Author's Note: "Lord of the West" is the companion to my first full-length story. I highly recommend reading "The Bearers of the Shards" first. LOTW will make a whole lot more sense that way.
Summary For "THE BEARERS OF THE SHARDS"
(3rd place winner of IY Fanfiction Writers' Guild contest Action/Adventure 2003; Winner of Mediaminer's BAFFC Action/Adventure Category 2004)
Rating: R for language, violence and Miroku
Laid low by a nagging head-cold, all Kagome wants to do is rest at home, AWAY from the Feudal Era for a while. But then Inuyasha makes a surprise visit, and before Kagome knows it she has been dragged along on a quest to slay a murderous demon bearing a shard of the Sacred Jewel. The trail left by the demon is confusing and erratic--disappearing every night only to reappear at dawn--but always pointing unerringly to the south. Inuyasha and his friends learn too late that the demon is only one of five bearers of the shards converging on human kingdom hidden deep in the mountains . . . a kingdom guarded by the dead, steeped in sorcery, and irrevocably tied to Inuyasha's past . . .
A reference for this chapter: the word "Ningen" means "human."
+ LORD OF THE WEST +
+ PROLOGUE +
Long ago, before the Feudal Age of kings and warlords, the darkness rose, and the world burned. War surged onto the land from the north and from the south, from the east and from the west like a tidal wave. It crossed the mountains, and the fields, and behind it, as in the lee of a great inferno, lay the fields of the dead, and the rivers running red with blood.
Onto these fields of ruin, through these forests felled by the passage of warriors . . . there crept the demons of the wood and of the rivers, of the hills and of the deep places in the earth, and these grew fat on the flesh of the dead. Some were small and weak---little more than animals. Then came the larger, more hideous beasts---brutal and fierce and mindless as they were strong---and also the sly, poisonous ones who reveled in cruelty. There came the wild but gentle spirits of the water and the wood, who had long shunned the settlements of men for quieter places. And then . . . from the midst of these hordes there emerged the oldest and most enigmatic breed of demon. These were strangest of all, for they were straight and beautiful, and possessed within them souls not unlike the souls of men. Yet for all their human appearance, these demons wielded the power of monsters.
And they---the Greater Youkai---were the most dangerous of all.
In the emerging era of darkness, they were like gods among men . . .
Or wolves among lambs.
But then She arose: a human woman, yet wielding holy powers strong enough to oppose them.
She came from a village in the mountains---a young priestess, wearing a man's armor over her miko's robes. In her hand she carried a sword of unknown make, and at her side there walked a Youkai resembling the tigers from across the sea.
And with these things, she waged war against the demons, until finally she became immortalized in the tale of the Shikon Jewel's formation. But that is another story.
On the night before she went into her final battle with the Youkai, Midoriko went into a meditative trance to prepare her spirit for the fight to come. Yet the trance went far deeper than she had planned, and from her lips prophetic words poured forth. When she came to herself again, she remembered them, and gave them to her people, who recorded them and held them sacred.
Once Midoriko had sealed her soul and the demons' inside the Shikon Jewel, the people of her village became very afraid, for demons now flocked to the mountains in hordes. These hordes, driven by greed and lust for power, desired the talisman for themselves.
Very quickly, the villagers became divided over the decision of what to do with the Jewel. Most of them wanted to surrender it to the demons and flee to safer lands. But the warriors of the village were unswervingly loyal to Midoriko, and wished to stay and defend the talisman containing her soul. Thus it was that the warriors chose to remain in their home, with the Jewel in their possession. This proud group of fighters would one day mature into a larger tribe of demon-slayers, dedicated to guarding the Jewel of Four Souls.
The others---those who chose flight from the mountains---traveled southwest for a long ways before settling. They chose a valley there in which to live---a valley green and fertile; ringed by mountains on all sides. They brought with them the scroll upon which Midoriko's prophecy was inscribed.
