8 September 2003
A very heartfelt arigatou to Logan Kale to all his tireless help with getting me through my walls (literally) in writing this fic. Most of this story would have never been written without your cracking of the whip, biting of my shoulder, and constant growls in the background.
If ever a better inspiration of Inuyasha existed I haven't met him yet
Souto, Houshi, Bouzo - monk ---- Kami - God ---- Otouto - younger Brother ---- Aisai - beloved wife ---- Untenshi - mate ---- Onna - woman ---- Hanshu - General ---- Aniyome -Sister-in-Law ---- Osanago - little child ---- Hanyou - half demon ---- Youkai - demon ---- Iie - no ---- Oniisan, Nii-chan - older brother ---- Onesan - older sister ---- Hai - yes ---- Onegai - please ---- Demo - but ---- Gomen nasai - forgive me ---- Gomen ne - sorry ---- Sayonara - goodbye ---- Nani - what ---- Mou - sound accompanying a pout ---- Arigatou - thanks, thank you ---- Oi, Ooi - hey ---- Ne - right, hey ---- Ohayo - hello, hi ---- Matte - wait ---- Ihyou - surprise ---- Honto - really ---- Reijin - beautiful woman ---- Shan - beautiful ---- Koi - love ---- Koishii - beloved ---- Sugoi - amazing ---- Koibito - lover ---- Anchi - disliked person ---- Aishiteru - I love you ---- Baka - idiot ---- Ja-ku - jerk ---- Jinkouteki - unnatural ---- Ikeike - bitch ---- Kokuhyou - Hell ---- Kaibutsu - monsters ---- Shimatta - damn it ---- Seppuku - suicide ---- Chikushou - damn ---- Hentai - sexual, sex obsessed ---- Oushikuso - bullshit ---- Kuso - shit ---- Teishu - master ---- Kobushi - feudal warrior ---- Domo Arigatou - thank you very much ---- Dorei - slave ---- Hi-Nezumi - fire rat ---- Haori - formal coat ---- Hakama - formal shirt ---- Taiji - exterminator, extermination ---- Hiretsukan - bastard ---- Shatei - my younger brother ---- Tanechigai - half brother ---- Ojiisan, Jii-san, Jii-chan - grandfather ---- Odoufa - spell scroll ---- Obocchan - son ---- Otome - daughter ---- Otousan, Tou-san - father ---- Okaasan, Kaa-san – mother
Bond of Blood
Written by : The MOUSE
Co-written by : Logan Kale
The darkest of moonless nights draped over Musashi Country, broken only by a smattering of bright stars. Suddenly, the flash of cloudless lightening rendered the night from the depths of a well protruding from the center of a field. It was only a blink, and then darkness returned.
Again it flashed, longer this time.
Finally a bubble of bright light appeared to cover the well's opening. The center of this bubble darkened as it pulsed slowly until a dark gaping maw was left opened there, crackling with energy. It hung there, immobile, silent, before a rush of wind burst through the bubble. Something was forcing its way through.
Emerging as if from a murky womb, a creature of nightmare took its first insect-like steps into this new world. Its hard armor glistened in the dim night barely hiding the moist and pulsing flesh beneath it, its long tail swaying to and fro in search of a prey to strike. An ooze-like clear itchor dripped from breaks in its armor. Pincer-like claws snapped shut occasionally as blood-red eyes surveyed a virgin land, seeing lights on the distance. It moved forward with a light clicking of pointed legs on the hard ground, each insect joint cricking with every move. A sinister snarl hissed from a hideous mouth and it turned to see more of its kind wriggle free of the tear in space.
"I ssmell fressh prey."
Night hung over the land serenaded by the quite sounds of crickets and the occasional rustle of leaves on the wind. A full moon hovered high in the star-studded sky, a pale face casting silver light to see by. In the distance one could barely make out the sounds of eternally busy Tokyo with it's millions of vehicles and billions of people. The horizon was lit with the never-ending sunset that was Tokyo's lights. But deep in the heart of Tokyo, tucked away within high walls and natural sound barriers of high trees and bamboo, the ancient Higurashi Shrine was immune to much of the hustle and bustle and bright lights that was Japan's metropolis.
Higurashi Kagome, Magomusume to the shrine's elder monk, sat beneath the immense and aged Go-Shin-Boku, enjoying the night and lost in her thoughts. It had been over five years, five whole long years, since she had last experienced the adventure of a lifetime. Simply by dropping through an old dried out well, known as the Hone Kui no Ido, at the heart of the shrine she had traveled back in time, back to Feudal Japan; a simple time where magic and fanciful creatures abound, a time where nightmare and legends met.
A place where she lost her heart.
She closed her eyes as the memory of the amber-eyed half demon appeared before her mind's eye. The memory was so strong that she could almost feel the softness of his long silver hair between her fingers and the feel of the downy fur of his high, dog-like ears. She could almost feel the strength of his arms wrapped around her protectively, possessively. The earthy forest scent of the shrine only enhanced the recollection so much the scent was like his.
How she missed him terribly.
The moment the Skikon no Tama had being brought back together Kagome had offered it to Inuyasha to make his wish. If he was full youkai or full human, it didn't matter. He would always be Inuyasha to her. And when Kikyou had appeared, waiting on his wish at well, the look he gave both women had caused her heart to skip a beat. The look to Kikyou was almost like a farewell. The look he gave Kagome very nearly melted her from its silent promise. And then he had wished. His words would be forever ingrained in her mind and heart.
"I wish for Kikyou spirit to finally be at rest."
Kikyou had made a sound akin to both disbelief and gratification. The Miko's form had wavered, then faded from sight, the word arigatou floating on the wind. It was then and there that Kagome had realized something about the hanyou. After all the battles and pain they had endured, they had remained the most faithful of friends. And, along the way, they had both discovered how much they truly meant to each other. Kikyou and the promise that bound him to her had been the only obstacles. Now there was nothing holding him back.
Except that Kagome had to return to her time.
She remembered the hurt she had seen flash in his eyes when she had told him she had to go back. That alone had hurt Kagome more that the fights and the falls she had lived through. Despite his often brash, possessive, and sometimes rude behavior towards her, he had been far too sweet to and protective of her that the tears had come unbidden to her eyes and she had buried her face in his haori to hide them, knowing how much he hated to see her cry. Their last kiss, their first truly real kiss that hadn't taken place because one of their lives was in danger, had lingered for what seemed an eternity.
And then she left.
Kagome opened her eyes, finding herself cold and alone at the base of the Sacred Tree, her heart aching. She stood, examining the ancient bark carefully. Almost a meter above her head she could see the marks arrows had left so long ago, nearly five hundred years now. She reached up and laid her hand flat amongst the marks, her cheek to the rough bark. Carefully recalling the powers she had inherited from the Shikon no Tama, making her a full Miko in the blink of an eye, she let her enhanced senses brush along that area beneath her hand. There was only a faint aura, a brief tingling along her senses of who had once been there.
"Inuyasha…" she breathed to the night, a silent tear falling from her eye.
"Kagome! Your breakfast is getting cold!" Higurashi Jii-chan, the shrine's old monk, called down the main house's hallway.
With slow and unhurried steps, the young woman made her way to the dining area, her heart still heavy from the memories of the night before. She sighed heavily as she kneeled at her usual place at the table. Busy in the kitchen, Kagome's Mama was unable to see her downhearted expression. Of course, that had been the norm since Kagome had returned from the Sengoku Jidai. She hadn't wanted to see her Otome's expression for fear of letting go. A good number of fresh bruises had decorated Kagome's body along with new scars from the final battle. No matter how supportive her Mama had been of her spending so much time in the past and of her growing affection for the hanyou, those last injuries had been the drop to spill the bucket of her tolerance. The Hone Kui no Ido was now off limits no matter what the circumstance.
Kagome's younger Otouto, Souta, could care less what his onesan's mood was. She had too many mood swings in one day to make a case over any of them. True, he missed the frequent visits Inuyasha made to their time to see his Onesan, but Mama's word was law in this house.
Higurashi Jii-chan noticed his Magomusume's depression and he shook his head sadly. He had seen it progress over the last five years since her return from the past. Leaving that world had broken her heart, but her Mama had forbidden her to return there once she had seen her wounds and had heard of the dangers Kagome had faced. She had made her Otome swear never to go back and Kagome abided by the promise, no matter how much anguish it caused. The moment she had made her vow, he had made a vow of his own to be more sedate and understanding. He knew he had been a little over the top for the last few decades. He had to tone down for her sanity's sake. And, despite that Inuyasha was part demon and that he, as a priest sworn to battle demons and eliminate them, Kagome cared deeply for the half-youkai.
He would respect that.
Quietly he knelt across from his Magomusume and watched her poke absently at her breakfast with her chopsticks.
"Kagome…?" he probed gently.
She met his wise old eyes.
"You miss him, don't you?"
Her eyes dropped away quickly, tears threatening to spill.
"I made a promise, Jii-chan."
"A promise made to a fearful Mama. Demo didn't you say the danger was gone now, that it was defeated?"
Her voice quivered.
"Then surely your Mama will release you from your promise. If not I will have to speak with her."
"Iie, Jii-chan, a promise is a promise, not matter when it was made. Mama was right back then. I have to live in the present. My life and future start here."
The old monk snorted.
"Lives are started at any moment in time. A person's future can be tied to the past."
Tears threatened to form in her eyes.
"Kagome, I don't like seeing you so depressed."
"I'll… I'll get over it."
"Iie, you won't. You won't be happy again until you're where your heart is calling you to be."
He moved to sit at her side and gently patted her hand.
"You're still young, Kagome. You shouldn't have to feel such pain. It is clear how much you want to go back… to him."
"Mama will never let me go."
"She is like the mighty oak laden with acorns. She holds on to those seeds very tightly, not wanting to let go. Demo eventually, for those seeds to grow like her, strong and independent, she has to let go."
Kagome sucked in a shaky breath and raised baleful eyes to the old monk.
"I'm afraid he won't forgive me for being away so long."
He patted her head gently with a reassuring smile.
"Believe me, child. He will be more that overjoyed to see you again."
"How can you be so sure?"
"When you've lived as long as I have, you learn to see things. He built up strong walls during his life, but the roots of his heart snaked through the cracks. Oh, he tried to stop it. I saw how he held you at arm's length. He had to be tough, strong. He had no time for affection. But in the end, as it always happens, he stopped fighting it and accepted that he is in love with you, completely and totally."
Kagome looked down at her hands.
"I so want to go back to him…"
"Demo what about you and Mama and Souta? About my life here? Can I really leave all that behind?"
"The only one who can answer that question is you, Kagome. All I can say is think hard and long and good luck with whatever your decision will be."
With a few quick pen strokes her letter was complete. She stuffed it into the envelope she labeled with her Mama's name, and then went back to finishing her packing. Kagome only needed a few items, replacement clothing for maybe a few days until she got used to everything again and definitely a sleeping bag. The nights often got cold in the Sengoku Jidai. Fires had a tendency to die out and there was no heater to continue the comfortable warmth.
This decision had hit her shortly after she had taken her evening bath. Soaking in silence and just staring at the ceiling through the steam had really helped her think. Her Jii-chan had been right. Souta would still be there to take care of her Mama and Jii-chan. Her studies were as complete as they were ever going to get. Nothing was really holding her back.
She had to go back to Feudal Japan.
She had to go back to Inuyasha.
Despite everything, her friends, her family, she had only really truly been happy when she had been in the past. Everything had been so simple then... sort of. She smirked as she remembered the verbal battles she had with the hanyou. They were often vicious and ending when she subdued him with the Nenju necklace. But she knew that the only reason he argued with her was because he cared. And she knew no matter where she went she would always be welcome from village to village. Had she not helped save that time… twice!
Kagome hurriedly listed off the items she had packed in her mind, nodded to herself in approval, then quickly changed out of her night clothes to something more appropriate to travel in: a pair of comfortable jeans and a warm sweater over a T-shirt. She then slung her small duffle bag over her shoulder, grabbed the letter to her Mama, then began the difficult task of creeping out of the house. Buildings within Sacred Shrines were almost always built of wood and bamboo with stone enceinte walls, so floors creaked and cracked loudly when one walked on them. This was the challenge that Kagome encountered, finding the "sweet spots" on the floors to not alert the other residents of the house of her departure.
It took her several minutes to make it the four meters to the door to her Mama's bedroom where she carefully slipped the letter beneath the door. From there she risked moving a little faster towards the exit, but still it took her long minutes more. She made it there without making too much noise and quickly stepped outside. Only there did she take the time to put on her shoes to make the dash to the building that housed the Hone Kui no Ido, an old dried up well that contained ancient magic and was the portal to the past. Her heart began to pound excitedly at the prospects of going back to a land and time she loved so much, to the one being who could take her breath away with a simple look.
The call nearly caused her to stumble. Whirling around the girl saw her Mama in a dressing gown standing in the doorway to the house. The letter was held clutched in her hand, a terrified look on her face. Kagome didn't waste time, merely turned around again and continued her run to the Hone Kui no Ido. If she could reach the well before her Mama got to her then everything would be okay. She raced through the doors and leapt down the stairs to the edge of the well where she threw off the cover with a strength and speed she didn't think she possessed. She stood on the edge just as he Mama raced through the door.
"Kagome! Iie!" she cried out desperately.
Kagome held perfectly still, staring down into the well's darkness. Then, carefully, she turned to face her Mama.
"Don't move, sweetie! Onegani, don't move!"
The girl's face was stoic.
"Gomen ne, Mama."
Her voice was even and perfectly calm.
"I have to go back there."
"Iie! You can't!"
"I have to, Mama."
"Why? Why is it so important that you go back? Why can't you stay here?"
"I'm not happy here, Mama. I can't be happy here."
Tears were streaming from her eyes now as she pleaded with her Otome.
"What's back there?"
Kagome smiled enigmatically.
"The man I love. Sayonara."
The move was almost imperceptible. She pushed back onto her heels and let herself fall into the pitch darkness of the well; confident her landing on the other side of time would be a soft one. She faintly heard her Mama call out to her in fear, but the voice faded away as Kagome's fall slowed. The limbo had caught her and she was now coasting down on eddies of time and magic. When Kagome felt her feet touch the bottom of the well, her eyes snapped shut, almost afraid that the magic hadn't worked and hadn't brought her back to Musashi Country. Tentatively she looked up and opened her eyes. Instead of the roof of the sanctuary, a multitude of clear bright stars met her eyes.
A strange scent wafted to her nose, halfway between sweet and rotten, and she looked around the bottom of the Hone Kui no Ido. The dirt and stone walls were almost slick with some sort of strange ooze that dripped heavily in large noise globs. Strange pieces of hard matter looking like curved plates or pieces of pottery crackled and crunched beneath her shoes. The feeling reminded her of dried eggshells.
What had happened to the well?
She resolved herself to question her friends in the village and began the now more difficult and certainly disgusting task of climbing out of the well. Ooze dripped onto her fingers and coated the front of her sweater mercilessly. Kagome pushed the experience out of her mind and concentrated on the faces of her friends in her mind. She was anxious to see her friends again, more so to see her beloved hanyou. Mildly she wondered if he had changed much over the last five years. She also wondered what he would think of her toned physique. It was something she had decided on shortly after returning home. Inuyasha had teased her so many times about how weak she was and she had resolved herself to never be that way again.
