DISCLAIMER: All Inuyasha characters are the creation of, and © to Rumiko Takahashi, and subsequent parties. This fanfiction (Prelude) is the creation of my demented mind, and © to Shun'u Hanashiro 2000-2001.
Author's Notes: Spoilers for all of the events prior to tankouban 14 of the manga.
P R E L U D E
An Inuyasha Fanfiction
To survive in life, one must hone those natural instincts that all creatures are blessed with at birth. One such compulsion is to live. And if you want to live, then you must realize that it is always a bad omen when the forest falls silent. Humans failed to understand this. They had a tendency to become frightened when there was too much sound; most became nervous and imagined that monsters lurked behind bushes waiting for their prey. But that was a fatal misconception. If you walked through the woods and could hear the pit pat of tiny feet scurrying, all was well. It was when the forest stilled into a watchful silence that true danger was present.
Sesshoumaru knew this. Every demon knew this. So why, he wondered, was that foolish girl taking off her clothes when he could taste eminent threat in the air? She should have known better after spending so much time in his half-brother's company, but no, apparently the only thing on her mind was taking a swim. He watched her pull her oddly fashioned shirt over her shoulders and toss it onto a growing pile of garments. At first he had thought that she had nothing on beneath the fuzzy garment, but that was not precisely true. She was wearing something thin and shiny with thin straps that came over her shoulders. An unusual piece, that was pale peach, and looked like molten metal had been poured over the girl's body. She still had that ridiculously short skirt on over the bodysuit, and Sesshoumaru wondered idly if all people dressed this way wherever she came from. Not that he minded the show, he amended, but he did not particularly want to hear her yell when she finally figured out that he was there. He recalled that she had a particularly piercing scream. Sesshoumaru sighed in irritation and stepped out of the shadows, taking special care to stomp his feet so that her weak human ears would catch the sound.
As predicted, Kagome screamed. Sesshoumaru winced. She dove for her pile of clothes at the same time that he lunged at her. Kagome didn't have a chance to do anything other than retrieve her discarded clothing, as he grabbed her around the waist and leapt into the air. Her eyes widened when she saw an enormous serpentine demon crush the tree she had been standing next to just moments before. The demon hissed, releasing rancid fumes. Sesshoumaru took to the air just in time to escape its poison. From a safe distance, Kagome could see that the tree branch they had been standing on resembled nothing more than Naraku's miasma. The smell coming off of the stuff made Kagome gag. Sesshoumaru hastily clamped his hand over her mouth. He scanned the trees as he spoke.
"Don't you dare throw up on me," he said.
"Mmph," Kagome tried to talk. Sesshoumaru lifted his palm just enough to let her speak. He did not trust her to be quiet.
Kagome sucked in much needed air. Her face had been turning bluer than her eyes. After a few moments of breathless gasping she glared up at him, catching him by surprise with her fierce expression.
"I could have suffocated!" she accused him without thinking of just whom she was speaking with.
Sesshoumaru's eyes narrowed, which reminded her of who he was. Kagome pulled back in panic. "Don't talk to me that way, human. I, Sesshoumaru, have just saved your worthless hide."
Kagome swallowed hard and looked away from his piercing eyes in an effort to find her voice. Her face froze in horror when she saw the snake demon rear its ugly head behind Sesshoumaru. She found her voice, and screamed.
"Will you shut up?" Sesshoumaru snapped at her.
He jumped down to the ground and dropped her none too gently before he bound up to meet the snake-demon halfway. The demon had a rabid, insane gleam in its golden eyes. Gliding from tree to tree, Sesshoumaru led his foe away from Kagome. He deftly wove through the trees until the snake-demon was inextricably knotted. Sesshoumaru came to a stop, a meter away from the creature's snapping jaw and eyed it critically. There. A crystalline fragment was embedded in the creature's forehead.
Sesshoumaru unsheathed his sword with his right hand and approached the angry demon. Tenseiga reflected sunlight just before he brought it down in a glinting arch. Tenseiga sliced clean through the snake-demon's neck. Its heavy head fell to the ground with a thump that shook the forest. Death was instantaneous. As Tenseiga could give life, so it could take life away. Taking the shard out of its bed of iridescent green scales, Sesshoumaru turned back to the girl he had abandoned in the forest.
She was nowhere in sight.
Kagome had run from the fight as soon as Sesshoumaru had dropped her, and hadn't stopped for the last quarter hour. Gasping for breath she leaned against a thick tree trunk and propped her forehead against an unsteady hand. Turning her weary head, she strained to hear sounds of fighting. Nothing could be heard in the distance after the ominous rumble that had made the leaves shake and fall to the earth. Most likely, the battle had ended with the snake-demon getting its head loped off, but Kagome didn't want to take any risks of being stomped underfoot should the two youkai come her way.