Time passed. A Greater Youkai came upon the valley, having newly laid claim to the western lands. Yet he did not destroy the villagers, offering them protection instead. These people, who were once Midoriko's people, were cowardly and selfish, caring only for the survival of their own race. So they accepted the great demon's dominion, and bided their time until the day when they would become strong enough to overthrow him. They learned necromancy: the darkest of all sorceries, and there arose among them a ruling class of priests, second only to the king himself. These sorcerers called themselves the Council of the Wise.
Under the great demon's protection, Midoriko's people established a splendid city---Reiyama---in a time when other lands were too ravaged by war to build anything but fortresses. But these mortals had grown greedy, and the Wise had grown powerful. Finally, after many years of prosperity, the people of Reiyama betrayed their Youkai protectors. The great demon and his kin were killed, and their souls were taken by the Wise and enslaved. These enslaved spirits were bound to the city, and forced to guard it even in death. Thus Midoriko's people forged a new name for themselves: the Tatesei---the "Spirit Shield."
Over half a century later, the son of the Greater Youkai returned to avenge his ancestors. He destroyed the Wise after forcing them to free the Youkai souls. He set a new king upon the throne of Reiyama---one who hated sorcery, and one whom he believed he could control easily.
But the Tatesei Line harbored secrets that even the young Youkai lord could not have guessed.
Hidden in a deep chamber in the Temple of the Wise, there lay a tattered scroll with Midoriko's words still printed upon it:
"Two rivers I see: one flowing alongside the other. They are two great Lines; theirs is a flow to span the Ages. One is a line of Youkai, strong and terrible. The other is a long line of sorcerers and kings---a race guarded by a shield of spirits. Where these rivers meet, I foresee the end of this Age, for a battle which began long ago shall at last be lost.
"And that which was broken . . . shall at last be destroyed."
"And that which was broken . . . shall at last be destroyed."
+ Sesshoumaru Speaks +
You know my tale.
You know me for the great evil that I have done, and also for the strange mercies I have shown. Perhaps you look upon me and think me beautiful. Perhaps you look closer . . . and think me hideous. Beneath the veneer of civilization, I am the steel of sword-blades and the iron of shields.
I have killed. Does that frighten you? It does not trouble MY sleep, for I regret nothing. All that I do is done in the name of my father's broken Line--- in the name of an old power that passes slowly from the world, before my very eyes . . . Judge me as you will; I am not human, and I do not care how you see me. It is enough for you to know that I am not soulless. Inside this cold steel there burns the warrior's flame. In this shield of metal is a hairline crack---the weakness of a heart burning alone, in this world where honor fades . . .
I have killed. Does that frighten you? It does not trouble MY sleep, for I regret nothing. All that I do is done in the name of my father's broken Line--- in the name of an old power that passes slowly from the world, before my very eyes . . .
Judge me as you will; I am not human, and I do not care how you see me.
It is enough for you to know that I am not soulless.
Inside this cold steel there burns the warrior's flame.
In this shield of metal is a hairline crack---the weakness of a heart burning alone, in this world where honor fades . . .
+ Chapter 1: The Gray Specter +
The Feudal Era, In the Tatesei Valley
Three figures cut across the rice fields at mid-day, drawing the eye of every man, woman and child within distance to see. One was tall and white---pale as the ghosts that roamed the mountains; cloaked in white so pure it hurt to look at him. At his heels scuttled a small, imp-like creature with eyes big and bulbous as a frog's and a harsh, croaking voice to match. Completing this strange trio was the bewildering presence of a young human child, walking at a respectful distance behind the tall one.
The first two held themselves aloof, disregarding the stares the humans cast their way. But the child noticed, and upon noticing spoke to the tall one in a thin, piping voice.
"Sesshoumaru-sama, why are they staring at us?" she asked. "Ew," she added, "I stepped in mud."
"Hush!" the frog-like being ordered, picking his way around the puddles in the road. He was already mud-stained up to his bulging middle from previous mishaps.
