Chapter Thirty Two:
Kagome sat up and sleepily rubbed her eyes before looking around the darkened hut. It was the short hours before dawn when darkness seemed to engulf the world and try, in vain, to hold on to the night that would inevitably give way to the first rays of sun. The world seemed particularly calm and for a few moments everything seemed completely surreal, as if she were still asleep and not able to grasp the waking world. Both Sango and Kohana were sleeping peacefully, as were Shippo and Kirara.
After a moment, she realized that she sensed Naraku but wasn't entirely sure how or why. She carefully stood and exited the hut. InuYasha and Sesshoumaru were both outside the village, keeping vigil, neither willing to leave the other unattended. Kagome realized that with Sesshoumaru there, InuYasha was much less likely to notice her being up and about. She stared up at the dark sky for a moment before being drawn towards the bone eaters well. She stopped several times and looked behind her. There was no indication that InuYasha had sensed her and followed, but she couldn't help but feel that someone was following her.
Once she actually reached the well she sat on the edge, wondering why she had walked so far from the village alone, at night no less.
"I knew you would come." Naraku's voice sent a chill through her. She quickly stood and turned to see him emerge from the trees silently. He was clad in his baboon pelt but she could tell it was him and not a puppet.
"I sensed you," she admitted. "At first I thought I was just dreaming but I guess not."
"You weren't sleeping long enough to be dreaming," he told her.
"How—" She stopped herself before the question could even be asked. She already knew how and why he watched her; she was just surprised that he had such an interest in even the most mundane parts of her life.
"You were troubled," he said rather than answering the question she nearly asked. Kagome nodded and then looked away from him. Naraku unhurriedly walked closer, noting her nervous mannerism as he approached her.
"My disguise unnerves you, Kagome?" It sounded more like an observation than a real question.
She looked back to him and nodded. "It's kind of creepy," she admitted. He removed the head and continued to watch her. Her demeanor seemed to relax once she was no longer staring at the cold, dead eyes of a skinned baboon. "I can't stay long or InuYasha will know I left."
"Why did you come?" The question left her perturbed at first. She really wasn't sure what had drawn her out into the woods, other than waking and feeling as though he were nearby. But she had already told him that, so there had to be more to his question.
"I sensed you," she repeated as he stood in front of her.
"My presence woke you," he said. "Why did you come to me, Kagome?"
Kagome swallowed over the lump that was in her throat. She could sense more demon in him than he had previously had, though not even enough to begin to compete with InuYasha, let alone Kouga or Sesshoumaru. She then noted that he had the jewel shard she had given to him but wasn't using it.
"I—don't—know," she said quietly. She couldn't seem to look away from him; it was as if he had her hypnotized with the intensity of his eyes and the dark silkiness in his voice.
"I should have grown much stronger," he informed her. "My body should have regenerated. It was you that kept me from returning to my former self." For a moment she couldn't tell if that angered him or if he was simply giving her information.
"Me?" The word almost came out as a squeak. He slowly let his finger trace her cheek as she stared at him. He could tell there was a minimal amount of fear, probably sitting in the back of her mind, but she still continued to stand there, trusting that he wouldn't harm her.
"When you purified my demons, you left me vulnerable to human weakness," he said. "When you rid me of Onigumo and his mark, you left me without demon or my former human self."
"So...who are you now?" She nearly whispered as she stared up at him. For a moment, he thought over that question. He had asked himself the same thing many times in recent days. He was no longer Onigumo but nor was he demon.
"I am what you have made me," he finally said.
Kagome stared into his dark eyes then finally let out a cautious breath. "You're Naraku," she said. "Not Onigumo and not a bunch of demons that only feed off of you for Shikon shards."
"And who have you become, Kagome?" .
"I'm Kagome," she said tentatively. "I'm not Kikyo and not her replacement."
"Kikyo will always have InuYasha's heart," Naraku said with a hint of confidence in his voice. InuYasha still clung to a dead love, the very being that prompted Onigumo to take on the demons and give birth to the twisted creature he had been. Kagome nodded and averted her eyes. It still stung a bit to realize that no matter what she had done, she could never have truly held his heart. It was already possessed by a woman that didn't even have a soul. "Your heart lies elsewhere." The words caused her to look back to him. For a moment both remained silent. "Whether or not it was your intention, you have altered my existence, Kagome," he said darkly as his eyes searched her face. "You have altered my desires."
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"I do not want your pity."
"You want the jewel…" Her words trailed off as she looked down at the remaining shards around her neck. Naraku's gaze drifted to the dainty necklace that she was wearing. A small part of him still craved the power that the Shikon Jewel offered but most of him had become increasingly apathetic to it.
