A/N: Chapter twenty one it is, then! Finally, the baby's gender is revealed—I'll bet you're all mad at me for that one. I can't blame you; it was a nasty stunt to pull. I promise there'll be no more delaying that tidbit of information. So, let's get on with this.
Disclaimer: Inuyasha is copyright of Rumiko Takahashi, this story is for entertainment purposes only.
Kagura frowned as she glanced towards the village where her target resided, her red eyes flickered back to the scene on Kanna's mirror thoughtfully. She watched as Kagome angrily whispered at Bankotsu for saying their child was red and wrinkly then conjured up a large feather. Kanna stared emotionlessly at Kagura, a question just barely evident on her features.
Kagura's eyes narrowed as she glanced back at the village, "We'll give them time, Kanna."
Kanna said nothing as she followed the wind youkai onto her feather and sat. Kagura quietly stared out at the scenery below them, plots turning in her mind. Finally, she turned to the younger spawn, "Kanna… how would you like to be… free?"
Wary eyes scanned the dark thicket as a man cautiously took measured steps forward, his face muscles were clenched tightly.
"Renkotsu, how nice of you to visit."
The man spun around quickly, facing another cloaked in a baboon pelt. "Naraku," the assassin tipped his white face in forced reverence before approaching, "I bring valuable information," he paused, waiting for Naraku's response.
"The miko went into labor earlier today—I imagine that she already gave birth."
The entity of evil energy's faux grin wavered as the white pelt rustled around him, "This changes plans." In a flicker of light, the hanyou was gone. In another, he reappeared behind the fire soldier. "No matter, perhaps this will make everything more… interesting."
Renkotsu inclined his head the slightest bit, signaling his agreement—though to what he was unsure.
"How is your dear leader, anyway? I haven't met up with him as of late." A sharp, jarring laughter mangled the former silence, "I should get him a congratulations gift, yes?"
A sickening rip filled the air as Renkotsu stared up at Naraku with wide eyes. "Y-you! Bastard!" he gasped and choked as a metallic liquid fought its way up his throat.
"I'll take this traitorous soldier of his off of his hands." A sneer stretched his lips into dark red lines.
"Bastard! After what I did f—" he hacked and crimson spilt forth from his mouth, "—You… would be nowhere if not for my information!"
"DO NOT—" he inhaled before talking quietly, a calm smile relaxing his muscles, "think for a second that I am unaware of your intentions: you work for yourself alone. I would have thought you'd be smart enough to realize, Renkotsu, I don't play fair." With the last word, the black tentacle withdrew and retreated beneath the white fur, leaving the man to bleed out. "I see you brought me a prize..." Naraku smirked as he pulled the small collection of shikon shards from the soldier's guard.
"Na…raku… you… bastard."
"Such tragic last words," cold eyes stared into the undead assassin's as his hand pierced through flesh. A brief second passed before the flesh turned to ash, leaving only bones and clothes.
Another shard was added to Naraku's nearly completed collection.
Kagome grinned as she glanced down at the beautiful bundle of joy in her arms. A soft mop of unruly black hair just barely covered its head and dark coal eyelashes brushed its chubby cheeks as it breathed gently. She hummed and rubbed its back through the blanket. "Sweet Ban-Ban."
"Ban-Ban?" Bankotsu's eyebrows drew together as he stared down at his son. "I thought we agreed on Tsuyosa."
"No," Kagome hissed lowly, "you agreed on Tsuyosa."
Bankotsu rolled his eyes in exasperation, "What kind of name is Ban-Ban?! Everywhere he goes he'll get beaten up!"
It was her turn to roll her eyes, "Please! It's not his name, it's his nickname! I thought you'd appreciate having your son named after you."
The assassin frowned at his lover before leaning back against the wall. Kagome stared at him in surprise before bursting out in laughter.
"You didn't realize that I had named him after you, did you?" she giggled at him while nuzzling their child.
He glared at her, "No one ever called me Ban-Ban before; how was I supposed to figure it out?"
The miko frowned when the child in her arms started crying and began rocking him, "We can't really call him Bankotsu, it would get confusing." She looked at him, "Just admit it, you like it."