A faint acrid smell wafted on the breeze and down the well to her. Kagome paused. It smelled like burning wood. Was someone camping nearby?
With a little more caution and a heavy dose of curiosity she crawled up the rest of the way and peered over the edge. The wide-open field was empty, bathed in the light of the moon's unblinking eye. She pushed herself up over the edge, continuing to look around. The smell was stronger now. She turned in place to see the horizon towards the village and gasped.
The sky there was various hues of red and orange, thick black smoke spiraling to the heavens.
Kagome ignored the growing fear in the pit of her stomach, her feet already carrying her at a frenetic pace towards the ridge overlooking the riverside village. She had to know.
Were her friends alive?
Had the village been attacked?
Who had attacked?
Shimatta, this was supposed to be a peaceful homecoming, she ground fiercely.
She got to the top of the rise and froze in horror. The village was completely engulfed in flames, huts razed to the ground, the faint silhouettes of bodies and parts strewn here and there.
This had been an attack!
The bitter taste of fear rose like bile in her throat when she realized nothing moved within the ruins. She imagined the worst, seeing the faces of her friends flash before her eyes, all of them dead. She was running again, down to the village to set her fears to rest, or break her heart.
The small bridge across the stream had been destroyed, leaving her with the only option being to wade through the shallow waters. The first sight that greeted her eyes on the other shore was the severed arm of some poor villager. She frowned at it. She had been in too many battles in this world to be disgusted by a limb, but there was something odd about the marking along the flesh. They almost looked to be…
"Oh, Kami, they're bite marks!"
For the briefest of moments she thought maybe Inuyasha had gone into a demon-rage and caused all this, but the more she looked at the marks the more she realized they were far too large to have been made by the hanyou's mouth. She had seen him bite before. His were clean and usually around the throat. The dog demon would have never bothered with an arm since it didn't guarantee a clean kill and there wouldn't have been the scuffs all around the bite.
What were those scuffs from?
She blinked at herself.
Okay, Sherlock, you have a tiny piece of a mystery. Look for more clues.
She grunted with a slight shake of her head.
My future job options never included morgue pathologist.
Kagome swallowed heavily, bracing herself for the sights that were about to greet her eyes. The smoke was so think in the air that her eyes watered, her throat stinging painfully. She passed between burning huts, looking at partial and whole bodies as she went, thankfully not recognizing the faces, but offering prayers for the dead as she passed. Then she heard it, just over the dull roar of the flames. Something was tearing away at flesh and breaking bones. Kagome froze, ducking behind a surviving hut wall. She crawled forward silently to peer at whatever was ahead. She swallowed her gasp to keep silent. Ahead, its back to her as it continued to hunch over the hapless corpse before it, was a creature of nightmare, a thing from some sort of experiment gone horribly wrong.
It had the body of a black scorpion, its long tail curled in on itself as it crouched there, but what jutted out where the scorpion's face should have been was the torso of a man. His hands ended in large claws that easily snapped bones and limbs.
But could only one of those things have done all the damage here?
The creature abruptly straightened as if sensing something and began to look around. Kagome ducked back out of sight before it could turn around. She heard the faint clicking of its legs as it moved. It was unnerving to say the least. The way her heart was pounding Kagome was afraid that it could hear her so she did her best to quiet it. That's when her ears registered the absence of the creature's clicking steps. She risked a peek around the edge, but merely saw the body on which the thing had been focused on.
Where did ugly disappear to? she questioned.
The clicking returned suddenly, behind her. Kagome whirled around to find the thing staring at her, its claws twitching open and shut. That was when she saw its face and what had caused the scuffmarks on that arm she had found. Revulsion rose in her throat. The creature's face had very insect-like mandibles for a mouth, dripping with flesh and blood.
This thing was eating the dead!
It hissed at her menacingly and Kagome bolted, narrowly avoiding the beast's claws. She tried racing off towards where it had been feeding only to find it to be a dead-end. She turned to her attacker who approached her, slowly taking its time with its fresh prey. Behind it Kagome could see a long metal rod sticking out of the flames, a remnant of the blacksmith's forge. If she could get the rod she would at least stand a chance.
Demo what kind of a chance, she self-argued. These things attacked the village and weren't stopped. What can I hope to do?
I can try, at the very least.
Mustering as much courage as she could Kagome waited for the beast to charge before making her move. She dove low, easily avoiding its claws and rolling beneath its belly to the other side. A kind of sixth sense allowed her to see its tail uncoiling and racing down towards her. Kagome twisted on herself, the tail's sharp tip missing her skin by mere millimeters, but slicing through her sweater and snagging her duffle in the process. Her T-shirt was thankfully intact and she quickly shed her pack before the creature used it to draw her back. Just as her hands closed over the metal rod she felt something tear across her back. Looking back she saw a strip of her shirt dangling from one of its mighty claws. She ignored the pain, ignored the searing heat from the rod that burned her hands. She twisted again on herself as the creature rose above her to strike. Instinct forced her to raise the rod in some sort of defense as her eyes closed.
There was a deafening crunch as a huge weight pressed down on the rod in her hands.
A moment passed.
There was no sound except the crackle of flames.
Kagome opened her eyes to a sight that proved to her that she was sometimes far luckier than she let on. The creature, in its rush for fresh meat, had failed to stop itself in time. The rod had pierced right between its blood red eyes, exploding out the back with equal force. Kagome dropped the rod and the creature fell with it, dead.
"Arigatou, Kami…" she breathed in relief, gingerly flexing her fingers, panting to regain her breath from the fright.
Her eyes scanned the ground to retrieve her pack only to find it burning in the middle of a fire. The only thing that had survived was her sleeping bag. All her clothes were a loss. A groan escaped her throat. Her careful planning had just been ruined. A frown appeared on her face that she directed at the dead scorpion thing.
"This is all your fault!" she screamed at it, kicking its side.
It didn't move.
Okay, Kagome, calm down. You have to find where the rest of the villagers disappeared to.
You have to find Inuyasha.
He said before you left that he would protect the villagers. If he couldn't fight off these things then he would have taken the survivors away, right?
He would save whom he could. Take them somewhere he could protect them, where they could start a new safe life.
If he thought someone would come by after all this he would have probably left a sign, right? A sign as to which direction they were all heading in.
It wouldn't be obvious.
Where is it, Inuyasha? Where did you hide it?
She scanned at the surviving structure for a clue, any clue that would help her. Only one wall had any sort of marking on it. Scratches, really. Two angled scratches and one horizontal. Kagome placed her fingers in the scratches and noticed they were spaced apart like fingers. She smiled at the tingling sensation running up her fingers.
The more she stared at the marks the more she thought they resembled a kind of rough arrow. She looked in the direction it was pointing in, down a dirt path that led towards the valleys. With a shrug Kagome gathered up her sleeping bag and started down the path. She knew soon the adrenaline would seep out of her system and she would feel exhausted, but she wanted to put as much distance between herself and the village as possible.
Who knew whether the creature had friends and if they would return.
Kagome did not want to stay around and find out.
Using the adrenaline still coursing through her system the young woman began to run in the direction the rough arrow had pointed in, hoping beyond hope she could catch up with the remaining villagers. The fires in the village didn't look to be very old, maybe a few hours. Which meant the group had a few hours at least on her. If they were walking and she continued to run as much as she could, she stood a good chance of gaining ground.
An ironic smile worked its way across her lips while she ran. For once she wasn't running away from anything.
"The villagers are tired and scared, Inuyasha." Kaede voiced gently as she hobbled nimbly next to the hanyou. "We should find a place to let them rest. They have been walking for hours."
Silver haired Inuyasha stopped at this and looked back to the group of twenty or so he had been leading away from the burning village at a rather brisk pace. They all looked exhausted and on the verge of terrified despair. He had kept them at a brisk pace since leaving the burning remains of the village. He had to put as much distance between them and their former home. They were mostly women and children with a few young boys. One of the women was even pregnant, due to give birth any day now. He could smell the change in her scent with the approaching day.
These were the last survivors of the attack by those… those things!
A growl forced itself from his throat at the memory of the battle. It had gone poorly from the start. They had appeared from out of nowhere and from all directions, shredding and stinging as they went. Their poison was brutally painful and long to act, many villagers falling victim to it. It was a horrible way to die. Those creatures had been quicker than arrows, their armor tougher than the finest katana. Even his enchanted Tetsusaiga katana had barely left a dent and they hadn't held still long enough to sneak the blade between the plating. He hated to retreat from a battle, running away from a fight was just not in his blood, but if anything had stuck with him from his time with Kagome was to know when a battle would not be won and this one was not to be won by him.
The name struck a painful chord of longing in his heart. How he missed her terribly, but he would be damned if he let that show outwardly. He let the thought of her linger in front of his mind's eye a moment more before concentrating on the refugees. He could see the weary etched into their faces, the fear of what had happened and the sorrow for their fallen friends and family members.
As much as he hated to admit it, the old hag was right. They needed to stop.
He sniffed the air carefully and picked up the scent of water. A stream no doubt.
"There's water in the woods. Lead them in, hag, I'll bring up the rear."
"You are much kinder than you like to let on."
Inuyasha scowled a fierce frown, refusing to look at her. He held his ground while the group followed Kaede into the woods. The old witch woman had been right though, he had grown soft.
More Kagome influence.
Damn that bitch! I'm almost glad she's not here. She'd be pissed that I let Shippo leave all those years ago. Hey, his decision to see if he could find what was left of his family.
He paused, casting a glance to the faint glow on the horizon.
Too bad Sango and the bouzo aren't here, though. They might've been some help.
"Inuyasha-sama?" a tiny voice called up to him.
He looked down into the wide round eyes of a little girl, her clothes in tatters from the escape, her thumb stuck firmly in her mouth. He blinked at her frightened innocence.
"Are the bad monsters coming?" she asked.
His ears flattened in sympathy, despite his best efforts. He hesitated for a second, and then patted her head. Offering her comfort was a small price to pay. Besides, he couldn't stop the fact that none of the village children were afraid of him anymore. He had become a common fixture since he made that promise to Kagome five years ago to watch over these people.
"Iie, pup, the monsters are far away. Go join the others."
With one ear he followed her movements and those of the villagers while the other twitched around for any sounds out of the ordinary. He stayed this was for several minutes, just listening to the growing silence. The wind was at his back, carrying away any scents that might have been coming from the path before him. In the dark of night he couldn't see very far, despite his heightened hanyou senses. Another growl rumbled in his throat, his lips curling up to reveal sharp fangs. He didn't like this situation. Not one bit.
If danger was coming he wouldn't be able to sense it until it was too late.
Not quite resigned to it, the half demon turned cautiously and headed after the group he was protecting. He could smell them building small fires to keep themselves warm. Entering the small clearing he paused a moment to scan his surrounding, mentally taking stock to see if everyone was still there, then leapt up into a tree to keep watch over them all. From his perch on a solid branch he could see everyone perfectly, but he was hard to spot until it was too late. There he settled, eye closed, ears twitching in every which direction, nose attune to all scents on the wind.
Nothing would get by him tonight.
Kagome saw faint tendrils of white smoke rise up in the forest.
She was drawing closer to the villagers, she was sure of it. She smiled, relieved to know at least someone had survived. The thought of finding none of them or even some of them near death had frozen her to the core. Never once did she slow her pace, feeling her legs burning as they demanded her to stop. The adrenaline rush was almost completely out of her system now and fatigue was beginning to settle in. She fought it off as best she could, feeling the injury of her back sting with each move she made.
She couldn't stop now.
If she took the time to rest up a bit she risked falling asleep, and if she fell asleep then she was not guaranteed to wake up in time to catch up to the travelers.
Kagome dove into the woods in the direction of the smoke.
She was almost there.
Inuyasha's ears perked up in alarm.
Someone was running through the underbrush towards those under his protection and, whoever it was, was careless about trying to be silent. It would only be moments before the villagers heard the crashing of leaves and branches.
They would go into a panic.
He couldn't have that.
Panicked humans made mistakes and as it was none of them could afford any mistake that could cost a life. He leapt down from his perch in the center of the group.
"Behind me! Backs to the stream!" he barked at them.
They scrambled to obey, some already beginning to keen and cry in growing fear. He could smell that fear, growing thick on the air like musk. Inuyasha stood before them all at ready, teeth and claws ready to tear into anything that came too near. He had made a promise to guard these survivors and he would be damned if he let anything more hurt them.
A low menacing growl rumbled in his chest.
Let them come, he was ready.
Kagome froze in the shadows at the sight of the red Hi-Nezumi clad hanyou preparing for a vicious fight. The red clothing stood out in sharp contrast to the dark around him. He had crouched down, ready to leap into action. She didn't move, knowing that if she did it would make a sound and he would locate the source quickly, attacking first, then asking questions after the threat was dead.
It was his style.
Leap first, look later.
How was she going to be able to enter the clearing without getting herself killed?
"Fuck!" he cursed as he heard the word.
Inuyasha felt the Nenju necklace around his neck suddenly yank him to the ground. He blinked a couple of times, raising his head in surprise. The subduing spell had been activated, but there was only one person in all of creation who could activate it. He looked to the edge of the clearing just as whoever it was stepped into the light of the fires.
The dog demon's heart slammed up into his throat in hidden joy.
Kagome had an apologetic grin on her face as she stared at him, walking forward a few steps. All he could do was stare back for the moment, unable to move due to the subduing spell. He felt like screaming. More than anything he wanted to leap up and be the first to reach her, to touch her again, but that damnable spell was keeping him pinned to the ground. Already he could feel its affect fading and he struggled to raise himself up on his hands and knees as the group of surviving villagers swarmed Kagome, happy to have her back in their midst.
He frowned at her appearance.
She hadn't changed much in the last five years, only filled out nicely in all the right places, but that wasn't what caught his attention. She looked exhausted, on the verge of collapsing at any given moment now. Her frame shook almost unperceivable. Soot had smeared her face where her blackened hands had rubbed against it; her dark clothing hiding the fact there was any soot on them. That was when his nose reported the presence of something crucial, something the villagers didn't seem to notice.
The air held a tinge of blood.
Kagome had been hurt!
Something or someone had dared injure his Kagome!
It caused a vicious growl to rumble in his throat. No living or dead thing was allowed to cause the human female any harm what so ever so long as he was alive. His anger gave him the strength he needed to leap to his feet.
Everyone turned to him, all of them waiting for him to explode from having been subdued in such an undignified manner. He took a few steps forward, staring down at the lone girl from the future, making her squirm slightly though he was pretty sure it was more from pain than his scrutiny.
His anger softened despite himself.
He never wanted her to be afraid of him.
The frown remained, but a small grin tugged at the corners of his lips, his arms crossing over his chest.
"Bitch." he rumbled.
The tension in her shoulders relaxed slightly. She frowned in return, also grinning.
Two steps had her buried against his chest, her fingers clinging to the back of his haori to both keep him close and keep herself standing just a little while longer. She wanted to imprint the feel of his arms and chest in her memory forever. She had been away from him for far too long. Being with him was just so right.
He hesitated but for an instant before wrapping his arms around her tightly, his long sleeves nearly hiding her from sight. Never had she felt so good in his arms. He didn't want to let go.