It was a testament to her state of mind that Kagome didn't think about her near nakedness until she looked at the sweater dangling in her hand. She flushed when she realized that she was only covered by her swimsuit from the waist up, and put the sweater back on. Having regained most of her shattered composure, she began to head in the general direction from which Sesshoumaru had snatched her.
The longer she walked, the more time she had to think. And the more she thought, the angrier she became. In fact, the word "pissed" would have described her volatile mood very well. Her mother probably would have made her wash her mouth out with soap for the language she was using, but Kagome was just too angry with Sesshoumaru to care. She would have given just about anything to have some prayer beads in that moment.
How dare he dump me on the ground like that! Kagome discretely rubbed her sore behind. The fall had been hard, and she knew that there would be bruises come morning. With her constant traveling, Kagome did not need injuries to slow things down.
By the time she passed the same tree four times, Kagome knew that she was walking in circles. The pool where she had planned to take a swim had been at least an hour's walk from Kaede's village, but in the rush of Sesshoumaru's appearance, she had become confused of her direction. In the cool forest shade, it was hard to distinguish the sun's position. Kagome was thoroughly lost. The familiar sting of tears came to her eyes; self-pity came easily after that.
He wasn't surprised that her trail was so easy to follow. The silly girl was making it incredibly easy. If he were Inuyasha, he would have taught the girl some basic camouflaging skills. But… it wasn't in his plans to keep her around any longer than necessary to complete his plans. And what *are* my plans… Nothing concrete had formed in his mind about what to do after he had the girl in his hands. All he knew was that she was a necessary component.
A displaced rustle caught Sesshoumaru's attention. He followed the sound to find Kagome sitting silent on a wide, flat rock. This time it wasn't necessary for him to announce his presence. Almost immediately she raised her head and looked straight at him. Her eyes were luminescent. He wondered if she did this "crying" thing often.
"What do you want?" She was distantly appalled by her behavior. A moon white eyebrow arched to nearly his hairline, at her unexpectedly belligerent tone.
"You're lost." A simple statement, that, and yet it had the effect of causing her tears to silently spill. Sesshoumaru found himself in the awkward, and heretofore unfamiliar, position of holding a conversation with a weepy female. "Stop that," he said.
"I can't help it," she sniffled. Her voice began to rise with every new word she uttered. "I'm lost. I'm hungry. And I'm stuck with the most arrogant, annoying, blood thirsty youkai I've ever had the displeasure of meeting." She emphasized her list of complaints with a hiccup.
Sesshoumaru glared at her, an unnervingly frequent reaction to this odd girl, and said, "I, Sesshoumaru, do not have time to pamper you. Come with me."
The sniffling stopped. "Oh, will you stop being so pompous?" Kagome swiped the last tear away. Her misery was evaporating in a wave of renewed anger. She tended to lose her inhibitions when emotionally distressed, as Inuyasha could testify. If he were there, he might have overlooked past transgressions and warned his brother about upsetting Kagome.
"I know who you are. You don't need to remind me every minute," she said.
"Damn it, woman!"
"Now you're starting to sound like Inuyasha."
A vein popped.
There is something that one must be aware of when dealing with Higurashi Kagome: she is not the bravest of people. Given a choice of fighting or letting someone else fight, Kagome would certainly opt for the latter. However, in the right situation, and under great duress, she has been known to surprise with her unique blend of determination and courage.
Another notable quality about Kagome is that, due to long time exposure to volatile demons, she was fairly resistant to youkai tempers. Unfortunately, Sesshoumaru had as yet to discover this aspect of her.
"So where are you taking me?" Kagome asked. She stepped over a protruding tree root and doubled her pace to keep up with Sesshoumaru's longer stride, brushing low-hanging branches away from her face along the way.
Her question was met with silence. In fact, all of her questions had met with silence for the past hour. This question just seemed to recur more often than the others. If one were observant, one would think that Sesshoumaru was ignoring her on purpose. Being Kagome, she knew this. However, she also knew that persistence was the key when dealing with stubborn youkai, and if she ever wanted an answer, then she would just have to keep talking until he was tired of hearing her enough to answer. That is, answer with words instead of snarls and grunts, she qualified.
Although she did not show any trepidation on the surface, Kagome's entire body was tense as a strung bow. The urge to run was nearly overwhelming. In fact, only a shred of self-preservation held her back from making a break for escape. It helped to imagine what Sesshoumaru would do to her if she attempted such a foolhardy move.
When all else fails, bluff. Her grandfather had taught her this age-old saying. Of course, knowing Ojiichan, it was probably something he had read off of a fortune cookie. Still, it didn't hurt to try.