"Nay," he nearly whispered. "It is no longer the Shikon Jewel that I covet." Kagome's eyes met his again and she felt a flush settle into her cheeks as he stared at her. "I want what InuYasha has been too foolish to take."
"What?" She questioned in a whisper. She already knew the answer and it caused her heart rate to quicken. Despite the possessive way he spoke to her she could see how vulnerable he had become.
Naraku smirked as he stared down at her. Perhaps her innocence is what had led him to have such curiosity about her. Despite being such a naïve and pure creature he had been unable to corrupt her. Despite the wickedness that had lived in his heart, she had not turned away and cursed him to hell as most would have. He craved the warmth of her touches and the affection she had chosen to bestow upon him, though the idea of yearning for such weaknesses still caused him shame.
"You," he answered simply.
For a long moment she said nothing. She loved her friends dearly. Just being there with Naraku was a betrayal of their trust. Yet, deep inside of her there were feelings that she couldn't deny. He had become a different person to her since she had met him.
"I can't just leave," she told him. "I have to help them get the Shikon Jewel back. I'm the one that broke it.
"You will never complete the Shikon Jewel," he informed her. She looked at him in confusion so he elaborated further. "If the entire jewel is completed, there will be no reason for you to remain here. InuYasha and your comrades will abandon you once they learn what you have done."
"…but I can't ju—"
"The shard you have given me will remain in my possession," he said. "This well will continue to link this world with your era."
Kagome licked her parched lips. She realized now that he had no intention of allowing her to put the entire jewel together since no one knew what would become of her or the jewel once they had. As she stared at him she wondered if she could truly give herself to him the way he was asking. Even if she lost her friends she still had her family and life in her own era to consider.
"My family—" she began and then stopped as he circled around and looked down into the well.
"Are on the other side of this well," he finished for her.
"Yes," she confirmed. She furrowed her brow as he stood there staring into the blackened hole. "Naraku?"
"There is power here," he noted. The energy he was experiencing was far different than anything he had ever experienced in his demon state. .
"Where are you going?" Kagome questioned.
Naraku could hear alarm in her voice but wanted to find out what was calling to him, so he began to lower himself inside the well.
"Wait! You'll fall in!" Almost the second the words left Kagome's mouth, a blue light engulfed the well. "Oh no," she said as she scrambled over the side. The last thing she needed was for him to end up in present day Tokyo. As soon as her feet were solidly planted on the floor again, she turned and almost began chastising him. However, she chose to hold her tongue as she watched him staring up at the ceiling of the shrine. A victorious smirk flashed across his face momentarily. According to Kagome, she and InuYasha were the only ones capable of using the well to travel to her own world but now he was certain he had done just that.
Kagome glanced around nervously. If she was gone too long, someone was bound to come looking for her. "We have to go back."
Naraku looked her way and then back to the shrine above them. Kagome could tell that he had no intention of going straight back through the well so she sighed and walked over to the ladder. "Alright, you can take a quick look around and then we have to get back. InuYasha can come through the well too, you know."
Rather than reply, Naraku ascended the ladder and inspected the darkened shrine. There was nothing impressive or of real interest to him there. Kagome quickly followed him out of the well and to the door. She slid it opened and looked outside. It was dark and quiet so she stepped out into the cool air. Naraku began to look around, noting that the forest was no longer there, though there were some trees. In the distance he could hear many foreign noises. His eyes narrowed as he took in the surroundings.
"Such a strange world," he mused. Kagome laughed nervously and glanced back at the well house. The sun would be rising in less than an hour and someone was bound to find her missing.
"It's not that strange," she defended, "at least not if you've lived here your entire life. I thought the warring states era was pretty strange when I first got there."
Naraku regarded her for a moment before walking further across the shine and standing at the steps looking out over the city. Kagome stood beside him. She had always taken her world for granted. Even when InuYasha had come, he found things like food and television to be the most entertaining. She couldn't help but wonder what was going through Naraku's mind as he stared out at her world.
"How did you know you could go through the well?" She questioned.
"When I stood near your well, the scars on my chest began to cause a foreign feeling inside my body," he said but didn't take his eyes off of the horizon. Kagome glanced at him again. She had attempted to remove the marks that she had places upon him when she had purified his demons, to no avail, and wondered if they would be permanent.
"We should go back," she suggested again.
"Yes," he agreed. Her world left him feeling unsettled. He turned and began walking toward the well house. Kagome glanced back at her home before going inside with him.
