Hidden in Plain Sight
Disclaimer: Original story by Rumiko Takahashi
The shikon shard glinted innocently in the sunlight from its setting in the gold and silver necklace. The vendor was watching over his wares like a hawk, well he was a hawk but he didn't have to be so attentive.
"Ano…" Kagome was very carefully not looking at the shard as she pointed to the necklaces tacked to the wall behind the hawk demon. "Could I see that one please, the tiger-eye?"
She'd seen Miroku do this a hundred times at least, how hard could petty theft be, really? Okay, so maybe she hadn't seen him steal anything per se but she'd seen the aftermath, that must have counted for something then right? As the demon turned completely away from her, her hand darted out to snatch the necklace with the shikon shard and tuck it away under a fold of her kimono. That was the plan anyways. Unfortunately somewhere between here and there her budding career as a thief came to an abrupt halt as someone behind her grabbed her wrist in a vise-like grip, bare inches from the shard. 'Oh, crap.'
"You do know the penalty for theft is getting your ear cut off, first offense." The voice was soft and cool as silk, she could feel his warm breath on her ear, sending shivers down her body but she was too petrified to move. Then he wrenched her arm back and up causing her to turn stumbling toward him, whether she wanted to go or not. As she looked up into the face of her captor she let out an involuntary scream that she managed to strangle down to a rather pitiful little whimper.
"Sesshoumaru…" The Lord of the Western Lands, Inu Yasha's elder brother, one of the absolute last people she wanted to ever see again, stood looking coolly down at her. 'Oh, gods. Oh, gods. He's going to recognize me. They're going to find me. I'm dead. I'm dead. I'm dead.' Her brain babbled incoherently as the rising panic threatened to choke her.
He frowned at her. Perhaps "frown" was too expressive a word. His facial muscles tightened slightly, she probably wouldn't have noticed it if she wasn't inches from them. He brought her captured wrist to his nose. He held her in his borrowed left hand, she didn't know where he got it from but it was cold as ice, with pale blue stripes crisscrossing his forearm, and the grip was like iron. He sniffed at her wrist, his gold eyes boring into hers. The air alternately cool and warm on her wrist was pleasant, but the nature of its pleasantness was making her uncomfortable. She tried to twist out of his grip but he would not be moved. After a few agonizingly long seconds he huffed gently and pulled his nose away from her wrist, but still refused to relinquish his grip. "I believe you have the advantage."
"I… um… what?" The sense of relief almost sent her to her knees. He didn't recognize her. And if he couldn't recognize her changed scent, chances are her enemies couldn't either.
"What is your name, pup?" He asked.
"I'm not a puppy." She said, stamping her foot lightly as a more familiar feeling of irritation began to overwhelm the panic and fear that was the only thing she'd known for the past several months of trying to survive by herself.
His eyes flickered slightly anyone else could possibly be accused of rolling them. "Very well, 'what is your name, bitch?'"
Eurg…not any better. She briefly debated complaining, but she didn't really want to know what else he could come up with. "Kagome." She told him, and felt like slapping herself a few seconds later. 'Brilliant, brilliant, Kagome-girl why don't you just put up a billboard "disguised miko, hiding here."'
"Hn…'Kagome.'" He spoke her name softly, tasting it on his tongue. She shivered at the sound of it. He turned his attention to the street vendor who was patiently holding out the tiger-eye and amber bead necklace. Sesshoumaru casually dismissed it and picked up the piece with the shikon shard. "Quite appalling taste you have."
Personally she agreed with him, the ornate piece was quite hideous. "Not my fault, I came that way from the farm." She quipped.
He looked down at her with that frown-that-wasn't-really-a-frown. She smiled up at him, light bulb bright and just at empty. He snorted softly and finally released her wrist. She shook it and rubbed it with her other hand. She didn't care if she looked like a weakling to their youkai audience, and they had attracted quite a crowd, she couldn't feel her fingers anymore. Fingers were decidedly more important than image, right? Right. The pins and needle pains in her fingers almost distracted her from noticing the feeling of the shikon shard moving away from her. She looked around meeting the eyes of curious demons, watching her with varied expressions, from amused to…hungry. But Sesshoumaru had disappeared. Before she could think about it, and perhaps doing something intelligent, like, oh say, leaving well enough alone. She charged through the crowd after the shard.
She didn't catch up with him until late in the evening. He always seemed to be just out of her reach. If she hadn't been able to sense the shard she was sure that she would have lost him completely within seconds, not that he couldn't have left her in the dust if he really wanted to. She was still only human. He was leaving the fair grounds after leading her on a chase around them two, maybe three times.