"They stare because they are afraid," the tall one told her without turning around. Yet his yellow eyes flickered from right to left, searching for signs of possible attackers.
Tatesei archers lined the walls of the city overlooking the fields. Sesshoumaru had nothing to fear from them---their arrows could not fly fast enough to strike him at any distance. Yet he did not want the child to die, or to give his enemies in the city evidence that the girl was his weakness. That was what Rin was to Sesshoumaru: a weakness. But he was too proud to be embarrassed that he had one, and so he did not cast Rin aside.
Though he had slaughtered many the last time he set foot in Reiyama, the Tatesei city, the kirin had still named him lord of the West. Sesshoumaru had used his newfound dominion over the Tatesei to force the Wise to free his family's souls. The working of that final spell had killed all of the Wise, for they had bound their very lives too tightly to their own sorcery to survive the reversal of it all. Sesshoumaru had thought their deaths would bring him peace. But then he had looked upon Reiyama, the city whose fate he now ruled, and realized the same old bitterness still resided in his soul.
The kirin had warned him before that---in order to become the great demon that his father once was---he must not become like the Wise. Yet it had also left him with a warning: This is not over.
Because of that warning, Sesshoumaru was always wary of Tatesei treachery. Why the kirin had chosen him to watch over them was beyond even his own intelligence. He certainly hadn't asked to be saddled with the burden of protecting them.
For the time being, he controlled his anger because it was necessary.
The day that it ceased to be necessary, there would be a reckoning.
The Tatesei watched him pass and made no move to attack him. He and his two companions moved beneath the protective cover of the woods, beyond the eyes of his enemies.
Sesshoumaru did not know it, but his own fate was still inextricably bound to the Tatesei, even as theirs was bound to him.
The Present; Tokyo, Japan
A world away, in the Time beyond the Well, Kagome was brushing her teeth. She was still in her pajamas, and her hair had yet to be brushed. Fortunately for her, it was a school holiday, and she had been allowed to sleep in. She had conveniently neglected to tell Inuyasha that it was a three-day weekend, and so today she looked forward to some much-needed relaxation.
Kagome proceeded to rinse and spit, and then reached up to close the medicine cabinet in front of her. She contemplated her half-lidded reflection in it for a minute, then realized what she was looking at and let loose a blood-curdling scream.
"Gah! Stop that fucking noise!" Inuyasha yelled, clapping both hands over his ears. The acoustics in the bathroom caused the scream to reverberate and amplify itself manifold.
Kagome stopped, pressing a hand to her heaving chest and glaring at his reflection in the mirror.
"Don't . . . ever . . . do that . . . again!" she panted.
He was perched behind her on the rim of her bathtub, peering at her rather glumly.
"It's the New Moon already, huh?" Kagome observed, running hot water to wash her face. Her hands were still shaking as she turned the faucets.
"Feh," he grumbled, looking even more glum.
His hair, of course, was black, and his ears were human. If his claws hadn't disappeared, she would've made him get off before he scratched up the tub.
Kagome finished washing and then turned to face him, hands on her hips.
"You're bleeding, you know," she observed. "All over the bathmat."
This, of course, was an exaggeration. There was a small cut on his cheek that had dripped one droplet of blood onto the fuzzy pink mat. But Kagome disliked being surprised while in her pajamas and she hadn't cooled down yet.
"No one answered the door, so I tried climbing up the side of your house," Inuyasha explained. "Then I realized that I didn't have any claws." He paused, scowling. "Why the hell did you have to plant those thorny flowers under your window?"
Kagome exerted a very valiant effort to keep from laughing. She'd begged Inuyasha time and time again not to climb through her window because the neighbors had begun to notice the gouge marks.
"So," she said, setting the matter aside. "Why exactly are you here?"
"I've got a problem," Inuyasha announced.
Kagome stared at him, waiting for him to elaborate. It took him a second to realize this.