"Did you know, Sesshoumaru-sama, that the first time I saw you, I thought that you were a girl?" Kagome blithely ignored his clenching claws. "It's true. You're just too pretty to be male. I finally found out when Inuyasha called you his brother. If he hadn't, I don't think that I would have ever figured it out on my own. I mean, between your hair, your face, and your clothes, who would have guessed it? Your voice didn't really give me any clues either. It's not very deep, just sort of low and husky."
Sesshoumaru stopped in his tracks. Kagome would have laughed at his obvious distress if she hadn't feared for her life. She hid her expression by looking down and letting her hair fall over half her face. He turned on his heel to face her.
"Listen," he spoke in a low, controlled voice, "I have a lot on my mind, and it does not help to hear you chattering like a hummingbird in the background. If you want to stay alive for the next twenty-four hours, I would suggest that you keep your thoughts to yourself."
Kagome turned serious and ventured a timid request. "Then could you at least tell me why you're dragging me across half of Japan?"
"Will that satisfy you?" he asked.
She nodded vigorously. Lingering fear warred with an unexpected guilt that tugged at her conscience. "I promise to be quiet for twenty-four hours if you just explain what I'm doing here." He looks tired. I guess I overdid it with the "keep talking to wear him down" plan.
He stared at her. Kagome tried to look harmless and innocent. It felt like eons had passed before he released a weary sigh. She felt another stab of remorse.
"Sit," he said. Kagome looked over her shoulder, expecting to see Inuyasha looming behind her. It took her a moment to realize that he was addressing her.
"Umm… okay." Kagome sheepishly settled onto the first spot of dry grass she saw, and watched as he began to pace to and fro before her. Long moments passed with only the gentle sound of spring wind brushing Kagome's ears.
"There is this girl," he began.
Kagome's mouth dropped open. She stuttered, "A girl?"
Sesshoumaru glared at her for interrupting him, and said, "Rin is only a child." Ashamed of having completely misconstruing his words, Kagome shut her mouth and listened. "She is human, and perhaps five years old at most in human years." He turned and stared up at the sky through thick leaved branches. Sunlight limned his face, creating a halo of silver light.
"At that time, when I found her… she was dying from severe lacerations and blood loss. Wolves had attacked her. So… I used Tenseiga and brought her back to life." Sesshoumaru lowered his face and studied the ground. "She has stayed with me since. Out of misguided loyalty."
Barely perceptible sorrow tinged his voice when he continued. "She is ill now. Youkai medicines will not help her."
Kagome had been knocked completely breathless once. In fact, it had happened when Sesshoumaru had thrown her into Inuyasha during their second encounter with him. But that was nothing like what she felt now. Needles pricked the tender skin of her back and a cold chill invaded her bones. Kagome wanted to say something to ease the fear that she suddenly saw in Sesshoumaru's pale gold eyes. Fear that, she realized in her newfound knowledge, had been lurking there since they had met that morning. Driven by her own compassionate nature, she stepped forward. He stopped her with a cold stare.
He said, "You are the only human I know, who might be able to save Rin's life." Then he left. Kagome stared after him with wide eyes.
They reached a dirt path many hours later. It was dry and well beaten, an indication that it was a well traveled road. The forest had cleared about half an hour back. Although trees were still visible, they were not quite so tall or so daunting. Kagome followed in Sesshoumaru's steps silently, as promised. She had much to ponder, and the trill of birds was a nice accompaniment to her thoughts; it had never occurred to her that Sesshoumaru, of all people, might care about someone enough to set aside his pride. She had been wrong to think that way.
Thinking back on it, Kagome realized that she should have known better than to judge him so harshly, to judge him at all. All of the clues had been there from the very beginning; the way that Sesshoumaru treated Jaken was something that she had seen day in and day out between Inuyasha and Shippou-chan, or Inuyasha and Myouga-jiisan, even. Although both demons were scathing and could hardly be called affectionate, there was a bond between them and those they cared for. From all indications, Sesshoumaru was very fond of this human child, Rin. Kagome wondered about that. She sensed that there was more to the story, and was curious, but it felt wrong to question him when he was brooding.
Although he was an enemy to Inuyasha, Kagome had always had, in the back of her mind, the awareness that he was Inuyasha's older brother. And Kagome knew that Inuyasha had always had, deep inside, an unexpressed admiration for his powerful older brother. She supposed that Inuyasha's attitude had rubbed off on her without her ever noticing it.
Hundreds of questions bombarded Kagome's mind, begging to be answered, and she could only wait until her allotted twenty-four hours were up. Kagome started to count the hours.
"We will stay here for the night," Sesshoumaru said.
The village was larger than Kaede's, yet not quite the size of a city. It had a main road, a wide dirt path, with many small tracks branching off. If she followed the tracks with her eyes, Kagome could see that they led to various thatch roofed huts that dotted the hills. Fields of vegetables lined the immediate area. Farther out were rice paddies submerged in water. In the center of the village was a large cottage that stood out from the others in that it looked more modern and sturdy in construction. In fact, the cottage was out of place in this rural community.