"Hey!" she called and ran a few paces to catch up. "Hey, Sesshou…" she gasped for breath, he didn't look at her. "Sesshoumaru, can I have the necklace?"
"I need it."
He stopped and turned to her. She stumbled but managed to stop without crashing into him. "Do you know what this is?" He snarled at her holding out the necklace with the shikon shard.
"Yes?" she answered uncertainly, reaching for it.
"This thing is madness and death." He yanked it back out of her reach.
"So…you don't want it?"
"No youkai worth the name wants it."
"Ri-ight." Her scars could attest otherwise. "Well, if you don't want it, can I have it?"
"No." He turned and started walking away from her. She practically had to run to keep up.
"You know keeping it is a hassle." She told him matter-of-factly. "I'm sure that continuously fending of attacks of those who do want it would without a doubt take up a considerable amount of your time. Time spent doing…what ever it is Tai-youkai do for fun."
"Then you would be wrong."
"Erm…about your time being valuable?"
He snorted softly. "Any attack made on this Sesshoumaru for the sake of the jewel will be negligible at best."
"Oh. Well, what do you want it for if you…ah…don't want it?" The look he gave her spoke clearly what he thought of her command of the language. "Seriously, why do you keep it?"
"It is not your concern." He said. His voice was ice cold, cracking on the air as he turned and continued on.
"Well, would you trade for it?"
"You have nothing that this Sesshoumaru desires."
She smirked "Certain of that are you?"
"So, you won't trade then?"
"Not even for the Tetsusaiga?" He stopped dead in his tracks.
"What do you know of my brother's fang?"
"I know where it is." The words had barely left her mouth when she found herself slammed into the trunk of a thick tree with considerable force. He held her by the throat in the cold, dead hand while his own dripped acid poison.
"Did you steal that too? Steal from a dead man? Did you?" He snarled. As he spoke his fingers tightened, constricting her air flow. She gasped and ineffectually scratched at his hand. Remembering that he couldn't feel anything in that arm she stretched out towards him but he was too far away. Her vision was fading when he loosened his grip and she could once again breathe. She gulped the air in huge gasping breaths; it was several moments before she recovered enough to speak.
"Like you should talk." She snarled back. "You're the- the dog who desecrated his father's grave for the sword so why should you care about your brother's?" It took several moments of staring at the Tenseiga before the realization and the pain of what he had done registered.
"Fuck. You stabbed me." She swore, her hands curling around the blade of heaven that was buried deep in her chest. It had sliced through her armor like silk and she could feel it inside her, the sharp metal tearing at her heart with each beat. "That hurts, you son of-" he snarled and twisted the blade wrenching a scream from her throat.
"No." She gasped out. "I just, I just know where it is."
"Where?" he growled, soft and nearly inaudible but she could feel the menacing rumble in her bones.
"Give me the shard and I'll tell you."
Another sharp twist and her lungs burned as they filled with blood. "Grave, your brother's grave."
"My brother's tomb lays empty, little bitch. Be wary of what lies you speak to this Sesshoumaru."
"No, I know. His grave…at shrine. I can show you." She gasped. "It's there, I swear."
He braced one hand on her shoulder and pulled the Tenseiga free of her body. She screamed and swore, almost exhausting the vocabulary she inadvertently picked up from Inu Yasha. "You will take me to my brother's grave. When the fang is in my possession I will give you the shard."
"Um, right." She mumbled examining her unmarked flesh, even the fabric of the fire-rat fur had rewoven itself. "Um, what? No, not all right. Look, you don't seem to particularly like me, so how about I just tell you where it is and then you can give me the shard and go get it? Best for all parties involved I'm sure."
"No." He said. "You will take me. And if you are lying I will…hurt you."
She shuddered involuntarily. Death threats she could deal with. Death threats she was used to. There was a certain reassuring predictability to them, part of the bluster and brag involved in honest enmity. Sesshoumaru in that one instant managed to scare her more than he, or anyone else, ever had before. He stared directly into her eyes, gold eyes cold and emotionless. She looked away. "It's in… Edo. You know where that is?"
"You know that tree Inu Yasha was stuck to for a while?"
"Where he died the first time? Yes."