A small grin stretched his features as Bankotsu lightly ruffled the few locks his son possessed, "Ban-Ban. I guess it fits. Urk!" He winced and pulled his hand back.
"Bankotsu, what's—" Kagome frowned when her eyes fell on the light singe mark on his hand. "Ban-Ban… can purify?" She glanced down at her son in disbelief. "Oh." Her frown deepened, 'What does that mean… Will Bankotsu never be able to hold him?'
"I guess I can't get a break between you two," he laughed uneasily.
Kagome softly massaged her child's back, "Miko don't generally give birth… but, I'm sure there have been cases of former kannushi or miko being born with their spiritual powers, perhaps Kaede will know something…"
The mercenary nodded slightly before regarding Kagome loosely. Her brow was creased in deep thought as she tended to their son. Taking in the image of his progeny—what a strange thought: his progeny—Bankotsu fought the urge to laugh; he was no genius, that was for certain, but he had common sense, at least.
Kagome was pure; Bankotsu was practically the epitome of evil. 'What a joke,' he mused. Any natural union between them would result in a sick mixture of the two—but it wasn't a natural union; Bankotsu was no longer human. What did that make their son?
Bankotsu frowned, his current line of thoughts were getting too far away from common sense for his liking. He instead rested a hand on Kagome's shoulder when she yawned, "Hey, aren't you tired?"
The crease in her forehead dissipated when she looked at him, "Hm? Well, not too much, I suppose. Though," she looked down at little Bankotsu, "maybe a nap wouldn't hurt…"
He shifted his weight so he was leaning against the wall, "Go ahead and sleep, I'll keep an eye on you."
"Mmm, thanks, 'Kotsu." She situated herself on the bed so that Ban-Ban was near her breast. As her eyes drifted close she murmured softly, "I love you."
The assassin looked at her sharply when she said this, a frown marring his face.
Kagome moaned and rolled over. Suddenly her eyes flew open as she pushed herself up and scanned the immediate area for the child that was snuggled in her arms when she had fallen asleep. The panic spiked when she realized that there was no child around her, nor was there an assassin—there was, quite simply… nothing. "Bankotsu?!" her cry seemed so quiet in the vast darkness that surrounded her. "No, no…" she bit her lip and stood.
Kagome whirled around at the soft call, but it was impossible to determine where the voice had come from. She turned slowly trying to find the source as her name was called again, but she saw nothing.
Finally, in the distance she could see a dim white series of ripples. Upon looking down she could see similar ripples surrounding her feet. 'Water…?' The inky surface she stood on was surely some sort of liquid, but she didn't feel even the slightest bit cold or wet.
"Kagome." The voice began to sound familiar—not unlike her own. In fact, it sounded a lot like her own… but not.
The approaching figure grew sharper in Kagome's vision, the colors it wore stood out vibrantly amongst the black surroundings.
"Kikyou…" the girl softly spoke the other's name in surprise. The dead miko nodded affirmatively. "What do you…?"
"I assure you I mean no harm." Now face to face with each other Kikyou gently reached out a hand and took Kagome's. Bistre eyes followed the movement as she gently lifted their entwined fingers between them. A tender smile graced Kikyou's features as their gazes met.
The kind actions confused Kagome completely, but looking at her former incarnate's eyes truly left her speechless—for a brief moment she thought she was looking into a mirror.
"I apologize," the elder began, "for my actions towards you. I hope that I was proof enough why the dead should not be amongst the living."
"I don't…" Kagome began, clearly stupefied.
The elder seemed to understand as she shook her head and her smile widened, "I'd like to think that I wasn't much different than you are when I was alive—that of course, would be false. We did, after all, grow up in extremely different environments, resulting in my more jaded outlook on life." She gently lowered their hands, but did not let go as she started to walk away, pulling Kagome with her.
