Disclaimer: I do not own Inu-Yasha, obviously, nor do I own The Count of Monte Cristo. And while we're at it, let's just add every commercially published piece of literature to that list. Rub it in.
Author's Note: There were just too many character parallels for me not to attempt writing this, but I realize my writing has many flaws. Monte Cristo is the inspiration for this fic, but I'm kind of using it as a springboard, not a direct source. The plot should diverge somewhat in the future.
Anyway, this chapter is brought to you by my currently open beta schedule (curse you, Ivan!), severe procrastination of other projects, and the number 10. It's also dedicated to my little sister, who has a fit every time Monte Cristo is adapted to film, because they always screw up the ending. Enjoy.
Chapter One - A Prisoner's Recollection
The miserable, ragged figure huddled in one corner of the dark room, wide amber eyes staring into nothingness. His little piece of hell had no windows, no source of light except the thin crack between the bottom of a reinforced steel door and the rough stone floor. Even that only provided access for the weak, mercurial flickers of torchlight from the elusive corridor beyond.
He didn't need the light to see anyway. His eyes had long ago become accustomed to the conditions of his imprisonment.
How he wished he could say the same for his nose. The smell of this place constantly threatened to overwhelm him with its ferocity — sweat, grime, urine, blood, and death. Mostly death. It permeated every stone in the wall, seeped through the crack beneath the doorway and filled his senses every second of every day. Most of the time he wished he would just die himself, slip away into oblivion, free from isolation and torment, free from the stench of imprisonment and despair.
In fact, he would have ended his life long ago, if not for the memory of her. For her alone, he would continue to endure this torment, the darkness and the putrid barrage upon his olfactory senses.
The sounds of the prison weren't much better. For the most part he kept his sensitive ears buried beneath long, matted hair, but even that didn't help drown out the screams of other youkai going slowly insane. Sometimes he listened all night to a fellow prisoner slipping off the deep precipice into madness, slamming again and again into a reinforced door, only to be continually and painfully repelled by the demon wards pasted liberally across the outside of every cell.
The caretaker would eventually show up and put an end to that disruptive nonsense. A permanent end.
With not so much as a glimpse of sun over the past four years, he lost track of time very easily, sometimes for weeks on end. Never more than a month, though. Yes, he always knew when another month had passed him by.
Shivering in the clammy cold of the stone room, nothing but a moldy pile of straw and the rags on his back to keep him warm, he curled into a tighter ball and wallowed in his misery. His mind cast back for some avenue of thought he hadn't already explored a million times over. At times like these he could hardly even remember his own name.
What was it again?
A strapping young sailor whipped around at the sound of his name, golden eyes searching for the owner of the summoning voice. A tiny force slammed into his bare, sun-bronzed chest, followed by a slight stinging sensation.
He instinctively slapped it.
"Fine way to greet your employer," the flattened flea youkai intoned painfully, glaring up at him from the palm of his hand.
"I'm contracted for labor, not blood," the sailor retorted, glaring right back. "How'd you get out here anyway, Myoga?" His ship, the Teiou, hadn't even docked yet.
"I hitched a ride out with the customs officials," came the stiff answer. "Being a flea youkai does have its advantages, you know."
Inuyasha snorted derisively, then suddenly turned and barked a string of orders to some of his nearby shipmates. Wiping his brow with the back of his free hand, he refocused his attention on the flea. "So what's so important that you couldn't wait twenty minutes for us to put in to port?" he demanded unceremoniously.
Myoga eyed him suspiciously. "You tell me. Why are you three days late? And why is it you're suddenly giving orders to the crew now?"
"Captain's dead," the inuhanyou bluntly stated, running a free hand through his short, silver hair. "Someone had to take command, and it sure as hell wasn't going to be that pansy Hiten."
"Dead!" the flea youkai exclaimed. "What happened?"
In response he received a careless shrug and a scowl. "How the hell should I know? I'm not a doctor! The guy died!"
"He caught a human disease on the mainland," said a scornful voice from behind. Both turned to view the speaker, a tall, dark-haired demon who wore an expression of clear distaste. "A few others on the crew caught it as well, though none nearly as bad. Those of us with superior youkai blood were unaffected. I told you it was a mistake appointing a human for a captain, didn't I, Myoga?"
The flea demon scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Yes, Hiten, you did," he admitted. "Although I still stand by my decision. This is most distressing news, though. I suppose that explains why you're three days late putting in."