"Had I gained the Shikon Jewel, your world would have ceased to exist," he said plainly as he stood looking into the well again. Kagome fingered the shards around her neck, believing him. He would have done everything in his ability to become all powerful and he no doubt would have destroyed everything that held humanity. She followed him back into the well out back into his own era. The sky had lightened quite a lot and she knew that she would be in a race to get back before the others awoke.
"I'm sorry, I have to go," she apologized urgently as she turned and darted back towards the village. Naraku watched her run no more than thirty feet and then suddenly stop and look back at him. She stumbled for a second, seemingly undecided about what she wanted to do. She quickly looked back in the direction of the village and then rushed back to where he stood.
"I—wanted to tell you that—" she began and stopped; not entirely certain what she wanted to tell him. "I'm not sorry I saved you." He held her gaze for mere seconds, her eyes clearly reflecting the confusion that lay in her heart and soul, before she turned and ran off again; this time not stopping to return to him.
Naraku stood silently beside the well until her presence left the surrounding area then he turned and retreated into the forest from whence he came.
InuYasha stretched as the morning air roused him from his tentative slumber. He looked down from the tree he was in, and found that his brother was missing. 'Where the hell is he?' He quickly abandoned his tree haven and sniffed the air. He didn't smell Sesshoumaru anywhere but he did recognize a familiar scent nearby.
He wandered over the crest of the hill and saw Sango sitting in the grass looking over the field. She was watching Kohaku and Kirara play in the grass.
"Where is everybody?" He asked as he walked up and crouched beside her.
"In the village," she said simply. InuYasha nodded and then watched as Kirara transformed into her demon form and chased Kohaku, though clearly not having intentions of harming him.
"How's he doin', anyway?"
The inquiry made Sango look in his direction again. She was a bit surprised that InuYasha was asking about Kohaku's well being. "He's strong," she said. "He's confused about what happened. He said that a girl with a mirror told him that Naraku had deceived him and that he didn't harm anyone."
"Kanna," InuYasha mused. They had met Naraku's young minion before, though he had no idea why she would lie to Kohaku.
"Yes," Sango nodded. "I haven't had the heart to tell him otherwise." InuYasha nodded; even he couldn't imagine laying such a burden of guilt on such a young and fragile human boy. "Shouldn't you be with Sesshoumaru?"
"Feh," he scoffed. "He's not here."
"Where is he?"
"If I knew that, I wouldn't be out here waiting for him," InuYasha informed her curtly. Both turned their attention back to Kohaku and Kirara again. Neither was extremely emotional and didn't find the need to constantly talk in order to fill the empty space. At times InuYasha found that Sango's silence was a welcome reprieve from Kagome's incessant talking.
"Miroku wants me to remain here when the rest of you fight Hebiakui," she confessed.
InuYasha grunted, "now that he doesn't have his wind tunnel, you'll be more useful in battle than the monk would."
"I'm a demon slayer," she said. "I feel as though I would be betraying my family and village if I hid here while a demon tries to take the Shikon Jewel."
InuYasha looked over at her; he could see that she had much turmoil in her at the moment. "So come with us. Not like I'd let you get hurt or anything."
Sango smiled at the confident and slightly arrogant tone in his voice. "He also said that he wants to marry me."
InuYasha looked at her again and then focused on the field in front of him. "You sure don't sound very happy about it."
"It's just that…" She sighed and looked down at her hands. "What if… I'm not enough?"
The half demon sighed inwardly when he realized the exchange was quickly veering into the realm of becoming a deep, emotional conversation. He couldn't fault Sango for having doubts about Miroku. The monk had never been subtle about his love for the fairer sex. Even InuYasha had to wonder if Miroku's new found life and freedom would make him eventually want to have more than a mere wife. The monk's tendency towards deception was another thing that likely hadn't been missed by Sango. While he was a good friend and would die to protect those he cared for, could he honestly give up his womanizing ways and give Sango the stable love and life that she deserved?
"Miroku may be stupid, but he's not stupid enough to go chasing other women once he's married," he said.
"I suppose you're right," she relented.
InuYasha looked at her then felt a twinge of jealousy that confused him. Kikyo and Kagome had always plagued his thoughts and heart but he suddenly found that a part of him felt responsible for Sango. She had fought along side him, become his equal, and never created the same emotional turmoil that Kagome and Kikyo did. Sango was different. When he looked at her there wasn't guilt as there was with Kikyo and there wasn't confusion as with Kagome. Having seen Sango in both strength and weakness, made InuYasha feel just as responsible for her as he was for Kagome, and he had a sudden urge to protect her from Miroku's thoughtless ways.
"If it'll make you feel any better, I'll talk to him about the battle," InuYasha offered without fanfare.
She looked at him, surprised at the offer. "You will?"