The smell of blood returned to his nostrils and he pushed Kagome back to hold her at arm's length, beginning an inspection to find the source of her injury, twisting her around suddenly. A long gash marked her back. Rage bubbled within him at the thought of his Kagome being hurt by anyone. He whirled her around again to face him, his hands tightening on her forearms.
"Tell me who did this to you, Kagome!" he ground dangerously. "I'll rip out their fuckin' lungs!"
"It's already dead." she replied casually, her head beginning to spin.
He blinked, watching her hand go up to support her head. His grip loosened.
"A scorpion thingy… Inuyasha, let me down… onegai… my… my head's spinning…"
His anger suddenly left him, replaced by sudden worry.
"Oi, hag, earn your keep!" he snapped.
Then, "Did it sting you?" he queried of Kagome, easing her down to her knees as Kaede hurried off to gather items to tend to the wound.
"Listen to me, woman! Did it sting you?"
His heart was threatening to stop at any second. He remembered the agony he had seen in the dying villagers as the venom had run its course. It had been slow to act, but excruciating from the first moment. He didn't want his Kagome to suffer that way. He wouldn't be able to bare it.
The urgent concern in his voice made her look up at him. She knew he cared, but to be concern to this point…? She shook her head slightly, unintentionally causing her world to spin more wildly.
"Iie… It was just its claws…"
Relief washed over his features. It hadn't stung her. He silently thanked all the gods and goddesses in the heavens for that simple grace of letting her live. Careful of her injury he moved closer to her side to allow her to lean on him, supporting her weight so she could concentrate on staying conscious.
Kagome failed and nearly fell face first to the ground had Inuyasha not been supporting her. His body just felt so warm and comforting to the shivering Miko that she let herself relax.
He bristled fearfully when he felt her body go slack.
"Easy, boy, she will be fine." Kaede soothed at the expression of worry on his face, carefully beginning her work on Kagome's back with the help of one of the young women of the village. "She is merely unconscious."
Being ever so careful they eased the dark burgundy T-shirt up over her head as the hanyou supported the limp girl's frame. Inuyasha felt his cheeks warm at having her so close and naked from the waist up. Her skin was cool and soft beneath his fingers, giving with just the right amount of pliability to make his heart race.
He gave himself a mental shake.
She had definitely been away too long.
Averting his eyes he noticed some of the young men in the group were watching with almost avid interest. With a glare and a warning snarl from the hanyou the men turned away, knowing full well that if Inuyasha caught them staring again they risked not living for much longer.
"The wound is shallow, but long." Kaede muttered while carefully cleaning the gash. "She is tired from pain and blood loss from this wound, and no doubt from trying to find us. She told me she ran from the village to here."
Inuyasha said nothing, merely watched her work with agile and gentle fingers.
"This is merely more proof of her power as a Miko." the old healer continued. "You were not able to kill those creatures, yet she managed to find a way and survive."
But at what cost? he thought.
"Don't fuckin' rub it in, baba." he said instead.
Kaede chuckled, wrapping long strips of clean cloth around Kagome's torso.
"She will sleep for some time, perhaps until tomorrow. Above all she must rest. Shallow as it may be, this wound and her search for us has caused her to lose much of her blood."
The dog demon nodded slowly in understanding.
"Laera, onegani, fetch her sleeping roll." the healer requested of her assistant for the evening.
When she turned back again she found that Inuyasha had gathered up Kagome into his lap, cradling her tenderly, wrapping the long sleeves of his haori around her to keep her warm. He was carefully trying to wipe the soot from her cheeks, cautious not to scratch her with his claws. Kaede chuckled softly and handed him the damp cloth she had been using.
"Water works much better, Inuyasha."
He straightened sharply, eyes wide in surprise for a moment at being caught. In rapid succession he looked at Kaede and to the cloth a couple times before suddenly frowning at her, grumbling low, and snatching the cloth from her hand in annoyance.
Kaede merely smiled in her all knowing manner.
Sparing only a few heartbeats more to glare at the old woman, he brought his attention back to the woman in his arms. The scowl softened into a gaze of concern as he returned his attention to cleaning her face. Kagome slept on, seemingly oblivious to the careful and tender ministrations of the hanyou.
Kaede smiled at them for a minute or two, barely registering Laera's return with the sleeping roll, finding it amazing that Kagome had managed to tame such a wild spirit such as Inuyasha. She reached forward and took the young Miko's hands, deftly washing the soot that had collected there. She then inspected the hands.
"She has been burned." she stated flatly.
Inuyasha's ears flattened in rising anger again, his snarl curling his lips back over his teeth.
"Calm yourself. They are not serious burns. They will heal within a day."
Kaede ignored his continued growl and applied a soothing balm to Kagome's hands, bandaging her palms.
"She would be more comfortable sleeping on her bed roll."
The hanyou's arms tightened around Kagome in clear defiance.
"She would at least be warmer."
He didn't want to let her go.
He was more than content to hold her this way for the rest of his life if he had to. But the old witch was right yet again. The nights were getting colder and colder as the season wore on. Soon the leaves would change color and fall from their branches and frost would form on the ground. Kagome would be warmer in her bedroll.
But like Hell I'm letting her sleep on the ground after all that, he ground inwardly, setting the sleeping girl down in her sleeping bag.
No sooner had Kaede pulled the zipper closed did he scoop Kagome back into his lap, growling low, daring Kaede to say anything in protest.
She merely sighed.
"You are a stubborn one. Just let her sleep, she needs the rest."
Then she turned to the rest of the group.
"As do we all. Today has been hard on all of us."
A murmur of agreement spread through the group and they began to settle themselves again for the night. Inuyasha looked to all the tired faces, lines of sorrow furrowing some. Some of the women would cry themselves to sleep that night. They had lost Aruji and Obocchan in the attack. He could only imagine how hard it could be for them. His mind dared imagine how he would take having lost Kagome the same way and a pained gasp locked in his throat. He swallowed hard and looked down at where she slept, his arms tightening around her protectively.
I'll let them sleep longer into tomorrow. They need it.
He paused and scowled at himself.
Damn, I really have gone soft.
Kagome came awake in layers, noticing the incredible warmth wrapped around her and the strong scent of a fresh forest first before all else. She let herself breath softly for a moment or two, comforted by the warmth, before noticing the odd shape of the bed she was in. It wasn't uncomfortable, far from it, but she vaguely wondered what kind of a bed was shaped this way out in the forest. She forced her eyes to open, her heavy lids fighting her every step of the way. All her blurred eyes saw was a shock of silvery white bordered in red. Those colors were very familiar to her, a smile coming unbidden to her lips. Slowly her vision cleared until she could see sharp details once again.
His golden eyes were watching the forest, his ears twisting to and fro for any sound that could alert him to danger. A small frown marred his boyish features. For what felt like an eternity, Kagome merely lay there and watched him. He was still as magnificent as she remembered, his proud and stubborn streak clearly showing, but with an air of gentle caring beginning to sneak by. Abruptly she realized what the shape of her bed had been. Inuyasha had gathered her up in his lap and was holding her close to protect her from the world.
She blinked and blushed.
To her knowledge he had never done that before… had he?
She paused as she thought about it. She couldn't recall the last time he had done something so openly caring towards her. But the thought of him doing this now, after she had been away so long, brought a feeling of great warmth coursing through her body. Cautious of his heightened senses Kagome reached up behind one of his twitching ears and gave it a gentle yet firm scratch. His golden eyes closed of their own accord, his head tilting into her hand as a pleased rumble sounded deep in his chest. Kagome could barely contain her soft giggle of amusement.
He made a sound deep in his throat, a soft bark more or less.
"You're supposed to be sleeping, bitch."
Kagome swallowed in an attempt to clear away the scratchy feeling in her throat.
"But it would kind of look bad for me to sleep through my first night back, ne?"
His answer was lost in another low rumble as her fingers gently stroked his ear, his head lowering slightly to give her better access without reaching too much. It was stronger than him, he absolutely had to let her continue. Since Kikyou, Kagome had been the only female he had let approach him, let alone touch him or his sensitive ears. And truth be known, he missed Kagome's touch. She had the most delicate and gentle fingers…
Again he heard her giggle.
"You're an overgrown puppy."
He snarled quietly, the frown returning to his face for an instant, but remained silent. He just wanted to sit there and let her play with his ear.
"Are you mad at me for staying away so long?"
"Hai." he grunted before hearing the timid remorse in her voice.
He opened an eye to see her, to see the painful remorse flit across her features.
"But I would've been even more pissed if you'd gotten yourself killed." he amended quickly, closing his eye.
She blinked, then grinned wryly at his smug expression. He was teasing her again, just like old times.
"Ja-ku." she muttered playfully, giving a lock of his hair a slight tug.
He grunted with a smirk. When he looked down at her he found her blue eyes solemnly surveying the others sleeping within the clearing, gathered in informal circles around small campfires. He could see the sorrow building in her eyes, threatening to spill out in hot tears, and he felt his heart constrict from it.
"Are they all that's left?" she whispered.
Inuyasha paused before answering, "Hai."
"Shippo, Sango, Miroku…?"
"So far as I know they're safe. They weren't in the village at the time."
"Nani? Where were they?"
"Miroku went South several days ago and Sango went with him to, as she said, keep him and his roaming hands out of trouble. Though I think I know why she really went with him."
"And Shippo?" she queried, hoping to hide her blush at his suggesting comment.
"He thought he remembered something about his Okaasan's pack running somewhere North of here. He went off to see if he could find them, maybe join up with them."
"I'm glad he wasn't around to see…"
Kagome couldn't finish, afraid of the mental image.
Inuyasha snarled menacingly.
"They just fuckin' came out of fuckin' nowhere! Goddamn bugs!" he growled, careful not to wake those scattered around them.
"What are they?"
"They smelled hanyou, but…"
"It's an old scent, ancient. It… It doesn't smell like anything from this world."
Kagome shivered at that.
Not of this world…?
"How… How can you tell?"
He tried to collect his more primal thoughts that had led him to such a conclusion. The memory was older than he was about this, but the true and definite answer eluded him. Shaking his head at a loss, the growl returned, his arms tightening instinctively around the lithe form in his lap. Inuyasha hated not knowing. Not knowing something this important was a weakness. And a weakness meant he couldn't find a way to defend his Kagome.
He hated that.
Despised it with a passion.
He blinked, abruptly remembering something from earlier that evening. She had killed one of those scorpion creatures. He leaned down to force her eyes to meet his.
"Oi, how did you kill that thing?"
It was her turn to blink, confused. "Nani?"
"The beastie who attacked you. You killed it, ne?"
"I… I guess… I got lucky."
Amber eyes narrowed in a thinly veiled demand.
"Tell me how."
The intensity of his stare forced the answer from her, boring deep into her eyes to keep her from moving or suddenly changing the topic.
"I… I got my hands on a metal rod… I… I didn't know how I was going to use it, but I- I just had to defend myself somehow."
"What did you do?" he demanded further.
"I… I pointed at it with the rod… It… It charged and I closed my eyes, thinking this was it, I… I was going to die."
Kagome felt his fingers flex into her skin in a light twitch, just enough so she could feel his claws without it being painful to her.
"When… When I opened my eyes again, it… it had impaled itself between the eyes."
The corner of his eye twitched, the only sign of slight awe in her he let escape his stoic expression. He released her eyes, looking at the ground in thought. By a sheer stroke of pure luck she had discovered where those things were the most vulnerable and how to make them so.
Get them to charge.
And their heads were the vulnerable spot.
He thought back to the battle in the village and realized how true that was now. Each time an arrow was shot at them, the creatures would cover their heads. When a sword came at them, again, the head was shielded to let the body take the brunt of it. Everything that had been thrown at them had missed the head because they had been so careful to protect it. The armor must have been at its thinnest there.
That was a weakness.
Keh, not an easy place to get to in a fight with them though, he thought grimly.
Kagome shifted against him, recalling his attention down to her as she wrapped her arms around his torso, her ear pressed to his heart.
"I was so scared…"
Something broke within the hanyou and he crushed her as close as he dared without causing her any harm. A low, soothing rumble rolled in his chest, his hands gently stroking her hair and back to smooth away her fears. She was trembling in his arms, all her terrors having come rushing up to the surface from where she had pushed them down.
And he had forced her to remember.
His ears flattened in guilt.
"Shhh, you're okay." he whispered in a near purr. "I won't let anything hurt you. You're safe now."
Her arms tightened, letting herself sink into the warmth of his chest. His constant low growl and the feel of his arms encircling her so protectively began to lull her senses, drawing her back into the sleep she needed.
But she needed to know…
"Where are you taking the villagers?"
He could hear the slumber creeping back into her voice and allowed himself a smile at it.
"I know a place near the coast. All you need to know for now is that it's safe. Now, sleep."
She snuggled against his shoulder.
"'kay." she mumbled, not in the mood to argue.
Again, Inuyasha smiled down at her. Careful not to break her settling slumber he nuzzled the top of her head, inhaling deeply of her scent. It was an exotic scent; nothing he had ever sampled before and it intrigued him. Everything about her did. She could be as delicate as a flower one moment, soft and vulnerable, then as hard as steel the next if pushed past the edge. She was capable of such great acts of kindness and such moments of strength and courage. Inuyasha caressed her head, cupping her chin ever so tenderly to lift up her face.
"I'm never letting you go again, Kagome." he breathed, his thumb absently trailing over her lower lip.
"You are mine."
When Kagome woke again she found herself lying on something that bumped and jarred every so often. Opening her eyes she was nearly blinded by the midday sunlight. She squinted for a better look at her surroundings. She was still in her sleeping bag, her bandages the only top she wore, but now she was lying on a bed of fine straw within the back of a cart. Forcing the wave of nausea and dizziness back down, she sat up. The elder villagers and youngest of children were in the back of the cart with her, still solemn, still weary, but certain safety was just a few more miles away.
"Ah, Kagome-sama, you're finally awake!"
She turned to the voice and found Kaede walking next to the cart.
"How are you feeling, child?"
Kagome reached a hand up to support her head, trying to clear away the mental cobwebs.
"A little dizzy."
A sack was dropped unceremoniously in her lap. She squeaked in surprise, then looked up at who had thrown it at her. Inuyasha was walking behind the cart, his amber eyes surveying the forests on either side of the path.
"Nani?" she questioned. "Inuyasha?"
"You need to eat." he answered simply, moving up to walk at the cart's side.
There was no mistaking the command in his voice.
Resigned to the fact he would argue with her if she refused to eat anything he offered, she opened the sack. A small loaf of bread, some dried meats, and a small preciously wrapped pouch lay within. She reached for the pouch in curiosity. It was made of some of the most finely embroidered red and gold silk Kagome had ever seen, just a swath, with a small gold ribbon tied in a meticulous bow. Almost hesitant to destroy the lovely packet, she carefully pulled the ribbon free and opened the silk purse, a bright smile illuminating her face at its contents.
It was completely filled with tiny wild strawberries.
She was pretty sure he didn't have them the night before, so it was safe to say he had left her side the night before to gather these ripe berries. It was a small gesture to anyone else's eyes, but to Kagome, seeing as this had come from Inuyasha, it spoke volumes. She looked over at him, still smiling.
Only his eyes turned to see her. Seeing her stunning smile of appreciation warmed his heart, forcing a small grin to his own lips, his eyes returning to the road ahead.
He loved her smile.