"You see, once one dies their soul leaves the mortal realm and enters the afterlife. It is our purpose to live and die so we may appreciate all that we are gifted. To leave the afterlife without the will of the Gods is forbidden—and I assure you that no free soul would want to return to the mortal realm." Kikyou glanced back at Kagome, who was again taken aback by how alike they looked. "What happens to souls that are forced back into the mortal realm is what you saw of me. We are forced into our most basic and primitive instincts to survive and defend what we believe to be ours. We are often passionate about revenge against the wrongs done to us and are bitter. Wouldn't you be a little bit cynical if you were ripped from heaven and forced back into a place with such pain and suffering?" She allowed herself to laugh lightly at her question.
"Also, a living thing—whether reanimated or living—cannot be allowed to remember the afterlife and what was learned there." To this, Kikyou looked sadly back at Kagome and stopped walking, "I knew that it wasn't Inuyasha's fault that I had died, I knew it the moment my soul left my broken body. However, because I had learned it after I had died I was not allowed to recall this memory while alive." Her eyes narrowed morosely, "It is painful, remembering all I have done… acting on such feelings I didn't fully comprehend. I had one directive: revenge."
"Then why didn't you…" Kagome trailed off, suddenly feeling embarrassed, "I mean, many tried to eliminate you…"
"So why didn't I let them?" Kikyou asked with a slight smile. Kagome nodded. "When you're removed from the afterlife, all memory goes with it. I already mentioned how we depend on our most basic instincts, and the underlying instinct in that is to survive. Do you understand?"
Mystified, the girl nodded again, "I think so… But why are you telling me this?"
Kikyou smirked, "Pride, to be honest. We share the same soul, you know us to be somewhat proud of who we are. I wanted you to know that I am not who you knew me to be. A fair desire, I must add."
Kagome cocked her head slightly, "Where are you leading me, then?"
"I have one last act before I may rest. This… you will not be able to do this on your own. I blame myself that you have to do this. If I had been successful in my assignment to the jewel, it would not have fallen to you. Kagome… are you ready to know the secret of the shikon no tama?"
The girl of the future inhaled deeply before answering in a solemn tone, "Yes."
"Kagome, come on, wake up. Ban-Ban's hungry." Kagome's eyes fluttered open at the "gentle" prompting of her lover—though, in his defense he did seem reluctant to do so. "Finally! God, you sleep deeper than Jakotsu!"
She laughed lightly and shifted, "Give me a break, I gave birth three days ago."
Bankotsu shrugged before standing up, "I'm going to go help the others hunt." He paused to press a kiss to her and then, hesitantly, the baby's forehead. "I was promised some fun after the kid was born, I think I might have to cash in tonight."
The miko raised an eyebrow, "Not even in your wildest dreams."
He decided to duck out of the hut before she started firing arrows at him—if the look she gave him was any indication, she wasn't too far from it.
Kagome rolled her eyes and gently rubbed her child's back as he suckled; her thoughts wandered back to her dream. Kikyou hadn't completely explained what she had to do, but she had a pretty good idea what she needed to do. It wasn't going to be easy.
She looked up in surprise, "Sango!"
The taijiya smiled and sat down beside her friend, "I still can't get over how cute he is." She laughed when the boy hiccupped, "He has your eyes…"
Kagome laughed, "It seems that's all he inherited from me physically. He looks like a chubby little Bankotsu!" When he started fussing, she switched sides, "I bet Miroku's envious."
Sango chuckled, "I doubt it! With all the screaming you did, I wonder if he'll even want to have kids."
"Of course he'll want to have kids; he's just waiting for you to be ready."
"Kagome!" the elder admonished her friend, "Miroku and I are not a couple!"
A snort escaped the miko's lips, "Sure. And labor was the easiest thing I've ever done. It's obvious you two love each other. It's time you got working on a playmate for Ban-Ban."
The sound of a soft smack resounded in the hut, "Kagome! Honestly! Has child birth made you as bad as Miroku?"
Kagome rubbed the back of her head, "Slap a woman who recently had a child…"
"That excuse is getting old, anyway." Sango mused, trying not to let remorse filter into her tone.
Kagome laughed, "Wait until you go through it! Then we'll see how quickly the excuse gets old."
Sango smiled at her friend before lightly caressing Ban-Ban's tuft of hair, "Miroku and I, hm?"
