Blood Ties, Blood Lies

Chapter Six: Life Goes On

Yay, another chapter being released in an astonishingly timely manner! Don't get used to it! I actually already had most of this written by the time I'd decided to post chapter 5, so that's why this update is coming so soon. But never fear, I do intend to continue it as quickly as possible! Thank you so much to those readers who have returned, and thank you also to my new readers and reviewers. It's your commentary and praise that warm a poor writer's heart. ^_^

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Modern Era, late July

School hadn't started up again yet, but Kagome was already hard at work. She had summer homework to do, as well as plenty of studying to catch up with her classes and prepare for the high school entrance exams.

She sat at her desk with a small fan blowing in her face, dressed in a tank top and shorts. "Ahhhh…it's so hot!" she groaned, fanning herself with her workbook. "I can't believe jii-chan dumped purification sake onto the air conditioner! His so-called powers don't even work anyways."

She paused and slumped thoughtfully in her chair. Rituals performed by her grandfather certainly didn't seem to work. However, the ritual he had shown her to seal the well had worked very well when she performed it, much to jii-chan's surprise. Since then, never once had any hint of blue light emerged from it, no voices, no nagging feelings. Her connection to the past had been cut off quite cleanly.

It had been hard to deal with at first. For weeks, she had grieved, had shut herself in her room and acted quite oddly around her family. But what was done was done. She had done what was necessary, what was right, even though it pained her even now.

Kagome sighed. What I wouldn't give to hear his voice or to be on his strong back. I'd face a hundred demons just to stroke his ears again.

But there was no way out of it. It would be wrong for her to go back. What she had learned a month ago while researching had devastated her, ripped through her like a spear. She felt disgusting and dirty, half wondering if she would even be able to use her powers of purification if she returned to Inuyasha's side. If only she had never found out…

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Takeda Katsu: ~1500 AD

Little is known about Katsu of the Takeda clan. He was adopted by the clan around the age of fifteen and became as a younger son to the leader at the time, Lord Hatori. Made a general by his adopted brother, Lord Shinnosuke, he went on to lead the Takeda's army to many victories before retiring and marrying Aiko of the Nishitori clan. They raised two children, and he died at approximately the age of sixty. This is all the factual knowledge available.

According to legend, Katsu was not an ordinary human. Some stories say he was a youkai who so loved Aiko that he gave up his youkai powers and took on a human form to have her. Others say that he was blessed by the gods and grew unnaturally quickly, reaching a height of eight feet by adulthood with strength to match. Another says that he was plagued by possession by a youkai that sometimes gave him unusual strength and other times took over his body and mind completely.

Katsu's parentage is also unknown. Some claim that he was born to peasants who trained him in combat and etiquette so that he would gain the lord's favor and win them a softer life. Others say he came from a faraway land, a lord's heir in his own right. Others still claim that he was born to a hanyou and a miko, who died in each other's arms for the "sin" of their love. There are also stories that he was found as an infant, alone in a cursed forest, or that as a child he wandered into a town, wounded and remembering nothing of his past.

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Immersed in copying information down for her family tree, it had taken a moment for the connection to click. But the second time she read it, Kagome understood why her stomach had dropped so abruptly. There were many mysteries surrounding Takeda Katsu, at least according to historians. But, given the time frame and the legends whispered of her ancestor, she knew the truth.

Kikyou got Inuyasha after all, she thought, a bitter smile on her lips. And they raised a family to boot. Maybe Inuyasha wished for her to come back to life? That must be it. Or maybe… She laughed. Maybe I was born so I could go back to that time and somehow return her soul to her?

Kagome stood. She had followed this train of thought countless times in the past month. It did nothing except make her feel worse and worse. She had even found herself throwing up in the bathroom several times, disgusted with her naiveté, by the rotten luck that had led her to love the only person in the Sengoku Jidai that she absolutely must not love. The irony!

Going to the window, she stared down at the wellhouse. He isn't coming anymore. We aren't going to fight anymore, he won't ever have Ramen again…

She felt something like a shiver pass through her. It had been a month, but she still couldn't erase the memory of his warmth. The hanyou seemed to radiate heat, strength, and safety. Those few times when he held her, either with one arm around her shoulder or an outright hug, seemed burned into her very body's memory. It was tortuously easy to remember his firm, lean muscles, how gentle his claws could be, his defiant golden eyes, his clean, warm scent. It seemed the harder she tried to forget him, the more she remembered.

Gods, this hurts, she thought grimly. Does he miss me like this? Do the others miss me like this?

