A/N: *creepy voice* I'm baaaaack! Well, I wasn't gone that long, but you know what I mean! For all my loyal fans in Internet-land, I hope you like this one too. Well, on with the show!
Disclaimer: I don't own Inuyasha (as if you didn't know already).
Chapter 1: Sighting
"Are we there yet?" Silence.
"Now?" A sigh.
"Are we there – "
"NO!!" The kitsune fled from the sudden outburst, seeking comfort in the arms of his protector.
"Kagome, Inuyasha's being mean again!" he whined. "Why don't you 'sit' him or something?"
"Shippo…" Her warning tone made him pause in his complaints. "You were pushing him, you know." She waited expectantly.
"Ah," he gulped. "Maybe?"
"That's what I thought." Kagome glanced up at the stiff-backed hanyou, feeling slightly sorry for him. After all, he had been unusually patient with the somewhat (well, very) annoying cub lately. She sighed, fondly ruffling Shippo's silky hair with her fingers. "If I give you some candy, will you promise to leave him alone?" Behind her, someone cleared their throat hesitantly. "Er, Kagome-sama, I don't think bribing him with candy is really wise," Miroku cautioned her. "Remember what happened a few days ago?" Kagome smiled sheepishly. Shippo had gotten into her pack while nobody was looking – and he hadn't come down from his sugar high for hours! Poor Inuyasha had just about gone insane…a hyper Shippo-chan was a truly fearsome sight.
"I won't give him too much, Miroku, just enough to calm him down. Okay?" Her soft blue eyes pleaded with him…and he'd never been able to resist a pleading woman. "I can't stop you, I suppose," he mumbled, trying without success to hide the slight blush on his cheeks. 'Now if only Sango would look at me like that?…' He sneaked a quick look at the demon exterminator who was striding along behind the group. 'Don't be silly, she would never do that,' his thoughts taunted him. He looked away quickly before Sango realized she was being watched. He had been slapped quite enough times today…
A slurping sound interrupted his reverie. Annoyed, he looked down at the kitsune settled comfortably in Kagome's hold. He was currently gnawing happily on his promised candy, looking for all the world like a puppy with a toy. Sensing that he was under scrutiny from all sides, Shippo looked up from his treat. His eyes shone with mischief. "Kagome?"
"Are we there yet?"
"AARRGH!!" Startled, they looked up. Inuyasha had stopped, his hands clenched tightly into fists. "Will someone get that brat to shut the hell up already?!"
"Oi, wench, what was that for?" With some considerable effort, the enraged hanyou began to raise himself up off the ground. Kagome stepped quickly past him before the subduing spell wore off completely. "He's only a baby, don't get so mad! He's just tired, we all are," she added, wearily brushing a hand across her eyes. "We all want to get to this village, you know." His eyes narrowed. 'She's tired? Why didn't she just say so?' He took in her slightly pale face, her stooped figure, her drooping eyes. Kicking himself for not noticing sooner, he tried to make amends by crouching down in front of her, indicating that she should climb onto his back. She smiled at him gratefully, then settled in for the ride, Shippo cuddling into her lap. "Thank you," she whispered. Absently she reached forward to caress the hanyou's ears before pillowing her head on his shoulder to try and sleep.
Miroku raised one hand to suppress a grin at the half-annoyed, half-pleased expression that graced Inuyasha's face. He turned to see what Sango had made of the little scene, then stopped. Judging by the far-off look in her eyes, Sango hadn't taken in anything that had happened. Her head was bowed slightly, and her eyes were vacant, staring at something only she could see. Concerned, he sidled over to her, carefully laying a hand on her shoulder. He frowned when she didn't react to his touch. "Sango?"
Sango trudged along, barely taking any notice of her surroundings. As had happened all too often in recent days, her thoughts had wandered back to her family. She wished with all her heart that her father had never accepted the job of working for that lord, that she had somehow prevented Kohaku from coming on the hunt, that she had killed that bastard nobleman's son when she'd had the chance.
All very much impossible now.
She had wanted to die after the others had found her. Sango doubted that any of them really knew this, not even Kagome-chan…but for weeks, all she had been able to see was Kohaku's face as he'd attacked her, wounding her so badly that she should have died – his blank, remorseless expression cutting her more deeply than a mere sword ever could. It had gotten worse since she had discovered that he was under the despicable control of Naraku himself. She would do anything to rescue him from that horrible situation. Anything.
Naraku had an awful lot to answer for. Much more than just her family…
Inuyasha, for example. That terrible mess with Kikyou – each believing the other hated them. He could cry 'hanyou' until he was blue in the face, they all knew he was hurting unbelievably inside. The hate that Kikyou's heart held for him only made him try all the harder to convince her that she was wrong…causing him to run off after the undead miko constantly. Naraku couldn't have planned this any better himself, because Inuyasha was thereby ruining his second chance at happiness. Kagome.
Or there was the houshi…that perverted playboy. No more frustrating person existed on the planet, she was sure. Friendly, yet distant – open yet secretive at times – occasionally unbearably superior in his attitude, but always willing to help…yes, incredibly frustrating. And confusing. She supposed it could have been an effect of his having the hole in his hand. That would give anyone a skewed outlook on life, when you thought about it. He lived under an imminent death sentence every day of his life…it was a wonder he hadn't gone nuts, really. But he more than made up with it with his, ahem, leisure actvities. He could call it 'enjoying life's pleasures to the full' – she called it 'playing with fire'. One of these days he would get burned by one of his many loves, a past liason coming back to haunt him (perhaps in the form of that son he said he wanted so badly?)…and she would laugh in his face.
