of this. Even had she… somehow… killed you back there, it would still be my duty as an elder of this village to see to it that her power be harvested for the good of us all. Whatever she did to you could not have been enough of a threat for you to attempt to kill her… in cold blood. And you fully intended to kill her. I could feel your intention all the way through the seals... and your chakra. Not once were you in mortal danger. So tell me, what did a little slip of a civilian girl managed to do, in the face of one among the greatest warriors of our village, that unhinged you so?"
When he still didn't reply, she coldly stated. "We… no… you… planned from the very beginning that you yourself would personally see to her integration to our village. The Kazekage himself would act as her sole protector, teacher and caregiver in order to foster her eventual dependency… and hopefully, loyalty… to the bloodline of the Kazekage, and subsequently to our village… similar to Kumogakure's handling of their Biiju. Eventually, if the molding of Kagome Higurashi goes well, it would also fall to the bloodline of our Kazekage to… take things to the next step. Yet…"
He turned around and faced her then, as if summoned by the accusation that was to come from Chiyo.
"Yet…" She continued. "... here you stand before me, and you cannot even bear to talk of her influence on you. The little harmless civilian girl half your age… whom you are supposed to enthrall to our allegiance."
There was a ponderous silence this time, the feel like air being pushed inside a small space, pressurized until it gained thickness. At which point it stopped, and Satoosa of the Desert brought his hands to his face, wiped it, and the mask on it came crumbling away under his fingers.
"She stepped into my mind." He said softly.
"Like the Konohan Yamanaka mind technique?"
"No..." He paused for a single second. "She could not read my thoughts…" He did not have to elaborate. His and Chiyo's background as jutsu R&D specialists enabled them to discuss the intricacies of foreign bloodline techniques on a far higher plateau than normal shinobis of the same rank or power. In this case, the unsaid part was the sole focus of the Yamanaka mind technique. Designed and developed as a recon and info gathering technique set, the Yamanaka arts concerned itself solely with mental domination and information extraction. "... she could not influence me." Or else the print of his hand would not even find itself anywhere near her throat.
"... But?" Chiyo prodded when he stopped there.
He drew out, stalling. "... empathy…" Was the only explanation he offered. "... mutual... empathy…"
"... I see…" Said Chiyo, a glint of interest in her gnarled old face. She had enough tact not to prod on what exactly he felt from his end, but her curiosity was apparent. He can well relate. Empathic powers were something of an incomplete puzzle in the ninja world. Open to manipulation, but absolutely cannot be faked, its potentials were… intriguing but the path of development limited and its uses in ninja warfare even more so. What it could potentially do in reconnaissance and infiltration were already done and quite possibly done much better by techniques similar to the Konohan Yamanaka clan. There were… nascent instances of such abilities budding in a handful of individuals within the ninja world, but without fail, their talents were routed to other more practical alternatives, petered out altogether, or outshone and made obsolete by other subsets of bloodlimit. Either way, he needed not give any further explanation than the ones Chiyo had already concluded herself.
Shinobis were, as a rule, intensely private individual, especially so when it came to personal matters, and there were nothing more personal than their state of emotions. To touch upon that, to force herself within another's world, and then to plummet him into her own.
Offense of the highest kind.
"... This changes nothing. We proceed as planned." He said, softly, because even his best Kazekage voice wouldn't faze the old poison master, but there was no room for argument in his voice.
Chiyo merely gave him a look, as if voicing her unspoken questions. Even the forceful invasion of his emotional state should not have provoked such brutal retaliation, the explanation he gave was a non explanation, designed to hide the truth beneath it. They might be allies now, but in the past wars had transpired between the Leaf and the Sand. Sabaku no Satoosa was no stranger to mental invasions, if he were, he wouldn't have made it past the third great ninja war. So the girl's faux pas could not have been what set him off. It must be something else. Something that transpired within that short lived state of mutual empathy. But eventually, she simply clicked her tongue reproachfully at him.
"I should hope so." Before turning her attention to the decrees he had laid out on the table. Plans to harvest Mumei… Kagome Higurashi's powers. Village policies and decrees that would shape the very direction of the village and their everyday function to accommodate a single new presence among their midst. Never before in the history of Sunagakure had so many changes been prepared for the sake of one single person.