Thinking of her other friends made Kagome sigh heavily. They had been like a family to her, all the more dear to her because she had chosen to cherish them rather than being born to it. Miroku's light-heartedness, Sango's strength, and Shippou's strange, childish wisdom seemed so far away, and yet she half-felt they would be right at her shoulder when she turned, as they always had been in the Sengoku Jidai. She missed Kirara, both adorable and dependable, Myouga-jii-chan, for all his cowardice, and Kouga, with his blunt charm.

She missed the life there, too. There, she had a purpose. There was always something to be accomplished. However, here, she had no idea where she was going. She studied to pass the time. Studying would land her in a better school, maybe even in a good college. But where would she go after that? Become a doctor? A businesswoman? Return home to take over the shrine? Would she find someone else to love? Someone else to marry? The future here was so much more uncertain. And all of this work…for what purpose? Everything she thought of paled at the memory of Naraku's cold, dark face, the suffering in her friends' eyes. What could she live for here that would hold a candle to the work she had done on the other side of the well?

"Maybe all I can live for is knowing that I'm not there," she muttered, eyes still locked on the wellhouse. Under the hot summer sun, it looked so unassuming. So harmless. And yet something so serene had brought her so much pain—the unrequited love, the wounds, the worrying, the jealousy, and now this cold, self-disgust. "Is this ever going to end?" she growled, whirling away from the window and beginning to pace restlessly around her bedroom. "Haven't I suffered enough? That damn hanyou, stupid Kikyou, Naraku, and that stupid project…my schoolwork, missing my friends…I just want to be done with it all!"

She sat heavily on her bed. Even in her anger, the memory of Inuyasha's smirking face made her heart painfully skip a beat. Doesn't the hurting ever end? Can't I just forget it all and be done with it?

As she turned her head to gaze out the window again, a light flashed from her nightstand. It was the sunlight, reflected off the tiny glass jar that she had once carried constantly around her neck.

Kagome winced. In some ways, this was the worst part. At first, wallowing in disgust and grief, she had entirely forgotten about the Shikon shards still in her possession. The desperate need to put distance between Inuyasha and herself—whether it was to cut her wrongdoing short or merely to protect her heart—had consumed her, and afterward, the heartbreak had driven her half mad. One of the first things she did after discovering the truth about her lineage was kick her yellow backpack under her bed, as hard as she could, never mind the pain of toes colliding with heavy textbooks. It hadn't been until she returned to her senses that she remembered this little jar inside it, containing two pieces of perhaps the most dangerous magical object in existence.

Although she would rather have turned away, her hand seemed to reach out on its own for the jar. She rolled it between her fingers, examining the pale pink fragments as they tumbled over each other and sparkled in the light. What on earth am I going to do with you two? she mused.

The moment she recalled she had the powerful Shikon shards in her possession, she knew she and her family were in danger. She had raced to her grandfather's room, shaken him out of his afternoon nap, and asked for the most powerful concealing and warding spells he knew.

Now, hopefully, no youkai that had survived into this age would sense the shards. They were all safe.

"Will they need these?" Kagome murmured guiltily.

But she couldn't do it. The thought of opening the well again, of returning to her friends, handing them this jar, and then saying, "I'm sorry. I'm leaving. Again," made her heart squeeze painfully. The thought of the hurt and anger she knew she would see on Inuyasha's face made it even worse. And having to explain it…by the gods, Hell could be no worse than that.

Besides, this way Naraku has no way to complete the Jewel and wish on it, she thought righteously. She tried to squash the next thought, but of course it was too late. Inuyasha and Kikyou-sama won't be able to, either.

She knew it was selfish. Perhaps without the aid of the Shikon no Tama on their side, her friends would forever be locked in battle with Naraku. Much like within the jewel itself, she thought with an ironic smile. But in the end, no matter what justification she had to return the shards or keep them here, she was simply too much of a coward to go back.

"Forgive me, Inuyasha," Kagome whispered, setting the jar back on her nightstand. "I'm not strong enough to handle this. I'm sorry I'm so weak."

She felt her eyes start to water, and abruptly stood up, rubbing at them vigorously. What was done was done. She had made her choice, and she had to live with the consequences. After all, life would go on, with or without her, and she already knew that as hard as moving on was, letting time pass without her would only make this tragedy worse.

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Feudal Era, late July

Sango didn't even know how to react. A thousand words rose to her lips and died before she found the conviction to speak them. With who? How? When? Expressions of anger, confusion, and fear. "Congratulations?" she said haltingly, unconsciously touching the comfortingly familiar Hiraikotsu slung on her back. "I take it this is a happy event?"