Compared to Kikyou's smile, which was often restrained or forced or even hinted with the sorrow of her perpetual solitude, Kagome let everything she felt show in a smile brighter than the sun. And right now, she had forgotten her fears and was happy.
Kagome saw his grin and it only made her smile grow wider. She wished he smiled more often. Nibbling on the food pouch's contents she turned to face the direction they were heading in. Just ahead she could see a fork in the road. She could see rocky cliffs in one direction of the fork with sea birds hovering around them.
"Is that where we're going?" she questioned.
When she received no answer she looked to her hanyou friend. He was staring back down the path, sampling the air blowing towards them in growing unease, his ears flattening back. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. She had seen that look before. His lips were beginning to curl into a warning snarl at whatever was coming. Instinctively she knew what it was he had smelled heading their way.
"Into the woods!" Kagome called to the group. "Now! You two! Grab some branches! Erase our tracks! Hurry!"
The travelers leapt to obey her, struggling to remain as silent as possible despite the keens of worry and fear rising in their throats. Kagome jumped from the back of the cart to help as much as she could, fighting the searing pain in her back and her spinning head. Clearing the road of any signs of their tracks she ended up behind Inuyasha. He hadn't moved from his spot, growling, just itching for a fight. She gripped the sleeve of his haori to restrain him.
Fiery amber eyes frowned at her suddenly, but she held her ground, used to those kinds of stares from him.
"Onegai, don't! There's too much at risk right now!"
His entire frame shook as he did his best to restrain himself. He wanted, more than anything, to have a second chance at fighting those scorpion things and winning this time instead of retreating. His demon blood screamed for battle, demanded it. He wanted revenge for being forced to retreat like some beaten mongrel. But her hand on his sleeve held firm, tugging him towards the forest where the rest of their group was already hidden. The pleading and frightened look on Kagome's face finally decided him on his course of action. With one last growl down the path he wrapped an arm around her waist and dove out of sight on the opposite side of the path from the rest of the refugee villagers, flattened to the ground beneath some underbrush, Kagome pressed close to his side.
If need be he would protect her with his very life.
Everything grew eerily quiet.
Not a bird twittered, not a cricket chirped.
The only sounds that filtered through the silence were those of the wind through the trees and a foreboding clicking that grew louder as it came up the path. A low rumbled rolled in Inuyasha's chest, a snarl beginning to curl his lips. Kagome pressed her hand to his mouth, gently stroking his hair to try to calm him. His arm tightened in reflex.
From around the bend in the road appeared three gigantic black forms, their thin legs carrying them forward with incredible speed and agility. Long tails, tipped in a particularly vicious looking stinger, were curled along their backs to keep them out of the way. All were intent on where ever their destination was. When the three reached about where the cart had been, they stopped and Kagome froze in growing fear. The scorpion men seemed to hesitate, looking around in confusion for what seemed an eternity, then took off again up the path heading away from the sea birds and cliffs.
Kagome released the breath she hadn't realized she had been holding. Keeping his eyes up the path where the creatures had disappeared from sight, Inuyasha risked crawling out from the underbrush, Kagome's hand nestled firmly in his own. Across the way, the other survivors followed suit, alert and ready to bolt if the creatures returned. Kaede frowned up the path in concern.
"There's another village up that way. They won't stand a chance." she voiced softly.
"Unless someone helps them."
With an anticipatory snarl, Inuyasha prepared to race off after the creatures.
"Matte!" he heard Kagome command.
He paused in mid-step and looked at her in surprise. She was retrieving one of the long bows and a quiver of arrows from the cart before running back to him to climb onto his back.
"Now we can go."
"We?" He hesitated in protest. "Kagome, you're-"
"Do you want to argue or do you want a chance to kill those damn things?"
He blinked, shocked, then gave a hearty, throaty chuckle.
"You are definitely my kind of bitch."
"Wait here, we'll be back as soon as we can!" she called back to her friends as the hanyou took a running leap for the treetops.
Branches flew by at a dizzying pace that only a hanyou possessed. His feet found each branch even before he saw them. A few demi-demon powered hops were all it took for the duo to reach the village. He could already sense the growing fear of an entire village as he landed at the village entrance. The creatures were already there.
"Fuck, those things are fast." he snarled.
"Then we'll just have to be faster."
Kagome leapt from his back, an arrow notched and ready as she ran into the panicked village with Inuyasha. She allowed herself an inner wry smirk. This was so unlike the little girl who had arrived in this land nearly seven years ago. Back then she would have never rushed into danger this way. Now, it was almost second nature. She knew how to defend herself and she had learned to split her attention to allow herself a wider perspective of a situation.
Within the village walls the scorpion trio was already hard at work destroying buildings, tearing through wood, and stinging or snapping in half any living thing that dared move within range. So far it was only village animals, the villagers themselves had the common sense to stay out of the way. Kagome covered her mouth, nauseated by the scene going on before her, swallowing hard to keep herself from throwing up. Inuyasha saw the move and smirked in teasing.
"Don't you dare fuckin' run away, little girl. It was your idea to tag along."
Startled, she frowned at him, her hand dropping away to re-notch her arrow and taking aim at one of the scorpion men.
"Who's running?" she queried, releasing the arrow.
The target barely heard the soft twang of the bowstring over the screams of the crowd, turning none-the-less in slight concern. It never had a chance to bring up its claws to protect itself. The arrow hit its mark, piercing through one eye to come out through the back of its head.
Inuyasha cocked his head to one side in appreciation. Her aim had definitely improved over the last few years.
The scorpion creature let out a high-pitched scream as it died, alerting the remaining two creatures. They barely turned in time to see a blur of red and silver racing towards them. The nearest one fell easily, its head exploding under the hanyou's powerful hit. The remaining scorpion creature managed to protect its head in time to block the intended blow. Inuyasha managed to twist mid-air to avoid the lashing tail, landing on the other side of the creature.
The man-scorpion looked to both his attackers, gauging which one could offer the most threat and therefore have to be eliminated first. It had never been in this kind of situation. No one had ever managed to kill one of its kind before this. In the female all he could smell was the scent of the pink flesh, the humans as they called themselves.
The other was intriguing.
There was human, but there was also strong demon blood there too.
A potent potion.
It also made the male more dangerous. It ignored Kagome and turned its full attention on Inuyasha.
The hanyou smiled evilly.
Good, come after me, you ugly son of a bitch! Let me show you what I can really do!
As the creature turned Kagome saw an opening in its defenses and quickly notched another arrow. She took careful aim for the head, time seeming to slow as if to help her prepare.
The arrow released with a twang.
The creature heard and began to turn away from Inuyasha.
Time continued to lag, which made it even more painful to watch the scorpion raise a clawed arm and easily block the arrow. That same claw then dipped and swung hard, launching her into the air. Lucky for her, Kagome landed in a pile of gathered straw and grasses, softening the blow enough for her not to add to her present injury, but hard enough for that injury to scream painfully against her senses and for the wind to be knocked out of her. The wave of dizziness gripped her mind again from the blow and Kagome passed out.
Inuyasha's world turned to red mere instants after he saw her get hit by the man scorpion.
It had hurt Kagome!
No one was allowed to hurt his Kagome.
He would make the creature pay for its mistake.
With a feral roar, Inuyasha hurdled himself at the beast, claws and teeth bared in anticipation of a fight.
His sword was forgotten, this was a primal anger.
He landed on the beast's back, clawing rabidly as the black armor plates in a blind fury, turning to latch onto the scorpion being's tail when it lashed towards him, barely avoiding its stinger. No matter how much it struggled, wildly swinging its tail to and fro, the hanyou held on tight, claws digging deeper into the hard plating. There was a sickening squelching sound, followed by a wet pop, the beast screeching wildly in pain. Its stinger had been ripped off due to the ever-increasing pressure from Inuyasha's grip. The hanyou went flying backwards, easily landing on his feet to continue to face off against his opponent.
Something bumped against his thigh and he looked down.
A moment of clarity suddenly invaded Inuyasha's senses and he smiled menacingly at the soon to be dead insect. The moment was only a few instants away now.
With a furious screech, the creature rushed at Inuyasha, its deadly intent fully visible in blood red eyes. Inuyasha held his ground, his sword hand gripping the hilt of the magical katana.
Seconds seemed to drag.
The man scorpion spread its arms out in a move to prevent escape and prepare for a crushing death embrace.
Inuyasha shifted his stance ever so slightly so the katana was now away from the attacker.
Light flashed off of steel.
Tetsusaiga blazed to life, growing to an impressive and deadly size.
The scorpion being didn't have time to react.
With one mighty swipe, the blade easily severed head from body, the hanyou rolling out of the way so as not to be hit. Momentum kept the beast moving forward until its legs crumbled beneath it, crashing in a heap of limbs and dust to the ground.
With a proud smirk, the hanyou sheathed his enchanted weapon. Victory was easy now that Kagome had explained how to kill them.
He blinked, remembering why he had raged in the first place.
He dashed to her side, finding her still unconscious on the pile of soft grasses. Blood had begun to seep through her bandages on her back, the wound having re-opened from the blow. Worry gripped his heart. She had to be in incredible pain. Being ever so careful he turned her over and cradled her body close, gentle nuzzling a spot just behind her ear, keening softly. His hands stroked through her hair, marveling for the first time at how soft it was, caressing her smooth cheek in urging for her to awaken. His ears flattened in pure concern.
"You're not allowed to leave me, Kagome." he whispered fiercely in her hair, his arms tightening. "I won't let you."
A small sound escaped her throat, causing him to look down at her face suddenly.
"… I-… Inuyasha…?"
He exhaled heavily, pressing his forehead to hers.
"Stupid bitch." he muttered in a bare whisper. "Going off into a damn fight while you're still recovering."
A small chuckle shook her frame.
"I wonder where I get that from."
Her comment got him to crack a small grin.
"Baka. Just don't do it again."
She smirked. "No guarantees."
This won her a chiding growl from the hanyou.
Giving her ample time to adjust to each move, Inuyasha eased her up to her feet, allowing her to lean against his chest to support most of her weight. Her fingers were curled into his haori to keep him close, her ear to his heart as he mind swam between consciousness and unconsciousness. The pain from her back made it difficult to think straight for long periods of time, annoyingly drifting from oblivion to lucidity at any given moment.
For his part, Inuyasha kept an arm wrapped around her small frame protectively as the inhabitants of the village began to exit their homes to assess the damages. Thankfully, the duo had reached the village before any lives were lost.
A few of the villager elders approached the strange duo.
"You… you saved us!" one praised.
"I was itching for a re-match against those goddamn bugs." Inuyasha replied flatly.
One of the men of the village approached at that point, making a move to take Kagome from the hanyou's arms. Inuyasha reacted instantly, snarling in warning, wrapping both his arms possessively around Kagome to hide her within the folds of his long sleeves.
"Touch her and I'll rip your fuckin' arms off!" he growled.
One of the elders waived off the villager, bowing low in apology.
"A thousand pardons, hanyou-sama, but we merely thought you would want medical attention for your… um… mate."
Inuyasha blinked, casting a quick glance down at the girl in his arms, grinning to himself at the look of surprised confusion on her face and at his own thought of Kagome as his life-mate. Either she was still in shock, or something else, but she was not protesting being called his mate. Mentally, he shook himself of the inner contemplation. There was a time and place for such thoughts and this was not one of those times or places. He lifted the injured woman in his arms.
"We have our own healer." And he turned to begin to leave.
"At least let us reward you for saving all of us!"
Kagome's hand curled into his haori, giving it a slight tug to get his attention.
"For the others, Inuyasha."
He protested with a low rumble in his chest.
"A short delay, I promise. Onegai, put me down."
Still growling his disagreement, he set her on her feet. When she tried to take a few steps towards the village elders his arms fastened around her shoulders to pin her back against his chest to prevent her from going too far. She gave him a puzzled look from over her shoulder, but chalked up his protectiveness to the fact she was injured.
"We're traveling with a group of about twenty or so, the last survivors of a village that was attacked by those creatures." she voiced to the elders. "Anything you can spare for them would be welcome."
The old man bowed in acceptance to this and began to hastily shout orders to the gathering crowd. They scattered into activity, happily gathering up items and bringing them forward to their saviors, loading them into a supplied wagon.
Inuyasha's constant low growl rose by a couple of octaves in a thinly veiled caution to any of the approaching men, his arms tightening protectively around the lithe human girl before him, his sleeves hiding her form from sight.
Kagome didn't complain too much. Truth be known, she was getting cold without much else to cover her except her bandages and Inuyasha was just too warm to resist. Despite it, a slight shiver shook her frame.
"You cold?" he asked her.
"Mm, a little."
The hanyou responded by gently nuzzling his face in her hair, his breath warm against her skin. She gulped hard to stifle her gasp, a wave of incredible heat washing over her. She was certain of it, he had never done that before, intentionally or unintentionally.
Deeming the wagon as full as it was going to get, Inuyasha easily jumped onto it, snagging a thick blanket from the back and, in one fluid movement, had Kagome wrapped up in its warmth, setting her down in the driver's seat. From there it was a short hop down to take the reigns of the docile oxen to lead them away. With arigatous exchanged and well wishes given between the humans, the stoic hanyou tugged at the oxen's halter to get it moving forward. At the bovine's pace, it would take a while before they returned to their friends.
Kagome used that time to relax a bit and think, staring at Inuyasha's back. She remembered a time when he had forbidden any male from approaching her, either attacking that male or interposing himself between her and the interloper. His actions then had more than stated that she was off limits to any other male save him. But never once had he acted like back in the village. Yes, he had growled, but he had never held her so possessively. He had never actually touched her in the past during moments like that.
So what had changed?
Her pain and exhaustion muddled mind refused to come up with a plausible answer so she merely shrugged it off and resigned herself to asking Inuyasha about it some day.
One of his ears turned in her direction.
"I meant to ask you. Where did we get the first cart?"
"Some of the village pups brought it back. They said they found it on the side of the road, the horse pulling it looked terrified."
"Another attack by those things?"
He shrugged. "Probably."
He heard her sigh heavily.
"How many more will have to die before this is over?"
Her voice was a bare whisper, not intending for Inuyasha to hear.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this. Everything was supposed to be bright and happy like a homecoming should be."
The hanyou nearly tripped in surprise.
She had said homecoming.
Did that mean she never intended to go back to her time and live here in his time?
For only the second time in his life his heart dared to hope.
Kagome was drawing ever closer to becoming his and only his.
Late night lay dark and thick on the coastal lands. The full round moon cast eerie shadows beneath crumbled rocks, and the occasional trees, making the place look all the more ethereal. The reigns of the cart-pulling horse had been tied to the rear of the wagon, and all the refugees had crawled aboard the vehicles, settling in for the night. Even the lone hanyou had climbed into the wagon's driver's seat, taking the reigns to guide the small caravan. Now he pulled on those the reigns to stop the oxen.
Inuyasha sighed softly at the sight of the ruins looming just ahead, at the base of a large rocky outcropping. So many years had passed since he had last been near this relic of old. His memories were few, happy memories in any case. All he could remember was his Okaasan crying as they were both forced from this place and his Jii-chan's angered face from over his Okaasan's shoulder. That man had forever remained ingrained in his mind as a cruel and harsh daimyo that had shunned his own Magomusume when she had given birth to a hanyou, treating her like something less than dust.
But that man was long gone now.
