There was finally an end to them in sight.
Kikyo launched arrow after arrow, unable to look back at Kaede, to see so vividly the consequences of her choice… of what happened to the people she was supposed to protect when she chose Inuyasha, herself, over them…
Inuyasha himself was slashing through demon after demon, spending so much time in the air that she was half- convinced he could fly. To someone else, his tight expression might have looked like his usual glower, but Kikyo had been around him long enough that she recognized the worry and anger in his face.
Oh, Kaede, I'm so very sorry…
One more arrow, another flash of yellow light, and the demons were gone. Kikyo immediately whirled, kneeling next to her sister. "Kaede?"
The little girl tried to smile up at her. "I'm fine, oneesama. Sorry to worry you…"
Inuyasha touched down next to them.
Kikyo spared him the briefest of glances. "Kaede, let me see."
The girl's hand tightened over her wounded eye. "No, it's fine." She attempted to rise, but both Kikyo and Inuyasha's hands shot out to her shoulders.
"Let me see." Kikyo ordered.
The remaining brown eye trembled up to meet her gaze, and Kaede's hand slowly, reluctantly dragged itself away from her wound.
Kikyo drew in a quick breath but kept the calm miko mask on her face. It was worse than she'd thought. She felt Inuyasha look at her.
Kaede took advantage of their suddenly slacked grips to stand. "It… it probably looks worse than it is, oneesama. Please, don't worry…" She wobbled.
Inuyasha swept her up and looked to the miko. "I'll take her to your hut." Kikyo nodded and started running as he leapt from roof to roof, avoiding the villagers.
When they reached the sisters' residence, Inuyasha dropped neatly down in front of the door. "I'm fine, Inuyasha. Thank you for being concerned, but…"
"Shut up, kid." he said, but there was a complete lack of rancor in his tone. "If you're so fine, why is your hand over that wound again?"
There was nothing Kaede could say to that. Kikyo saved her from having to make a reply, dashing past them into the hut with Inuyasha on her heels; the hanyou set Kaede down on a futon as her sister grabbed herbs and rushed over to them.
"Kaede, your hand." she chastised.
The girl dropped the offending limb. "Sorry…"
"Inuyasha, would you get me some water?" Kikyo asked, already chopping and mixing the herbs; she paused only briefly to light a fire.
He grabbed a pot and was out the door before she'd finished speaking.
"How do you feel, Kaede?"
Her sister looked to be blurring around the edges and everything seemed oddly muffled to Kaede. "I'm fine, oneesama…"
"Quit saying you're fine when you're not!" the miko shot back angrily, and the girl blinked in surprise. That was a mistake; without her hand to hold it in place, the eyelid above her wound went over it, and Kaede couldn't quite stifle a whimper.
"Oh, Kaede, I'm sorry…" Kikyo's voice cracked on the last, but her hands remained steady and fast.
Inuyasha came back in and put the pot over the fire without being asked.
"Thank you, Inuyasha." Kikyo said absently.
The muffling was getting worse; things seemed to be slowing down now, passing her by, and it was only from a distance that Kaede saw Kikyo's worried face as she slumped into unconsciousness.
Inuyasha caught her before she could slide the rest of the way to the floor. "It's all right, Kikyo; it's probably better that she's out for this part."
She conceded the point with silence, working with quick efficiency to mix the herbs and get everything ready for when the water started to boil. It did so with a rapidity that Kikyo was supremely grateful for, and she went about the grim task of cleaning out the wound as Inuyasha held her sister.
"There's no saving it." Kikyo said grimly. "This eye's going to have to come out."
"I'll do it." Inuyasha volunteered, sensing the miko's unwillingness.
"I'm responsible, I should-"
"It was an accident. Here…" he handed Kaede over and severed the remaining tissue from the dreadful hole in the girl's head.
Kikyo passed Kaede back over to him silently when it was done, packing bandaging and herbs into the wound. When she was done, Inuyasha gently laid the girl down- brushing a stray lock of hair out of her face while Kikyo had her back turned getting a blanket- and stepped aside as Kikyo covered her up.
"All we can do now is wait." Kikyo said softly.
"Do you… want me to stay?" Inuyasha hesitantly asked.
Her expression was unreadable. "I… I think I'd like some time alone with her, if you don't mind."
His amber eyes searched her face. "Fine- you know where I am if you need me." He didn't want to leave her alone like this, but…
"I will." she pledged, watching his back as he left the hut, giving her a final glance over his shoulder.
Pain greeted Kaede's return to consciousness and she sucked in a breath.
Kikyo was at her side in an instant. "Does it hurt? Here, take this."
"No! No, it's fine, oneesama." Kaede dragged herself upright. It did hurt, but she'd gotten better at controlling it… and she was so sick of the herbs, of their taste and the way they clouded her thinking, that she was willing to bear it. "How long?"
Kikyo knew what she meant. "About three days."
Kaede kept her wince from her face. Three days… three days, she'd been in and out of consciousness.
"Kaede…" her sister's gaze dropped to the floor. "Gomen nasai. You got hurt because of me…"
For an instant, Kaede was tempted to agree, to guilt her sister into going back to the way things had been before and never letting her see Inuyasha again- but the memory of Kikyo putting the lipstick on, of her sister suddenly starting to bathe every day, of how happy she looked after she'd been with Inuyasha and she didn't think anyone saw her, and Kaede wasn't able to do it. The remaining brown eye that met Kikyo's matching ones was clear. "It wasn't your fault, Oneesama. These things happen."
"That's no excuse." the miko muttered.
"Quit beating yourself up about it!" Kaede said, exasperated. "Do you think I haven't noticed that you've been in here almost every waking minute of every day? That you get far less sleep than you should? That you haven't seen Inuyasha since-" she stopped; she'd crossed a line, and she knew it.
Kikyo's face was carefully blank.
"You've saved my life, Oneesama. You've done enough; it's fine." she finished quietly.
The miko inclined her head. "Arigatou, Kaede."
The girl smiled.
A/N: Not as good as I would have liked, but it's the best I can do right now. So, what do y'all think?