The silent look Kikyou leveled at her made the demon slayer cringe. Clearly I was wrong.

"Kikyou-sama…how did this happen?" Miroku asked her, his forehead furrowed in confusion. For a man who constantly went around asking women to bear his children, his question was rather ironic. Still, Sango couldn't help but feel grateful that he had directed Kikyou's attention away from her.

"I mean…after all, your body is not that of a living woman. I would not have thought you…capable of carrying life. How do you even know? Forgive me, but I would assume you no longer experience…well, your courses." As perverted as the monk could be, he blushed, and somewhere beyond her confusion Sango was glad to see he was at least embarrassed by talking about that, if not other things.

The miko's hand, clasped tightly in Inuyasha's, squeezed. "I thought the same, houshi," she said softly. "That is why I, too, am shocked. As for how I know, usually after a month or two, I can sense a seed of the infant's…awareness. I know when its mind and soul begin developing. So even without an interruption in the womanly cycle, I know. Nothing else feels anything like the birth of a new mind into the world." Her lips tightened and she abruptly fell silent, as if she were afraid she would start babbling in her uneasiness.

Sango studied the pair standing before her and Miroku. Inuyasha refused to meet their eyes, but his hand was firm around Kikyou's. There was an odd vulnerability about the miko that Sango had never seen before. Was she simply nervous, as all women were upon their first pregnancy? Was she afraid? Was she…ashamed?

She glared at Inuyasha again. They didn't. They couldn't have. Not when Kagome…

From the sharp look he gave Inuyasha, Miroku appeared to have arrived at the same conclusion, but he said nothing of it. Instead, he extended one arm behind him, gesturing towards Kaede's hut on the outskirts of the village. "I cannot speak for Kaede-sama. However, I can hardly assume that she would refuse her own ane-ue a home in a time when she needs protection and companionship. As for me, I welcome you."

His purple gaze shifted in Sango's direction. She felt his eyes on her rather than seeing them…he was so intense. And the message he meant to send her was quite clear. Sango stepped forward, feeling her lips thin with disapproval. But with great force of will, she pushed those unpleasant thoughts aside. Instead, she forced herself to think, What would Kagome do?

She offered her hand to Kikyou. "I as well cannot speak for Kaede-sama. But as far as I am concerned, you are a fellow woman in need. How can I refuse you?"

"You have my gratitude," Kikyou murmured. She glanced at Inuyasha before slipping her hand out of his and taking Sango's instead. The lack of warmth in her hand was an unpleasant shock, but she kept the surprise out of her face. "I am sorry for imposing."

Sango shook her head. She responded, "You may indeed prove to be helpful to us…if you wouldn't mind, Kikyou-sama. Kaede-sama is getting on in years, and it certainly is a relief to have someone around to care for her. Also, your ability to sense shards may help us. Again, if you so wish."

She continued in this vein, politely turning aside Kikyou's murmured apologies and doing her best to be welcoming and open, although both women knew that she was anything but happy to have her here. With careful steps, she guided the priestess to Kaede's hut, leaving Inuyasha and Miroku behind them. During the whole walk, she could feel Miroku's gaze boring into her back.

Don't ask. Not now. Not yet.

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"She has arrived," the pale girl said in her breathy, wisp of a voice. Everything about her could be described as wispy, ethereal, not fully there. She was small and skinny and wore a simple white kimono. Her hair, too, was white, and its thin locks hung limp on her shoulders. Even the flower in her hair was delicate and frail. She looked like a gust of wind would tear her apart.

The most substantial thing about the girl was the mirror in her hands. It was round, a man's handspan across, and silver formed an ornate frame around it. She held it before her, facing away from her. In the small, dark room, it seemed to glow with an unearthly light. Her audience was still intent on the image in the mirror, but she stared somewhat blankly at them. "It remains to be seen whether she will stay," she continued.

She blinked, and the image of Inuyasha and his companions faded, to be replaced by her audience members' displeased faces. "My power has run out. Observation must be postponed."

A man snarled and stood, advancing toward her. "Useless little wench!" he roared at her. "A scrap of chatter and your power's fuckin' gone? Show us more! Them little scenes ain't worth a rat's shit!"

He was a big, heavily muscled and battle-scarred, dressed in the finest leather armor money could buy. The girl merely looked up at him, seemingly oblivious to his rage, and repeated, "My power has run out."

The man growled and swung a fist back to strike her. There was a soft clinking sound, and from the darkness in the corner shot a weighted chain that wrapped tightly around his wrist. The person on the other end yanked cruelly, and the angry man's knees buckled as his arm was twisted back hard. He didn't make a sound, but his breathing was labored and his teeth ground as he tried to unwind the chain.

