A/N: Hi! Um...no excuses. Instead, a rundown of life in vague chronological order: writer's block, school, work, more writer's block, relationship stress, internship, more work, firey death of relationship, graduation, limbo, real job, new boyfriend, writing again. All that in the year and a half since the last update. Awesome. In other news, ITFH won fan fiction of the year in the 2003-2004 RKRC awards, for any of you who read it. Woot!
Disclaimer: I don't own Inu-Yasha or Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Mermaid."
Without Words: BetrayalSango and Miroku didn't return until the next night.
Kagome had tucked herself comfortably in Inu-Yasha's chair in the library and was slowly soaking in a light adventure story. Her back was wedged into one corner, and her feet dangled over the armrest. The prince was sprawled across the floor beside the chair, head propped up in one hand and gaze unfocused. He'd been unusually genial all evening, except for when she'd accidentally clipped his ear when she'd first swung her legs over the armrest. It had worried her until she'd been too sucked into the book to care.
She'd just finished the second chapter when Inu-Yasha stirred slightly, his ears twitching toward the door.
"They're back," he announced with a half-smothered yawn and returned to staring at nothing.
Kagome had just enough time to puzzle out who "they" were before the door to the library banged open, and Sango stormed into the room with murder written on her face. Then, her eyes snagged on first Kagome, then the prince. She rocked back on her heels and narrowed her gaze at both of them in turn. "What's going on here?"
Miroku nearly bumped into her as he came in, hands held out before him in a placating gesture. "Sango, please…What's this?" His mouth flipped from a placating smile to a suspicious frown.
Kagome grinned at them as she set her book on her stomach and pulled out her notepad. 'Welcome back!' she scrawled quickly in large letters.
"Yes, thank you, Kagome," Sango replied slowly, shifting to the right so Miroku could stand beside her. Kirara shifted her red-eyed stare from each of them in turn and then let out a puzzled trill.
"Took you long enough," Inu-Yasha drawled from the floor and pushed himself into a sitting position. His ears flattened as he narrowly missed a face-full of Kagome's feet. He shot her an annoyed glance and pushed her feet away so they slid off the armrest to dangle above the floor. Kagome made a mock swat at his head with her notepad and adjusted so she was sitting up properly as well.
'What's wrong?' Kagome asked, noting they were still regarding them warily.
"Nothing, I guess," Sango replied and waved her hand to indicate their postures. "You just look so…"
"Friendly?" Miroku supplied brightly, folding his hands into his sleeves and relaxing his posture. "Cozy?"
"Eh?" the prince snapped. "What are you talking about?"
Kagome rolled her eyes and ignored him in favor of writing, 'How was your trip? We looked for you yesterday afternoon. The prince was worried because you were late.'
Sango took the notebook when it was offered and stared bemusedly at her script. "You've improved a lot in the last few days, Kagome," she complimented and passed it to Miroku. "The trip was fine until the last few days. Someone had to perform an exorcism on the village headman's daughter before we could leave the country." She pointedly turned her face away from her companion.
Miroku winced a smile and turned his attention enthusiastically to Kagome's writing. "My, Lady Kagome, I'm impressed." His smile turned patently innocent. "Where did you get such fine writing materials?"
She schooled her face to keep from smiling and jerked at thumb at the prince. He turned his nose up. "Keh, that slate was stupid, and the chalk dust was irritating me, so I found some old stuff in the study."
Kagome thought it diplomatic not to mention that he'd snapped her "stupid" slate like a twig in a fit of righteous temper.
Sango eyed Kagome's carefully blank expression and the prince's scowling face and changed the subject. "Mmm, well, we've already handed over our written report for the king to read. We'll give our oral account at tomorrow morning's meeting."
"So what was going on with the youkai?" Inu-Yasha asked as he stood and folded his hands in his sleeves.
"They're curiously busy," Miroku replied slowly. "They aren't interested in our border. Rather, they seem to be passing through, making trouble on their way toward some other goal. It's not either of our neighbors, but perhaps one of the next countries over."
Sango unhooked her giant boomerang from her shoulder and leaned it against the wall. "In my experience, the only thing that would make rogue youkai move in such large numbers is either fear or power. And from the information we gathered from some of the bordering villages, they don't seem like they're running away."