He followed the line of her sight, and despite himself, could not stop the thought that this was but a mere premonition of the future. The words and laws that he himself scripted and authorized. The great upheavals ahead. It might have been a residue of the girl's touch in his mind and the beguiling nature of her own power but he could not help but think that they were at a historical crossroad past which there would be no return.
"We are Suna nins." Chiyo smiled wrily, having harbored the same thoughts. "We make the most of what the desert gives us and prosper."
Kagome Higurashi had no recorded past beyond her sudden appearance at the village gate. The desert brought her to them. A gift. An offering.
"So let it begins."
Her first morning in the temple, they came over to take her to the washhouse again, then to eat, then to have her photos taken and papers straightened out. Someone braught more clothes over and the women tittered about her as they wrapped and dressed her in soft, silky shirts and dresses. Before the sun had fully risen from the horizon, her pictures were stamped and laminated on what must be the Sand people's equivalent to the ID card. Very formally and in bold letters, it stated Kagome Higurashi - Miko, or so said one of the veiled guards. And while all this happened, she was attended to by no less than three other people.
Mr. Poker Face really wasn't joking when he said they would take care of her.
Mid-morning, they brought the seeds over by the barrels. In the chants of the monk, Kagome set to work.
It was May. She grew soybeans and corns.
In the night, Mr. Poker Face came over. When he walked into the cavernous room she had come to understand was 'given to her', all the others, the guards with the masked faces, the lady caretakers with the full veils, cleared out. He spent maybe a minute under the threshold studying her in silence, then in slow ponderous strides, he walked in.
When he was three steps away, Kagome blurted out.
"I... sorry." She just learned the new word too.
He stilled for a moment, before holding out a hand to her. The now very familiar translating Fuin glittered black on his palm. She took his hand without hesitation.
'Don't ever do that again.' He said in the slow, stern voice of her father, dredged from far-off memories when he was still with the family. She shook her head violently as if saying 'No, I won't.'
There was a short pause thereafter during which Kagome expected Mr. Poker Face to at least start asking how she was settling in and other polite questions of the same ilk, but when he finally spoke, his statement was curt and to the point, and more an order than an offer.
'I shall teach you our language. Pay attention.' Then he proceeded to do just that.
When the gruelling first lesson was over, he led her out of her room, past winding hallways and many layers of doors and chanting monks until they ended up in the back of the temple which opened up into a gigantic cave deep into the side of the mountain. A skywell filled the room with moonlight. He made a vague gesture at the tilled earth, the bags filled with seeds propped against the wall, and at the cave itself.
"Yours." He said in the Sand people language. 'Do with it as you like.' Then with the voice of one of her friends.
June came in her second week at the temple. She grew starchy wheat and sweet, succulent mandarins with the seeds they gave her, then grew sugar canes from a single piece of dried up, dead stalk in her little garden, which she styled from the cave 'given to her' by Mr. Poker Face.
That one was a surprise. Like the first seed she found in the trash heaps, here was another unexpected find. Sugarcanes were infamously water intensive in their growth. Not a crop suitable to life in arid areas so the fact the a little dead piece of it could be found here, among the odd, dead pieces of other unknown plants was something of a small miracle in itself.
When the shoots crowded out a good part of the cave, grew past her head and started sprouting flower stalks, she broke up pieces of it and, carrying her sugary bundle in both hands, headed to the cave mouth where her veiled guards stood in wait.
"I would… like to go out." She said in careful enunciation. "I want… to give these.. to… I want to go out."
There was a moment of hesitation when her guards exchanged silent looks.
"Please…" She added.
One of them appeared to cave and nodded mutely at her before leading the way out. His companion lingered behind to take up the rest of the sugar canes before following.
The streets of the sand village were as sun-filled and dusty as ever, but this time around, it seemed a little livelier, and the people that walked its length more open to smiles she would like to think. The air smelled of spice. The wild wind ran through her hair and followed her as she meandered her way through the village. She walked in small, hurried steps, somehow feeling the nostalgia and nervousness welling up in her. She thought of the orphan children and the old, homeless people that filled more than half the center. Sweet things were naturally a rare luxury for the desert-bound. She could only imagine the look on their faces when she presented her come-home gifts to them.