And the ruins of his old castle were as defensible a place, if not more, as anywhere else Inuyasha knew. This was a place he could keep Kagome safe for far longer than another village or even a cave. He looked down at the head resting on his thigh and smiled softly. During the long journey here Kagome had valiantly struggled to stay awake, curious to see their destination. She had very nearly toppled over a few times long after everyone else had gone to sleep in the cart and wagon. He had wrapped an arm around her shoulders and had tugged her against himself, urging her to rest. She had tried to resist, but relented in the end, sleep gaining the upper hand, and had pillowed her head against his leg.
He didn't have the heart to wake her, even though he knew she wasn't as comfortable as she could be at that moment. He looked at the castle's perimeter walls now surrounding them and set his jaw. Tomorrow, he would start exploring the place that could have been his home, for rooms that had survived. For tonight, he and those under his protection would sleep under the stars.
He wasn't going to wake them just so they could go to sleep again. That was counter-productive.
Being as gentle as possible, he lifted Kagome's head off his leg to allow him to stand, and then gathered her up in his arms. A small sound of protest slipped from her lips. He responded by letting a low rumble roll in his chest.
"Shhh, go back to sleep." he hushed.
Holding her close, Inuyasha crawled into the back of the wagon, finding a comfortable corner to settle in atop piles of clothing and blankets. He gently shifted the sleeping girl in his arms, so her back was now to his chest as she sat in his lap, and tugged a loose blanket up so it now covered the both of them, his arms wrapping around her waist. Already sleep was beginning to creep up on him. Two hard battles in two days with no rest between the two taxed even his stamina. He rubbed his cheek to the side of her head tenderly, nudging it over just enough to give him access to her neck.
Kagome was just about to drift off into a much deeper sleep when she felt something soft and warm graze the side of her neck. It took her a few heartbeats to realize it was Inuyasha nuzzling a caress there with his lips. Her muscles tightened as she prepared to shift against him, to move away from his lips in slight apprehension of the attention, and his arms tightened around her in response.
"Shhh." he breathed softly against her flesh.
"Sleep, Kagome." and he gently sunk his teeth into the junction of her neck and shoulder, a kind of purring growl reverberating in his chest.
A flash of pure heat raced through her from the pit of her stomach, her toes almost curling in undeniable pleasure, and she inhaled sharply. Kagome felt herself go completely limp, questions about his actions barely registering in the back of her mind. Somehow, the feel of his fangs on her skin had a sedating effect on her senses.
She felt safe.
That, and his low growl lulled her back to sleep with the greatest of ease. She would ask him her questions later. Right now, sleep was just too appealing.
Inuyasha's ear twitched, absently swatting away the fly that buzzed around it. Slowly, his senses resurfaced enough to be able to hear the light sounds of the day. There were birds and gulls calling to each other somewhere nearby. Just beneath that layer of noise was the more muted and distant sound of crashing waves on stone and sand. Closer in were the sounds of people talking and young children playing games.
Golden eyes peered out from under heavy lids. He blinked a few times, clearing sleep from his muddled senses. The first sight that greeted him was the slender arch of Kagome's neck. His nostrils flared to inhale her scent more deeply. The low growl returned softly and he suddenly realized his fangs were still biting the base of her neck. Unhurriedly, almost reluctantly, he released his grip and stared down at the marks his teeth had left there. He hadn't broken the skin, but the indentations were deep, her skin having flushed in a small circle between the marks. In apology, he languidly lapped at the bite mark soothingly, savoring the taste of her skin.
A sound akin to a soft moan escaped Kagome's lips as she shifted more comfortably against him, a smile on her face. Inuyasha couldn't help but grin. She was so painfully adorable when she slept peacefully. While he watched, her dark blue eyes fluttered open, squinting slightly in the light of day. She stretched out as best she could without aggravating the gash along her back, hiding her yawn behind her hand.
He chuckled at her.
"Mm, surprisingly so despite everything. What time is it?" she questioned, suddenly realizing the redundancy of the query in a time where watches didn't yet exist.
"Can't be as accurate as that weird watch thingy of yours, but…"
He looked up at the sun with a slight squint.
"I'd say it's about midday."
Inuyasha stretched out his limbs with an arch of his back, yawning loudly.
"Later than I'm used to."
Kagome did her best to hide the blush in her cheeks, his arching of his back inadvertently having caused him to press closer to her back than she was used to. She sat up, leaning away from his chest, struggling to cool the heat in her cheeks. Then she remembered why she had awakened in the first place. Something soft and warm and wet had tickled her neck. Her hand reached up and gingerly touched the sensitized spot where her shoulder joined her neck.
Last night leapt to the forefront of her mind suddenly and she turned to face him.
"Ne… You… bit me."
"Last night… you… you bit me."
He blinked at her suddenly and Kagome couldn't help but think how adorable that moment of confusion and concern made him look.
"I didn't hurt you, ne?"
But he smirked arrogantly before she could collect her thoughts.
"So don't worry about it."
"Demo, demo, nothing." he dismissed with a wave of his hand. "You slept fine despite it. Why are you complaining?"
"I… I'm not! It's just…"
"From every other night, hai. It… It confused me."
Her nose scrunched at the inadequacy of the word. It wasn't so much confused as she was surprised. It was a new experience to feel his lips on her skin, let alone his teeth. Yet he had been very careful to hold firm without hurting her. Did such a hold have some meaning to the hanyou? She would have to ask Kaede about youkai traditions and behaviors.
His shoulders shook in barely contained laughter. It was her turn to blink at him.
"You're cute when you're confused."
A fierce blush washed over her skin, her hands covering her face in embarrassment. When his laughter got the better of him and he laughed aloud, Kagome grabbed a fistful of shirts piled nearby and threw them at his face, climbing out of the cart in mock annoyance.
Inuyasha quickly tore the cover from his face and peered at her casually from the wagon. He wanted… no, needed, to see her reaction. For some reason he needed her approval of his choice of this place.
Kagome's mouth fell open in wonder. The place was ethereal in its age and beauty. It was the remains of an immense castle pressed into the side of a rocky cliff, their great sweeping forms nestling the ruins of the once proud castle. Vegetation had long since grown over the crumbling walls, reclaiming what human kind had taken from it. Beneath the thick carpets of mosses and vines hanging from just about every conceivable perch, Kagome could see the four distinct levels that made up the main house, most of the roofing and a few of the walls having long since vanished from the effects of weather and age, a few rotting wooden supports still remaining even after so long. Once hard corners and edges were worn round and smooth from the action of water and wind, to the point where some surfaces seemed to be as smooth as glass. Though long destroyed, the land had healed and, though the castle still remained in ruin, its beauty was not lost to the pilgrims.
Hints of warm reds and chipped gold peeked out between the emerald of live and fresh foliage. The vast courtyard now occupied by the survivors was covered in a plush carpet of moss and grass, where once only dirt had been pounded under foot. Copper statues, green with patina, lay toppled next to or stoic on their dais. Around some, almost covering them from sight, were gnarled sakura trees and peony bushes. Fire blooms added hints of color to the vast greenery. Amidst the medley of verdant greens and amber yellows, tiny shoots of crimson blossomed upward to lie across the overgrown path. A heady scent of nature at its best filled Kagome's nostrils, and she could almost smell each individual plant. Honeysuckle, peony, burdock… all thickly mixed with scents she couldn't identify even if she tried.
The scent of a sea breeze struck her next, telling her senses just how close she was to the shore, the salt of the air sharp in contrast to the soft flora. A gentle breeze carried from the other side of the walls where she could hear the surf crashing. The air tugged at her hair, cool against her skin.
She blinked several times, afraid this fantastic place was nothing more than a daydream, and finally gasped shakily.
She turned to see him smirking at her in clear amusement. She shook her head, at a loss for words.
He had known about this place.
How had he found it?
"This… This place…" she stammered.
There was a hopeful hint in his voice that she didn't miss.
She flashed him her best smile.
"It's absolutely beautiful."
Relief flitted across his face, his smirk growing wider.
"This is the safest place I know of."
He leapt from the cart with a grunt.
"Ironic considering what happened here." he muttered.
"You know what happened here?"
"Hai." he growled.
He glanced at her, urging her to follow as he strode quickly to one of the enceinte walls. Pulling aside some vines he revealed long gashes in the ancient stone, each gash as wide as a human hand and as long as a full grown man. Inuyasha gripped her wrist and pressed her palm flat to one of the gashes. Immediately she felt it. A rush of power so painful that it made her wince, pulling her hand away as if burned.
"Youkai." she breathed. "The youkai attacked this place?"
"They took offence to what happened here all those years ago."
A low growl rumbled in his throat.
But he had already begun walking away, saying in his own silent way that the conversation about his part in all of it was well over. Part of her was frustrated and more than a little fed up with his stubborn refusal to talk about the pain in his past. Another part understood why. His Okaasan, the only person who had truly cared for him and whom he had loved dearly, had died when he had been very young. Too young still to learn about trusting others or knowing when to open up to others when the emotional pain got too much. Kagome knew she had to be patient with the moody hanyou. Sooner or later, he would open up to her.
She ran to catch up to him, her hand sneaking into his without resistance. He gave her hand a squeeze, silently grateful that she didn't ask further into this topic. Kagome looked up at the castle remains nestled into the side of the cliffs.
"Is it safe to go in?"
He squared his shoulders.
"Only one way to find out."
Reluctantly releasing her hand, Inuyasha boldly strode towards the building, climbing the crumbled steps to the remains of ornately carved copper doors hanging loosely from their hinges. If the building collapsed, he stood a much better chance at surviving it than any of the humans under his care. Behind him he could hear the survivors gathering around Kagome, expectantly waiting for the hanyou to call back his findings. Bright gold eyes peered into the dark beyond, scanning every shadow carefully. His nose sampled the air within, only catching the scent of long ago rotten wood dead vegetation. Inuyasha took a few steps inside, ears twitching in alert. There was no movement, so sound of groaning supports, no grinding of stone under years of pressure.
He struck a support column and grunted, satisfied.
"It's safe!" he called to those waiting just beyond the door.
The group's children came bounding through the door suddenly, anxious for a new place to explore, while the adults entered with caution.
All except Kagome.
She entered the castle as if this had always been her home, a place where she was not afraid anything would fall on her head because she was confident.
Confident of Inuyasha's abilities.
That trust warmed his heart, along with the awed expression on her face as she gazed at the ancient paintings covering the walls. Inuyasha was content to watch her move from place to place as she explored, watching as her hands lightly traveled over the occasional gash marks in the stones. She would wince at each touch, but remained silent about what she felt.
He knew why.
She could sense the power the youkai left behind in those marks, the pain they inflicted and the anger they radiated. Kagome's head snapped up at the shrieked laughter of some of the children chasing each other, racing up a flight of stairs to the building's next level. Curious about what was up there and concerned about the children, she ran after them. The steps took a sharp left at the top, a long corridor leading down into near darkness. She could hear the children oo-ing and ah-ing at something just ahead. A paper door lay in shreds just ahead, a kind of golden glow radiating through the opening. She, too, could not resist the gasp of awe when she rounded the corner, slowing her pace to come to a stop near the center of the new room.
Room was inadequate to describe its size.
Chamber, maybe. Or even banquet hall.
"It's the daimyo's receiving hall."
She whirled in place to find Inuyasha leaning back casually against the doorframe, arms crossed over his chest. His eyes were closed, almost as if he didn't want to see this place for fear of the memories it could evoke.
"The bastard held his audiences here, with all pomp and ceremony he didn't fuckin' deserve."
Kagome's eyes trailed over the room once again, noting how everything had been angled just right so that light filtered through paper screens to cast a soft gold glow over everything. Youkai blows had snapped decorative wooden columns, pillows ripped to pieces, and bamboo mats torn in half. Despite it all, the room was still lovely. She was dying to ask Inuyasha how he knew so much of this place, but bit her tongue to remain silent.
"It's perfect for the villagers." she voiced decisively. "They could set up a kind of communal room here for themselves. It'll be safe and warm for the coming winter."
"Keh." was his non-committal response, never once raising his eyes.
She looked at his face, at the old pain flitting across it that he desperately tried to hide from sight. She favored him with a warm smile, coming to stand at his side, her hand toying with a lock of his hair.
"We'll chase all the old ghosts from this place." she voiced softly.
His eyes rose to hers and her smile widened.
"We'll fill this place with happy memories."
Before he could even respond to her comment, a horrendous scream of agony filled the air. Everyone within the room froze before recovering enough to follow the hanyou already racing down the corridor. Kagome nearly tripped over Inuyasha's crouching form when she reached the bottom of the stairs. He was forbidding her from entering the room. His ears were flattened back against his head, a confused snarl curling back his lips. She followed his intent gaze to a spot across the entryway hall.
One of the women was huddled at the base of a wall, clutching low at her distended belly…
"Oh, Kami! She's giving birth!" the young Miko exclaimed.
Inuyasha's ears snapped up at this. Kaede was already trying to sooth the woman, urging her to sit and let her help.
Kagome turned to the children behind her.
"Get everyone outside and keep them there. You, get some water and clean rags." and they ran off.
She gripped the hanyou's shoulder carefully to gain his attention.
"Inuyasha, go to the wagon and bring back some blankets and pillows."
He looked at her, clearly unsure of the situation or whether it was safe to leave the human girl's side.
She smiled reassuringly.
"It'll be okay."
Inuyasha hesitated but for a heartbeat more before taking off outside. Kagome took the opportunity to race over to help Kaede any way she could. She had never assisted a birth before. It was true, she had seen many films about the process in her Health and Science classes, but being in the presence of the real thing taking place… that was something wildly new to her. She avidly watched Kaede work to prepare the woman, numbly following the older Miko's instructions to aid her. Kagome almost didn't notice Inuyasha's return, his arms loaded with as many pillows and blankets as he could carry.
He obeyed her request to stuff the pillows behind the birthing woman, between her back and the wall, to make her more comfortable, then backed away on all fours to what he deemed was a safe distance. He was both curious and cautious of this event. He could smell the heavy musk of fear and pain emanating from the woman, the bitter scent of pre-birth filtering through. With a low growl in the back of his throat, his ears flattened back in an attempt to mute the cries coming from the woman. She was in agony from the changes her body was going through. Like Kagome, he couldn't tear his eyes away. He absolutely had to see what was happening.
Kaede nodded to Kagome.
"When you feel the next contraction, hold your breath and bare down as hard as you can." the younger Miko instructed the birthing woman, looking to her elder for confirmation. "When I reach ten, you stop. Ready?"
The woman nodded, biting her lower lip. Her eyes shut tight abruptly as she pulled her knees up to her chest.
"Push hard! Three… Four… Five… Six… Seven… Eight… Nine… Ten! Breath!"
The woman panted hard, looking up to Kagome for support.
"You're doing fine. A few more, that's all."
The woman winced again as she was hit with another contraction. Again, she held her breath and pushed. The two Miko shouted at her to continue, not to give up, that it was almost over.
The scent of pain was almost unbearably thick on the air to the watching hanyou.
How could any human possibly survive this sort of thing?
There was the mention of a head beginning to show.
"One more hard push and the shoulders will be free." Kagome informed.
Again the woman pushed, a pained cry escaping her lips.
And then, suddenly, a tiny baby's cry filled the room.