Hiten didn't bother to conceal the scoff that bubbled up from his throat. "That's not why we're late," he sneered. "Your precious first mate here no sooner consigned the captain to a watery grave than he redirected the ship's course to Nishi-no-shima, breaking several laws under the new regime."
Inuyasha openly scowled at him. "You're the stupid bastard that promised the captain on his deathbed we'd deliver that damned letter," he retorted.
"Anything to get him to shut up," Hiten shot back, flinging his hands up angrily. The air around him crackled with electric energy. "The man was raving! Only a fool would willingly put into port at Nishi-no!"
"Well excuse me for honoring your promises!"
"Nobody asked you to!"
"Hiten, shouldn't you be supervising the customs agents down in the cargo area?" Myoga diplomatically spoke up before the two aggressive males could come to blows over their disagreement.
The two continued glaring daggers at one another, locked in a battle of wills, until the elemental youkai snorted and wordlessly turned on his heels, heading below deck. Inuyasha scowled at his retreating back until recalled to his senses by the clearing of his employer's throat.
"Nishi-no?" Myoga prompted expectantly.
"Huh? Yeah," he grimly admitted. "The captain had a letter for some toad that lives there, Jaken or something, said it was important that it get to him. I wouldn't have gone except... well, Hiten promised the captain! He was frantic until that promise, but no sooner was it spoken than he settled down and died peacefully. I figured if he was so worked up about it..." He let his voice trail off, the triangular white ears on top of his head drooping with ill-suppressed guilt.
The flea demon still perched on the palm of his hand muttered something in a low voice, so quiet that even Inuyasha's enhanced hearing couldn't make sense of it.
"What?" he demanded, holding the small creature up to eye level so that he could better glare down at him.
"I said," Myoga hissed, his eyes shifting around nervously, "did you hear any news of the emperor while you were there?"
"Oh, that bastard." Inuyasha waved his free hand airly, his formerly somber mood apparently forgotten. "He's fine. Stuck up, but then, I suppose that's what you'd expect from royalty, even in exile."
"You saw Lord Sesshomaru?"
"Sure. He walked in while I was talking to that toad," he answered with a nonchalant shrug. "Commented on how he had smelled tainted blood and then demanded to hear news of the country. I told him to go to hell."
The flea youkai in his hand looked as though he were going to faint. "You told Lord Sesshomaru to go to hell?" he repeated, flabbergasted.
"He's already halfway there, from what I can tell," Inuyasha drawled, one corner of his mouth lifting in a definite smirk. "That island is so covered in demon wards that I'm still tingling. I can't imagine how he lives with it every day."
"You told Lord Sesshomaru to go to hell!" Myoga cried again, his voice still rife with disbelief.
"Your own brother!"
"Shut up! That bastard is not my brother!" Forgetting the difference in status between the two of them, Inuyasha promptly squashed the flea demon between two fingers and stalked off, muttering to himself.
"Hey!" Myoga shouted after him. "I'm not finished talking to you!"
His cry was lost amid the racket of thirty sailors scrambling in their final preparations to put the ship to port.
"Kikyo, I beg of you to reconsider my offer."
The dark-haired beauty turned away with an expression of sadness in her eyes. "You already know my answer," she stated quietly. "I can offer you nothing more than friendship, Naraku. My heart belongs to another."
"Inuyasha." The name left his lips infused with such loathing that the young woman sitting next to him visibly flinched. "That pup is not worthy of your contempt, let alone your love. He can't even offer you a roof to cover your head, and yet you stubbornly stay by his side."
"He's been saving the money he earns," Kikyo said steadily. "Soon he'll have enough to buy a small house, and then he and I will be married. He may seem rough around the edges, but if you ever tried to get to know him, you would understand why I stay with him. I love him. I'm sorry, Naraku," she added with a sorrowful glance in his direction. A cool breeze wove its way past her, brushing against her cheeks like a lover's caress.
"Sorry," he snarled, his dark red eyes flashing with malice as he fluidly rose to his feet, towering over her. "I don't want your pity, Kikyo. I have half a mind to tear that miserable hanyou limb from limb the next time I lay eyes on him."
"You wouldn't," the miko breathed, standing to place a calming hand on his arm. He jerked away, his lips curling in a derisive sneer. "You wouldn't," she affirmed again as though to convince herself rather than him. "I would die if anything happened to Inuyasha. I don't want to live without him. If you are truly my friend, you would do everything in your power to protect the one I love."
