A/N: Written for Qem, my favorite Aussie. :grin:
The young priestess carefully spread a healing salve on the wound and covered it with a clean scrap of cloth. "There," she said as she tied the bandage firmly in place. "That should take care of your injury."
"Kindly done," the handsome soldier replied, smiling a little as the girl blushed and didn't meet his eyes. She could hear the amusement in his voice as he flirted with her, his words respectful but his tone yet so teasing.
"I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't taken pity on me, young priestess. Might this lowly soldier know the name of his fair rescuer?"
Her cheeks coloring even more, she offered him a shy smile. "My name is Kaede. You don't need to flatter me, I was glad to help."
His eyes brightened and his smile grew even wider. "That is a beautiful name, it suits you well."
He leaned closer to her, boldly placing his hands upon hers. "You may call me Yoshi, pretty Kaede. I had heard stories of this village; they said that a priestess lived here whose beauty was beyond compare. I never expected her to be so young or so sweet."
Her shoulders stiffened and the girl looked around nervously, hoping none of the villagers had noticed his behavior. She withdrew her hands and busied herself by gathering her healing supplies into a neat pile.
"I'm afraid you have me confused with someone else," she said quietly. His mouth quirked in a silent smile, a question she had to answer. "It was my sister Kikyou who was the beauty, not me."
A quiet child, Kaede had never been very comfortable with having attention drawn to her. She was content to follow her sister, assisting in whatever duties needed to be performed. She had wanted to be just like Kikyou when she grew up and dreamed of the day when it would be her responsibility to protect the village.
All of that had changed one bloody, late-summer day. That was the day that Kaede had lost both her sister and an eye and when her destiny had become set in stone. A child's devotion had turned bitter as it was the only path she was now allowed and it wasn't until her early teens that Kaede had realized how binding those vows truly had been.
She was priestess to the village. Healer, comfort, spiritual leader and protector; it was an immense burden for a young girl to bear. Another girl might have been allowed to put aside her duties one day, to marry and have children of her own. To take her place as an ordinary woman, one who didn't have to worry about defending her people from demons.
Although she alone knew the truth that even Kikyou had wished for escape and a life more ordinary, Kaede couldn't find it in herself to resent her dead sister. She was painfully aware that she was no Kikyou and that nothing she ever did would measure up. Still, she never let so much as a resentful word pass her lips, allowed no expression of fatigue or frustration cross her face. At least not in front of the village elders or any of her people.
Only one person was allowed to see her true face, her true self. Only he would ever hear her ugly words of recrimination or her bitter, bitter grief. With him, she could be herself, to him she could confess her loneliness, her anger and lay the blame right where it belonged. And she could do this because he'd never be able to tell a single soul.
"This is all your fault!" she raged, picking up rocks and hurling them at him with all of her strength. The sleeping hanyou never answered her and it made her angry that her rocks did nothing to him. He didn't bleed, he didn't even bruise, instead her missiles of resentment just bounced harmlessly off his chest and face, even his long hair barely stirred in the breeze.
"If she hadn't loved you, this never would have happened." It made her angry the only outlet she had for her frustration was the body of an oblivious boy. He was the guilty one, guilty as sin, but her sister's seal protected him from even Kaede's anger. She knew that if she tried to cut him, her blade would make no mark. She couldn't sever so much as a strand of his silver hair. The spell that held him was for all eternity and Kaede could feel the power that radiated from Kikyou's arrow whenever she drew close to him.
Kaede turned away from the sleeping hanyou, ashamed of herself. At least Kikyou had loved. She would probably never even get the chance.
Kaede moaned as Yoshi's hands traveled over her body, his lips hot against the skin of her neck. It was so wrong of her to keep meeting him. What if the elders found out about her behavior? Would they hate her? Would they cast her out of the village, the only home that she'd ever known? Would they despise her for breaking her vows and call her worthless if she was no longer the priestess to protect them?
