KILL OR BE KILLED

An Inu-Yasha Short Story

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Hi! Some of you probably know me from my Eva parodies ("Oh My Evangelion," "The Evangelion Matrix") and my serious Evafic ("Evolution", plug plug), but here lately I've gotten interested in Rumiko Takahashi's "serious" tale (as opposed to the chaos that is "Ranma ½") about a half-demon, a schoolgirl, and a magical jewel–thanks to fellow Anime Central congoers Tim and T-Dog for that one! In any case, after marathoning the available Inu-Yasha DVDs here where I live in Podunk, USA, I feel ready to try my hand at something non-Eva as a change of pace.

Note that while I usually write comedies, this is (I hope) a pretty serious story. Any period of feudal Japan was dangerous for the unwary, and the Sengoku Period was worse than most. Samurai could kill those of lower castes without warning or any real reason, and both bandits and ronin abounded to ambush and rob travelers. They were not always content to simply take what they wanted; sometimes they left no witnesses. After watching "The Demon's True Nature" episode and reading Stan Sakai's Duel at Kitanoji graphic novel in the "Usagi Yojimbo" series, it got me thinking: what would happen if the Inu-Yasha cast ran into murderous ronin? And how much of an impact has the terrible bloodshed of the Sengoku Period left on Kagome Higurashi, who is at heart just a modern teenage girl?

I'm not endorsing anything in this story, or saying its conclusion is wrong or right, or trying to set up some sort of moral message. I also don't know what, exactly, Inuyasha's mother was like or if he actually would talk at length instead of grunt, growl, and confine himself to monosyllabic words. But hey, it's a story. Take from it what you will.

Next time I'll write something funny..."Eva-Yasha" comes to mind...

–Benjamin Donnelly, Sentinel28A

DISCLAIMER: Naturally, I don't own Inu-Yasha or any properties related to it (except for some fanart!).

WARNING! This story deals with violence, death, and mature themes. If you don't think you can handle the Inu-Yasha characters being thrust into something that is in no way funny or pretty, then don't read this story.

"War is a best barbarism…its glory all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell."

--General William Tecumseh Sherman

Kagome Higurashi hummed happily to herself as she walked down the forest path. It was a beautiful day, though the forest was thick enough that she could only get glimpses of a cerulean blue sky. The shade was preferable to open sky, however–it was a hot day, and the humidity was enough that she was already feeling sticky with sweat. She wondered how her friends were taking it–Miroku wore dark robes, Sango wore a black skintight battle outfit underneath her kimono, and of course Inuyasha had on his heavy hakama. Only Shippo and Kirara seemed affected; Shippo had stripped off his upper kimono and was walking barechested, while Kirara panted to cool her body. Then again, Kagome thought, they're used to this. I have air conditioning where I come from. She took a drink from a water bottle attached to her bicycle, and kept on. There were rumors of a Shikon jewel shard in the mountains north of them, and naturally Inuyasha wanted to get there as soon as possible.

She glanced back at Miroku and Sango, who were deep in conversation. For once, the monk was keeping his hands to himself. Shippo was busy chasing a butterfly. Kagome quickened her pace a little to draw even with Inuyasha. "Want some water?" she asked, offering the bottle.

"Mm," he mumbled. He took a drink and wordlessly handed the bottle back to her. She half-expected him to say something else, but the silence stretched on into long minutes. He glanced at her a few times as she stared at him, then finally asked in irritation, "What?"

"Nothing," she smiled. "I was just wondering...um...do you sweat or pant?"

"What kind of a question is that?" he growled.

"Just a question. Kami, Inuyasha, what's wrong with you? You've been grumpy all day."

He bit back a retort. "I'm hot," he finally said. "And sweaty."

There's one question answered, Kagome thought. "We could travel at night, when it's cooler."

"Not in this area. These roads can be pretty dangerous at night. For humans," he added with a half-grin.

"Of course," Kagome replied sarcastically. "No bandit can harm the great Inuyasha!"

The hanyou made a show of thinking about it for a moment. "Yeah, that's about right–" He suddenly stopped, hands automatically going to the hilt of Tetsusaiga. Kagome stopped as well, noticing Inuyasha's nose twitch. "What is it?" she asked, before he raised a hand in silence. Shippo bounded over to ask, but Kagome hushed him with a finger to her lips. "What do you smell?" Kagome said quietly.

"Blood." His ears twitched as well. "And I hear what sounds like a battle ahead."