"Someone's hexing me," he finally explained. In response to Kagome's blank stare, he added, "I think I'm gonna die."
Surmising that this was going to take a while, Kagome hoisted herself up onto the sink.
"So---er---when did this start?" she asked reasonably, folding her hands in her lap.
"Yesterday," he answered. "Miroku claimed he couldn't exorcise me. Kaede tried to feed me some fucking nasty herbs. Sango and Shippou tried to hold me down and make me take the herbs. Then Miroku tried to jump me, telling me to calm down; I wasn't being hexed. I kicked his ass. I know I'm being hexed, so I came to see you because you live in a shrine." He paused, scratching one ear pensively. "They didn't try to stop me. Seemed kind of happy I was going . . ."
Kagome peered at him curiously. His face seemed more flushed than usual.
"What does the curse feel like?" she asked reasonably.
Inuyasha pondered this for a moment, then answered, "Dizzy. And hot. And it makes me have to---" He broke off, turning a delicate shade of green.
Apprehensively, Kagome watched as he stood up. Inuyasha went very still for a moment, then his eyes bulged a little. And he staggered out of the bathroom and into Kagome's bedroom.
'Oh, no,' she thought, hurrying after him. 'Don't tell me he's going to---'
"Come back, Inuyasha!" she wailed, but he had already flung open her shutters and was now proceeding to puke out the window.
"Oh, gross," Kagome moaned, covering her face with her hands.
"Cool!" exclaimed her little brother Souta, who had just wandered into the room to see what all the fuss was about. "Hey, Sis, at least he made it to the window instead of using your sock drawer or something."
Kagome found Inuyasha a paper towel to clean off with before she would allow him to bring his head back inside. He flung the towel out the window when he was done with it.
"Souta, go get that before the cat finds it," Kagome ordered.
"Aww, Sis," Souta complained, but she ignored him, turning to Inuyasha.
"This is not a hex," she explained. "It's called 'the flu.'"
Inuyasha just stared at her.
"The what?" He sounded vaguely disappointed.
"The flu," Kagome repeated patiently. "Remember that cold I got a long time ago?" She almost added, "When you dragged me shard-hunting, we ended up fighting a lot of necromancers, and then I broke my arm? When you came home with me and flooded my bathroom?" But in the interests of peace, she held her tongue.
"Hell, yeah, I remember!" Inuyasha looked disgusted. "So it's some human disease?"
Kagome sighed. He made it sound like he'd caught the plague from rats.
"Whatever you call it, you've got it, and you're stuck with it for at least the next twenty-four hours."
Inuyasha managed to pull a face that was horrified and indignant at the same time. Kagome exited the bathroom.
"Hey, where the hell d'you think YOU'RE going!" Inuyasha called after her. "I'm SICK, here!"
"I know that," she answered, her voice sounding slightly muffled through the wall. "I'm getting you some pajamas."
There was a pause, and then: "What the fuck are 'pajamas'?"
Inuyasha sat there, wracking his brains in an effort to remember where he'd heard that term before. Kagome didn't bother to answer this. Instead, she called back, "Oh, and if you need to be sick, do it in the toilet. Do not miss."
"Yeah, sure," he grumbled.
"And remember what you learned last time, okay?" Kagome warned him. "The toilet is not like Miroku's Wind Tunnel. It does not suck up objects larger than---er---"
"Shit?" Inuyasha offered helpfully.
"Er---right," Kagome replied. She had a feeling she was in for a bit of a ride. But considering she was probably the one who'd passed the flu---a modern disease---on to him, she probably deserved it.
The Feudal Era; The Tatesei Valley
Sesshoumaru and his two small companions walked swiftly through the forest---or, rather, Sesshoumaru walked swiftly while Rin and Jaken hurried to keep up with him. He deliberately kept his pace quick---Rin was always quieter when she was well-exercised, and Jakken . . . Well, Jakken had no excuse. Jakken had been serving his master since Sesshoumaru's infancy, and should have long since ceased his endless, whining entreaties for his master to wait for him.