When the Sand village Center for the Homeless appeared at the end of the street, someone cried out.
She stopped and turned. At the end of her gaze milled about ropes of people at the beginning of a bazaar alley, and within the intertwining twists and turns of these ropes, a strange woman in plain clothes stared at her with wide eyes. When they made eye contact, it seemed the woman recognized something because immediately, she cried out again.
"... Miko-sama…" This time, her voice caught the attention of those around her and at once Kagome found herself the target of countless eyes. The crowd stilled, stirred, then in small, scattered bursts, people called out.
".. Miko-sama?" … Miko?" "Honto ni?" "... Miko-san…" "... Miko-sama…" Some people fell down, some cried out in tears, some started to take small steps towards her, eyes disbelieving and with the barest hint of gratitude. Her guards stiffened and took positions in front and behind her, but Kagome herself was not worried at all. She could feel no ill will from the crowd, and now that she put her full attention to them, saw more than a few familiar faces among the sea of strangers, so true to herself and much to the chagrin of her caretakers, she took off towards them, smiling.
"... She did what?"
Sabaku no Satoosa stilled, reclined back into his chair, brought a hand to his temple where the start of yet another bout of migraine was nesting.
" Miko Kagome Higurashi grew a small forest of sugarcanes in the East end of the village, right on the doorstep of our House for the Needy. The majority of this forest was subsequently stripped away and… consumed onsite... by nearby citizens."
"...Which somehow consisted of nearly half our population? I could see the gathering from my Kage tower."
"Our Eastern districts are notoriously more crowded than other districts as you well know." Said the surveillance nin. "A good part of their new population are also… past members of the Homeless Center. In so far, they have been the ones impacted the most by the influx of provisions and jobs created by Miko Kagome Higurashi's power and it seemed, quite a few of them remembered her from her time at the Center. They were the most… vocal… in welcoming her back to the Center."
"... I trust that she has been brought back to Saruka Temple?"
"Miko-san has been forcibly removed from the East end district and brought back to her assigned abode." The surveillance nin replied automatically, then added. "The members of civic council are concerned on her sudden and unplanned public appearance. They are worried this will confirm as well as debunk many rumors we have started regarding her existence and the extent of her power to… unwanted individuals and may lead to negative impact on the inter-village market."
"It will not. We have prepared for this. And in the case that other villages became aware of her existence, we will progress with our own plans. They could hardly argue with the good we have done on the market itself." He said in return. " As for the girl, I will speak to her."
The sight that greeted him at the doorway to the Miko's room was of the girl herself sprawling haphazardly on top a thick fur blanket as she chattered incessantly away in broken Ryukyuan to her handmaidens. The conversations were one-sided. Her caretakers were forbidden from ever speaking to her. They weren't, however, required to turn deaf ears on her. Odds and ends lay about the room in clutters. Things that weren't in the safe list. Gifts from her admirers he guessed. He would need to talk to the captain in charge. She propped herself up on both hands when she spotted him at the door and cried out happily.
"Shadow of the Wind Satoosa-san!" Then an inordinately pleased look spread across her face and she held up a hand at him. "Wait." Her nose scrunched up as she attempted to recall something, then smoothed out as she grasped hold of it. "Welcome home, darling!" She twittered, looking mighty proud of herself.
The handmaidens stiffened at the girl's exclamation, eyeing him nervously. He narrowed his eyes at them, and without needing a word out of him, they cleared out with record speed.
"Who taught you that?"
"People!" was her way too perky reply.
He took her hand, palm up. 'Do not use it. It is inappropriate.'
"Why not? Many people… called me… today… this way."
'It is inappropriate to me.'
She eyed him sceptically, but didn't push. "You should… happy? I am good, hard working student. I learn… out of class."
'Ignorance and zealotry do not make for a productive combination.'
She pursed her lips at him but did not rebuke.
'You went out today.' It was not a question.
"I did." The girl deigned to answer anyway. "It was…" She floundered around for a descriptive word but couldn't find one because he hadn't yet taught her any of such kind. "... sugar… It was sugar." She held up a sugarcane for extra effect.
The word she was looking for was 'fun'. But after that incident today, he was not in a particularly giving mood.
'You should not have. You could have put yourself in danger. This village is not a peaceful one.'