Miroku nodded. "Something is drawing them."
"Yeah, but the only countries on the western coast are ruled by humans. What would they have that youkai would want?" the prince muttered, an ear twitching in annoyance.
Kagome turned her face from one person to the other, most of the conversation swimming over her head. Kaede hadn't delved too deep into the internal politics of the land races. She knew the land was split roughly in half between youkai and human ruling nations, with a shaky border where the two races lightly and warily intermingled. Kaede kept a close eye on the dry world, which was how she'd discovered the man looking for the jewel, but Kagome had be focusing on the more physical duties of a miko.
The monk shrugged. "That is the mystery. Since we were limited to scouting the western border, we couldn't travel far enough into Sakana or Momo to get a better idea of where they were going. Of course, I doubt the king anticipated our finding any significant trouble."
"It was grunt work," Inu-Yasha dismissed with a snort and stalked toward the door. "I'm going to bed."
Kagome blinked at the sudden departure, but didn't move to follow. When he announced his intentions so clearly, it usually meant he wasn't going to do anything of the kind. More likely he was going to go tramping around the forest, and she didn't fancy being left in a tree this late at night.
"I thought that would get him thinking," Miroku chuckled.
Sango nodded absently and gathered her weapon in one hand and Kirara in the other. "At least we know someone will take us seriously." She smiled at Kagome. "I'm going to turn in. Are you going to stay up?"
Kagome shrugged and got to her feet. In truth, she was beginning to develop a slight headache from reading.
As she followed Sango the short way down the hall to their room, she wondered what the morning would bring. As well as she'd come to know the prince in the past few days, she couldn't begin to predict how he would act now Sango and Miroku had returned. Would he go back to ignoring her, or would he keep up the casual companionship? She felt a twinge in her chest when she realized how strongly she hoped he wouldn't abandon her.
"Do you want to wait in the room?" Sango asked the next morning as she slipped into her soft, indoor boots. She had proposed they all go for a picnic after the meeting to celebrate her and Miroku's return. Miroku had managed to acquire a few fine bottles of wine from the last border village before they'd been run out by the mob.
Kagome shrugged and rose from her seat in the middle of the floor, indicating with a flick of her hand that she'd rather come with them.
Sango nodded. "There are benches in the hallway outside for you to wait on. Though, if you're going to go into such a busy part of the castle, you should probably change first."
Short trousers, leather slippers, an elbow-sleeved tunic, and a thin sash around her waist had been Kagome's outfit of choice while they'd been gone. The boyish ensemble had been very serviceable for sitting in trees and keeping cool in the afternoon sun. Of course, she'd noticed most women in the palace wore a bit more. She didn't know how they could stand all of the layers. If she didn't think it would shock and alarm the population at large, she would happily flit around in only underpants and a breast-bind. Cloth itched against skin used to the silky caress of water.
The older girl dug through the small, loaned wardrobe Kagome had been given by various members of the maid staff and selected wide, flowing pants, a sleeveless tunic, a long-sleeved robe, and a wide, stiff sash. Kagome wrinkled her nose at the layers and length. Her fingertips would barely peek past the sleeves of the robe, and she knew she would trip over the hem of the pants.
"We'll just leave your hair," Sango mused once she finished cinching and tucking the sash into place. Kagome was sure she'd cracked a rib in the process. "We could braid it with a long ribbon, but we don't really have time."
Kagome smothered a smirk at the small triumph. Human woman in the castle wore their hair coiled and pinned around their head. Only young girls wore it long, and even they had it pulled away from their faces. Of course, most of their hair was silky and straight. Kagome's was soft, but very wavy, thick, and reached the backs of her thighs. When she went out with the prince, she used three ties to keep it in a long tail, but trying to wind it around her head usually ended up with a lot of bent pins and broken hair sticks. Sango had suggested cutting it, but Kagome was reluctant to relinquish the length. The mermaid princesses were known for their long hair.
So, though she was dressed very properly in humble colors of beige and off-white, she still attracted stares as she trailed after Sango and Miroku through the palace. That confused her. She had wandered after the prince in much more audacious attire. But then, she reasoned, she'd been a mute, foreign waif tagging along after the halfling-prince. Perhaps being seen in less infamous company, and with more subdued clothing, made her unruly hair stand out and seem more shocking.