"Like I said, the monk won't be much help to me now and I can't rely on Kouga or my brother to do anything right. But if things get too dangerous, you'll need to take Kagome to safety."
Sango nodded in agreement. They sounded like reasonable terms to her. "Thank you, InuYasha," she said sincerely. He glanced at her again then stood abruptly.
"Don't thank me now, wait and thank me after I've knocked some sense into Miroku."
Kagura sat alone in a small hut. A part of her wondered if Naraku was aware that she possessed her heart. 'Of course he knows,' she thought bitterly. Clearly he was doing well enough to appear and manipulate. It would only be a matter of time until he regained his former strength. She looked up when she heard someone step into the hut.
"I have learned of your predicament."
Kagura smirked at the old woman that was watching her. "I did not ask for your help, old woman."
Kaede stepped closer to her. She could tell that there was much trouble and confusion in Kagura and she wasn't surprised. She was born of a twisted creature, which had been born of a twisted human. "Have ye decided what ye will do with that heart?"
Kagura stared at her for a moment, wondering why this stranger even cared, let alone pursued the issue despite Kagura's obvious dislike of people. "It is not an easy decision to make."
"Nay, it is not," Kaede agreed. "When ye left Naraku, ye intended to be killed. Or so I'm told."
"I wanted to die with honor. The wolves would have killed me quickly. I have no desire to grow old and wither away as a human," Kagura said bitterly.
"If ye choose to remain demon, ye will still be part of Naraku." Kagura looked at her then down at the heart in her hand, unsure what she should do. "Being human is not a bad thing. Ye could find a nice village and start a new life away from those that have wronged ye in the past. The choice is not that of demon or human. It is of human or slave. If ye choose to be a demon, ye will live a long life but it will not be your own."
Kagura looked up sharply, taking in the wise priestess' words. If she were to join the others in their battle with Hebiakui, she likely wouldn't survive long anyway. At least when she died, she wanted to die as her own person. She stood and held out the heart, her eyes not leaving the lump of flesh. Kaede stepped forward and watched it as well before placing her own hand over it and saying what sounded like an ancient prayer. Kagura gasped when a purple light began to shine from beneath the old woman's hand. When the light faded and Kaede finally removed her hand, only ashes remained behind. Kagura quickly let them float to the floor around her.
"I'm human," she said, the shock of it still registering.
"Nay, child, you are free." Kagura felt tears stinging her eyes but emotions were still foreign to her so she held them in. Despite the draw back of now being completely mortal, she finally held the one thing she had always desired; freedom.
Sesshoumaru's eyes narrowed as he stopped in the field just outside Kaede's village.
"What is it, Lord Sesshoumaru?" Jaken inquired loudly. He ignored the toad's annoying voice as he continued to view the area.
"Naraku," he said suspiciously. The scent was quite faint but it was somewhere nearby. His attention was drawn back to his charge when he heard her begin to giggle and point toward the village.
"Look, Master Jaken!" Rin shouted excitedly. The demon slayer's cat was frolicking in the grass, chasing the younger demon slayer.
"Quiet, Rin!" Jaken ordered sternly. Immediately Rin went silent and looked to Sesshoumaru. His eyes narrowed further at the tone Jaken was using. Sesshoumaru, himself, had not ordered Rin to remain silent and he didn't appreciate Jaken taking such liberties without permission.
"Jaken," he said in a steady voice.
"Take Rin to the demon slayers. I need to find InuYasha."
"Yes, M'lord," he said with a slight bow. Before he could say anything to Rin, she ran off giggling, Au and Un following along behind her.
"And Jaken," he continued without looking down at him. "Do not forget your place as my servant."
The toad watched him wide eyed. "Yes, Lord Sesshoumaru," he said as he hurried after Rin.
Sesshoumaru quickly turned his attention back to the surrounding area, focusing on his brother's scent. He had decided to return to his lands to retrieve Rin, Jaken Au and Un and had come across much more destruction than he had anticipated. The serpent demon had almost the entire jewel and was now searching for the final shards, all of which lay within Kaede's village. He realized that time was no longer a luxury they possessed.
A/N: I'm sorry for the lack of updating. The holidays have made things crazy and my last set of scans showed that I have a mass in one of my lungs. I had to get a biopsy done and they don't think it's cancer but they're trying to figure out what it is. If my next scans on 12/19 still show I have a mass there, I will be getting an open lung biopsy (which means another short hospital stay). Hopefully, everything is clearing up and I can stop spending so much time at the doctor and get this story finished! Thank you so much for continuing to read, despite the lacking updates, I truly am sorry for keeping everyone waiting so long! Happy Holidays to everyone and my sincerest thanks for all of your support!