She really wished she didn't love him quite so much as she did….
She wished he wasn't so easy to forgive, time and time again…
She wished he would grow up!
The presence of a warm hand on her shoulder shook her out of her mental stupor. Jumping a little, she twisted her head to see who it was. 'Oh, you're kidding me…'
"Back off, houshi-sama! I'm really not in the mood today!" That was all she needed; him groping her and just making her even more angry than she was already. No, thank you. She had enough to think about. Glaring at him from under her bangs, she held his gaze fiercely until he had the sense to back down. "No offense, Sango, none at all, really." He shuffled off again, looking absurdly scared of her. She nodded in satisfaction. Exactly as it should be! Let him run off to one of his village girls, find comfort in her arms, he'd get none from her! Even though…
He had asked her to bear his child. But he hadn't said he would be faithful until then…making the promise practically worthless in her eyes. She wanted a husband who was true, not a – damned lecher!
This most unsatisfactory train of thought ended when she noticed that they were finally in sight of the village they had been heading for all day. There were no rumours of shards near here, so they could rest up a bit, take some time to relax. Something they hadn't done in - how long?…She didn't really want to think about how long it had been.
It was gradually growing dark as the bedraggled group of travelers made their way toward the village inn. That stupid, immature houshi was babbling on about how he was terribly afraid that there was a dark presence hovering over the building…Inuyasha and Kagome (now awake and walking) just shared exasperated looks at the houshi's tricks. What a con artist.
In the twilight she almost missed it. As was her habit in a new town, she was taking careful peeks into the sidestreets, making sure that those innocent looking shadows weren't actually marauding youkai. There were a substantial number of people still abroad at this hour, forcing her to duck and weave through the crowd. It was just after she'd navigated her way around a particularly obstinate group of people that she saw something which stole her breath away.
A small figure, one that looked awfully familiar… "Kohaku?"
He was just standing there, that blank look pasted on his face like a mask. He held a glittering sword in his hand, and his chain-blade was slung around his back, ready for use. For an instant, his eyes met hers, and he staggered slightly, holding his head. 'What's wrong with him? Why is he here, of all places?' Ignoring the curious looks of her companions, she took a step towards her lost brother. Abruptly he spun, racing away from the spot where he had been standing. Before she had the wits to chase after him, he was gone. Not a trace.
She could have screamed. She wanted to beat the ground with her fists, go fight some youkai, do something – anything but just stand there. 'When he grabbed his head like that, it looked like he was in pain…' She remembered how Kohaku had disobeyed orders once, refusing to kill Kagome-chan. From what the girl had told them, that had pained him as well. Maybe he was resisting a direct order once again? For a practically lifeless corpse, he had an admirable amount of willpower, to turn down Naraku like that. She smiled for a moment.
'No brother of mine would do anything less.'
The smile faded when she recalled that her brother was beyond her reach…again. Her head down, she made her way over to her baffled friends, waving off their concerned questions. She didn't want to talk right now, couldn't they see that? She wanted to think…
She had seen Kohaku. The question was, what was she going to do about it? What could she do about it? It irked her somewhat, but she wasn't at liberty to just race off after him. She had friends who depended on her to help them fight shard-bearing youkai…they needed her to be there.
Wait a minute….that was the key. Shikon shards. Kohaku had a shikon shard…
Her mouth twisted into a cunning grin. That was it. There was her out…and the others didn't need to know. No reason why they should find out what she was planning.
She had said she would do 'anything'. And she meant it.
Miroku had been shocked to hear Kagome exclaim that a shard was in this village. Dammit, they'd come here for some peace and quiet, not more fighting! Then maybe Sango would loosen up a little…and he wouldn't go off in a huff to find more 'willing' female company. Ahh, he was getting distracted again. Bringing himself back to the present, he glanced around to make sure that the demon exterminator hadn't gotten herself lost on her routine 'check' of their stopover. Seeing her close by, he had turned away again – only to spin around defensively when she had let out that loud gasp. He saw it just after she did.
'Impossible…absolutely impossible,' he thought. Kohaku, here? But why?
As the boy sped away, the houshi was half-afraid that Sango would run after him, ready to hold her back if she tried it. Considering who was running that boy's life now, following him would not be an altogether smart idea. To his relief, the girl stayed where she was, just looking. He was about to go to her, to comfort her if need be, when a feral-looking smile appeared on her face.
He shivered…he didn't like the look of that smile. He wished he knew what she was planning.
'All I know is – I'm not letting her out of my sight until we have left this ill-omened place. Kohaku or no Kohaku, it's too dangerous for….ooh, she's lovely. I wonder…?' The delinquent houshi's thoughts had wandered again. Too many distractions in one place…
But he was going to be watchful around his dear Sango. No mistake about it. He was – "Ah, excuse me, fair lady, you seem to be walking alone this evening?" Curse himself for a weakling, no self-control at all! Ah, well, Sango hadn't seemed to notice. Er, yet.
"Miroku! How could you?"
Sometimes he really had to remind himself that having observant friends was a good thing….
"Was he seen?"
"Yes, my lord. The young woman…"
A low chuckle. "And how is she taking it?"
"Not all that well, my lord. In fact, she seems rather upset."
"Ah, excellent." Almost to himself, the man in the shadows whispered, "Then let the fun begin."
Well, how was that for an intro??? Things are about to get very, very sticky….
Next Chapter: Misplaced Warrior