"It shouldn't take too long," Sango assured when they reached the western, side entrance to the main conference hall.
Miroku nodded in agreement. "The king has likely already been debriefed of our report and will probably only have a few minor questions."
She gave them a smile and shooed them in the direction of the door. They shot her nearly identical looks of barely-hidden concern before letting themselves into the room. Kagome heard them being announced by a distant voice before the door clicked shut. Then she was left in the relative silence of the hallway.
The floor, with its plush carpet, would have been a more ideal waiting spot than the hard stone benches, but she figured she didn't need to attract any more attention to herself. Sprawling full-length across the floor would probably raise a few eyebrows.
She'd just settled onto the far corner of the bench closest to the door when a small party of people rounded the corner. She blinked to make sure her eyes were seeing truly, because the group was startlingly improbable.
The figure that first caught the eye was the imposing dog demon who calmly strode at the head. She examined the refined, cold features and wondered if Inu-Yasha possibly had a sister he'd neglected to mention. She almost considered the possibility of a cousin when her gaze fell on the little human girl in tow.
This is prince Sesshoumaru, she realized. The bright-eyed, bubbly girl could only be the orphan, Rin, who Inu-Yasha complained about, because she was a walking symbol of his brother's hypocrisy. The difference between the two was so startling that the contrast couldn't even be considered harmonious. Words like fire and ice, or sun and moon, were faulty because they implied a certain aesthetic symmetry in their opposition. These two were just jarring.
Then, thrown in like a joke, was the toad demon, Jaken. Inu-Yasha had had little to say about him, dismissing him with a rude snort as nothing more than a bumbling lackey.
"May I come in with you, Prince Sesshoumaru?" the girl piped with a sweet smile.
"What?" Jaken squawked, looking like his own honor had been affronted rather than his master's. "Don't be ridiculous, you silly human." He thrust a crooked, green finger at the bench Kagome was sitting on. "You'll wait here, like you've been told."
Rin cast an imploring look up at the stone-faced prince, but he didn't even glance down at her. He was already walking through the door being opened for him into the hall. Jaken let out another croak and scurried after him. The door clicked shut, and again the hallway was left in silence.
The little girl's face drooped briefly in an unhappy smile. Then she spotted Kagome.
"Oh!" she made a bobbing little bow. "I'm sorry, I didn't see you. My name is Rin. I belong to Prince Sesshoumaru, and Jaken looks after me so I don't get into trouble. He says I'm always getting into trouble, but I think he just doesn't know how to lighten up. You don't look like a servant. At least, you wouldn't just be sitting here without getting yelled at if you were. Who do you belong to? Are you one of Prince Inu-Yasha's guards? I heard there was a new human girl living here, but Prince Sesshoumaru doesn't like it when I leave his wing, so I hadn't had a chance to see you for myself. Are you the one they said washed up onto the beach?" She paused long enough to smooth her robes under her as she sat down and then brightly opened her mouth to start again.
Kagome hastily held up a hand, a slightly desperate smile tugging at her lips. She pulled out her notebook and flipped open to a clean page.
'My name is Kagome. I'm staying in Prince Inu-Yasha's wing,' she wrote thoughtfully. She certainly wasn't "his," not in the way Rin belonged to Sesshoumaru, but she certainly didn't fall under any more likely category. Besides, powers or not on land, she was a miko. Miko were property unto none.
Rin took the pad from her and carefully ran her fingertip beneath each word, her small mouth moving silently. Kagome felt the girl might as well have poked her little finger into the bubble of her ego. She was on the same reading level as a seven-year-old.
"Ooh, Prince Inu-Yasha is grumpy, isn't he?" she chuckled. "One time, when I snuck away from Jaken, I got lost on the West side of the castle. Prince Inu-Yasha growled at me the whole time he was taking me back to Prince Sesshoumaru." She leaned in closer and dropped her voice to a whisper. "They don't get along."
Kagome nodded solemnly, fighting back a smile as she imagined Inu-Yasha stomping through the halls with his ears laid back and Rin skipping at his side. Then she wondered if she and he made just as ridiculous a picture and winced.