Kagome tried to keep her tired eyes open as she blindly followed Sesshoumaru into the village, as he seemed to know exactly where he was going. They arrived at the cottage that had caught her attention. A middle aged woman answered Sesshoumaru's discreet knock. She was pretty, in a round-faced way, and had dark brown eyes. From all appearances, she was a servant, an unusual thing to find in a Sengoku Jidai village. Her kimono consisted of patterned brown and cream cotton, and her sun burned hair was neatly bound at the base of her neck.
The only thing that Kagome didn't like about her was the way the woman was looking at Kagome with an expression bordering on rude. She felt her hackles rise. Only Sesshoumaru's unyielding grip on her arm kept her from saying something.
"Is the room ready?"
"Yes, sir," the woman bowed subserviently to Sesshoumaru. "Right this way please."
"Have someone draw two baths. And get some appropriate clothing for the girl."
"Yes, as you wish."
Kagome gritted her teeth. I promised not to say anything for a day, but he's really pushing it. She smiled when the woman snuck a glance at her.
The room they were led to was spacious yet sparsely furnished, which was consistent with the time. It had three wood panel walls, and the fourth was a long series of shoji screens. Within, there was a futon laid out in the center of the room, and a low table to the side of the room with books set atop of it in neat piles. Somehow, Kagome got the impression that Sesshoumaru used this room often. It had his signature in every little detail, down to the scroll that hung on the wall behind the table. The language was such ancient Japanese that Kagome had trouble interpreting the kanji.
The woman withdrew after she slid the shoji open, leaving Kagome with Sesshoumaru. She was rather surprised that she didn't feel any trepidation being alone with him. As for him… Kagome couldn't even begin to imagine. Sesshoumaru was nothing like his brother, who was always very voluble about his likes and dislikes. With Inuyasha, Kagome always knew what he was thinking. Although… I don't always know what he's feeling… especially when it has to do with Kikyou. She shook her head. Now isn't the time, Kagome. Focus on one problem at a time.
"After you take your bath, let the attendants know if you are hungry. They will take care of it." Sesshoumaru said. He had seated himself on the pillow behind the table and was flipping through a hand-bound book.
"Twenty-four hours," he reminded her.
Kagome scowled. It was fine with her if he didn't want to talk. Who needed him anyhow? She was saved from answering that question when a young woman came to the door. Kagome followed her to the bathhouse, which turned out to be nothing more than a small shack-like structure that housed a hot spring behind the cottage. It shouldn't have surprised her. What other reason would there be for constructing a building in the middle of their village's main road, except to make use of their natural spring? Quietly, the servant laid out soaps and a bucket for Kagome to wash with before she bowed out and left Kagome to her privacy.
Set out against the left wall was a small stool next to a tub of room temperature warm water. Kagome disrobed and placed her clothes in a neat pile, well away from the water, before she sat on the stool and began to wash away the grime that built up from a long day's travel. Unobtrusively, the attendant returned and replaced Kagome's modern clothing with a thick robe and sash. Kagome finished as quickly as she could but, despite her speed, she was still shivering, from exposure to the cool evening air, by the time that she finished rinsing. She hurried to the pool of steaming water and eased into it with a contented sigh. It had been days since she had felt the luxury of hot water, and she planned to take her time.
Much later, it turned out that she was too drowsy after her soak in the hot water to even want food. She stumbled back to the room, now thankfully empty, and immediately fell asleep as she hit the futon.
Come morning, Kagome was starving. She could feel the beginnings of a rumble in the pit of her stomach. Yet, despite her hunger, Kagome was also very comfortable and warm in her nest of blankets. She hadn't noticed that the blanket was made of fur last night…
Sesshoumaru watched her eyes open like a startled doe's. She was rather amusing to observe.
"Sesshoumaru?" she yelped.
He nodded, and then sighed as he turned his head to stare at the ceiling. "I don't suppose it would be worth it to hold you to your promise."
"I, I, you, what are you doing here?" Kagome asked.
"I was sleeping. But someone woke me up."
"You weren't here last night," Kagome pointed out the obvious. She was still rather befuddled from lingering sleepiness and couldn't put her thoughts together for a good argument.
"Listen, girl. I am the one who is suffering from having to share my bed with a human. So I don't see why you're upset." That, apparently, woke her up.
"Why you!" Kagome took a swing at him. He caught her fist. The shoji slid open with a loud bang.
Slate and gold eyes swiveled to the intruder. With the abrupt motion, Kagome lost her precarious balance and fell onto Sesshoumaru's chest. Air whooshed out of her lungs at the impact. She winced and scrambled away, clutching the blankets to her. Underneath the concealing cloth she inconspicuously rubbed her chest. She might as well have fallen onto a concrete floor; the pain was so sharp. Injuries were more frequent than usual around Sesshoumaru.