Inuyasha blinked, staring at the tiny moving being between the woman's legs that screamed as it took its first breaths. Kaede used a damp cloth to wipe off the after-birth, a small knife appearing in her hand to slice a fleshy rope that seemed to be tied to the whelp's stomach. Kagome moved closer from her kneeling position, a blanket draped across her open arms to receive the child. Kaede handed over the child with a happy smile on her face.
"It is a boy." she grinned. "A fine, healthy boy."
Seeing as there was no danger, the hanyou slowly crept forward to get a better look.
Kagome cooed softly at the bundle in her arms.
"Happy birthday, little man."
The baby whined slightly.
"Oh, I know, kanojo, I know…"
She felt Inuyasha bump into her shoulder accidentally as he peered at the new life.
"Is… is that… birth?"
She smile at him, caught up in the euphoria of the moment.
She turned enough so he could clearly see the new little life she held in her arms. He reached over cautiously, a clawed finger trailing over the new, soft skin with extra care.
"She just had an Obocchan. Haven't you ever seen this before?"
"Never with humans."
The look of wonder and uncertainty on his face made her giggle softly and she handed the child to the new Okaasan, turning to lean on Inuyasha's shoulder. He just stared at Kagome for a moment before returning his gold eyes to the child now sleeping soundly in the woman's arms. It was cute, for a human whelp. Its scent was strange, a mixture of the woman and of someone else. Probably the Otousan… who was dead now. Its skin was dark pink and slightly wrinkled, a fine down of dark hair on its head.
A small grin tugged at one corner of his lips. Someday, he would have pups of his own.
Someday… with Kagome.
He was sure of it.
The once lush green field was now barren, trees and other flora having been consumed by creatures ravenous for any kind of food they could get their claws on. Where the well once stood in the middle of the glade, a large mud structure had been erected. The size rivaled that of some of the tallest and widest manmade structures of the time. From a low, wide opening near its base, countless scorpion beasts streamed in and out with destructive purpose. Two in particular cut through the fray to run inside, heading for the heart of this edifice, ignoring the lashes and snarls of their peers. Their tails and claws were smaller than most of the other creatures. They were scouts, being sent out with the attacking parties to report back to the Mother, She-Who-Was-All.
The duo weaved through a labyrinth of chambers and antechambers, through countless corridors all filled with more scorpion beasts. Bones of innumerable creatures littered the ground, ranging in size from wolves to full-grown youkai. To anyone else witnessing this sight it would have been gruesome at the very least. To the scorpion men, these were merely the remains of a victorious battle where they had feasted well in celebration.
Rounding a last corner the pair quickly entered the vast central chamber. In the middle of this cavity stood a towering figure hunched over the remains of the Hone Kui no Ido. It chanted in a strange tongue, smooth talon tipped fingers caressing the light that seemed to throb from the well's depths. Its scales glistened with a natural dew, glowing almost blue black. A long tail ended in a particularly vicious looking serrated stinger, the occasional drop of venom falling languidly to the ground with a acidic hiss. Long red hair cascaded in a river of fire around its shoulders. It turned to the pair, revealing the naked torso of a woman instead of that of a man like more of those within the hive, her face more human than insect.
"We have newss of the outsside, Great One." one of the scouts began in a guttural hiss, bowing as low as his legs allowed. "We have encountered… problemss."
The female scowled.
"Four of the warriorss have been killed."
"When?" she demanded.
"The firsst wass killed in the village near here before Your Illusstrioussnesss arrived and built the Hive. A human girl found our weaknesss."
"The remaining three were killed North of here. It wass a human girl and a ssilver-haired hanyou."
"No doubt the same girl both times… A hanyou, you say? Interesting."
She turned back to the well, a look of concentrated thought on her face.
"So that was the power I sensed. Another hanyou's blood."
She paused, stroking the bubble of light protruding from the well. A hanyou… Another hanyou that had survived the human persecution. But it fought alongside a human, a female. Hanyou, all hanyou, sought power. Therefore the girl held power the hanyou at her side wanted. The opportunity that presented itself to her was far too good to pass up.
"This human girl and hanyou… where are they now?"
"Unknown, Great One."
"Send out scouts. Find them. Report back everything and anything you find about them. I want to know what I'm up against and how I can defeat them. No one kills my children."
Higurashi Kagome carefully stepped over a fallen wooden support across the door to enter what she could only describe as a library. The room was long, ending in a window that dominated the far wall, the remaining walls covered from floor to ceiling in shelves stocked with leather manuscripts and scrolls. Some showed signs of European influence, gold leaf decorating the intricate script. This room had survived the destruction wrought by the youkai, but the air held a tinge of must from age and the slow seepage of water.
Kagome took a few steps inside, her eyes scanning the items on the shelves for titles that could interest her, her hands absently smoothing over the rough silk of her hakama. She had received strange glances from the women at her choice, only the white hakama matched with her jeans, but she didn't care. It was warmer than just her bandages and she had already spent the whole of the last two days without more protective garments.
Nearing the window she noticed a line of leather bound books placed in what seemed to be chronological order. There seemed to be years carefully embossed in gold leaf along the spines. She made a quick mental calculation and discovered the last of these books was dated only a few short years after Inuyasha's birth… if she remembered how to count ancient Japanese years correctly. Her fingers lightly trailed over the books in wonder.
"What're you doing here?"
Kagome spun around in surprise, finding Inuyasha in the doorway with his arms crossed over his chest in a stance unlike that of scolding. With a hand to her racing heart, she sighed, then straightened defiantly.
"Must you sneak up on me like that?" she snapped.
"Ja-ku." she muttered, turning her attention to the books again.
Choosing one at random, she picked the book off the shelf and opened it to the first few pages. An elegant Japanese script met her eyes, recounting daily events with an almost tender and militaristic attention to detail. She skimmed a few pages before smiling. This would make excellent reading material for her before bedtime. She pressed the closed volume to her chest and turned to leave, only to find that Inuyasha had not budged an inch, still blocking the door. He was still frowning at her.
"What're you doing?" he demanded.
She huffed at him, annoyed.
"Getting something to read."
"Well, unlike you, I want to know what went on here before the youkai attacked."
His eye twitched.
"Nothing went on here."
"So you say, demo until you tell me what it is you know I'll just have to rely on the daimyo's journals to fill in the blanks. Now, let me by."
He stood his ground, growling at her.
Her shoulders squared defiantly.
"Fuck!" he exclaimed as the Nenju necklace pulled him down hard to the floor.
Gingerly she stepped over him and headed down the corridor leading outside. She knew it would take only a few brief minutes before the spell wore off and the hanyou would be up and angry. Hopefully he would lie there for a few moments longer and think about why she had subdued him. Kagome knew that was wishful thinking, but one could always hope. Stepping outside into the noonday light, she saw Kaede sitting next to one of the small fires the villagers had built, poking at it absently as she spoke to some of the women.
"Ohayo, Kaede-baba." she greeted, sitting across from her.
The elder woman spied the book Kagome held preciously.
"What is that, child?"
"One of the daimyo's journals. I'm hoping to learn more about life here before the youkai came, find out why they attacked."
"Youkai don't need a reason to attack a place." one woman spat angrily. "Why did that hanyou bring us here?"
Kagome couldn't understand this woman's sudden anger.
"Inuyasha thought we'd be safe here."
"Safe? In a place where the youkai murdered hundreds? This place is cursed, filled with evil spirits of the dead wanting revenge! We risk our very lives being here! Everyone knows that every human who has ever stayed here has died, killed by a youkai, and their ghost now haunts the place!"
"It doesn't mean this place is cursed. Besides, those are just rumors and stories made up to scare people."
"It is the truth! This place is cursed!!"
"Calm yourself, Milei." Kaede urged. "This anger serves no one."
"It serves me to show this child that her pet hanyou is not as docile as he lets on."
"Inuyasha is not my pet!" Kagome protested. "And I know how dangerous he can be, I've seen it first hand. I also know he would never intentionally hurt me."
"You're a fool! One moment of rage and he'll kill you as easy as he kills his enemies!"
"He saved your life! He brought us all here, away from those scorpion thingies! Inuyasha could have left all of you behind to fend for yourselves, demo he stayed and protected all of you! I, for one, trust him with my life!"
"Kagome…" Kaede suddenly warned.
The young Miko turned around to see what Kaede was staring at. The topic of their conversation was standing just within the castle door, staring at her with a strange and concentrated look on his face.
With his sensitive ears she knew he had heard every word of the heated argument.
How would he react to her voicing her complete confidence in him?
The frown remained as he smirked. Then, in the blink of an eye, he raced off for the woodlands just beyond the castle walls. Kagome blinked and turned to Kaede. The older woman grinned reassuringly.
"I believe his departure has more to do with a hunt than with your words, child. Besides, your voicing of your confidence and defending him in this discussion surely pleased him more than insulted him."
"Demo… the look on his face…"
"Do not concern yourself about it, child. He will return no doubt in a few hours. Read your book until then."
True to the old woman's words, by mid-afternoon Inuyasha returned to the protective enclosure of the castle walls, his catch draped as if it were weightless over his shoulders.
The young Miko didn't notice his return though, her nose pressed into the book with great intent. The things the daimyo wrote about and the way he described them, Kagome truly believed that if he had lived in her time that this man would have made a pretty solid living in novel writing. The words evoked vivid images before her mind's eye, stirring up tangible emotions, drawing her into reliving each entry as if she had been there herself.
This was a kind man, he had to be from the heart he put into his words. From what she read his decisions didn't just end after he had spoken them. He thought about them long after the event had taken place. He worried that he had made the right choice, almost tortured himself to make absolutely certain that the people under his charge were well looked after.
And there was always some mention of his Otome…
Something large and heavy dropped at her side, abruptly snapping her away from her reading with a yelp. She peered down at the furry objects next to her in confusion and curiosity, the book pressed to her chest.
"It's a couple of stags." a male voice answered her unspoken question.
Her head snapped around. Inuyasha was sitting at her other side, legs crossed beneath him, arms knit over his chest, gold eyes closed beneath his usual frown. Slowly, Kagome closed her book and laid it on her lap as she stared at the fire. They stayed this way for a few long moments, in a comfortable silence both were used to from years of association. She was plenty satisfied to just sit like this, in silence, so long as he stayed next to her.
But part of her mind was just dying to know.
He merely grunted.
"You heard everything of that argument before you left for your hunt?"
He paused, fighting the grin that threatened to spread across his face, and succeeding against it.
"Arigatou." he muttered almost too soft to hear.
It took a few seconds before his whisper registered in Kagome's mind and she blinked.
He was thanking her?
He was actually and truly thanking her?
She allowed herself a small smile as she peered at her companion's features.
"Do you forgive me for subduing you?" she asked meekly.
He turned his nose up and away as if snubbing her.
But she knew better.
Tentatively she reached up and ever so gently scratched him behind his ear.
"Gomen ne, Inuyasha."
After a second his frown finally melted away and he titled his head to her hand. She giggled softly and he tried to growl in annoyance, only succeeding in letting out a soft purring sound.
Damn the bitch… By the gods! That feels good…! I'll yell at her later… Hai, that's it… much later…
Unseen by anyone, making sure to keep downwind from the hanyou's sharp senses, a scorpion scout peered down at the castle inhabitants. Its glowing eyes carefully peered at the hanyou and girl's actions, listening to the faint conversation between them, sampling the air to taste the subtle changes in their scents.
The girl's scent had changed at the hanyou's approach. It had become slightly more inviting, hinted with a shy musk of arousal. There was no way the hanyou could have missed that scent.
As for the hanyou's scent, his had changed to one of almost fear mixed with excitement.
A wild scent of a male preparing to choose a mate.
It would explain why he had brought his kills to the girl and not to any of the other women or even the males within the group.
The scout trilled softly to itself, pleased.
She-who-was-all would be most pleased with this information.
Inuyasha stared out over the ocean towards the sun crawling slowly down to the horizon. The sky was slowly taking on a tinge of gold. Soon the ocean would bleed red from the setting sun as the sky would darken, first to dark blue, then to a star studded black.
He grunted to himself.
Seven long days without any sign of the scorpion creatures. All he had seen was smoke in the distance as more villages were razed and a few more refugees had swelled their numbers. The castle ruins were becoming crowded. The survivors of each subsequent attack had run to this place despite the rumors of a curse. Inuyasha scoffed at the idea. This castle certainly was not cursed. Haunted with painful memories of the past, definitely, but a curse…? Never!
A plan was taking shape slowly in his mind. Soon, very soon, he would have to take the battle back to Musashi Country, back to where the entire mess started, and put an end to it once and for all. He couldn't allow these scorpions to take over this land. The center of it all was in Musashi. That was where everything would end.
Happy shrieks reached his ears from so far below, on the beach. Looking down he saw the survivors' children racing each other in the surf, playing chasing games without a care in the world.
And with them was Kagome.
He allowed himself a smile at seeing her this way, her worries gone for the moment. She was chasing a group of children into the shallows, not caring if she got soaked in the process. For the time being, it was just she and a childish game. She stumbled suddenly, falling into the crashing surf and disappearing from sight. When she surfaced Kagome stood fully up, arching her back, and slinging her hair back. The wet locks sent a slim arc of crystal clear water into the air. It sparkled in pinpoint rainbows for just a second before raining back down and splashing off Kagome's back where her haori was now plastered. Even from so far up he could see her bright smile and the laughing twinkle in her eyes. Inuyasha noticed the warm drool on his bottom lip before taking notice of how far down his chin had actually dropped.
"Kami…" he near purred at the sight, then snapped his mouth shut.
Why didn't I ever notice that about her before?
He frowned at himself.
Baka, you have noticed. You just never let yourself act on it before.
As he watched he saw her hug herself. He knew that move. Humans did that to comfort themselves when they were frightened or did it to keep themselves warm. And, seeing as there was no immediate danger, it meant she was getting cold. He turned his head, looking down at one of the rare rooms that had survived the devastation. Everything had been meticulously cared for during the last few years leading up to the attack by the youkai. Afterwards, all the care from before had paid off by conserving the items to perfection. There was clothing there Kagome could use.
He turned back in time to see the revelers heading back to the castle, his sensitive ears almost hearing Kagome's teeth chattering. That decided him and he headed for the room.
That bitch's fascination with water… She'll become fuckin' ill one of these days and she'll fuckin' wonder why.
In the daimyo's reception hall, Kagome and the children were just returning from their game on the beach, each joining various groups around cooking stoves to warm themselves. Kagome rubbed her arms to warm her numbing nerves, bringing her hands close to the fire to feel its heat and keep her hands from turning blue. Despite it all, she couldn't help her happy smile. It had been a while since she had just forgotten about her responsibilities and had fun for once.
Kaede chuckled at her.
"The exuberance of youth is often catching."
The young Miko sighed happily.
"Best drug in the Universe."
She paused, her smirk fading suddenly.
"Ne, Kaede-baba, what do you know about youkai and hanyou behaviors?"
The old women smiled.
"Ah, so you've noticed."
"The way Inuyasha has been acting towards you these last few days."
"Nani? How has he been acting?"
"He has been increasingly protective of you, he brings his kills from the hunt to you… What were you referring to?"
"The… the first night we got here, when we all slept, he… he kept a hold on my neck the whole night."
"Well, that is hardly anything-"
"With his teeth."
"To a hanyou, what does that all mean?"
Kaede sighed softly, a small grin forming on her lips.