"I see." Then without warning he picked her up like a child, tucked into his side at his hip, and took off. She yelped and latched onto him for fear of falling. Her fingers dug into anything that she could get a grip on, armor, cloth or hair; she gripped it so hard her knuckles turned white. Once her perch was secured she tentatively looked up. Sesshoumaru was as expressionless as usual; he didn't look at her, not even to say anything about her pulling on a fistful of long hair. He moved fast, faster than Inu Yasha, or at least it seemed like it, the way he glided, rather than running and jumping in fits and starts. They traveled that way until full dark when he stopped and released her, as without warning as when he picked her up. She, however, had not released her death grip on his armor so when her support gave way underneath her she slid down his body to the full extension of her arms, unresponsive legs folded underneath her. He finally looked down at her, like he found something unpleasant on the bottom of his shoe, and then he looked pointedly at her hands. She let go, and collapsed the rest of the way to the ground.
"We will be there tomorrow." He said. "We shall rest here, there is a hot spring." He pointed off in a direction. She nodded and got up to stagger in that direction, her legs didn't quite want to work. It had been a very long day. At the hot spring she carefully unwound the strips of the fire-rat cloth she had wrapped around her legs and forearms revealing the markings on her skin. Sutras written in red glowed with a strange dark light that danced under her skin. She removed the rest of her kimono, the tattered remains of Inu Yasha's fire-rat haori, and slid into the hot spring with a sigh.
She had been in the water for some time, and was just about to wash her hair when she felt Sesshoumaru's presence behind her. She surfaced, careful to not rise to high from the water, worried less about her breasts than about him seeing the key-spell written over her heart. She turned just in time to see him settle into the water. Part of her brain, the part that even after all that had happened to her still worried about clothes and makeup and boys, just had a meltdown. Of course it wasn't everyday that she got an eyeful like that. She could feel a hot blush spreading across her cheeks. "Excuse me? I'm not done here. Can I have some privacy?"
The look he gave her was disdainful beyond words. He didn't explain himself, or excuse himself, or, most importantly, leave. So she settled for glaring at him and moving herself as far away from him as possible. Turning her back to him she prepared to ignore him as best she could and began lathering up the soap to wash her hair. The one thing she missed more than anything was having decent shampoo and conditioner. The stuff she found in the demon markets were better than anything found in the human communities but she missed the smell of her perfumes. This stuff didn't smell like anything, but at least it didn't have that acrid smell of lye or leave her hair and skin lank and heavy with residue like human-made soap or soap-root plants. Her hair was piled up on top of her head and she was massaging the soap into her scalp to get all the sweat and dirt when she felt the lightest of touches on her back, sliding along her spine from the nape of her neck down between her shoulder blades. She shrieked and spun around to face Sesshoumaru. The expression on his face was, for once, open and easy to read. His eyes were wide in shock, gaze focused on the spells etched into her skin. His hand reached out and lightly touched the line of writing over her heart, trailing it over the upper curve of her breast. Mentally she cursed at herself for being stupid and standing fully to wash her hair.
"These are…binding spells?" he said softly, half to himself. He grabbed her hand and examined the lines written on her forearm. "I've never seen them like this. What ink is so red?"
"It's not ink. It's blood." She told him.
"Power to bind power. There is power in blood." A youkai's blood to bind a miko's power within her body. The sutras written in Inu Yasha's blood hid her power away from detection and the scent of inu youkai blood covered her natural scent. He looked at her then, really looked at her. Inu Yasha told her once that as a dog sight wasn't really one of his primary senses, even though as a demon his eyesight was probably better than hers. He relied first on scent and then the sense of energies before he bothered to actually look at something. He was looking at her now, carefully examining, not just the spells, but her clawless fingers, rounded ears and human visage. Now, she was feeling self-conscious. She curled her free arm around her chest to shield herself, in some small way from his piercing gaze. His fingers were slowly tightening around her wrist and his eyes were growing colder, changing from shock to anger.
"They bound away the blood." He whispered, lips curling in a viscous snarl. "Chained like some pet to heel." He reached up and combed her soap matted hair off of her forehead, his arm curling protectively around her shoulder. "We are not to be so bound. They are dead." He looked at her, without seeing her, wrapped up in whatever thoughts were floating through his brain.
"They are." She whispered, voice barely squeaking out past her tight throat, frightened by his sudden change in moods. To think she once thought his brother confusing, Inu Yasha was simple to read and predict when compared to this.
He focused on her again. "You killed them? Even as this?"
'I got them killed,' "Yes." She said, choking out only the last part of the truth.
He smiled at her, bright and angelic, her knees almost gave way at the beauty of it. "Good girl." His hand slid down to her shoulder and he patted her gently as if he was proud of her. She felt sick to her stomach, and close to tears. Miroku, Inu Yasha, I'm so sorry.
He released her and backed up a few paces. He rinsed his hands of soap and told her "Finish up, if we move early we can reach… Edo, was it? By midday."