"Getting baby envy?" Kagome teased, her eyes twinkling.
"Not entirely," Sango replied, surprising Kagome at her submission. "I don't think I'm ready to be a mother, anyway." She paused for a second, "Do you think Miroku really likes me?"
"Really? Sango, all I know is that he used to grope every woman he came across. Now, he only ever touches you."
Sango blushed, embarrassed that she was pleased by that thought. She opened her mouth to comment, but closed it before she could.
Kagome supplied her, "You like him, too." When she didn't reply Kagome patted her shoulder, "Go for it, Sango! If you don't, you'll regret it for the rest of your life."
Before Sango could reply, Ban-Ban gurgled, drawing the two women's attention.
"He's tired," Sango murmured.
His mother sighed, "I don't know if I could spend another minute in this futon, though."
Taking the hint, Sango stood up, "He'll be fine in here; I'll take you for a walk."
Kagome nodded graciously as Sango helped her up. Carefully, Kagome adjusted some pillows around her child to keep him from rolling.
"Alright," Kagome breathed as Sango supported her friend's weight on her shoulder, "let's go."
The taijiya nodded as they made their way out of Kaede's hut. Halfway down the dirt path Sango began, "Kagome?"
"You seemed perplexed about something when you were tucking Bankotsu in… Is everything alright?"
Kagome nodded, "I think so… it's just that," she frowned as she tried to think of a way to say it, "…I think Ban-Ban inherited my powers of purification."
"So? That's good, isn't it?" Sango seemed confused by this information.
"Well, yes, but… his father…"
"Oooh," Sango breathed in realization, "You're worried that Ban-Ban will accidentally purify Bankotsu."
Kagome winced at the thought, "Essentially."
Sango mulled over the idea; she had completely forgotten that Bankotsu was no longer human, or of the natural world. "Maybe you should talk to Kaede? She's in the herb garden."
As the two women switched their direction the miko sighed, "None of it really makes sense… Ban-Ban shouldn't technically exist, right? I mean, Bankotsu should be entirely void of the ability to procreate. He doesn't even bleed, Sango."
"I don't know, Kagome… Your best shot is Kaede." Her friend nodded in agreement before falling into a pensive silence.
When the two finally reached the herb garden, Kagome gently laid her hand on Sango's arm, wordlessly thanking her for her assistance, and hobbled over to the hunched figure in the garden.
"Ye should be resting, child," Kaede stood slowly, dusting off her hakama as she did so.
"I was getting stir crazy," Kagome bowed respectfully when Kaede turned to regard her.
Kaede nodded and deposited her freshly picked herbs into a basket, "And ye wanted some answers." It was a statement, not a question.
Kagome nodded, "My son… he shouldn't—"
"—Exist?" Kagome assented forlornly to Kaede's word, "Ye are right, he shouldn't."
The younger exhaled, desperate to satiate the curiosity that had been growing in her since she knew she was pregnant. "But… how then?"
Noticing the young woman's fatigue, Kaede gestured for Kagome to sit with her before beginning, "Much like yer lover, the shikon no tama is… an unnatural existence. It is not inconceivable that while conceiving yer child, ye briefly purified the shards that were in Bankotsu."
"But wouldn't that kill him?"
"At the time, yer bodies would have been one, making yer powers extend to him. During those few moments, yer souls also would have conjoined. Afterward, part of Bankotsu's soul would not be able to return to his body because—"
"—I purified it." Kagome's eyes narrowed in thought, "So… Ban-Ban isn't born from flesh and blood, he's born from…" She glanced up at Kaede in amazement when realization dawned on her.
The elder nodded, "Yes, Ban-Ban is the purified portion of Bankotsu's soul mixed with yer own. Yer chi rejected the foreign influence, isolating it from the rest of yer being. I imagine yer body was ready for child at the time and molded the separate power into a child."
"Will Bankotsu never be able to hold his son, then?" The young miko became saddened at the thought.
"With practice, the lil'un will be able with strain himself, but he will not be able to learn until he is older. As it is now, his powers seem to fluctuate sporadically. I believe that when he is a couple of months old, as long as the boy is happy and calm, Bankotsu will be able to hold him."