He froze when a cold voice began to speak. "General, your actions dishearten me. My underlings will behave as I decide, and I decide when they deserve punishment. Not you. A human such as you, skilled in combat though you may be, has no hold over them. Do you not recall our agreement?"

The chain loosened, and the man got to his feet, gingerly testing to see if his arm had been dislocated. It had not, which was good for him. Such an injury in his line of work was deadly. "Oh, aye, I remember," he muttered, as though it pained him more than his shoulder to admit it. "We're t'dance at your command, be that right?"

The voice was silken and cultured compared to the captain's rough, poor man's drawl. "Indeed, but after all, the reward you reap for the dance will be repayment enough, will it not? Now leave us, I have plans to make. I will send Kanna for you when your services are required."

The man glared into the corner again. Of course this creature would choose to send that pale, insignificant scrap to order him around, just to trample on his pride. Gritting his teeth as a bolt of pain shot through his shoulder, he bowed and quickly left the room, sparing a final glare for the girl.

Once he was gone, the voice commanded, "To me, Kanna."

She walked into the dark corner, the mirror's glow slowly illuminating the speaker's face. His skin was pale, not bright pale like hers, but like the skin of a corpse. His red eyes were fixated on Kanna's mirror. "Kanna, you disappoint me. These shreds are barely enough to piece together the doings of Inuyasha's little gang. It is imperative that we have information enough to bring this plan to fruition." There was contempt in his voice, but little anger. Displays of emotion were wasted on Kanna, a youkai whose very essence was nothingness. She responded to commands and questions, but that was all. "You will continue to observe them," he ordered her, "and report everything to me. We will eventually have a more…consistent source than a mirror that loses to the power of that decrepit old miko. Kagura!"

Another figure moved in the shadows. A female youkai stepped into the light cast by the mirror. She seemed almost entirely human, a dangerously beautiful woman, but for her cruel red eyes and pointed ears. "Yes, Naraku?" she asked disinterestedly. Unlike Kanna, she had emotions aplenty, including a loathing for this hanyou she was forced to serve.

"You and Kohaku are preparing the spy. When will preparations be finished?"

"Soon enough," she drawled in her alluring voice. She snapped open the fan in her hand and waved it nonchalantly, sending a breeze toward her face. "We await your orders, master."

"Do not get flippant with me, woman," Naraku snarled. A slime-green tentacle rose from the floor and wrapped around her throat, dragging her down to her knees. "I know you have been sneaking around and toying around with being defiant. In this matter, you will not disobey or betray me. If you do, I will grind your heart into powder and bury it under a mountain, far from the kiss of your precious winds."

She grimaced and wriggled against the tentacle. In falling, she had come uncomfortably close to the mess that was Naraku's body below the neck. In their last encounter with Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru, his body had been pulverized and reduced to a heaving, shifting mass of flesh that made her ill to look at. It pained her to think that her freedom-loving heart was imprisoned within that squelching heap. "I understand, Naraku. I will obey your every command."

"Good." The tentacle loosened and returned inside the flesh mound. Kagura quickly got to her feet.

"Perhaps we should have a test run. Bring the spy in. Kanna, fetch our general. We shall watch to see whether our spy is able to remain undetected. I certainly hope she has found ways around Inuyasha's nose and the spiritual powers of our miko and houshi friends."

The two female youkai left the room, leaving Naraku with his third servant. "Kohaku, you did not tear his arm out. Such mercy is unusual. Are you feeling the pangs of human compassion again?"

He turned to look into the very corner, where Sango's twelve-year-old brother stood. In his hands was a sickle, attached to the weighted chain that had stopped the angry captain in his tracks. "My lord, you told me injuring the general would be an inconvenience," he said dully.

"Yes, it would certainly take a while for the one who kills him and takes his place to learn the ins and outs of our plot. It took long enough for this fool to understand who is in charge here," Naraku agreed, sounding amused. "How trying that it is necessary to break in so many of those who serve me." He smiled maliciously at the boy. "Yet how gratifying to see the suffering and humiliation, yes?"

"Of course, my lord," he agreed tonelessly.

And Naraku had to laugh at the cruel irony, that Kohaku, now one of his most trusted servants, had suffered just so. And when Naraku was so inclined, the boy continued to suffer, when he was allowed to remember the companions he had killed, and the depth of his betrayal to his sister.

Humans are such bountiful sources of entertainment, he thought in satisfaction. Let us see how long my newest trick can keep me amused.

(end)

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See you next chapter!