"No one wants… wanted… to harm me." She said, frowning. "No sword. No kunai. No puppet. No shuriken. No poison darts. No iron war fan." She listed, using the words he taught her on their second lesson.
'You could not have known.'
"I do know."
"Satoosa-san need… needs… more sugar in life." She huffed, then announced, holding the freshly cut sugarcane at him in offer. He rose an eyebrow at the offending item.
'Pay attention ignorant child.' He said, squeezing her hand. Golden tendrils floated from the bracelet on her wrist, formed cold and delicate vines around her throat and turned her chin until she was looking him in the eye.
'I will teach, and you will learn.'
1/ I had fun writing this
2/ I wrote this right smack dab during my editorial cycle. My editor in Chief is not going to be happy with me if he finds out.
3/ What do you think is the real reason the 4th Kazekage flipped out last chapter? I really had fun leaving that part up to reader's interpretation. Last chapter alone I received many feedbacks on the last scene (choking) of the chapter and the strange thing is: each of the people who read the part had a different interpretation of the scene. Not one of them was like the other though there are a few main similarities. Some interpreted the scene, the symbolics in it and the subtexts underneath positively, some negatively, and some neutral but as a foreshadowing of Kagome's relationship with the Kazekage lineage and Sunagakure. That makes me happy as a writer because only good writing can evoke that kind of varied emotional and mental reactions from people. As to my own interpretation of it and how it will play out in the main storyline, I guess we will all have to wait and see.
4/ Next chapter: Kagome's impact on Suna economy specifically and the world economy as a consequence. Also, Gaara! They meet for the first time.
5/ It seems no one guessed correctly what the 5K thing is. Haha, to be honest I did not expect that much response. It was just a throwaway comment that I felt was safe since this fic is one among my lesser popular ones. My more popular stories, I wouldn't have dared to make that kind of comment for fear of actually having to own up to my promises. I will own up, but that probably will be very painful to me.
6/ Popular answers as to what the 5K thing is include: the 5th Kazekage Gaara, 5000 words of lemon writing, or the Gaara/Kagome pairing. Well, people really do veer towards the pervy side of things don't they?
7/ Anyhow, I guess I should answer what the 5K thing is. You see, it is… the result of a mathematical equation. Here, lemme show you:
4th Kazkage + Kagome = 5K
See. Simple. It basically is a term I made up to tease my beta, who has taken quite fondly to the pairing. I told her it sounded like the chemical name of a compound, especially if it morphs into a triangle. Our convo started out as discussion and planning on the romantic aspect of the story. I rarely plan ahead in terms of story romance since I'm a staunch believer of characterization and plot before romance. This is something of a special case though because I have always seen Kagome's boundless ability to love and be loved in return as a focal point to her character, and leaving such a large part of the main char unplanned is not something to be done. Eventually we stumbled into who (or what) should be the other end of this romance, and that conversation… quickly devolved into a crack fest during which we sprang crack pairings at each other and came up with ways to make it work. Aside from the 5K thing, we also have:
a/ The G5K thing (see! Now it definitely sounds like something out of chem class). I will leave to your imagination what it is.
b/ Ebizo (Chiyo's brother). Because love knows no age!
c/ Temari. It sure does not know gender either!
d/ Sasori of the Red Sand. Kagome will be loved and still stay chaste because he basically is a Ken doll… unless he makes himself otherwise in which case he pretty much becomes a Babeland private product.
e/ Deidara. He went to blow up Suna and met her. Love on the background of mass murder and explosion. What is more romantic a first date for Deidara than that?
f/ The 3rd Kazekage (Sasori's puppet). How is this going to work? Simple, the Shikon's power can easily revive even the dead or untangle soul and let them move on. Kagome tags along on the Save Gaara mission, saw the guy's soul lingering around the puppet, takes pity on him and untangle his soul, hoping for him to move on… except he hangs around instead in gratitude and to find a way to repay. Ghost ship ahoy!
g/ And many more mind-breaking crack ships.
It was for the lulz.
8/ On the other hand though, this is not in any way confirmation that Gaara's dad x Kagome (I laughed out loud any time I refer to him as such. It sounded… naughty) really is the romantic aspect/couple of this story. At least not entirely any way.