"Come away with me," he whispered, toying with the ties of her hakama.
"I can't," Kaede breathed, reaching out to tangle her hands in his dark hair. "Not yet, I can't just abandon my duty."
Yoshi sighed heavily and pushed away from her. "Why not?" he asked, only for the hundredth time. "Kaede, you don't owe them anything."
"It's not just the village," she murmured, straightening her clothes and trying not to look at him. He was frustrated, he was a man and she loved him. But she couldn't leave with him, not just yet.
She had made a promise, one that couldn't be put aside lightly. As a young child Kaede had stood with the villagers, watching as her sister's pyre lit the sky with ever growing flames. It was then that she'd made a promise to Kikyou.
I will do my best, older sister, the child Kaede had vowed. I will take up your duty and protect our village.
Strange how promises to her dead sister were even more binding than the vows she'd taken later. It seemed as if Kikyou's spirit had smiled upon her when she whispered the words, her young heart bursting with grief and love.
Yoshi's fingers brushed her chin, turning her face towards his. "I can't wait for you forever," he whispered, leaning close to kiss her cheek. "You said you'd marry me, Kaede. Don't you love me?"
"Of course I love you, Yoshi!" The words burst from her lips, her heart quaking at the idea that he would leave, move on, find a woman who wasn't already bound by promises she couldn't break. "Don't say that!"
He smiled, turning away from her. "Prove it. Come with me, let me make love to you. Let me make you my wife and give you my children."
She bit her lip, a single tear leaking from the corner of her eye. "I…I will, Yoshi. Please just be patient with me a little while longer. I promise that I will marry you, I just need to find the right time to tell the elders that I can't…"
He cut off her words with a hard kiss, his hands already moving again towards her breasts and hips like they were drawn to her flesh by invisible wires. "How much longer are you going to make me wait, Kaede? I want you now."
"I know," she breathed, almost panting from the havoc he was creating in her body with his touch, with his lips. "I want you too, I swear I do!"
Kaede stumbled as he suddenly pushed her away, letting her fall in a gasping heap at his feet. She stared up at him, shocked, as Yoshi smirked down at her in triumph. His eyes glittered at her, piercing her heart and making her tremble under his gaze. She thought again how handsome he was, so strong and invulnerable, so sure of himself. He was everything she was not, decisive and demanding. Yoshi would never put aside his desires for the good of others, not for a minute. And what he seemed to desire most…was her.
"Prove it," he said, his voice hard and uncompromising. "Leave with me tonight. I will meet you at the edge of the forest as soon as the moon is at its highest peak in the sky. If you don't meet me, if you don't come away with me then, you will never see me again."
He turned and left her sitting on the ground with the memory of his touch still scalding her skin. He was serious, he was really going to leave her. Kaede watched as he disappeared into the trees, his tall, strong body held straight and proud. Yoshi wasn't a man to give up easily; he wasn't a man who was going to let himself be put off by the promises of just a girl.
Kaede let her head drop forward to rest against her knees, her arms wrapped tight around her legs. She didn't want to break her promise, but she couldn't bear the idea of being without him. She wanted to marry Yoshi, she wanted to have children, babies to raise and play with. She didn't want to be a priestess anymore and suddenly, Kaede knew exactly why her sister had chosen death.
Even Kikyou couldn't bear to be alone again.
"What am I going to do?" she asked him, pacing around the tree one more time. As usual, the hanyou kept his own counsel, leaving her to ponder alone in the silence.
"I love him. I love Yoshi. The choice should be easy. Why do I feel like I'm doing the wrong thing?"
The girl stopped her pacing, standing next to the tree and staring up at her silent companion. The wind stirred among the leaves of the tree, dappling him with sunlight and shadow. All around her, she could feel the soft breath of the forest, enclosing her in sense of comfortable peace. For some reason, she felt like this was the one place that had no demands on her. Here she could still feel the echoes of her sister's power and her sister's pain.