The woods were silent to Rin and Jakken, but to Sesshoumaru's keen senses the very darkness seemed to breathe. He heard every heartbeat of the hare running from the wolf; every call of the white owls roosting in the trees. He felt the eye of every lesser demon, fair and foul, that watched him from the shadowed and sheltered places of the wood. This was what it meant to be a demon of the purest blood. In the great garden of savagery, his senses sang and yet he feared nothing. He, Sesshoumaru, was lord here.
"But what is that clacking sound I hear?" he mused aloud.
His head turned slightly, so that only one eye beheld the source of the noise.
"L-look, my l-lord! S-snow!" Rin announced between chattering teeth. With one arm she hugged herself for warmth; the other hand she jabbed skyward excitedly.
Sesshoumaru's pace didn't slow, but he did turn his gaze upward. A flurry of snow was indeed beginning to fall. It settled gently on his hair and eyelids.
"We will be home soon, Rin," he told her.
Sesshoumaru felt the cold like any mortal, but because it represented no danger to him he chose to ignore it. The child was another matter, of course. He did not want to have to use Tenseiga on her yet again just to thaw her out.
And the chattering of teeth was most irritating.
"Wh-whining brat," Jakken grumbled, embracing himself and shuddering just as violently.
Then the little imp stopped abruptly as he bumped right into Sesshoumaru's legs.
"M-my lord, what is it?" Jakken asked.
Sesshoumaru shot him a glare that clearly meant, "Cease speaking or die," and he fell silent.
The demon lord then directed his attention elsewhere, keen yellow eyes sweeping the area.
The mountain pass connecting the Tatesei Valley to Sesshoumaru's personal estate was heavily wooded and almost never traveled by anyone but Sesshoumaru himself. He had brought Jakken and Rin with him this time because he needed them to tend his two-headed steed. But he had been forced to leave Aun at home, because the unusually cold winter made them sluggish and slow. And Naraku had recently taken to attacking his steed's passengers. It would not do to have a slow steed allowing Naraku greater access to his real target . . .
"Rin," Sesshoumaru called, to make sure she hadn't gotten herself lost already.
The little girl snapped to attention.
"Yes, my lord!" she chirped.
Simultaneously relieved and annoyed, Sesshoumaru did not deign to answer. Rin immediately seemed to forgive him for not answering and began skipping after him.
It was becoming clear to him that it was high time he stopped bringing her with him on these excursions. Having Rin around when he went into battle was irksome---Naraku had clearly identified her as Sesshoumaru's weakness, and kept trying to burn/stab/poison/melt her. Soon, Sesshoumaru surmised, his nemesis might run out of ways of trying to off her . . . Then again, Naraku was a most cunning and persistent character. Sesshoumaru rather admired his creativity.
But now he sniffed the air, frowning. It was not Naraku's scent that he caught.
"What is it, my Lord?" Jakken asked, approaching him tentatively. "An intruder?"
Sesshoumaru's lip curled upward in disgust.
"Ningen," he said, with heartfelt distaste.
"Rin is Ningen," Jakken interjected slyly.
Sesshoumaru chose to ignore him.
Somewhere behind them, only a bit further down the slope, a stick cracked. More noises followed---either the intruder was unaware of their presence or simply didn't care.
"Jakken, take Rin home," Sesshoumaru ordered calmly.
Obediently, the two continued on up the slope. Sesshoumaru, in the meantime, turned and started downward at a pace that was almost leisurely. As he walked further, his frown deepened. Beyond the single intruder, more Ningen were coming---he could smell the tar on the pine torches that they carried. But the lone intruder carried no torch with him.
'So,' Sesshoumaru mused. 'Hunters and their quarry . . .'
He was not smiling. "What fools you are," he murmured softly, "to trouble me with your insignificant quarrels . . ."