Indecision flashed across his severe, handsome features. "You bear his absence well enough," he pointed out.
"Only because I know he will return. I pray every night for his protection at sea."
"And yet, his ship is three days late."
"The Teiou will come home to port," she stated firmly, her smoky gray eyes taking on a hardened expression. "And Inuyasha will come home with it, safe and sound. We're going to be married, he and I, and I'll give up my position as a miko and become a normal woman."
"Such pretty dreams," Naraku sneered, catching hold of her upper arm and forcing her to look him in the eyes. "But I could offer you so much more than a mere hovel and an oft-empty bed, Kikyo. I'm moving up in the world, and I want you to come with me, as my wife."
She stared at him for a long moment before gently pulling out of his grasp. "Oh, Naraku," she murmured. "You just don't understand. Someday, when you find someone you truly love with all your heart, you'll realize that all the riches and status in the world don't matter, so long as you have that certain someone by your side."
He would have answered; the retort stood on the tip of his tongue, but their conversation was interrupted by the call of a young child.
The miko whipped around, eyes resting on the little girl sprinting headlong toward her. "Sayo?" she prompted.
"Kikyo, the Teiou has come to harbor!" Sayo announced breathlessly, bounding forward to snatch the woman's hand, dragging her back the way she had just come.
"It has? When?"
"It was spotted half an hour ago; it's docking now! Come on, come on!"
Naraku watched in immense displeasure as the object of his desire allowed herself to be pulled away from him, away from the shrine, down toward the docks. That hanyou, he thought in disgust. Someone needs to get rid of him permanently. Someone unconnected with himself, the logical part of his mind added. If Kikyo thought he was involved in Inuyasha's death, she would likely never speak to him again. More likely, she would fly into a rage and pin him to a tree with one of her sacred arrows.
He winced at the thought of such a demise. He hadn't come this far in life just to be snuffed out by a heartbroken priestess. No, whatever happened to Inuyasha would have to appear to have nothing whatsoever to do with him. This would take some serious plotting...
And Naraku loved nothing more than serious plotting.
"I assure you, Hiten, I am perfectly sincere."
The flabbergasted elemental demon stared down at the flea youkai perched on his shoulder. They were supposed to be overseeing the unloading of the ship's cargo, but his employer's announcement had taken him so by surprise that he completely forgot the task at hand. "You're going to make that—that hanyou captain?" he angrily demanded, still not sure he had heard correctly.
"Well, he was first mate," Myoga reasoned, rubbing two of his hands together. "Besides, the crew seem to respect him, human and demon alike."
"B-but, even after he put into port at Nishi-no...?"
"Actually, that's what put my decision over the top," the flea demon stated. "I highly value those who keep promises made, especially when those promises weren't their own," he added, unable to keep the slight edge from his voice. "As you were the one who made the promise, you should have also been the one insisting to follow through with it."
"Nishi-no-shima is off-limits," Hiten shot back. "Everyone knows that! If the government catches wind that we were there..."
"No harm was done," Myoga interrupted nonchalantly. "A simple letter was delivered. It's not as though you attempted to help the emperor escape his exile. Pity," he added under his breath, too low for Hiten to make out the word.
"Myoga, I'd advise you to reconsider. Inuyasha is one of the youngest men on board; he would be the youngest captain in your fleet of ships. He doesn't have near enough experience to hold such a position!"
The flea demon waved aside his concerns. "He went to sea ten years ago as a mere cabin boy. Trust me. He's grown up on the sea; he knows what he's doing. And what little he may lack in experience, he makes up for in instinct. My decision is made, Hiten. And here comes the lucky hanyou now. Shall we inform him of his good fortune?
"Inuyasha!" he called out to attract the silver-haired sailor's attention.
"What?" came the disagreeable response, accompanied by an unfriendly glare.
"Let the others attend to the unloading," Myoga commanded, motioning for him to put down the crate of oranges he was carrying. "I have some news for you."
Inuyasha eyed him suspiciously but obediently set his load down and approached the two supervising demons with apprehension. "What news?" he asked, his gaze darting between the tiny flea youkai and a very disgruntled Hiten.
"How would you like the Teiou?" Myoga inquired, stretching his four arms wide in a gesture that would have seemed grandiose if performed by a larger creature.