"You wouldn't hesitate, would you?" she asked, smiling faintly as she looked up at him. "I guess betraying her was a simple thing for you, half demon. Maybe you could tell how lonely my sister was."
Kaede dug her hands into the roots of the tree, pulling herself up to face her sister's murderer. How she hated him, how she despised him, this half demon boy who had ruined everything. Like any other demon, he'd come for the jewel, for the lure of its power. When he hadn't been strong enough to steal it by force, he'd switched tactics.
Tracing the side of his cheek with her finger, Kaede grew thoughtful. "Will I be happy if I leave?" she whispered, asking the hanyou questions that she herself couldn't answer. "I don't really have to stay, I'm just an ordinary priestess. I'm nothing like she was."
The silvery hair stirred and whisked across her face, tendrils of silk and dreams. Idly, she leaned against him and let his hair curl around her fingers. "Yoshi thinks I'm beautiful," she told him, almost expecting him to answer. "He doesn't care that I lost an eye, he doesn't care if I'm damaged and scarred. It's me that he wants and I love him for that."
Her hand strayed to the arrow that had remained embedded in his chest for all these years. Although her power was nothing like Kikyou's, she could still feel the way the spell resonated from the feathered shaft. Her palm prickled in reaction, warning her to leave it be, leave it be.
She'd tried to pull it out once.
Her hand had carried burns for weeks.
And Kaede had carried the secret next to her heart that she'd tried to remove the arrow and break her sister's spell. Believing once, impossible as it was, that if the seal had been broken she would have been able to run her knife across his throat and kill the murdering demon who had…
"I'll forget you," she said, leaning so close that her lips brushed his cheek. "I'll forget about her. In time, I might even be able to forget everything."
She stepped down from the tree, lost in daydreams of the life she planned to have. "It doesn't matter anymore," she told herself, her voice fierce and strong. "It doesn't matter if I leave, there's no jewel and I can break my promise to protect…"
Kaede spun around, startled. "Yoshi," she said, surprised to see him here of all places, in the cursed forest of Inuyasha. "Why did you…"
He didn't look at her, staring up at the sleeping half demon instead. "I've wondered where you went to, the villagers said you'd go into the forest alone, sometimes for hours. Now I see. You weren't exactly alone."
Yoshi stalked around the tree, a strange and twisted expression on his face. "All for the sake of Kikyou," he murmured, almost as if he'd forgotten she was there. He raised his hand towards the arrow and Kaede was shocked to see it start to glow, almost angrily, as if warning him away.
"She is dead, but her power lives still," Yoshi murmured. "Even if death she protects him, seals him like a wasp in amber. Death without decay, sleep without dreams. " He raised his eyes to hers and Kaede's heart leaped into her throat. They were no longer dark, but crimson, like old blood on ice.
He smiled, and the darkness poured from him like water.
His fingers seemed to lengthen into claws.
Kaede backed away, shaking her head. "I don't believe it," she whispered, her voice catching in the back of her throat with bitter realization. "You're a…demon?"
Yoshi made a soft sound, scolding her lightly. "Can't you forgive me, sweet Kaede? Don't you still long for the touch of my hands, of my lips upon your soft skin? Does it really matter what I am when I'm the one who has come to free you from your hateful duty?"
She didn't hesitate, she whirled and ran from him, tearing blindly into the trees. She ran as fast as she could, her heart hammering in her chest. If she could get back to the village, if she could get to her bow, if she could just outrun the beast in the forest that had taken a lover's face, sweet words, promises…
He crashed into her hard, throwing her to the ground and grappling with her. His dark laughter was poison in her ears as she fought with him, cursing him and feeling how much he was enjoying this, her final moments of horror and betrayal.
"Sweet Kaede," he whispered, his breath foul and rotten in her face. "Don't turn me away, not now! I want you to be my wife, didn't I tell you that already?"