Kagome frowned, "Is it only Bankotsu who is affected because Ban-Ban is the personification of his purified soul or…?"
"Bankotsu will be the most affected by the lil'un's powers, but he is part of ye, as well."
"I see," part of her was relieved by this information, but the other part was worried. She began to thank her mentor, but never got the chance.
A piercing scream rang throughout the air, causing the three women in the garden to look back towards the village. An onslaught on shrieks filled the air, causing Kagome to shoot up with fear.
"Ban-Ban!" Disregarding the searing pain from giving birth, the miko speed back towards the village, intent on protecting her son.
Around her, the villagers were running chaotically. Men shouted orders at women to go inside with the children as they collected their arms. As Kagome fought her way through the crowd, a woman grabbed her sleeve. "Kagome-nee-sama! Y-your child! The youkai was after your child!"
"What?!" Kagome stared at the woman in unadulterated horror, "Wh-where?! Is he still at Kaede's hut?!"
The woman shook her head, with tears in her eyes, "I-I don't—They're at least around there, I don't think they've gotten far…"
The woman barely finished her sentence before Kagome took off running again, shouting a loose 'thank you' over her shoulder. 'Please, Kami-sama, don't let my baby get hurt…' She didn't have her bow with her; she would have to depend solely on her powers.
She skidded around the corner of a small hut, her groin screaming in protest, and stopped before Kaede's hut. Her pupils constricted with fear, "Kagura!"
The wind youkai turned to regard the miko, "Kagome! I'm glad you could join our party!"
"Kagura!" the breathless pant of Sango came from behind Kagome.
"And the taijiya as well!" Kagura smirked.
"Where's my son?!" already pink energy began enveloping her form, fizzing at the edges with her anger.
Kagura's nose wrinkled, "That brat?" She glanced back at Kaede's hut, "Go see for yourself."
Kagome eyed the youkai warily. "Sango," she whispered, "Go get the guys."
"I'll be fine, don't worry about it. Just get them as quickly as possible."
Sango nodded and called out for Kirara before running back into the massive throng of villagers.
Kagura smirked, "Was that the smartest thing to do? After all, it's just me and you."
Kagome frowned, "Me, you, my son, and Kanna."
Her smirk faded slightly, she had forgotten that Kagome would be able to sense her companion. No matter, a minor setback. "If we're together, then where does that leave Kanna and little "Ban-Ban," hm?"
She knew where this was going—even without her miko powers she'd know that Kanna had Ban-Ban. "What do you want, Kagura? Or should I say, "what does Naraku want," Kagura?"
"What I want is of no concern to you. I would be more concerned about my son, if I were you. He is alone with a void youkai…"
Kagome walked forward, her continence exuding confidence, though she was anything but. She glared at wind youkai as she brushed by into the thatch hut.
It was dark. Impossibly so, it seemed.
"Ban-Ban…?" she called softly, hoping the infant would react somehow.
As she had hoped, there was a hushed gargling sound coming from her right. She turned her body towards the cry. 'Where's Kanna…?' Kagome worried her lip, why couldn't she pinpoint the void youkai's location? There was a soft glint of light just a little bit further, if she could just follow it… "Ban-Ban, mama's here. Don't worry."
Why was she feeling weaker? The strain she put on her sore body must have been taking its toll as she struggled to put one foot in front of the other. Suddenly, her legs gave out, a gasp escaping her lips when she realized what the glint was—but too late.
"The mirror is empty this time," Kanna whispered as she emotionlessly watched Kagome's soul being sucked into the mirror, "It will not be as difficult to contain your entire soul."
"B…an-Ban," his name came a strangled gasp.
"We can't touch your brat," Kagura's cocky voice came from behind Kagome's collapsed form, "So don't worry about him too much. Shame. Oh well, we only need you to serve our purpose, anyway."
The miko fought to keep consciousness, though she was failing miserably. "Wh…y?"
Kagura watched as the girl completely lost her strength and collapsed to the ground. She stared at her for a moment before looking to Kanna.
"It fits, this time."