"I hear it as well," Sango said, coming up behind them. "Should we keep going?"

"Not much choice," Miroku whispered. "The forest is too thick to break through, and this is the only road through the mountains." He slightly loosened the prayer beads on his covered right hand. "There's been no rumors of armies in the area–if it's just a skirmish, we can probably wait it out or find a way around."

"Let's go, then." Inuyasha began walking briskly forward, slightly bent, sniffing the air. Kagome's heart began to pound, and she looked at the woods nervously. In their hunt for the Shikon no Tama, she and her companions had seen plenty of the aftermath of battles, and a few minor skirmishes. For Miroku, Sango, Shippo, and Inuyasha, such sights were nothing new in their world. For Kagome, who had grown up in a Japan at peace with itself and the world, the sight of piles of steaming, flyblown dead had been horrifying. She was never able to treat it with the casual indifference her friends did.

After a few tense minutes, they came to the edge of the forest. The road dipped into a small valley before beginning the torturous route into the high mountains. Below them, the group saw the origin of the smell and the noise.

It was a slaughter. A small group of farmers on their way to market had been ambushed by what looked to be about a dozen armed men in armor. It was a good two hundred meters away, Kagome estimated, but even at this distance she could see bloody corpses dressed in simple kimonos sprawled in the road, in a loose semicircle where they had tried to defend their carts and died. Only a few men were left, and the group could hear the screams of the women and children huddled underneath the carts. "Buddha have mercy," Miroku gasped.

"We've got to stop this," Kagome said, looking at Inuyasha.

"It's none of our business," Inuyasha replied tightly, though the muscles bunched at the corner of his jaws showed he cared more than he wanted to show.

"I think it just became our business." Sango pointed as a rider detached himself from the attack and rode towards the group. Inuyasha instantly stepped between the bandit and Kagome, just slightly unsheathing Tetsusaiga; behind her, Sango put a hand on her hiraikotsu boomerang, shuffling off her kimono to get her battle suit's freedom of movement. Kagome reached towards her bow, unsure of what to do. These bandits weren't demons, after all.

The rider brought his horse up short at the sight of Inuyasha. He waved his katana imperiously at the group. "You there! Go back the way you came or die where you stand!" Behind the rider, Kagome saw a farmer try to fend off another mounted bandit with a hoe, and get run through with a spear for his efforts. A woman shrieked, ran out from under a cart, and picked up the fallen hoe, as her husband staggered backwards, blood spurting visibly from the wound.

"That's enough," Inuyasha snarled, and Tetsusaiga hissed free of its scabbard. He leveled it at the bandit. "You leave, right now, or I'm going to carve you into pieces!"

Spurred by bloodlust and the heat, the rider shouted a warning to his companions and charged Inuyasha, sword raised over his head. Inuyasha stood his ground, ignoring Kagome's shouts to dodge, then shifted to one side a split second before the horse would have run him down. He smashed a fist into the horse's teeth as it flew past. Backed by a hanyou's strength, the horse neighed, reared back, and collapsed, spilling its rider into a foul-smelling ditch alongside the road.

The other bandits instantly shifted their attention to Inuyasha and his friends. Three mounted men rode at them, two with bloody spears, the other nocking an arrow. Kagome instinctively pulled her bow from her back and also nocked an arrow, but she hesitated to fire. She aimed it at the rider with the bow nonetheless, hoping to at least deter him from firing at Inuyasha. She saw the rider release his arrow and realized in fright that it was coming straight at her. Kagome yelped and dropped to the ground, reflexes honed fighting demons saving her from being impaled but the fall knocking the breath out of her. She looked up and saw the three horsemen brought down as Sango's hirakotsu whirred through the air, taking them out of their saddles. As the riderless horses rode past, the remaining bandits now completely left off attacking the farmers and went straight for Inuyasha and Sango.

"Kagome!" Miroku yelled. "Are you all right?"

"I'm okay!" she shouted back. "Go help Inuyasha!"

"Shippo! Stay here and protect Kagome." Miroku dashed forward, bringing up his staff. He took up a position next to Sango and Kirara, who caught her hiraikotsu and readied for another throw. The bandits stopped their headlong rush and began to spread out, wary of the boomerang. Inuyasha could see that the men were no ordinary bandits: their armor was in too good of repair, and their discipline was too good. They were most likely a ronin band who had turned to thievery to survive; it made them no less dangerous or able to be reasoned with. Kagome got her breath back and started getting to her feet, gritting her teeth in pain. She had skinned her knees. Shippo, always loyal, stood ready in front of her as Inuyasha had, though his growls were not exactly intimidating.