The sun-bronzed sailor ran a hand through his cropped silver hair. "How would I like it what?" he asked in confusion, a furrow wrinkling his brow.
"Captain! How would you like to be captain?"
The furrow deepened, accompanied by a reflective expression that seemed very out of place on the hanyou's face. "Me? Captain? Myoga, are you serious?"
The flea demon looked as though he would explode. "Yes, I'm serious!" he cried, hopping up and down on Hiten's shoulder. "Why does everyone question what I say? Is it because I'm so small? I am the one who makes the final decisions around here, remember?"
Inuyasha's expression, meanwhile, gave way to an almost amused look, one corner of his mouth curling in an unmistakable smirk. "Me, a captain, huh? 'Captain Inuyasha.' Yeah, I could live with that. You better not be joking with me, Myoga," he added in a warning voice.
"I'm not joking," the flea huffed. "The Teiou is yours if you want it. What do you say?"
"Do I get a raise in pay?"
"Of course. Captain's salary. And if I'm not mistaken, that will allow you to afford your own house, meaning..."
The three men whipped around to face the docks, picking out the form of a white-and-red clad miko gracefully moving through the crowd of sailors, her eager eyes fixed on the inuhanyou.
"Kikyo," he breathed, transfixed by the mere sight of her after such a long absence. "Can I tell her?" he suddenly demanded of Myoga, a desperate gleam entering into his golden eyes.
"By all means, please do. I'm sure she'll be glad... to hear..." The flea's voice died out as he realized he was speaking to the wind. His new captain had already leapt off the ship toward his love.
"Well, I think that went well," Myoga stated, watching as the couple shyly reunited.
Hiten merely grunted.
"I knew you'd come back," Kikyo blushed delicately, her hands clasped in his as sailors brushed by on either side of them. She had to mentally force herself to keep her eyes on his face rather than allowing them to stray down to his bare chest.
"Keh. Of course I did," he stated somewhat gruffly, his own cheeks tinged pink beneath his tan. "Nothing could keep me away from you for long."
Her gaze dropped to the rough wooden planks of the docks on which they stood and the dark, glistening glimpses of water between the cracks. "I know that," she murmured, squeezing his hands as a soft smile touched her lips.
He loved that smile, the way her mouth would faintly curve as though she knew a secret the rest of the world could never even fathom. Kikyo didn't smile often, and it was all the more precious in its rarity. Even so, he wanted to see her smile more, to bask in her joy. She had too much responsibility for one so young, and Inuyasha longed for the day when she could put those cares behind her and truly become happy.
"Come on," he said, tugging her shoreward. "I have some news for you."
"Good news?" she inquired wistfully as she allowed him to lead her forward.
"Some good," he acknowledged as they faded into the crowd.
What had become of her, the prisoner mentally wondered. Memories of her face alone kept him alive, kept him from falling into that void of insanity that forever loomed on the edges of his consciousness.
Kikyo, Kikyo, Kikyo.
She was the one good thing in his miserable life, the only person who had loved him the way he was, who had accepted him wholeheartedly. She was his ray of light in this stinking hellhole, his sole purpose for living in the hopes of one day being set free.
What had become of her?
Those days spent together seemed a lifetime ago rather than a few paltry years. She had sworn her love to him, declared that she would live with him and die with him. She had intended to give up her life as a miko, powerful though she was, in order to be with him.
His mind lingered on memories of her beautiful face, the porcelain-white skin and cloudy gray eyes. He could still recall the silky texture of her hair and the satin feel of her soft lips against his in the few times he had actually dared kiss her. Most of the time she was untouchable, a goddess among mortals, something to be worshiped and cherished.
And he had worshiped her. He still did.
A/N: Just for clarification, this fic should jump between present and past for the first three chapters. However, the flashbacks are not Inu-Yasha's memories, since a lot of them contain things he couldn't possibly know. Let's just say it's a rhetorical device and leave it at that.
Also, I've found that there are two islands called Nishi-no-shima. One is in a cluster just west of the main island of Japan (situated in the Sea of Japan), and the other is south, lying just west of the Bonin Islands. The one I had in mind is the south one, as it's pretty isolated. I have no idea whether it can actually support life, just that it's a volcanic island out in the middle of nowhere. But since this is fiction, we'll just say that it's like a tropical paradise. If any readers have an issue with that you can a) quit reading, b) pretend it's a third, imaginary Nishi-no, or c) send a scathing flame for my personal amusement. Happy readings!