"Good." Kagura's ear twitched, causing her to look outside. She leered at the doorway, "It seems the taijiya was quicker than I expected. Very well. Kanna, go distract them while I slip away with the miko."
Kanna nodded and wordlessly stepped outside the door. Ignoring the resulting ruckus, Kagura hefted Kagome out through the back way. Effortlessly, Kagura summoned one of her feathers and tossed the soulless body onto it. As she inconspicuously made her escape she stared back at the hut. 'I'll have to return for Kanna later…' She glanced down at the limp body, "It'll all be worth it in the end, Kanna." She ignored the doubt that laced her thoughts.
Kanna stared apathetically as the Inutachi—and two of the Shichinintai—attacked the youkai that came from her mirror. Soon Kagura-nee would come back and get her.
"Where are they?!" a black haired man yelled at her as he fought to get closer to the small youkai.
"Your son is in the hut." Kanna murmured. The words seemed to have an ominous warning in them, though she showed no intent of them being so.
"Where is Kagome?!" Inuyasha shouted.
Kanna's lifeless eyes looked up to meet his, "Kagome? She is here." The void youkai looked down at her mirror.
"What?!" Miroku cried out in alarm.
The black haired man looked around wildly, "What does that mean?!" He growled as he narrowly dodged another attack from Kanna's conjured youkai. "How do we get her back?!"
Before anyone could answer the desperate man, Kanna's mouth fell open. She looked to the sky as a foreign wetness rolled down her face.
Sesshoumaru sneered in annoyance as he ripped his venom-dripping hand from the void youkai's back, "You break the mirror."
"Ka…gura…" Kanna whispered as her mirror shattered. A blue light poured from it and flashed through the sky. Gold eyes briefly flickered, following its path. The white youkai exhaled slowly as she evaporated into thin air.
"Sesshoumaru! What do you want!?" the hanyou bared his teeth.
The taiyoukai's eyes narrowed as he coldly acknowledged the group, "I have an alliance with the miko, and I intend to keep my word."
Bankotsu squashed down his growing hope and glared at the tall inyoukai, "Do you know where she is?"
"She isn't here, clearly." Sesshoumaru's stony stare didn't waver, "It seems that Kagura has taken her."
Without hesitation, Bankotsu shouldered Banryuu and made to run off.
"Wait!" Sango shouted at the mercenary and grabbed his shoulder, "I know it's hard, Bankotsu, but… If Kagura took Kagome, then she's headed for Naraku. We need a battle plan if we're going to face him. And… what about your son? Kagome would never forgive you if you just left him…"
Bankotsu pushed her hand away from him, glaring at her, though he made no move to run after Kagome again. He knew the taijiya was right.
"We'll regroup then, we'll think up a battle plan and leave. If we leave Kagome alone with that bastard too long…" he stopped, not wanting to think of the possibilities, "Suikotsu!"
"Go get Jakotsu and Renkotsu, we'll need them."
The doctor of the shichinintai nodded before taking off.
"We'll get Kagome back and kill that bastard, Naraku."
A loud cry came from inside the hut, causing the remaining group to glance at the doorway.
Sango glanced at the back of the mercenary's head, remembering what Kagome and Kaede had said about him not being able to hold Ban-Ban. "I'll take care of it, Bankotsu," she whispered before running into the hut.
Bankotsu's blue-gray eyes became downcast as he gripped Banryuu's hilt tighter; how can he expect to save Kagome when he can't even comfort his own son? "I will get you, Kagome. Just hold on."
A/N: So… I owe everyone a huge apology. It's been over a year, hasn't it? My most sincere apologies. Life has been… hectic—as I am sure all of you can relate. I have no excuses to offer you, as there really aren't any. There are only a few more chapters left, however, so if you can bear with me, I promise your patience will be rewarded. At least you know the baby's gender now, right? And, this time it is much less of a cliff hanger! Ah, anyway. I can't promise I will update a lot, but I will promise that I'll finish the story. It may take a while, but it will get done. Swear it! And I want you all to know how much I appreciate your help and support. My readers and reviewers all mean so much to me! Every chapter I post is for you guys! Love you forever!