... ... ...
He set her down much more gently than he had the previous evening. She instantly recognized the area as the forest to the west of Edo. She was familiar with every grove and clearing, rock and spring in the area. No matter how many primeval forests she found herself in she would always recognize her way home. She stretched her stiff legs and set out towards the shrine without a glance back.
"Where are you going?"
"The Shrine, this way." She said and pointed. He frowned but followed. Soon the forest gave way to fields populated by a handful of farmers who didn't even look up at them from their drudgery. The fields gave way to buildings and even more people. The area had built up a lot since the last time she came through, they almost had streets. While she didn't recognize anyone, the people here were still obviously familiar with her. Many bowed to her respectfully as they passed.
"Why do they do that?" He asked her. He was watching the humans warily, like he had never seen such behavior. Although considering his reputation he probably hadn't, and the only thing keeping the people here from mass panic was the fact that he came with her.
"Who do what?"
"The humans, doing that." He growled and pointed at an elderly human woman kneeling in the street before him.
"I…remind them of…someone else so they seek to honor that person by honoring me." She said and skirted around the woman to the bottom of the long steps to the Shrine.
"Here we are." She announced and started up the steps. When she looked back he was standing at the bottom still, staring up at her. "You coming?"
Cautiously he stepped forward, stepping under the torii, he froze as the shrine's holy energy flared around him, testing his youki. When he made no move the power gradually settled back down, though it was not as accepting of him as it had been of Kagome. Slowly, he walked to where she waited and together they continued up the stairs. The way was steep and high and they passed through several torii, at each one they were carefully examined by a new layer of the shrine's protective barriers and at each one they were accepted.
When the last barrier closed behind them they were standing in a paved courtyard with several buildings. It was almost like the shrine she had grown up with in Tokyo, but not yet quite it. The most eye catching difference was a pair of dog statues flanking the main building. They were beautifully wrought with clean elegant lines, clearly based on the natural forms of the inu youkai. She could only wonder when they were removed.
Sesshoumaru stepped forward and held one hand out at if to protect her as Tsuuki, the resident miko and Kaede's last apprentice, bow and arrows in hand and excitedly barking dog at her heels came tearing around the back of the shrine. The miko, halted and took aim, the dog continued, barreling towards them at full speed. "Youkai! You will not-" she stopped and the arrow fell from nerveless fingers, followed by the bow, her gathered energies dissipated with a light pop like a soap bubble. She shrieked "Kagome-chan!" and ran towards them with her arms outstretched. The dog meanwhile had skidded to a stop and was fawning at Kagome with its tail wagging furiously. She smiled and bent down to pet the dog, waving Sesshoumaru back. She looked up barely in time to brace herself for the miko who crashed into her with enough force to stagger her back several steps.
"I am so glad you are okay, we were getting so worried! It has been insane here. Why are you here? Do you need the Bone Eater's Well unsealed?" Tsuuki caught her up in a fierce hug and was babbling at her, words tumbling out of her mouth in a mixed jumble. Kagome shot a quick glance at Sesshoumaru, but he looked as inscrutable as ever. With luck he may even have been baffled, she sure was.
"Sealed? Wha- why was the-. No, look we'll talk later, right now. Um, I came-" Kagome stuttered and stammered a moment before pausing and taking a deep breath. "This is Inu Yasha's brother Sesshoumaru-sama. Could you, ah, clear the main shrine so that we may have a private moment?"
Tsuuki looked up at Sesshoumaru, her eyes widened as though she hadn't seen him earlier. She stepped back, tugging at the wrinkles in the folds of her hakama, trying to return some sense of decorum to her station. She bowed deeply. "My lord, I am grieved at your loss. You are welcome at this shrine, I am Higurashi no Tsuuki. If you will wait a moment, please, you may have the shrine to yourselves."
Kagome could feel him watching her, staring at her, as Tsuuki left them. She tried to ignore him, counted the paving stones, examined the tree line. But she just couldn't take it any more. "What?" she asked.
"We are…welcome here." He spoke slowly, as if uncertain of his words.
"It is unusual for a demon to be welcome in a shrine."
She shrugged, "I grew up at the Sunset Shrine. Why shouldn't I be welcome at my home? And you, well, you are Inu Yasha's brother."
He was about to respond when the miko and a few other humans exited the main building. The humans stood to one side and bowed deeply as they passed into the building. Inside the shrine was sparsely decorated, Sesshoumaru stepped forward to the altar, on it the Tetsusaiga lay sheathed and bound with the prayer beads that once kept the hanyou from killing her.
