Thanks to all those who reviewed. I'm still working on this story, so don't worry. It's all a part of my master plan, hehe...
Their path through the woods...barely passed for one. It was clear that once upon a time feet had trampled through enough to wear it down, but those feet had long since gone. The forest had crawled back in to reclaim the small ribbon of ground, leaving only a faint trace of younger and thinner vegetation.
Kagome wasn't sure how long they had been walking. The hours had blurred into one big myriad of disjointed events. Food had been eaten at one point, words exchanged; the toad-youkai and a huge two-headed Kirin-like creature had joined them. But the miko couldn't remember the exact moment they had appeared.
Somehow she had trailed to the back of the little parade, with Kirara keeping step on one side of her, and an exuberant Rin on the other. Sesshoumaru, of course, was in the lead---An arrogant presence pulling the rest of them on, though he in no ways seemed to be concerned if they followed or not. He expected their obedience, so he had their obedience.
Kagome was tired. She had been moving in some form or another for several days, running from one burst of adrenaline to another, trying to keep up with the changing situations. Now that she had reached a certain plateau in the action, she was beginning to fully realize how quickly her body had grown accustomed to the up-hill struggle.
Her steps were heavy, only dwarfed by the two-headed mount, but she could feel them reverberate up through her muscles, giving her the oddly detached sensation that she was swaying from side to side. She couldn't quite be sure that she wasn't. She caught herself staring for long periods of time, though she never really saw what she was looking at. It was as if something kept interfering with the process of transferring the visual information into her brain.
"Nee-chan?" Rin pulled on Kagome's sleeve.
Kagome blinked down at her and thought that she seemed very far away, like she would reach out to touch her face and her fingers would pass through air.
Having 'older sister's' attention, Rin held out her tiny hand back up, then turned it with a mischievous flourish. She uncurled her fingers to reveal a handful of seeds. They remotely reminded the miko of the food they had eaten, but she couldn't quite recall what it was. The thoughts in her head seemed to keep getting lost in a maze of dead-ends.
Rin, having shown her bounty, proceeded to nonchalantly toss one seed at the toad-demon's back, her actions smooth with an accuracy that could only be born from 'practice'.
Jaken jumped, pulling on the reigns of Aun-Un as he turned to look behind him. With her hand back down at her side, Rin observed him in a mix of curiosity and innocence. The toad-youkai's criticism then swung to Kagome, his bulbous yellow eyes narrowing. After a moment, and a near-fall over some well-placed sapling, he returned to his previous path, the Staff of Heads bobbing far above his own head.
Rin snickered, smothering the sound in the sleeve of her checkered kimono. Kagome smiled at the girl, but only distantly felt the curving of her own mouth. She felt like she was floating, but dragging her own body behind her at the same time. It was very disorienting.
Rin took the smile at face-value, glad her Nee-chan approved of one of her favourite games. Letting another seed drop habitually into her waiting fingers, the little girl repeated her previous actions. With the same results.
Aun-Un turned one head, and then the other, blinking curiously as Jaken came to a shuddering halt. The diminutive youkai looked over his shoulder, very slowly, giving both humans his most threatening 'I'm a fierce demon, fear me' glare. Kagome especially. He had been grumbling about her in one way or another from the moment he appeared.
Having 'frightened' the 'filthy beasts' back into submission, Jaken cast his adoring eyes back on his chosen master. Aun-Un's left head shook, pulling on the reigns and causing them to jingle softly. Jaken's three fingers tightened, jerking the Kirin-like beast around. The parade continued.
We look like a bunch of ducklings, Kagome thought in a moment of odd 'clarity'. And Sesshoumaru is the mama-duck! She put her hand to her head and giggled quietly, though the movement wasn't completely real to her.
Rin heard the soft, feminine sound and grinned. Encouraged, she pelted the toad with another seed, this time striking him square on the back of his bald head.
"Filthy, insolent beasts!" Jaken screamed, brandishing the Staff of Heads in a circular motion over his own head, "I'M GONNA BURN YOU BOTH TO A CRISP!"
"Jaken," Sesshoumaru said, stopping the toad instantly. "Shut up."
The youkai's mouth opened and closed, and he sputtered on about his loyal service, and how could Sesshoumaru choose the side of a stupid human over his? The annoying sound completely drowned out Rin's giggling.
Kagome stopped on the path, stumbling. Her right hand immediately shot out to catch herself against the side of one of the trees. She leaned heavily upon that one hand, the bark jagged against her palm. The dizziness that had moved into her head had finally started to sweep through her tired body. It settled in her stomach, making it feel oddly hollow and heavy at the same time.
"Nee-chan," Rin cried, grabbing onto her arm in concern, "What's wrong?!"
Kagome shook her head, "Nothing, I just need a moment. You go on ahead, Rin-chan..." But the girl stayed faithfully at her side, staring up at her with wide brown eyes. There was an intelligence to them that said she knew when someone was lying.
"What is it?"
Kagome looked up, and though she moved slowly, the action still seemed too sudden. Her sight swam with colours that gradually took the shape of Sesshoumaru. His shape, but she was having trouble focusing on it. He was too far, or the sun falling through the branches was too dark---something was wrong.