"Holding you in place with his teeth is something dog demons do to their mates, to keep them close. As for the rest… Inuyasha is trying to prove to you that he can be both a good protector and good provider. He wants you to see he can be a good mate for you."
Kagome blinked rapidly, wrapping her mind around what Kaede had just told her.
Inuyasha wanted her as his mate?
She felt her heart begin to flutter in her chest, both delighted to know this and afraid to take the next step. Part of her liked the idea, the part that was steadily winning ground away from her trepidations.
"You need to find yourself some warmer clothing for now. With these temperatures, damp clothing is dangerous."
Kagome was just about to answer when a thick, heavy robe was wrapped around her shoulders from behind. Surprised, she looked up. Inuyasha stood at her shoulder, absently surveying the larger group of refugees within the hall. She could just barely hear the low growl rumbling in his chest at the men that were too close for his liking. She smirked; both amused and touched at his protectiveness, and tugged the robe tighter into place.
Then, she brought her eyes on the robe surrounding her and blinked. She had seen this item before, several years ago. A frown furrowed her brows as she tried to recollect her thoughts. It was shortly after the battle with Yura, on that night she had gone to find him to apologize for Myoga-gii's tactless explanation of the hanyou's origins, when they had spoken of his Okaasan-
That was where she had seen this robe before. The pattern of gold, red and green was identical. This thick item of silk and fine cotton used to belong to Inuyasha's Okaasan.
But where had he found it?
"Ne, Inuyasha?" she called gently.
One of his ears twitched in her direction.
"Where did you get this?"
She saw his shoulders stiffen. His gold eyes darted around the room quickly, then looked at her, urging her to follow him out. She did so without hesitation. Kagome knew that if he were to tell her anything about his past, he didn't want anyone else within earshot. His past was private and she respected that, no matter how curious she was about it all.
Silently she followed the hanyou out into the corridor, wondering where it was he was taking her through this maze of hallways that he seemed to know so well. Up they went, up a worn stone stairway cut into the cliff-side and down a dark corridor. Kagome had to keep a hand fisted in the back of his haori so as not to be lost in the pitch black. Deeming them far enough from the rest of the group, Kagome just had to ask to be sure.
"Inuyasha? This is your Okaasan's robe, ne?"
She felt his shoulders tense.
"Hai." came his soft answer.
He pushed open a door, letting waning daylight pour into the hallway.
"And this is where I got it from."
Kagome gasped silently.
The large room was pristine, even after so long. Sheer silks of pink and ocher hung near the windows to mute the light filtering through, rich gold and mahogany accented the light tan of bamboo and reed. A square stone fire pit dominated the center of the room. Silver and white bone brushes and powder boxes sat on a low table in front of a modest mirror. Dominating the far wall, behind numerous curtains of sheer gold silks, sat an ornately carved bed covered in yet more silk and a material that Kagome could have sworn was velvet. Plush pillows were everywhere. The entire room was beautiful, yet understated in that elegance.
Exactly like what she had seen of Inuyasha's Okaasan.
"This was her room." the hanyou stated softly, almost as if afraid of waking some long dead spirit in the room.
He walked over to the bed and placed a hand on the sheets, his fingers splaying across the silk.
"I have… vague memories of spending time here, watching her preen, sleeping here at night…"
Kagome watched his fist grip the sheets for a brief moment before releasing the silk to let it fall back into place.
"You must have loved her… very much."
"She was my whole world."
She hesitated as she tentatively approached him; digging for her courage to ask him what had been on her mind since arriving at this castle.
"The daimyo… he was your Jii-chan?"
An angered frown appeared on his face.
"Hai." he growled.
Kagome sat on the floor at the foot of the bed, tugging on his sleeve.
"Inuyasha, would… would you tell me about your past here?"
He blinked at her in surprise. She hadn't demanded to know, instead giving him the option to talk about it if he chose to.
And he chose to.
Taking a moment to sit next to the human girl and collect his thoughts, Inuyasha exhaled heavily. He looked around the room pensively.
"Okaasan so loved it here. I can remember days where she would tell me story after story of her life here. I listened, but didn't care much for them. I never forgave that bastard daimyo for what he did to Okaasan." he ended in a growl.
"What did he do?"
"Sent her away."
"Because she had a hanyou for a child."
His frown deepened.
"I didn't understand it at the time, but I did later. Who could possibly want a fuckin' half breed in their family?"
His lip curled in a growing snarl.
"Okaasan cried for days after she was chased out. She found a monastery not far from here and the monks took us in, but even they didn't accept me. I could see it in their eyes."
In a show of sympathy, Kagome laid a gentle hand on his arm.
"She worked in the monastery, feeling she needed to earn her keep. Every so often a noblewoman, heading here for some celebration or ceremony, would stop and ask for the women of the temple as their attendants. Okaasan was always chosen and she would hide me in her robes so I could tag along. Everyone acted as if they didn't recognize her, ignoring her. I could hear them whispering… I think Okaasan did too… Her eyes were always so sad…"
"How… how did she die?"
She saw him bite his lip before answering.
"The youkai killed her."
"Hanyou… aren't accepted by either humans or youkai. Humans hate us because they're afraid of what we are. The youkai reason is that we're seen as a weakening of their bloodline. What Otousan did, by siring me with Okaasan… it was unforgivable."
He looked at his clawed hands, a moment of disgust flitting across his face for just a heartbeat.
"Remember that youkai I killed off way back when? Ryuukossei was the one who killed Otousan. As Otousan died I guess he sent Myogi-jii to Okaasan with the black pearl and he sunk it into my eye while I was asleep. All I remember was waking up in her arms as she ran. I could smell the fear all around her."
"She knew they were coming."
He merely nodded.
"I fell out of her arms when she tripped. She told me to run, keep running, never turn back. So I ran and didn't turn back… even after I heard her scream."
Kagome wrapped her arms around his arm to press it tight to her chest in order to keep his close, burying her face in his shoulder. She had known he had gone through a hard childhood, but never, in her wildest nightmares, had she imaged it had been this bad.
Inuyasha merely took the opportunity to rest his cheek to her head, letting her scent fill his nostrils and soothe his mind. Though he never thought he would ever admit it to himself, Kagome was a calming influence on him. The simplest gesture from her was often enough to make all the pain and all the anger just vanish from his soul.
"The youkai followed her scent." he continued. "They came here to teach all the humans a lesson for having let Okaasan bare a hanyou. I saw it all. It didn't take the youkai very long to kill everyone."
The young Miko felt hot tears threatening to spill from her eyes for no other reason than she felt sorry for having made him relive what must have been a very painful moment in his young life.
"I… Gomen ne…" was all she could find to say, wincing at how pathetic it sounded.
He touched one of the hands clutching his arm.
"Don't be. Only my asshole Jii-chan was at fault back then, and those fuckin' scorpion beasties now for making me come back here."
She forced back her tears with a determined squaring of her shoulders, lifting her head to give him a determined look.
"Like I told you a few days ago, we'll chase all the old ghosts from this place. We'll fill this place with happy memories."
Inuyasha met her gaze, blinking for a moment, then a lopsided grin lifted one corner of his lips.
"You are just too positive sometimes."
Kagome smiled and gave his arm a squeeze.
"Mou, out of the two of us, someone has to."
A frown added to his grin.
It succeeded in forcing a giggle from her lips. He freed his arm from her grip and draped it across her shoulders to tuck her form against his side, his cheek to the top of her head. Kagome's eyes went wide in surprise at the move. This was so unlike him. In the past he had made small advances, but nothing ever so affectionate. Then Kaede's words came back to the forefront of her mind and she remembered what prompted his change in behavior towards her. Inuyasha was trying to prove himself to her as a potential mate.
He wanted her.
A wave of tingling warmth washed over her at the thought and she snuggled against him, feeling his arm tighten in response. She let her mind picture what it would be like to live the rest of her life with the painfully adorable hanyou. He could be gentle if he wanted to, she had often seen it in his eyes; the wanting to be kind and tender only to push it away lest he lose the hard edge that had kept him alive so many years. Kagome imagined a life that would be free of danger, since he would never let anything come near enough to hurt her, and it would be a life filled with adventure and passion.
Hai, I could live with that… with him, she grinned to herself.
"The room's yours." she heard his state in a half whisper, chasing away images of what their children would look like.
She looked up at him.
"I noticed how you weren't especially comfortable sleeping down there with the others."
"Oh… I'm just not able to relax enough to sleep around so many people."
"And I don't trust half the males down there. That's why I'm giving you Okaasan's room."
Inuyasha gave the room and appreciative glance.
"She would've approved."
Something soft and pleasant touched the hanyou's cheek, electrifying his nerve endings suddenly.
"You are just the best, Inuyasha." his abruptly muddled mind faintly registered, shortly before he saw a blur of red and gold go racing for the door.
"I'll go get my sleeping bag!"
Inuyasha merely sat there, a dazed look on his face as his hand numbly rose to touch his cheek. His mind was racing, trying to figure out what had just happened.
She had kissed him… of her own free will.
A slow goofy grin spread across his features as he stared down the way she had disappeared in. He had no idea something so simple as giving her a robe and then her own room to sleep in would result in such a pleasant reward. His grin turned mischievous abruptly. He wondered what other acts would get him more of the same… if not more. He shook his head to push those thoughts away, chuckling to himself. There would be time enough to find that out later when she was more comfortable with his advances and figured out what it was he expected from her. Vaguely he wondered if she knew yet. She had to suspect something, what with him bringing his kills directly to her.
To any youkai or hanyou, that was a clear signal.
But that's just it, he self-reasoned. She's not youkai or hanyou. She's human.
His musings were abruptly interrupted by the sound of running coming up the corridor. Inuyasha quickly got to his feet just as Kagome came running in, pressing herself back against the wall next to the door. Her sleeping roll and a couple of books were held clutched tight to her chest, which heaved as she struggled to regain her breath.
"I think I'll just lock myself away in here for the rest of my life." she panted.
"Tell me he didn't follow me?" she questioned more to herself, peeking cautiously down the way she had come from.
Inuyasha bristled, feeling jealous anger rising quickly.
"He? He who?"
Kagome looked at him with an almost pleading expression.
"The one guy you would just love to rip apart."
He sniffed the air in curiosity, a vicious snarl twisting his face as he recognized the scent, preparing to lunge down the corridor.
"That fuckin' little wolf bastard!"
She quickly gripped his arm to restrain him.
"Iie, Inuyasha, matte!"
He paused, feeling a painful twinge in his heart. Even after so long, after everything, she was still protecting the wolf youkai, Kouga.
Kagome saw the hurt in his eyes and quickly shook her head.
"Iie, it's not that." she began hastily in explanation, hoping to appease his pain that caused her own heart to tighten. "I don't think Kouga knows I'm here. I don't think he knows you're here either. For one more night, let us both have some peace and quiet… just the two of us." she ended with a shy grin.
He blinked at her, his mind abruptly catching up to what she was saying.
Just the two of them.
Inuyasha definitely liked the sound of that. He nearly smirked, but Kagome saw the gleam in his gold eyes. Her grin turned into an accusing smirk.
He straightened in protest.
"Sure, like I believe that." she returned sarcastically, moving towards the bed on which to lay out her bedroll.
"Tsk… Miroku really was a bad influence on you." she teased, unrolling her sleeping bad with a quick flick of her wrist.
She heard him growl in annoyance somewhere behind her and her grin grew wider. Deliberately keeping her back to him, Kagome unfolded her sleeping bag so it now lay across the bed as a thick blanket. It would be quite a change from the last few days, actually sleeping on a mattress instead of the hard floor. That was one of the only things she missed about her time, along with hot running water. She plopped herself down on the edge of the bed with a sigh, her thoughts drifting to all those displaced survivors now residing in the castle's receiving hall.
"Nani?" Inuyasha queried of the look.
"You think too much."
With a pout she tossed a pillow at his head, which he deftly caught.
"Baka! I was thinking about what we're going to do about all the people downstairs. They can't all stay here."
It was his turn to sigh.
"Well, I had thought about taking the fight to the scorpion beasties and somehow re-take Musashi…"
"They're not fighters. No one would survive a direct attack." she countered. "We don't even know how many of them there are."
"Which is why I decided against it. From what I heard of the survivors, I'd guess there're a few thousand of them."
Kagome looked down at her hands for a moment before looking up at him in defeat.
"Seems hopeless, ne?"
He stood ramrod straight in defiance.
"Nothing is hopeless so long as we're still alive."
A small smiled tugged at her lips at his conviction.
"Role reversal." she muttered.
Forgot about those ears of his.
"Never mind." she dismissed, picking up one of the books.
Inuyasha frowned, cocking an eyebrow at her as he watched her settle at the head of the bed with her back to the headrest, legs tucked beneath her comfortably, then shrugged to himself.
"Reading that bastard's journals isn't good for you. He'll rot your mind." he voiced after a short moment of silence.
"It's actually pretty good. He has some vivid imagery in some places."
"It really is good. He talks about your Okaasan a lot."
"Regrets… for sending you both away."
He blinked, both surprised and confused. The man he had hated for so many decades, had despised because he had broken his Okaasan's beautiful heart, had felt regret for sending them both away. It didn't make sense to him. Inuyasha took a hesitant step forward.
"Where… where does he say that?"
She smiled at him gently and patted the bed at her side, indicating for him to have a seat there. He hesitated, still unsure, then crawled across the bedding to her side. But instead of leaning back against the headboard, Inuyasha laid his head on her lap as a child sometimes does. Kagome stared down at the back of his head with wide, shocked eyes. This was completely different than what the hanyou would usually do in a situation like this. She was vaguely aware of her own fingers tentatively reaching for his head until her fingers dug into his hair. A rumbling sigh escaped his lips, pleased at her touch, his cheek rubbing against her thigh contently. Kagome bit her bottom lip to suppress a giggle and, feeling a mite bolder, gently toyed with his ear, sometimes scratching, sometimes caressing. He all but purred, taut muscles going slack.
"Read to me." he murmured.
She smiled at him, opening the journal to the passage she somehow knew he wanted to hear.
"No matter how long I live I will forever remember this day as they day I should have committed seppuku. I knew the moment she was with child that I would be forced into a situation that was beyond my control. I managed to postpone this day as long as I could, demo I could not postpone it forever. The look on Yamazakura's face tore at my heart."
"A thousand curses on my council for having forced my hand in this matter, those heartless bastards. Their threat was either of dishonor on my family name for all eternity or the killing of her and the child… it was too much. I would not have them kill her and my Magomusuko."
"Her Obocchan… An amazing child. It doesn't matter what his Otousan was. I accept him as he is. He was beautiful and innocent and I would have loved him. I could see him as an amazing warrior in his adult years, agile with the sword, cunning, swift as an arrow. I never saw his demon blood as a curse as my council said it was. It made him as powerful as he was beautiful."
"As I watched Yamazakura leave with those tears in her eyes, I saw the hate in Inuyasha's eyes, hate for me. I understand him. I hate myself. I hate myself for having exiled my own flesh and blood. Whatever karma I am due for this act I will gladly accept. Inuyasha would have protected his family from anything had I kept them close. I would have taught him myself, taught him all my skills as my Ojiisan and Otousan had done with I."
"Gomen nasai, Kami-sama. Gomen nasai, Inuyasha."