Then the first intruder burst through the undergrowth, scattering flurries of the snow that had settled on the bushes. He was of medium height for a Ningen, but all other features were indistinguishable, because he wore the gray cloak of the Wise with the hood pulled low.
Sesshoumaru's ire at the sight of that cloak was instant and terrible. His eyes flared red, and he flew at the enemy so fast the man had no time to react. His strong white hand encircled the man's throat, cloak and all, and pulled him close. It cost him a supreme effort not to kill the man outright, clenching until the head burst from the body. But he was lord of the West; master of himself, and so he reined in the sudden tide of dark passion.
"I don't care who you are," Sesshoumaru said icily. "I don't care if you're some mere charlatan, fool enough to wear their raiment. But you will tell me why your boy king has suffered you to live . . . and why he has dared to tempt my wrath."
He loosened his grip on the man's neck to allow him breath, but did not let go.
"Don't let them take me," the intruder pleaded in a choked whisper, clutching at Sesshoumaru's white-clad arm in an effort to free himself. "I swear, I will serve you and only you . . . if you'll protect me . . ."
Sesshoumaru's expression was hard and cold.
"I make no pact with filth like you," he said softly. "Answer, and your death will be swift. That is the extent of the mercy you may expect from me."
One of his nails pierced the gray cloth, digging into the flesh beneath. The man gasped, and attempted to pull away, but Sesshoumaru's grip was far too firm. The intruder's hood slid askew, enough to reveal one wide, gray eye beneath.
"Please," the man whispered.
"Why me?" Sesshoumaru asked. "Why do you come to me, your enemy, to ask for aid? Do you think to haunt me, like some specter of the past?"
The man didn't answer, and neither did the gray eye's gaze waver. His hand, with which he had clutched Sesshoumaru's sleeve, now slid downward to grasp the white demon's wrist. At that touch---that pressure of human flesh upon demon---Sesshoumaru recoiled. He didn't let go of the man's throat, but his arm flinched in an effort to make the man let go. When this didn't prove successful, he allowed his Youkai poison to begin to seep into his hand and outward toward his nails---toward the intruder's neck.
He had been touched by humans before---oftentimes when he killed them; seldom against his will---but this . . .
"Sorcery," Sesshoumaru gasped, face darkening further. "You dare . . . !"
This was unlike any human touch he'd ever encountered. He was no longer even sure that this was a human. Though the hand upon his wrist was real and alive, he felt as if the intruder's sorcery was seeping into his head, laying his mind bare and vulnerable.
Sesshoumaru despised vulnerability.
"Die," he whispered, making ready to poison the man with his claws.
But the sorcery that had been building so rapidly finally took hold of him. Time seemed to slow and stretch, and the world around him shifted. The trees and the slope vanished, and the moon's brilliance was suddenly shining down upon him where before there had been only clouds. The ground he stood on now was flat and blanketed with snow. It was a field---he was standing in a Tatesei field.
Slowly, Sesshoumaru glanced down at himself and began to understand. His clothing was stained crimson. In his hand was a sword.
Then he looked up at the men surrounding him and he understood in full.
"I know this place," he whispered.
The Present Era
"What the fuck are these? I'm not wearing them!"
"Inuyasha, please calm down! Besides, you're already wearing them."
Kagome and Inuyasha were facing off, standing on either side of her bed and glaring at each other. Inuyasha was wearing a pair of black, pin-striped pajamas and looking none too pleased. One arm was out of the shirt sleeve, and was crossed stubbornly over the other arm across his chest.
"They're too small!" he complained. "How the hell am I supposed to have room to fight in them?"
Kagome tried darting around the side of the bed to overtake him, but he vaulted over the entire mattress, landing in a defensive crouch on the other side.
"For the last time, Inuyasha: you don't have to fight anyone here!" Kagome cried, exasperated. "You came here to get well. No one's after you."
"You are," he pointed out, squinting at her. "Just leave me the hell alone! I'll sleep in my clothes like I always do."