"Did you really come from the ocean?" Rin went on, bouncing a little on the bench as her voice picked up animatedly. "Jaken says you're probably a sea harpy and you'll try to bewitch everyone in the castle into throwing themselves off the cliffs. He says everyone would just be happy if you did that to Prince Inu-Yasha, but I told him that wasn't a nice thing to say. Then he said I was stupid, so I sat on him and tickled until he took it back." She beamed.
Kagome felt her eyebrows rise up under her bangs. She wondered just how seriously the castle was taking stories like Jaken's, or if it was simply hall chatter to pass the time. Either way, it made her uneasy. Though she supposed Miroku, or any other palace miko-type person, could tell that she didn't have any power. She knew, certainly. It was a continuing ache, overshadowed only when she stood up and was forced instead to try and ignore her feet.
She held out her hand for her notebook and wrote back, 'I was shipwrecked. I'm staying with Prince Inu-Yasha and Sango and Miroku because I don't have anywhere else to go.'
Rin took back the notebook and alternated puzzling out the words with shooting Kagome puzzled frowns.
"This isn't a game," she stated finally. "You can't talk, can you?"
Kagome shrugged and shook her head.
The little girl folded her hands solemnly in her lap. "I couldn't find my voice for a long time. Not until Prince Sesshoumaru found me." She looked up hopefully. "Maybe if you ask very nicely, Prince Inu-Yasha could bring back yours."
The dull ache inside moved up and lodged firmly in her heart. Slowly, she shook her head and placed her hand atop the smaller girl's head. Of course she couldn't explain it was because of Prince Inu-Yasha that she'd given it up.
Inu-Yasha slumped into his seat and worked on looking as put-upon as possible for having to be there. It wasn't like his father really looked to him for opinions in anything that mattered, so he didn't understand why he should have to be there. Especially when he could feel his brother's eyes pointedly not looking at him even as all of his father's advisors took alternating turns glaring at him.
His father had yet to make his appearance, so the long table remained in an awkward silence while he sulked, Jaken and the other advisors fussed with note-taking materials, Sesshoumaru worked on looking superior, and Sango and Miroku tried to keep their expressions neutral.
Inu-Yasha considered his claws where they rested in his lap and wondered how quickly he'd have to slit his throat to die before his body could regenerate itself. Then, figuring it would give his brother too damn much satisfaction—unless he could find some way to make sure he bled on him, of course—he thought about his newest problem.
The damn girl.
He swore she was a leech in a past incarnation. That or a monkey. A chattering monkey. For not being able to speak, there were times when he could feel her words beating him around the ears. An impatient look, a frustrated gesture; that was all she seemed to need to make herself perfectly clear to him. Not that he heeded her any better than he would have had she been able to scream at him at the top of her lungs.
She was annoying. There were a lot of reasons, as he reminded himself daily, but chief among them was that he actually kind of didn't dislike her hanging around. As for that, he could only reason he had some permanent damage done when he'd been booted from the ship. Or maybe it was because she kind of looked like that miko who'd saved him.
It wasn't because she was restful to be around. Or that it was pretty fun to watch her face screw up and know that, if she could, she would scream at him at the top of her lungs.
He was so engrossed in mentally listing all the reasons why she wasn't pleasant to be around, he was almost surprised when the herald announced his father.
The table rose to greet the king, who waved them all back into their seats and held out the other for his aid to give him the meeting's agenda.
"Good morning, everyone," he greeted as he sat. Regarding the agenda, he waved his hand toward the two humans. "Miroku, Sango, what were your impressions about the border?"
The guards rose from their seats, Sango standing at attention and Miroku calmly folding his arms inside his sleeves. Miroku briefly outlined their observations, Sango elaborating on rogue-youkai behaviors.
"Our neighbors are nervous only that more bands will keep passing through," Miroku concluded. "However, from Sango's knowledge, it seems this problem could quickly escalate if what they're after is, indeed, power."
"At this point, we don't know how close to our borders the problem really lies," Sango picked up. "We also don't know the nature of this power. The rogue-youkai could kill each other off trying to obtain it, or they could all become stronger and present a threat to anyone near. The power could also be something that tempts rivaling kingdoms who wish to expand their borders."
Inu-Yasha approved of her phrasing. An intelligent person could read the far-reaching implications behind her conjectures, but she didn't come off sounding overly excited, which could call her objectivity into question.