Kagome felt Inuyasha's breath shudder in his chest as he tried to come to terms with what she had just read to him. She threaded her fingers through his hair in a gentle caress, trying to be as comforting as possible.
"He… he didn't hate us… didn't hate me…"
His voice was a bare whisper filled with incredulity.
"He sent you away to save your life." Kagome soothed.
"It wasn't his fault at all. All these years…"
"Shhh… It's a lot to take in right now. You don't have to make any decisions on this tonight. Sleep on it and make the decision only when you feel ready."
He nodded slowly against her leg and his hand tightened hesitantly on her knee.
"Can I sleep here tonight?"
She smiled down at him warmly, stroking his hair.
Again she felt him hesitate before finally lifting his head from her lap, scooting back a few inches to one side of the bed to allow her to stretch out. He gave her just enough time to slip beneath the covers before wrapping his arms around her tightly, pressing her back flush to his chest. Kagome bit her lip to stifle the gasp caused by the feel of his breath against her nape and the gentle rumble in his chest vibrating through her back. She forced her body to relax, allowing the warmth that radiated off his body to lull her to sleep.
A smile appeared on her lips with a blissful sigh.
This was definitely something she could get used to if she became his mate.
Inuyasha heard the soft sigh and raised his head enough to see her face. Her smile brought one to his own face. He nuzzled the junction of her neck and shoulder before biting with carefully measured pressure, enough not to break the skin. She gasped softly, but the smile remained. He smiled against her skin, his arms tightening.
He would give her a few more days to get used to his subtle advances and then make his intentions plainly clear. All he had to do during that time would be to keep Kouga away from her.
You are mine, Kagome, he vowed internally. And in a few days, everyone will know it.
Akuma Sasori, her thin hands pressed hard to the well's lip, frowned into the pulsing bubble of light. Her powers were not strong enough to open the portal any further than it already was. It frustrated her that she wasn't able to pull through more of her own kind.
A tiny smirk curled her lips at the memory.
Endless years of pouring over spells and ancient manuscripts to finally find the one spell to open a gateway to a world filled with half-scorpion beings. For a while she had been determined to make that world her home, to live there with the only beings who would accept her.
And what a welcome they had arranged for her once they discovered her among them.
Akuma had been immediately elevated to the rank of goddess. With such a great army behind her, obeying her every wish, it didn't take long for the seed of vengeance to grow. So she ripped open the fabric of space once again and brought her children through to the world where she had only known pain.
Hanyou could only know pain.
It was their lot in life.
So how dare this new hanyou she had heard about know something other than the pain and hate she had known!
The scouts had been thorough in their investigations, keeping the hanyou and this strange girl in their sights at all time. Mentally she went over what each scout had reported.
Every successful hunt, the hanyou would bring his kills to the girl and only the girl.
He protected the girl, watched over her as she went through her daily routine.
The girl did not shun him or run away, often hugging him or holding his hand.
One of the latest of the reports was of the hanyou actively fighting with a wolf youkai who was also interested in the girl. These fights happened frequently, sometimes the youkai would win, sometimes the hanyou would win. Either way, the girl always went to the hanyou in concern.
But the one thing that caught Akuma's attention the most was the report from her scout that had reported a change in the pair's scent, both inviting and anxious about something both seemed to know would happen someday soon.
Could it be?
Could it be possible that the human girl actually felt something for the hanyou, something other than hate or revulsion?
Iie, hanyou are not meant to know love or affection! her mind cursed. A hanyou will always be alone in life. We cannot have a family, past or future.
But the girl was intriguing.
Why didn't she run away from the hanyou each time he approached her?
She was a mystery.
"I want that girl…" she breathed to the empty chamber.
"I must know why…"
Kagome sighed happily, enjoying the cool sea breeze blowing past her and the light warmth of the setting sun. The cliff was higher than she was used to climbing, but it offered one of the most breathtaking views of the region imaginable, especially at sunset. She rested her chin in her hands, elbows on her knees, and closed her eyes with a smile.
For the next few minutes she would have peace and quiet… she hoped.
Ever since Kouga had gotten whiff of her scent in the castle he had made it his duty to stick to her side like glue. He couldn't seem to understand that she just wasn't interested in him the way he wanted her to be. And his constant attention only served to anger Inuyasha. It was as if the wolf youkai enjoyed taunting him, to see just how far Inuyasha would let him go before being beaten to a bloody pulp.
Truth be known, at this point, Kagome would not even try to stop him.
She used to be flattered by Kouga's undying attention and affection. Now, it was annoying. He was acting like some lost puppy dying to have her affection, no matter how small.
Kagome snorted, looking out at the now dark blue horizon.
Now there's an analogy. Calling wolf boy a puppy… Wolf boy? I've been hanging around Inuyasha too long.
The crunching of stone under boot abruptly caught her attention and she groaned inwardly.
Why can't you get a clue and leave me alone!
"Ah, I finally found you without that dog turd." Kouga stated in obvious glee and triumph.
"Go away, Kouga."
"Not until you and I have a talk first."
"I'm not interested in what you have to say."
"As my woman you should be interested."
"I am not nor will I ever be your woman." she countered, forcing as much anger as she could in her voice.
"Hai, you are. You just haven't realized it yet."
Kagome sighed in exasperation and got to her feet, making a move to brush past him.
"Have fun talking to yourself."
Kouga grabbed her wrist in a crushing grip.
"You'll stay here and listen to me, woman!"
It was a clear order.
The young Miko felt the sting of her hand connecting hard with Kouga's face before she even registered the move. He released his hold on her in surprise, taking a staggering step back. Kagome blinked wide-eyes at him, watching him nurse the red welt forming on his cheek. She looked at her hand in self-awe.
"Chikushou, I wanted to hit him!" a voice announced from behind her.
She whirled around to find Inuyasha watching them both, a frown on his face, an amused twinkle in his gold eyes. Kagome smirked at him, tending her stinging hand.
"You still can, if you want." she offered.
Inuyasha looked to Kouga and grunted.
"Iie, waste of energy."
The hanyou looked to Kagome's hand in concern, carefully taking her wrist and opening her hand to see her palm.
"Are you alright?"
He carefully caressed her palm with the length of a finger as if to soothe away the redness beginning to show. She struggled against her racing heartbeat to bring it back down to normal.
"H-hai, just stings a little. I'll be okay in a bit."
"Ooi!" the wolf youkai tried again, hoping to get their attention, with little success.
"That was some hit." Inuyasha praised, completely ignoring his once rival for Kagome's affection. "Kind of surprised you didn't break your hand on such a hard head as his."
"I didn't even notice I was going to hit him until I actually hit him."
"He finally crossed the line?"
"He did a long time ago. I'm just too nice and patient a person to have told him before. I was hoping he was smart enough to get a clue."
"Obviously not." the hanyou grunted with a smirk.
"Ooi!" Kouga called again, incensed. "What am I, rat bait?"
The duo looked at him in annoyance.
""Hai."" both stated in unison.
Kagome immediately covered her mouth, a blush tinting her cheeks, her eyes wide as she stared at the amused half demon. He chuckled at her surprised expression. Inuyasha then quickly swept her up in his arms, forcing a tiny squeak from her lips.
"Bedtime." he announced.
"Mou, since when do you decide what time I have to go to bed?"
"Since I've decided it's getting colder out here. That, and with the scorpion beasties around, it's not safe for you to be outside at night." And he started back for the castle.
"And just where do you think you're taking my woman?" Kouga suddenly demanded, feeling very ignored.
Inuyasha paused just long enough to turn and frown at him, growling low in warning. Kouga responded to the growl with one of his own. Kagome sighed tiredly, aware of the signs that this could escalate into a full-blown fight at any given moment. She added her frown to Inuyasha's, succeeding in getting the wolf youkai to quiet in surprise.
"Kouga, you already have someone who actually wants to be your mate." she told him with far more patience than she felt. "This is the last time I'm telling you so make sure you listen very carefully. I am not your woman, mate, partner, or however else you call it. I don't want to be your mate… ever! Just accept it already."
Before the wolf youkai could voice any kind of protest, Inuyasha turned and leapt off the edge of the cliff, easily bounding from outcropping to outcropping until he reached the castle walls. With the skill only possessed by a hanyou, he walked along the narrow enceinte walls and leapt the short distance to the window to the room that now belonged to Kagome. He felt a tremor course through her as he set her down.
"Are you cold?"
She smiled at his concern.
"I'm alright. Just wishing I could soak in a hot bath for a few hours."
He cocked an eyebrow at her in curious mystification
"You and your fascination with water."
"Ne, you're not going to complain about my wanting to be clean and smell nice?"
His mouth opened to answer.
Then he paused.
"Keh." was the reply he finally settled on.
Kagome smirked at him.
"That's what I thought."
She shed out of her thicker outer robe as she moved towards the bed, tossing it at the foot of it where it could be in easy reach if needed. As she began to pull down the blankets, she paused, turning to the window. Inuyasha hadn't moved from his crouch on the sill, his gold eyes surveying the night beyond. One ear was trained on the sounds outside while the other followed Kagome's every move.
"Aren't you coming to bed?" she questioned timidly, blushing despite the innocence behind the query.
Now that just sounded way more hentai then I bet she was thinking.
He tore his eyes from the night and confirmed his thought at the sight of her blush. He smirked inwardly. Even if he had been completely blind, and despite the darkness in the room, that blush was as visible as the sun in the sky. He gave himself a mental shake.
"I just need to check something first. I'll be back in a bit."
"Mou…" she pouted, not intending for him to hear.
He paused just before he was about to jump away and looked at her, favoring her with a lopsided grin.
"Don't miss me too much."
Kagome launched a pillow at his head, hitting the window's edge instead since he had already gone.
With a wide smile plastered on his face, the silver-haired hanyou leapt through the jagged outcroppings of the cliffs. His smile was due to the woman he had just left behind. During the last few days he had made it a point to stay around her, not crowding her, but just close enough for her to subconsciously get used to his presence. He even slept in the same room, on the bed at her insistence. Her reason had been that the floor was much too cold to sleep on, even if he insisted he didn't feel it. And every night he slept at her side he would bite the base of her neck to keep her from ever leaving his side.
She never once fought it.
In fact, by her actions as they settled for the night, she had come to expect it. He even saw her eyes question him from time to time when he didn't do it right away, but only when she thought he wasn't looking.
For now he was searching for a place he vaguely remembered as a child. Back then his Okaasan would risk the climb along the cliffs to a cave hidden under the lip of an outcropping. Most of the coastline consisted of volcanic vents, the ones nearest the castle were hidden within the cliffs. One of the vents had formed under a hidden tide pool that stayed clean of growths, perhaps the action of the water filtering through the porous stone or the sand.
If his Kagome wanted a hot bath, she would get one… if he could find the cave after so long.
One crevasse in the rock face caught his eye and he stopped. The air smelled of heated water from somewhere within. The entrance was just wide enough for a person to get through without scraping along both walls. After a few feet the crevasse opened to a sort of grotto, an open space of sand, ancient limestone structures, and a pool of steaming water. The low ceiling was occasionally peppered with holes leading outside, ancient volcanic vents letting cooler air into the small and cozy chamber. Inuyasha approached the stone and boulder-rimmed pool, dipping his hand in the steaming water.
Kagome would definitely enjoy this hot water spring.
A sly chuckle forced itself from his throat. Maybe he would join her in this bath.
Looking around the small room in satisfaction, Inuyasha nodded to himself and left. Sometime in the next day he would present the pool as another gift to his potential mate. Leaving the cave, he paused just within the entrance, scanning the shadows and sampling the air to check and see if anyone had followed him. If anyone did, he couldn't find any sign of it. The wind was against him and the shadows were empty. Inuyasha was mildly surprised Kouga didn't try anything against him.
Maybe what Kagome said finally sunk in to his thick skull…
With a slight shrug he leapt away back to the castle. He crawled through the window, staying as quiet as possible so as not to wake the occupant. Approaching the bed, silently parting the reams of silk handing from the ceiling, he found Kagome sitting up against the headboard, obviously asleep. He smiled at how adorable she was when she was sleeping. Careful not to awaken her, Inuyasha slid the covers back from her legs, then gently eased her down to lie on her back. Despite his best efforts not to wake her, Kagome shifted slightly, her eyes opening somewhat.
"Inuyasha…?" Her voice was groggy.
He pressed a hand to her brow tenderly.
"Go back to sleep."
She made a small sound in acknowledgement and shivered.
"Your hands are cold."
"Baka. Because it's cold outside." he replied matter-of-factly, tucking the covers up to her chin.
Blindly, she reached out at her side and snagged the edge of the covers, pulling them down. It was a clear invitation. Again, Inuyasha smiled at her before crawling to the other side of the bed, sliding under the warm covers and tugging her body back tight to his chest. She didn't resist, only settling happily against him and awaiting the now familiar feel of his lips and teeth against her neck. She didn't have long to wait and soon the rumble in his chest had her drifting off into a deep and contented sleep.
Kouga watched from the safety of the shadows just beyond the door. He had seen the hanyou leave Kagome alone in the room as he went searching for Kami knew what. The wolf youkai saw his chance to finally confront her about her earlier statement, if only he could catch her off guard so she could not protest. It didn't matter what she thought, her choice was not a deciding factor. He was the male, therefore the decision was his to make which female was going to be his mate.
Kagome was his choice.
So why did she refuse his every advance?
Each time the hanyou dog had left for his daily hunt, Kouga had followed, hoping to catch a larger prey and somehow impress his intended. Large animals were rare in the area so he settled for the occasional stag or boar. The first few times he had gone on these hunts he had laughed at Inuyasha for bothering to catch such small prey as rabbits and quail along with the larger kills. Kouga had brought his much larger kills back to the castle, displaying them in the center of the parade grounds for all to see.
Then, two days ago, he had noticed the reason for the smaller prey caught by the hanyou. Upon his return, the dog demon would place the stag he caught with Kouga's kills, then come right up to Kagome and present her with the smaller prey. She had smiled brightly at the hanyou in appreciation and thanks.
Kouga knew Inuyasha often fought with him for the girl's attentions and affections, but did this new behavior mean he was taking a more active stance to claim her outright?
Iie, she's my woman!
Seeing Kagome dozing off at the head of the bed, Kouga prepared to sneak out of the shadows to claim her for his own when he heard the familiar scrape of claws on stone. Inuyasha appeared in the window, walking boldly towards the bed and towards the sleeping girl.
The youkai blinked in realization.
Every night Kouga would see Kagome head off to one of the castle's upper floors. Some of the villagers had explained to him that she had taken residence in one of the rooms up there for the nights. Kouga had tried to follow her for the first few nights, only to be stopped by Inuyasha who guarded the door to the room. The wolf youkai would retreat for a few hours, then try again. Inuyasha was no longer in sight by then, but his scent proved he was still nearby. Seeing as this happened every night, Kouga gave up, mildly wondering where it was the hanyou slept at night to be so invisible to the eye.
Now he knew.
As he watched, Inuyasha tenderly settled the lovely human into a more comfortable sleeping position, whispering for her to go back to sleep when she woke slightly from his touch, and then climb into the bed next to her, pulling her close.
Do not bite her! Don't you dare bite her! Kouga's mind screamed.
There was a momentary flash of white before Kagome sighed a peaceful smile. Kouga seethed.
That fuckin' dog turd! How dare he try to claim my woman! I'll have his fuckin' hide for this!