Meanwhile, Sesshoumaru sat up to confront the person who had just entered the room.
"Jaken," he called the toad-like demon.
"Get out." Jaken's already beady eyes bugged out even further. Kagome was rather sickened at how the expression affected his features.
"B-but Sesshoumaru-sama!" Jaken wailed.
"You heard me," Sesshoumaru was unrelenting. "Do I have to repeat myself, Jaken?"
"N-no, Master," stuttered the toad-demon. "Do you want me to get breakfast for you, Master?"
"You go do that, Jaken."
"Would you like me to get rid of the grossly ugly human for you, Master?" Kagome found her shoe under the covers and threw it at Jaken. Her aim was improving daily. "OUCH! You stupid girl! What'd you do that for?"
Sesshoumaru wondered how his father had found such an idiotic retainer.
"I'm not ugly, you little toad!"
"Hah! All humans are ugly, weak and stupid." Jaken hopped on his staff and got in Kagome's face.
Then he wondered why he had kept Jaken employed until now.
"Nothing's as bad as seeing your face first thing in the morning. I think I'm gonna be sick for a week!"
Sesshoumaru dropped his head into his palm and took a deep, calming breath.
"That's because you're too weak to handle being around youkai. Maybe that's why you hang around with that half-breed mutt, Inuyasha!"
The breathing exercises weren't working very well.
"You ignorant little twerp!" Kagome lost her temper and lunged at the toad-demon with a strong intent to maim. Sesshoumaru grabbed her just in time. Jaken didn't know how close he was to gaining more pretty bumps on his face. "Let go of me!" Kagome wriggled and pushed against his hold. "Let go, I say. I'm going to give that stumpy poor excuse for a demon a piece of my mind."
"Jaken, get out while I still feel like letting you live," he ordered. Luckily, Jaken was willing to listen to his master, and didn't ask any more provoking questions. Sesshoumaru then turned to the angry bundle of female in his arms. He was almost impressed with her glower.
"But Master, I still don't see why we need this puny human's help," Jaken said for the seventh time that morning.
It took a lot of will power for Kagome not to hit the toad. She settled for sticking her tongue out at him from behind Sesshoumaru's back. Jaken returned the favor and got whacked on the head by Sesshoumaru, who was situated perfectly to see Jaken's actions. Kagome hid her smile behind the voluminous flowered sleeve of her newly acquired kimono. The toad-demon finally gave up on his complaints and hopped ahead to scout the terrain, grumbling all the way about contrary females.
Sesshoumaru spoke to the girl walking behind him. "You aggravate him on purpose." She couldn't stop the laughter that bubbled forth, and gave up on hiding her grin.
"Yes, I do," she admitted. He slanted a look at her over his left shoulder.
"Because it's fun," she said. "He's pretty easy to pick on. And besides," she added in her defense, "he's always insulting me, so I don't see why I have to be nice to him."
"You aren't afraid?" he asked.
Kagome was confused for a moment. Then her eyes brightened. "Oh, you mean because he's a demon? No, not really. Jaken isn't all that scary compared to-" She abruptly terminated her sentence.
He arched his brow. "Compared to?" Kagome mumbled something under her breath. Sesshoumaru heard her easily enough. "Me?" He looked thoughtful and resumed his pace. "No, I don't suppose that he is. But then…" he mused, "You weren't all that afraid of me last we met, were you, girl?"
That brought her to a halt. Kagome thought back to her third encounter with Sesshoumaru… After Toutousai-jiisan… I guess that knowing about the nature of Tenseiga did change my perception of him. Even if everyone else says that Sesshoumaru is able to use Tenseiga because he's powerful, I doubt that is the full of it. I wonder how he knew. He never paid much attention to any of us. It was always Inuyasha and Tetsusaiga that he focused on.
She was well behind by the time that she broke out of her reflections. Kagome picked up the long, heavy folds of her kimono and hurried to catch up. It was a little awkward avoiding brambles and loose rocks, that lined the dirt road, in the finery Sesshoumaru had insisted that she wear, but she was rather pleased with the way she looked. Not that she was vain, but it was nice to dress up every once in a while and not be stared at by people as she passed through Sengoku Jidai. Well… she was still stared at, but at least they weren't treating her like a circus attraction.
Kagome caught up with Jaken and his master shortly. They were by a stream and Jaken was happily hopping on the rocks while Sesshoumaru drank the cool, refreshing water from his cupped hands. She froze atop a knoll of moss, eyes ensnared by those hands. Both looked normal, symmetrical even, and yet she knew that his left hand had to be from someone else; Inuyasha had sliced Sesshoumaru's left arm off in their first fight. She wondered whose arm that was, and whether he was still alive. Not likely.