"Your clothes are all germy!" Kagome fired back. "They need to be washed!"
"Fine!" he snapped. "I'll sleep in these short pants-thingies you're making me wear under it, but not the Pa-ja-mas!"
To his surprise, Kagome turned bright red and took her hands off the bed.
"Fine, then!" she shouted. "Just wear the boxers. But don't think you're sleeping in here!"
"Fine!" he hollered back. "You're pissing me off, anyway!"
Inuyasha seemed on the verge of launching into a long tirade about this, but his face suddenly went green, and he dashed out of the room. Kagome slammed the door shut behind him. For a minute she just stood there, leaning against it. Then she let out a long, slow sigh of frustration and opened it again.
She walked down the hall toward the bathroom, but when she peered in he wasn't there. The evidence that he had been in there was still there, however. Kagome flushed the toilet with a grimace and then started back down the hall and down the stairs to find him.
She didn't have to search long---there soon came a mighty ruckus from the laundry room.
She nearly collided with Inuyasha as he stormed out of the laundry room, still wearing the pajamas and looking positively furious.
"I'm sorry, but they'll have to drip-dry or they'll shrink," Kagome's mother called from behind him.
Kagome wasn't too sure how you washed the robes of a fire rat, but she sensed this wasn't a good time to join the argument. She also wasn't sure Inuyasha's tantrums were the best thing for his health right now.
"Inuyasha, why don't you go lie down in front of the TV?" she suggested, putting on her sweetest expression. "You're here to relax, remember?"
Inuyasha glared at her suspiciously.
"You're not going to feed me any of that nasty herb shit, are you?"
Kagome sighed and shook her head.
"No," she answered, "but if you'll quit charging around the house and lie down on the couch I'll bring you some miso."
"Ramen," Inuyasha demanded, folding his arms across his chest.
"Miso," Kagome corrected him. "It's good for you." She headed straight for the kitchen without bothering to turn around.
"Ramen!" Inuyasha repeated more loudly. Then he noticed the background around her had gone all dark and swirly, and prudently shut his mouth.
Grumbling half-heartedly, he meandered into the family room and flopped face-down onto the long, squishy chair-thing. It smelled of crunchy potato flakes, incense, and Buyo the cat. Inuyasha rolled over onto his back, sniffing. This room didn't smell anywhere near as good as Kagome's, and he wondered vaguely why she wouldn't let him sleep in there. And it was really hot here, too. Kagome was wearing some kind of shift that looked more suited to summer than to the Feudal Era's weather---well into winter now. What had he been complaining about? Oh yes . . . the weird clothes. A problem easily fixed . . .
"Hey, your miso's ready," Kagome said after a while, coming to stand behind the couch. "It's . . . Hey, put some clothes on, will you?"
"What?" Inuyasha asked. He was lying on his back with both hands behind his head, wearing nothing but the short pants Kagome called "boxers." "These are clothes. Aren't they clothes?" he asked Souta, who'd just come into the room to see what all the commotion was about.
"Yep," Souta agreed. His hair was wet, and he was wearing nothing but a towel around his waist---evidently having just come from the shower. "Jeez, Kagome, why d'you have to be so bossy? It's not like he's naked . . ." Souta was, if anything, just as naked as Inuyasha.
"You hear that?" Inuyasha smirked, turning toward Kagome again. She stood frozen on the spot, the bowl of miso still poised in one hand. "He says it's fine, and he's a boy. If he can wear that and you don't complain, why can't I just wear this?"
Kagome flushed a little and averted her gaze.
"It's not the same, okay?" she sputtered.
Inuyasha stretched his arms out over his head, cracking his knuckles. "This is much better than those wimpy little things you wanted me to wear."
Kagome set the bowl down on the coffee table and straightened slowly. Inuyasha's smirk died when he realized she wasn't buying this.
"There's nothing wrong with them!" she snapped. "They were my dad's!"