With a shout, the bandits charged forward, trying to overwhelm the three young fighters with sheer numbers. Their charge died stillborn, however, as Inuyasha bared his fangs and Kirara suddenly tripled in size from that of a kitten to that of a sabretooth tiger, flames erupting from her paws. They began to back away, and Inuyasha grinned toothily, feeling the ronin band about to break and run, belatedly realizing that they weren't dealing with either farmers or a simple band of travelers this time. Though his youkai blood fairly screamed at him to wade in with Tetsusaiga and slaughter the ronin, to give them what they had given the farmers, he would kill only if necessary–this time.

Then he heard Shippo's yell of warning.

The rider who had first attacked Inuyasha had pulled himself out of the ditch and saw the others pulling back. He looked at Kagome and saw a chance to even the odds. Not seeing his katana, he unsheathed a tanto knife and dashed onto the road.

Shippo saw the movement out of the corner of one eye. "Kagome, look out!" was all he had time to say before he readied the one real offensive magic he had. "Foxf–" The ronin was quicker than Shippo had anticipated, though, and delivered a savage kick to the kitsune's chest. Shippo flew backwards, rolling over Kagome's fallen bicycle to lie motionless on the opposite edge of the road.

"Shippo!" Kagome screamed, but the ronin was on her now, reaching out with a rough hand to grab at her blouse. Instinctively, she swung the bow like a club, smashing the man in the face. A tooth went flying and the ronin staggered, but when he looked back at Kagome, there was murder in his eyes. His original intention had been to simply take her hostage, but thought disappeared in a red haze of rage. Before Kagome could dodge, he tackled her to the ground, his armor pinning her down. With an incoherent growl of pure hatred, he put the tanto to her neck.

Kagome's left hand had come down on the shaft of the arrow she had dropped a few moments before. Before she realized what was happening, her fingers closed around the shaft and she rammed it into the side of his neck. The arrowhead tore through flesh and cartilage with a wet, slippery sound and came out the other side. Blood exploded from cut arteries and veins to cover both of them.

Kagome would never forget the look of surprise on the ronin's face. He dropped the knife, scrabbled uselessly at the gaping wound in his throat, then fell across Kagome's chest, eyes going glassy with death.

Inuyasha whirled at Shippo's yell and Kagome's scream. All he saw was her go down underneath the ronin and then the sudden spray of crimson. The hanyou howled, turned, and smashed Tetsusaiga against the road. "KAZE NO KIZU!" The ground rose up and exploded upwards in four huge cracks that tossed men in the air like dolls. When the smoke cleared and pebbles stopped raining down, Inuyasha pointed the giant sword at the ronin who were still able to move. "If she's dead," he snarled, "I will come back and feast on your innards. Sango, watch them." Before she could protest, he sheathed Tetsusaiga and hurried back to Kagome.

Miroku had already rushed to her side. Grunting with effort, he tried to pull the corpse off the schoolgirl, when the body was flung aside. Inuyasha hesitated, afraid to look at Kagome, afraid to see if she was dead. It was Miroku who first reached out to Kagome's trembling body. "Kagome, are you all right?"

She was shaking like a leaf, her skin pale where it wasn't coated in gore. Her eyes shifted frantically from Miroku to Inuyasha, wide and wild. "I...I...killed...I...killed..." she stammered out. She looked down at her ruined fuku. "I'm...I'm a mess...how will mother ever get the stain out..."

Inuyasha abruptly reached out and, with more gentleness that Miroku had ever seen him show, gently drew Kagome into the folds of his hakama. Kagome continued to babble, tears running unfelt down her face, and Inuyasha merely held her. He looked at Miroku, who nodded, rose, and checked on Shippo. The kitsune was groggily getting back up, with a black eye to show for his effort. Seeing that Shippo was all right, Miroku returned to Sango's side. She still held her weapon at waist level, but the fight had gone out of the remaining ronin. "Strip to your fundoshi and leave," Miroku ordered them. When they hesitated, Sango looked to Kirara, who started forward, growling menacingly. After that, there was no hesitation.