The royal advisors glanced between themselves, and disbelieving murmurs began to rumble around the table. Inu-Yasha gave in to the urge to roll his eyes. Typical.
The king raised a finger from the table and achieved complete silence. "I understand your concern. However, with the ball coming up, I don't really have any spare soldiers to deploy for further investigation."
Inu-Yasha balled his fist in his lap but kept his face as impassive as Sango and Miroku's. Humans were good enough to marry and get despised half-breeds on, but not good enough to listen to when they came with legitimately disturbing news. This large of a rouge-youkai uprising hadn't been seen in centuries, and the last time had seen over half the youkai nations embroiled in war to protect their people from being massacred and the land from being razed.
"Let's see how the ball turns out," he went on. "There will be a few ambassadors from the human countries visiting. We'll see what the atmosphere is like and judge from there what our next action should be." He turned to his aid, a snub-nosed youkai of at least 500 years from a minor family, and gave a few additional notes on who should be sent to mingle in the crowds during the festivities.
Inu-Yasha kept an ear open as his father murmured to his secretary and bit back a growl when the king named a young, inexperienced aide to handle the Momo ambassadors.
If the king had one weakness, it was his wife's death and the failed alliance between their two kingdoms. Though, admittedly, princess Izayoi had not been a princess of Momo, only the queen's half-sister. Still, she had been as beloved by the people as her sister, and her death had come as a grievous shock to the neighboring country. And while Inu-Yasha could understand wanting to put as much distance between himself and an old heartache as possible, it didn't make sense when the country being ignored was a buffer between Shihai no Inu and a potentially serious threat.
Of course, pointing this out to the king wouldn't do much good when he was sure to be backed up by every last advisor and Sesshoumaru that Momo was a, "disaster best left forgotten." Sometimes he wished he could give his royal obligations a swift kick and retreat to the brutal simplicity of the forests. Of course, without the protection of walls, he'd have to worry what trouble Kagome could be getting herself into at every moment.
He irritably shook his head and shifted his attention to his "guards."
They were giving their bows and being excused from the rest of the meeting. Inu-Yasha rose to get the hell out as well, when his father's voice froze him halfway out of the chair.
"It has been brought to my attention that we have a new guest residing in Prince Inu-Yasha's wing of the palace."
His ears twitched with the effort to keep from lying back defensively. Slowly, he slumped back into his chair and nodded. When his father's face remained patiently expectant, he sighed and gave up the details.
"Her name is Kagome. She was shipwrecked and washed up onto one of our private beaches. For reasons the doctor was unable to determine, other than trauma, she lost the use of her voice and has trouble walking. Miroku and I agree she is probably from a well-to-do merchant family from one of the western kingdoms. She has communicated that her entire family was lost in the storm and remains a guest in my wing until a permanent arrangement can be found for her."
He finished with a polite "as his majesty wishes" at the end of the short speech. If nothing else, his tutors had instilled the proper court etiquette required of a prince. Not that he usually bothered to observe it.
His father nodded, and Sesshoumaru opened his mouth.
"I'll leave the matter in your hands. At least now you and your brother are even in number of human foundlings," the king observed with a barely-concealed smirk.
Sesshoumaru closed his mouth again with an audible click.
Inu-Yasha looked at his brother with wide, innocent eyes. His father could be a bastard, but he was one of the few people who knew how to cut the elder prince off at the knees.
His glee at his brother's discomfort lasted exactly six seconds. Then his father came to the next item on the agenda.
"Oh, and Inu-Yasha, what sort of entertainment have you arranged for the guests at the ball? I'd like at least some idea of what I'm getting into before the night of the performance."
He knew he'd been purposefully ignoring something. This, of course, was all the girl's fault. She was distracting.
"I've got a couple of things I'm looking into at the moment," he shrugged. "I'll have someone inform your aide when I've decided which to pick." Lies. Sesshoumaru knew it, if he judged correctly by Jaken's stifled snickers. Luckily, his father just nodded and moved on to more of the logistics concerning the ball.
'I need your help.' Kagome sidled over to Sango's side of the blanket, careful to keep the page turned away from Miroku. The elder girl nodded solemnly and gestured for her to continue.
'I've heard the prince is supposed to provide an entertainment for the ball.'