"Look, Master, the girl's so taken with your beauty that she can't move," Jaken called out. "Stupid girl, do you think you have a chance with Sesshoumaru-sama?" Kagome flushed at the implied insult.
"I'm not staring at him," she yelled back. Sesshoumaru looked at her. Her whole face was turning bright pink. "Okay, so I was staring, but it wasn't at his face."
"…" Sesshoumaru didn't say anything for a moment. Then, "Jaken, did you just call me beautiful?"
Jaken eeped and jumped back with both scrawny hands splayed in front of him. "That is not to say that you have any feminine beauty, Master. I meant to say that with your majestic, noble presence, one would have to-"
"Enough, Jaken." Sesshoumaru closed his eyes and turned his face to the sun. "I know what you did not mean."
"Hmm…" Kagome looked from one to the other, trying to figure them out. Jaken caught her glance and snorted inelegantly before he hopped off on his staff to wade deeper in the stream. Trying her best to ignore him, she carefully tucked her kimono up and knelt by the water. Clear blue, it rushed over weather beaten rocks and swirled around clusters of wild herbs before continuing along its crooked path. She took the moment of reprieve to think over the past day.
Inuyasha and the others were probably worried sick about her. She could just picture Shippou-chan asking over and over again where she could be, and wringing his hands in that way that he had whenever nervous. Miroku-sama would be level headed, but his brow would be creased in worry when he thought that no one else was looking. Sango would want to go in search of her immediately, even without clues as to her whereabouts. And Inuyasha? He's most likely swearing a blue streak and tearing the forest apart. I wonder if he's more worried about me, or about delaying our search for the Shikon Jewel. He's probably cursing me right at this moment. And he would be right, she thought. It wasn't as if she had given much of a fight when Sesshoumaru had ordered her to come with him. But what was I supposed to do? She's an innocent little girl. I can't just ignore someone who needs me... I wish there were someone that I could talk to.
"He won't mind."
Huh? Kagome turned her head to see Sesshoumaru looking at her. "What?"
"Inuyasha," he clarified. His voice was oddly emotionless when he spoke of Inuyasha. "If you're worried about that bastard's reaction, then don't. Once you tell him that I kidnapped you, he'll just be angry with me. So you don't have to worry."
"I-" Kagome looked down. She absently tugged at a bunch of weeds. "But… that wouldn't be fair," she murmured.
Unseen by her, Sesshoumaru shrugged. He stood and meticulously dusted off his clothes. "It matters not to me. He will believe what he has always believed."
Her fingers jerked. The clump of weeds pulled free of its roots. Staring at it she threw the whole thing into the brook and watched its progress downstream before it sank to the streambed. She clapped her hands to get rid of clinging bits of grass, careful not to stain the pale lavender silk kimono. Her voice was quiet when she said, "He won't blame you this time."
His eyes bore into her back. "Why not?"
Kagome swallowed. She had come to a decision. "Because I'm choosing to help you. You can't kidnap someone who comes willingly."
And she didn't regret her decision to help Sesshoumaru. By early afternoon, they had arrived at their destination, which turned out to be a secluded cottage set in the middle of a forest clearing. Rin was asleep when Kagome first laid eyes on her. The little girl slept with abandon, skinny arms and legs splayed out at odd angles and mouth gaping open. It took many shakes before she woke from sound slumber. Rin was an adorable little girl with a gap toothed smile and cheerful disposition. Kagome took a liking to her immediately and the feeling was reciprocated in full. Sesshoumaru regarded the two humans he had somehow, against all odds, befriended, and wondered at his own judgment.
Who ever would have thought that Rin and… this girl… could touch my soul?
Kagome was presently sitting at Rin's bedside and wiping the little girl's brow with a wet cloth. She had folded the long kimono sleeves back to her elbows and didn't seem to mind taking care of a complete stranger. Face gentle, she was whispering tenderly to Rin. It was purely for Rin's benefit, as both he and she knew that he could still hear her soft voice.
She confused him, this woman-child who came from another world. No one he had ever known would have been so kind, or so patient, with someone she didn't know. He knew, from rumors, that she did not belong here, in Sengoku Jidai, and that she had strong spiritual power. It was also whispered, within youkai community, that she was the reincarnation of a powerful priestess who had died fifty years ago in a battle with his half-brother. What Sesshoumaru saw in her aura, though, was that she was not anyone's reincarnation. There was untapped power in her: so much potential.
Kagome gave Rin a peck on the cheek and told her to sleep. Rin grinned up at her new friend and agreed readily enough, making Kagome smile. She tucked Rin into the blankets and smoothed back the shaggy black hair that still clung to Rin's forehead from sweat.
"Oneechan?" Rin called her. Kagome watched the little girl yawn widely.
"Will you be here when I wake up?" Eyes drooping, Rin valiantly tried to stay awake long enough for an answer.