Six of the farmers were dead; three more were badly wounded. The women, Miroku, and Sango tended to their wounds as best they could, then helped bury the dead. Besides the man Kagome had killed, three of the ronin had also died–wounded by Inuyasha's Wind Scar and then killed by the vengeful peasants. The others had scampered off through the rice paddies, mostly naked and unarmed. Their weapons and loot were given to the farmers, in some degree of compensation for their loss. For the grieving widows, there could never be any true compensation.

As for Inuyasha's party, they got into the foothills of the mountains just after nightfall, wanting to put some distance between themselves and the site of the attack, in case the ronin band was larger and attempted to come back. Finding a secluded spot next to a cool lake, the group made camp for the night. Kagome, who had come out of her shaking fit, was still in a state of shock and had been carried by an unprotesting Inuyasha. Other than what was necessary, no one spoke from the time they left the grateful farmers until they reached the campsite. They had eaten very sparingly, and although glances were shared between them, no one was able to speak with Kagome–much less Inuyasha, who took up his customary position in a tree, stating he would take first watch.

"I'm going to go wash," Kagome said quietly into the silence.

"I'll help you." Sango got up with her and for once knew she didn't have to shoot the monk a warning glance not to try to peek. She helped Kagome gather her shampoo and soap, and walked with her to the pool. Kagome silently stripped and waded into the pool, not noticing how cold it was, and began to thoroughly scrub herself. They had used the remnants of the water bottle to wash off the blood at the battle site, but some stains had dried on her hands and neck.

Sango dipped Kagome's blouse into the water and began scraping the blood off with a comb. "You can borrow one of my kimonos, if you like," she said.

"That's okay," Kagome replied, her voice still quiet. "I can wear my pajamas to bed tonight."

"I mean, tomorrow. I don't know if your soap will get out the bloodstains."

"Your kimono will be fine then."

Sango nodded. She did what she could for the fuku, then draped it over a nearby branch to dry. Kagome's other clothes were fine. She noticed Kagome busily washing her hands, although she had already washed her hands several times. The soap suddenly shot out of her fingers to land with a splash, and Kagome frantically grabbed at it. Her trembling fingers would not allow her to grasp it. Kagome swore in frustration and continued to splash for the soap, until it was scooped up and her hands gently closed around it. She looked up into Sango's face; the other woman had waded out into the pool, despite the fact that her kimono was getting soaked. "You're...getting wet," Kagome said.

"I needed a bath anyway." The joke fell flat. Sango put an arm around Kagome's shoulders as the girl began washing her hands again. "Kagome, you've washed your hands at least six times now."

"The blood won't come out." She dropped the soap and stuck her hands in Sango's face. "See? It's still there! It's still there...oh, Kami, why?" Kagome burst into tears and buried her face in Sango's shoulder, bawling. Sango gently smoothed her hair like a mother to her daughter.

Unseen in the shadows, Inuyasha watched from his tree. He tensed to jump down, to run out into the pool and tell Kagome it was all right, but stopped himself. "No," he whispered. "It's not all right." He turned away and stared at the stars, wondering if he could ever say what he felt.

Much later, the moon had set and the night was quiet. Everyone slept soundly, exhausted after the day's battle–except for Kagome.

Shippo had curled up next to Kagome's sleeping bag, trying to offer some comfort. She appreciated the sentiment, and allowed herself a small smile as she tousled the kitsune's hair a little. Shippo mumbled something in his sleep and snuggled closer. Poor thing, Kagome thought as she looked at the bruise under Shippo's left eye. She laid down and stared into the fire. The crying on Sango's shoulder had helped purge the shock from her system, but in some way, she preferred when her mind had simply been blank. She remembered only dimly being carried by Inu-Yasha, the helping of the villagers, even when they set up camp...yet she remembered every pore of the ronin's face, his bad teeth, the smell of soy as he breathed his last breath onto her face. She went over every facet of her fight, which seemed to her to have taken ten minutes, but had actually lasted less than ten seconds from the time Shippo yelled out to the time the ronin had died.

I killed him. The thought kept repeating itself in her mind. One part of Kagome wondered why this death bothered her so; after all, she had either killed or contributed to the death of several demons, and had stood by uncaring, watching Inuyasha slice them apart, Sango bash them to death, or Miroku absorb them in his wind tunnel. But that's different. They were demons...they were pure evil. Most of them had no soul, not even really a life. But this man was a human being. He had a mother and a father, maybe even a little brother like Souta is to me. He had a knife at my throat–but was he really going to kill me? Was it self-defense, or murder? Her eyes screwed up as the tears started again. How can I live with this shame?