"No," she grunted, trying to twist away from him. He held her easily, waiting until the struggle faded from her body, until the resistance drained from her heart. Then he leaned close and licked her cheek, tracing over the skin and mockingly skirting the patch of leather that covered her ruined eye.
"Why are you doing this?" she asked, her heart breaking. She was such a fool.
"Little girl," he answered, burying his face between her breasts. "Can't you guess what I really want? Not your love, not your virginity. Although I'll have both, they aren't what I was really after."
"The jewel," she whispered.
He raised himself and stared down at her with his hateful lover's face. "Yes," he hissed. "I don't believe the stories that she took it to her death. Kikyou might have been a fool enough to love that miserable half breed, even follow him in her death, but I refuse to believe that the Shikon no Tama could be destroyed so easily."
"I don't know," Kaede said, frantic to get away from him. "I don't know what happened to it. We burned it with her, she told us to…"
His fingers found her breast and squeezed it painfully. "Little liar," he whispered. "You know where it is, if Kikyou told anyone the truth, it would have been her dear, sweet baby sister."
"No!" she cried, shoving against him again. Yoshi let her fight for a moment, then began to teasingly caress her again.
"Come on now, little girl. Tell me. Tell your husband the truth." He pinched her left nipple so hard that she cried out. "Don't make me hurt you, Kaede."
Furious, she spat at him. "Even if I did know," the girl said, her voice hard with anger, "I'd never tell you, demon!"
He laughed at that and tried to kiss her, but she turned her face away, her jaw clenched and bitter tears leaking onto her cheeks. "Don't you love me, Kaede? Didn't you promise me everything? Don't hide it from me. I can make your death painless, there's no reason to suffer like Kikyou."
When she didn't answer, he nuzzled her breasts with his mouth. "Maybe it isn't me that you really wanted," he murmured. "Maybe there's something else, someone else, you've been dreaming of…"
Kaede stared as his eyes changed color, turning golden as the sun even as his hair grew and swept over her in pale, silvery waves.
"Will you tell me, little priestess?" he asked in a voice changed and turned gruff. "Will you tell your sister's lover, the one who turned on her, betrayed her, although even in the end she still wanted only him?"
His smile mocked her, fangs glinting in the darkness. "Love makes a woman into a fool," he whispered, lowering his lips to hers. "It makes even a priestess vulnerable prey to the most sly of demonkind."
"No!" Her shout echoed in the trees, sending birds into panicked flight. Kaede shoved him away, feeling something building inside her, something powerful, terrible and then…
The sky burst into light, a single white-hot flame of purity, cascading over them with the power of something sacred. For a moment she was blinded, lying helpless on the ground and Kaede felt her sister's power echoing from within, overwhelming her with grief and strength and …love?
When the light faded, he was gone and she was alone. For a long moment, she lay on the ground and wondered what had happened. Had her sister protected her? Or had that strange power come from inside her body, from her soul, her own strength?
She got to her feet, gripping the nearest tree as she hauled herself up, knees still trembling so badly that she thought she might fall. Yoshi was gone, if he'd ever even existed. She couldn't know if he had been a real man or if the demon had been inside him from beginning. His loving words, his tender touch. It would be hard to forget about. Hard to forgive herself for being such a fool.
As she turned, heading back to the village that was her home and now, she realized, her only destiny, Kaede froze when soft words whispered into her mind.
"Don't think this is over, priestess. The jewel will return someday. And while you wither and age, wasting your life protecting the worthless humans and sacrificing your life and youth like your sister, I will be waiting. I have all the time in the world."
"I'll be waiting too," she muttered, limping back to the village and ignoring the pain of a shredded love. "I'll be waiting for you, demon. In whatever guise you show, I will be waiting for your return."
She turned her gaze to the darkening sky and smiled bitterly. "I will protect my people. I will gladly serve my sacred duty, even if it means my life. Just like Kikyou. My sister."