Another encouraging nod. Miroku was too engrossed with keeping his share of the food from Kirara's sneaky paws to notice anything out of the ordinary about the girls' conversation.
'I can dance.'
Sango's eyebrows rose fractionally in surprise, then furrowed in confusion. Kagome hurried on, anticipating the question.
'I need help putting together the costume and arranging to practice with the orchestra. I want to keep it a secret from the prince.'
Sango's lips twitched up, and she took the pencil from Kagome's hand.
'Sounds like fun. Whatever you need.'
"Am I not welcome in this conversation?" Miroku queried.
"No," Sango said firmly and Kagome mouthed.
He smiled tightly and opened his mouth to make some objection when Kagome spotted Inu-Yasha trudging up the hill to join them under the shade of their chosen picnic tree. She waved to him with her left hand while hurriedly scribbling through her conversation with the right. She didn't notice the speculative look Sango and Miroku shared as her attention zeroed in on the prince.
She gestured toward the generous supply of breads, meats, fruits, and cheeses the cook had packed into their basket.
"Not now. I'm gonna go patrol."
Finished with her light meal already, Kagome stood and brushed the crumbs from the front of her slacks. Now that she knew she had Sango's support in her scheme, a weight of uncertainty had lifted from her. With the guard's help, she would have better access to the kinds of cloth she would need to pull off the dance. In the meantime, she was ready to feel the wind through her hair.
"What do you want?" Inu-Yasha snorted as she approached him. She startled to a halt, so engrossed in her thoughts that she hadn't realized he hadn't formally invited her. Not that he'd ever asked her opinion in the matter before.
She gestured to herself and waved at the forest behind them. Doubt began to nibble at her insides. His posture was stiff and unwelcoming. He hadn't stood like that around her for days.
"What makes you think I want you along?" he scoffed and brushed past her.
The realization that her fears last night hadn't been so farfetched came crashing down on her head, and it took her a moment to remember to respond.
"I'll be gone for a while," he was telling his stiff-faced guards, "so don't come bumbling after me. And make sure she doesn't make trouble."
Sango glanced at her worriedly, and Kagome realized her confused heartache must be clearly written on her face.
One agonizing step forward brought her close enough to gently tug on a lock of Inu-Yasha's hair. He shook it from her grasp before rounding on her angrily.
"What?" he demanded. "You've got your nursemaids back, so you can quit following me around everywhere." He huffed and folded his arms, refusing to meet her gaze. "You're worse than Rin. At least she listens when Sesshoumaru tells her to stay put."
"My Lord," Miroku cautioned, he and Sango still sitting tensely on the blanket. Kirara mewed worriedly, glancing between all parties. Kagome could see their cautious confusion. Even though he was their prince, they didn't know whose side to take.
It took her a few tries, but she finally scrawled out, 'I thought we had become friends.'
He didn't turn his face toward her, simply glanced at the paper out of the corner of his eye. "When did I say that?"
The irony of the statement caused a massive shift in the tide of her emotions. Suddenly, instead of the slow creep of depression she felt a crash of anger engulf her. Aside from his long verbal purges, to which she was an impassive listener, most of their communication over the last week hadn't needed speech. Except for the occasional sarcastic comment, they had mostly spoken with emphatic gestures and facial expressions.
It didn't hurt that he seemed to be able to pick up on the even the small nuances of her emotions. Like now. His ears began to slowly twist back as her face darkened in the rage of betrayal. Forget every sympathetic feeling she'd had for him and every moment of imagined kinship.
'Jerk!' she screamed at him and stomped with all her might on his right foot. Not a smart decision she realized almost instantly as pain shot up her leg, leaving it numb. Her only satisfaction was that he yelped and started shaking the offended foot in the air and glaring at her.
Tears pricked her eyes from too many sources of pain for her to identify. Not wanting to give him the satisfaction of breaking down in front of him, she hurled her notebook at his chest as a parting gesture and began hobbling back toward the castle.
"I think you may wish to reconsider that statement," she heard Miroku advise the prince quietly. In another moment Sango had caught up to her and hitched an arm around her waist to relieve most of the weight from her feet.
"He doesn't mean it," she assured quietly, giving Kagome's opposite shoulder a squeeze.
Kagome simply gritted her teeth and shook her head.