Kagome shook her head again. "I'm okay," she whispered. She wasn't about to complain to him about how tired she was. He already thought her worthless by association, no need to fuel his misconceptions on.
"I did not inquire about your physical standing, miko. Why have you stopped?"
She tried to take a step forward, but the path seemed to shift beneath her feet. She ended up sliding down the tree, her hands falling limp at her sides and the skirt of her uniform riding up to a dangerous level. Kirara pawed in concern at her knee.
A shadow cast over both girls, instantly cooling the world around them. "What is wrong with you?"
Kagome's head fell back against the tree as she tried to focus on the creature before her. But her head seemed too heavy; it ended up falling from side to side. "I haven't...rested in some time."
"How much time?"
The questions were getting trickier. She had to work at understanding his words, then work on forcing the answer out of her mouth. "Two...no, three...three days."
Kagome was nearly gone, swallowed into the needs of a body over-exerted and long-denied. The very last thing she heard before she lost all awareness was the great youkai lord's voice.
She was crossing a street. Moonlight poured down on the grey pavement, making it look oddly like water, or a narrow river. Kagome took soft steps across, and it was solid beneathe her, but the concrete rippled out from her footsteps. There was the sound of water moving, but she ignored it. She had to get across.
A bark behind her. A dog barking. She turned, but couldn't see anything but light. Bright, piercing light that filled her vision, growing larger and larger...no, coming closer, hurtling closer---
Kagome jumped out of sleep. The darkness around her such a contrast to the light in her dreams that she was blind for several seconds. Where am I? She held her head in her hands, rubbed at her temple and tried to remember.
Her eyes shot up, immediately seeking him out. They were still on the trail, they hadn't moved, only situated around the small area. He was farther down the barely-worn path, separated from them by choice, or maybe it was by necessity. He was sitting, leaning back against a tree with his one hand resting on his knee. His 'fur', or whatever it was, fell over his shoulder in a thick grey line, contrasting with the darker grey of his hair and the paleness of his skin. Though he did not move, she could tell he was awake. His gold eyes stared out into the night, still, but every so often he blinked.
She was propped against something that breathed, in and out in deep, rhythmic strokes. Various parts of her were warm, while others were cool in the seeking breeze. Her back rested against Aun-Un's side, the scales not exactly soft, but smooth. The huge beast was partially asleep, one head snoring softly while the other rose alertly to scan the trees.
A warm spot in her lap pulled her eyes down. Kirara was curled up so that her two tails were tucked beneathe her small body. From time to time one of her black ears twitched, swiveling on her small head to gather some sound. Kagome tried to reach up and pet her, but realized her left hand wouldn't move. She jerked at it and something stirred, gripping it tighter.
Rin was curled against her side, hugging the miko's arm tightly to her body as if it were a teddy bear. The little girl snuggled into Kagome's sleeve, and the miko smiled, the expression perhaps being more honest than it had been in a long time. Since she walked away from Inuyasha, leaving him unconscious beneath those swaying trees. She left her hand where it was and raised the other, bringing it down softly to trace the exposed curve of the girl's cheek.
Rin healed some piece in her heart, even as the miko moved down the path to its destruction. I'm so sorry I worried you, little one...you make me think of Shippou. I hope he's okay. I hope they're all okay...
"Humans require sleep."
"I know," Kagome answered the youkai lord, her dark eyes rising to him. He had not moved, but his stare had flicked momentarily to her, then away.
"What did you hope to gain by exhausting yourself?"
"Hey, it wasn't a conscious effort," she snapped quietly, not liking the chiding tone to his voice. "It's just...a lot has been going on these past couple of days. There wasn't time."
"So now your body will make time, by wasting mine."
Kagome stared at Kirara, knowing he was speaking only the truth. But so was she. There really had been no time to rest. Inuyasha would be waking up today, if he hadn't roused already. She had no doubt that Miroku had fulfilled her last wish and carried the hanyou to the bone-eater's well. There was a considerable amount of distance between them, but not so much. Not for his speed. She wasn't sure how far she had traveled, or if it was enough to make any difference. Optimistically she counted off two more days in her head, maybe three. But truth was she no longer knew how much time she had. They had lost hours this afternoon when she collapsed. Hours that could not be taken back.
"I'm sorry," she said, and meant it. But not for the reasons he had expressed. She was sorry she had wasted their time, that her weak human body had finally given out. But she wasn't sorry that she had pushed herself so far. If she could have, she would have pushed herself even farther.
He said nothing. Aun-Un's left head stirred, taking over the watch so that the other could sleep for some time. The right tossed its mane thankfully, then settled down to rest for the remainder of the night.
To Be Continued...
Not a lot of action, but still an essential chapter. I'm not going to go into one of my lengthy notes everybody knows I'm so fond of, I promise! ^_^ If you got bored during this chapter, I'm so sorry, but it IS important to the development of the story. I just have one question before I head off to class...Sesshoumaru's Kirin-like, reptilian horse creature—did I get it's name right? I can't remember it for sure, and it's driving me crazy!
Anyway, thanks for reading! Now review! Gggr! *in a little kitten-voice* Please???