"Yes, I will," Kagome assured her. "Now go to sleep, Rin-chan. You need your rest to get well."
"Hai, then we can go beat up Jaken together." Rin girl fell asleep with a beautiful smile on her face. Certainly dreaming pleasant dreams of pounding on Jaken with his two-headed staff.
Caught unprepared, Kagome giggled; afraid to wake Rin from her much needed slumber, she muffled it to a low chuckle. Sesshoumaru had to turn away to hide his expression. Wiping tears of laughter from her eyes, Kagome stood and crossed to his side of the room, where he leaned against the sturdy doorframe.
"How is she?" he asked in a whisper. Neither of them wanted to wake the ailing child.
She frowned and shook her head. "I don't know what's wrong with her." Kagome anxiously caught a lock of loose black hair between her fingers and twirled it. "She has a fever and is very weak. I don't think that she has enough energy to support her own weight by walking. There's a rash on her stomach too." Kagome sighed and glanced back at the bed. She asked, "Has she been throwing up the whole time?"
It was the last two symptoms that worried Kagome the most. If Rin had only been weak and feverish, then she could attribute the illness to influenza, but she had never seen someone vomit everything that she consumed. Rin wasn't even retaining fluids, and soon she would be dangerously dehydrated. The rash was also spreading from her torso outwards, from what the little girl had told her. Kagome knew that she didn't have the nursing skills to take care of Rin. The question was whether Sesshoumaru would allow her to take Rin to where she could be treated.
"Yes. She started about four days ago. The rash is new," he said, worry evident in his tone, though he tried to conceal it. "You don't know of anything that could cause this?"
Kagome thought back to her childhood, and tried to think of whether she or Souta had ever had anything that was similar to what Rin was going through, but nothing came to mind. The only thing that was close was measles. Although, she did recall studying about something else that caused similar symptoms.
"I suppose that Rin could have gotten measles, but I've had that, and it wasn't even close to this serious. Typhoid and scarlet fever are supposed to cause some of the same symptoms, though. But I can't be sure." Kagome threw her hands in the air and released a frustrated sigh. "Even if I knew, I wouldn't be able to cure any of those things unless I have medicine from home. But if she has something more serious, then Rin really needs to see a doctor."
Sesshoumaru looked suspicious. "A doctor? I hope you aren't talking about one of those superstitious midwives. I won't let any of them touch Rin with their leeches."
"No," Kagome agreed with him, shuddering at the grisly thought. "I meant a doctor from my time." She held her breath and waited for his explosion.
It never came.
She blinked. "You do?"
A long silence ensued.
His response, when it came, was rather sardonic. "Contrary to popular opinion, I am capable of being reasonable."
Their trip back to Kaede's village was swift. Rin's condition had worsened during those short hours between dusk and dawn, and Sesshoumaru was adamant about getting her treatment as soon as possible. Kagome was in full agreement. Rin had been burning steadily at a high temperature all night, and nothing that Kagome did was useful. They had finally resorted to putting her in a tub of warm water, which had brought her temperature down somewhat, but true progress was nowhere in sight. In the morning, when they found out that the rash had spread past Rin's torso to her arms and legs, Sesshoumaru had ordered Jaken to watch out for things while he took Rin to be cured.
At first, Jaken had not taken his master seriously, and said, "But Master, why save her?" He was pointing at Rin, who was unconscious and unnaturally still on her pallet. "She's just a human brat and unworthy- Ack!"
Jaken did not get to say anything else that morning. Kagome shuddered at the memory. She had never seen Sesshoumaru so furious before. His eyes had bled; literally drained of all color except for a thin rim of gold that circled colorless pupils. Cold and deliberate, he had backhanded Jaken with a force that sent the smaller demon through the far wall of Rin's room and into an unconscious heap. Sesshoumaru had not even bothered to check to see if his retainer was still alive; he simply picked up Rin with a gentleness that was at stark contrast with his previous action, and told Kagome to follow him.
It had taken all morning for the rich amber to return to his eyes.
"I'll take Rin to my home and call my little brother's doctor," Kagome said. "She's pretty good with kids. If anything happens, I'll let you know."
Sesshoumaru interrupted her with, "I am coming with you." Kagome's eyes rounded.
"But you can't!" She quickly tried to explain when he began to growl. "What I mean is that youkai don't exist in my time, so if you come, it'll be disastrous. Dr. Matsumoto will probably have a fit and faint. Then who will help Rin?"
"The doctor won't see me."
"But-" Kagome wrung her fingers in agitation. "But what if you can't go through the well?"
His eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
An internal battle was raging in Kagome. She either could tell Sesshoumaru all about the Bone Eater's Well, or she could lie. Somehow, a lie didn't sound as though it would work with Sesshoumaru. But if she told him about the well… then that would be putting a lot of knowledge in his hands. What would happen when Sesshoumaru didn't have a use for her anymore? Would he kill her family?