She heard the slightest of footsteps near her and closed her eyes, pretending to be asleep. She felt Inuyasha's rough hand hesitantly brush against her hair, his claws catching up strands of it. Unable to act any longer, she opened her eyes and looked up at him.

Inuyasha jumped back as if she had transformed into a snake. "I'm–I'm sorry, I thought–"

"Shh," she whispered. "Don't wake Shippo." Their eyes locked for a moment, then he turned away. "Are you okay?" he asked at length.

"No," she replied simply.

"Uh..." Everything Inuyasha had thought of saying abruptly disappeared from his brain.

Finally, Kagome said, so low even he had trouble hearing her, "Was it like this...for you?"

"Eh? What do you mean?" Inuyasha knew exactly what she meant, but he was hesitant to reply. That would mean opening up to her. That would mean revealing a piece of his soul he had revealed to no one, not even Kikyo.

"Back at the village a few weeks ago. When you became a full youkai and killed Gatenmaru's men." She reached out a hand and idly began playing with a blade of grass. "I told you that I knew how you felt. But I lied, Inuyasha. I didn't know...I do now." She looked at her hand. "Just like you, I couldn't get the blood off."

"He was going to kill you, Kagome," Inuyasha whispered. "He had blood on his hands too–those farmers."

"You don't know that," she rasped back, although she knew he was right.

"Which would you rather be," Inuyasha snapped, "alive and feeling bad, or dead and feeling nothing?" He folded his arms across his chest, wondering if taking the tough tone was the right thing to do. Then he heard Kagome crying, and mentally slapped himself. He took a deep breath and crawled over to her, placing his hand on hers. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that." Kagome did not reply, but neither did she withdraw her hand.

It was silent for a long time. Kagome managed to dry her eyes, drawing strength from Inuyasha's hand. She was surprised when he suddenly spoke.

"I think I was ten years old." At her questioning look, he glanced at her, then away again. "When I killed the first time." Kagome gasped. "He was a human–a ronin, too. I can't even remember what got the fight started. Maybe he made fun of my mother or made fun of me. All I knew was, he got me so mad that I attacked him. I was pretty dumb, then." He laughed softly. "I remember he said he was going to stick my ears on a money string. He would have, too–he had a katana and he wasn't half bad with it. But I got in a lucky shot with my claws, and he died."

"How did you feel?"

"Heh. Pretty good. I was hurt a little, so I went back to my mother and bragged I had killed a ronin." This time he looked at her and continued to. "She slapped me, Kagome. She said I should never be proud to kill, especially a human. She told me I had taken the most precious thing in the universe–a human life.

"I felt pretty bad, then. She got the whole story and told me I had done what was necessary to live, and that she was glad I was alive–but that I should not glory in the fact that I'd killed someone. That's why I felt so horrible when I killed Gatenmaru's ronin. You said that I had done the right thing, and killed defending innocents. But it scared me, Kagome. It's all really hazy, but I do remember that it was so easy to kill. I really was just like my brother at that point."

"Then what I did was wrong."

"No, Kagome." Inuyasha laid down next to her, still gripping her hand. "What you did was necessary. There's a war going on all around us, and sometimes we have to kill or be killed. You have to realize that. We didn't start that fight with the farmers. Even if I had turned around and walked off, you or Sango or Miroku would have stepped up to stop those ronin–and I guess you would have been right to. Any of us would have killed to defend ourselves–even Shippo, I bet." He shook his head. "I guess they don't have wars in your time."

If only that were true, Kagome thought sadly. Her grandfather had fought in the Pacific War, in China. He didn't talk about it, and Kagome knew he had been a very young man, about Miroku's age. The one time she had pressed him about it, needing a topic for a history paper she had to write, all Grandfather had said was that he had never known humans could be so cruel to other humans, and not to believe everything that was in her textbooks. "They still fight wars in my time, Inuyasha."

"Huh. Not surprised."

"What do I do now?"

He sighed. "You keep going. You keep living. I'm glad you're alive, Kagome. If you had died...I don't know what I..."

"You would have survived. You would have gathered all the shards of the Shikon no Tama." Kagome rolled over and stared at the stars. "I'll survive too, Inuyasha. I won't forget...but I'll live." She turned her hands over so that they were palm to palm. "Thank you."

Not having the words, the hanyou just nodded. He watched Kagome until she finally fell asleep, their hands still gripped together.

"Life is a whole, and good and ill must be accepted together."

--Winston Churchill