"Why here?" Sesshoumaru asked, his voice had grown unexpectedly rough. "There was a place for him in the Western Lands."
"This was his home." She said softly. Her eyes stung with unshed tears, as it always did, when ever she came back here.
"Do you know how he died?" She was silent a moment trying to figure out what to tell him, without giving too much away.
"Do you know of the Shikon no Miko? The one who sealed him to the tree?"
"Yes, they were…mates a long time ago. But then Naraku tricked her into killing Inu Yasha, and she sealed him to a tree."
"But he was released?"
"Yes." She took a deep breath. "He heard that she was being held captive and was hurt. He felt responsible for her so he had to go save her, alone."
"It was a trap."
"There were none. No one knows what happened," but Kikyou died, her piece of their soul had flown to Kagome the very instant and Inu Yasha… "Inu Yasha came back broken. It was only a matter of time before he died, she hurt him irreparably."
"She was still hurting from Naraku's trick. She was mad at Inu Yasha because she didn't love him enough, or trust him enough."
"That makes no sense."
"No, it doesn't make any sense."
"Naraku." Sesshoumaru spoke softly to himself. "A name I have not heard in some time. I would have thought his machinations died with him."
"He wrought better than he knew." She said bitterly.
"You speak like you know. I don't remember seeing you there." He said turning to her.
"I know." She said, she could remember that day clearly. Inu Yasha and Sesshoumaru working in tandem, moving like one being wielding twin blades. As the Tenseiga released the bonds crafted by Onigumo's death the Tetsusaiga destroyed the freed Youkai. And she had walked between the two brothers, between life and death, to retrieve the Shikon no Tama. Only it wasn't the whole jewel. It was amazing how that one chunk of jewel had changed through all their trials it had slowly grown in their minds until they were convinced that Naraku horded almost the entire thing. He had barely collected a third of it. "Many who were hurt by Naraku and wished him dead were not there."
He nodded and turned back to the alter, "Leave me."
She bowed politely, "Of course, Sesshoumaru-sama. I will be speaking with the miko. Please, come find me when you are finished."
Tsuuki was waiting impatiently outside of the shrine. "Is everything okay?"
"Fine, fine." She said.
"He's not going to suddenly destroy the place is he?"
"No, um, he may take a souvenir, for the family tomb." She said, the only thing she could come up with to easily explain the soon to be missing Tetsusaiga. "Now, um what's this about having to seal the well?"
"Oh, right!" Tsuuki stood up straight and grabbed Kagome's arm before dragging her off. "There's been things coming out of the well, not just going in. We decided that it would be best if we sealed it up." Her eyebrows furrowed. "That is okay right? I mean, it's your well."
"No, that's fine. We had it sealed up too." Kagome reassured her.
"Oh, and you have to be careful. Youkai have come here looking for you."
"Looking for me or for…"
"Well, for…" Tsuuki waved at the main shrine, her wildly swinging arm nearly clothes-lining Sesshoumaru who had approached without either of them noticing. He gave Kagome a significant look before turning towards the shrine entrance. "Just be careful, Kagome. They would've hurt, maybe killed you, if you had been here."
"I'll be fine, you just keep on with what you're doing. As long as everyone thinks I'm here they won't be looking for me elsewhere, right?" The two girls embraced briefly before Kagome ran after Sesshoumaru. She caught up with him on the stairs.
"Kagome, you neglected to inform me that you were in danger." He spoke without looking at her but she could tell that all of his attention was focused keenly on her.
"I hardly think that my little problems are worth your time, Sesshoumaru-sama." She said, rolling her eyes at his title. "Now I believe you owe me a shard."
"You believe wrong, on both counts." He said derisively.
"Well, excuse this unworthy one for speaking," She snarled, coming to a halt at the bottom of the steps. "But we had a deal. I showed you the sword, now you give me the shard."
"The deal, this Sesshoumaru believes, was that when the Tetsusaiga has come to rest in this one's hands then you would receive the shard."
"Well, why the hell doesn't it?" She yelled. "I told you where it was, I led you right to it. The only reason you aren't holding it right now, is through no fault of my own! You owe me a shard."
"This Sesshoumaru owes you nothing, neither explanations nor items of dubious value." He turned and walked away.
"This sucks!" She kicked at a rock with some force. It was somewhat satisfying so she did it again. Then she noticed out of the corner of her eye that Sesshoumaru had paused, was half-turned towards her, watching her. When she looked at him full on, he smirked and turned away. She glowered at his back a moment before running to catch up with him. "You really are a bastard. You know that, right.
... ... ...
AN: Please review, constructive criticism is especially welcome.