Kagome seemed upset, and Inuyasha saw the dangerous sparkle of tears in the corners of her eyes, but he wasn't the sort to go nosing into other peoples' pasts, so he kept quiet. After a minute she sighed and plopped into a nearby chair, reaching for some kind of small metallic object. Inuyasha tensed, expecting her to throw it at him, but instead she aimed it at the shiny box facing the couch and clicked something on it. The shiny box became even shinier.
"I remember this," Inuyasha remarked, eyeing it suspiciously. "The tivvy. You stare at it and it sucks out your soul."
Kagome gave him a weird look, and the tears receded from her eyes.
"I watch it, and I still have my soul," she pointed out. "You're not eating," she added, nodding toward the soup on the table.
Dutifully, he picked up the bowl and began slurping at it, obeying mainly because he'd already won the right to stay in the boxers and he didn't want to push his luck.
"Well, it just gives your soul back when you turn it off," he suggested.
The miso was actually good, for all its resemblance to pond scum floating in water.
They watched the tivvy for most of the day. Inuyasha didn't seem to care one whit about the technological marvel of it all, but he did get far too involved in whatever was on it. He frowned at the game shows ("They oughta kill the people who don't answer right."); scowled at the dramas ("Change it---I don't want my soul being sucked into that."); went silent with wonder while watching the sports (". . ."); yawned at the news ("Forget this fake crap. I want to watch the real stuff."); and was positively mesmerized by the music channels ("Why does that ugly spike-haired pierced guy have all those women fondling him?"). Through it all Kagome pressed an endless stream of glasses of water on him, which he accepted but after a while took to dumping on the carpet under the couch when she wasn't looking.
Finally, he fell asleep on the couch, one arm and one leg hanging onto the floor. Nobody woke him until late that evening. Souta came in and poked him in the head.
"BWAH!" he yelled, sitting up in a flash, reaching for Tetsusaiga, which, of course, was nowhere near him.
"Hey," Souta told him. "It's time for bed. You're bunking with me."
Inuyasha's eyes narrowed.
Kagome dreamed of the jewel.
She dreamed of a man raising a blade over his head. She saw the Shikon jewel tumble from her grasping fingers. She saw the jewel fall into a bowl of water. Ripples spread outward from the place where it fell.
The ripples became tidal waves crashing on the shores of Japan. The waves became mountains. Between the mountains, there lay a valley. She saw a city of people with blood coursing through their veins that glowed through their skin like rivers of fire.
She saw a hand close around the jewel.
She saw a great and luminous eye slowly begin to open, and was filled with nameless dread.
She awoke to find Inuyasha staring at her, his nose inches from her face.
"Hey," he said. "What's a 'pimp'?"
Kagome sat up with a start, clapping a hand to her heaving chest while clenching the bedclothes with the other.
"You---you---what?" she gasped. "You woke me up to ask me about this? What's wrong with you?"
'No wonder I dreamed about an eye,' she thought. 'With him staring at me . . .'
Inuyasha settled back onto his heels. He was crouched by the side of her bed, wearing the pin-striped pajamas.
"You said I could sleep in here if I wore these," he explained simply. "But Souta said I looked like a 'pimp.'"
Kagome scowled in the darkness.
"The real question is: how does Souta know what a pimp is?" she muttered. To Inuyasha, she said, "It means a really strong warrior."
"Oh," Inuyasha said, looking well-pleased. "So . . ." He glanced around. "Where do I sleep?"
Kagome stared at him a moment, then pointed to the foot of the bed.
"There," she told him. "Unless you don't mind the floor."
She flopped down against the pillows again, assuming he would take the floor. However, the creaking of the mattress springs told her he was taking the bed. He sprawled across the foot, near her feet.
"Oh well," Kagome thought sleepily. "Just like sleeping with Buyo, I guess . . ."
She drifted off again, and forgot about the dream.
END OF CHAPTER 1