They were just within the shelter of Inuyasha's forest, and outside of the village. The well was close enough for Kagome to see its clearing. For some reason the entire forest was very peaceful that day, and there were no signs of Inuyasha or the others' presence. This made Kagome feel guilty because she knew that they were, most likely, out searching for her, but it was also a relief that Inuyasha wasn't around. He would have started a fight with Sesshoumaru upon sight without asking any questions first. The mere thought made a headache begin to throb at her temples.
Sesshoumaru was beginning to get irritated by her inattention. "What do you mean about a well?" he asked again. "Do you mean that dilapidated thing?" He pointed to the Bone Eater's well with his chin. His hands were full with carrying Rin.
Kagome sighed. Sesshoumaru was an astute person; he would figure it out on his own eventually. "Yes, it's a time portal that connects my time to this one. That's how I came to be here."
"I see…" he murmured. Sesshoumaru eyed her intently. Kagome squirmed under his scrutiny. "So you really are from the future. I had not credited that rumor."
"Yes, well, now you know," she said.
"…" The scent of his brother was getting stronger. He filed the conversation away to be continued later. "Let's go see what this doctor of yours is capable of."
Mrs. Higurashi was practicing her favorite pastime (i.e., cooking) when her daughter came home with a youkai and child in tow. Any other mother would have passed out or screamed the rafters down, but not this one. She was used to Kagome's erratic schedule and peculiar friends, so she just smiled as her daughter ran past the kitchen with her friends in tow.
"I never noticed that Inuyasha had a tail before," she remarked to Souta, who was sitting at the table with a cookie in his mouth and legs swinging.
Souta blinked. "He doesn't mom. That was someone else."
"Oh? I hope nothing's wrong." Mrs. Higurashi ruffled her son's thick brown hair. "Why aren't you chasing after your sister already? Don't you usually want to meet her friends, Souta-chan?"
"Nah," he shrugged, "Inuyasha's cool, but I don't wanna meet a girl."
"That was a girl?"
"I'm going to kill him," Sesshoumaru stated flatly.
He pushed Kagome to the side and reached for the door handle. Kagome grabbed his right arm and hugged it to her chest. That got his attention.
"Let go of me, girl."
"No." Kagome stubbornly held onto him and refused to budge. "You aren't going to hurt my brother, Sesshoumaru."
"It was an honest mistake!" She furiously whispered.
"Don't yell at me," he hissed back.
"I'm not yelling!" she yelled.
"Kagome-chan?" Mrs. Higurashi called up the stairwell. "Is everything all right?"
Kagome glared at Sesshoumaru for making her raise her voice. He rolled his eyes, sighing gustily before stepping away from the door. Rin stirred on the bed, and he went to soothe the sleeping child. Kagome opened her bedroom door enough to peek out and see her mother's concerned face gazing up at her. She smiled reassuringly and waved.
"Nothing's wrong, Mom."
Luckily, her mother was a very agreeable person and only asked, "All right, just keep your voices down. Mrs. Watanabe is very particular about her peace and quiet and we don't want to disrupt our neighbors. Do you want me to make some snacks for your guests, dear?"
"Uh…" Kagome was distracted by Sesshoumaru's activities behind her; he was seated at her straight-backed desk chair and leafing through her stack of schoolbooks. "Sure, Mom. Just leave it in the kitchen and I'll come get it."
"Yes, dear. I'm going to take Souta for his dental check-up now. Then we're going to stop by the hospital. Your grandfather had another case of mild food poisoning. We should be back in a few hours."
"Okay, give Ojiichan my love," Kagome replied.
Her mother left and Kagome closed the door with relief. With everyone out of the house, she wouldn't have any trouble getting Dr. Matsumoto in to see Rin secretly. Kagome was about to give Sesshoumaru the good news, when she saw him going through her closet. She immediately began to boil. Stomping over to him, Kagome grabbed his wrist with her left hand and tugged her favorite white skirt out of his grasp with her right hand. Sesshoumaru had the gall to arch his brow at her. It took a lot of counting to regain control of her temper.
"Do you mind not going through my things?" she managed to ask through a tight throat.
"Whatever." Came his irritatingly unruffled reply. Then he changed the subject. "When is this doctor coming?"
"I'll call her now," Kagome said.
"It's a woman?"
Her good temper restored, Kagome answered, "Yes, Dr. Matsumoto is a woman. She used to be my doctor when I was little so you have nothing to worry about."
Sesshoumaru was genuinely surprised. In his time, doctors were men. The only thing a woman could be that came close to that profession was a midwife or priestess, and he was leery of them as they often had superstitious practices. But apparently people in this future were more equally educated, as the books on Kagome's desk seemed to imply. Not really trusting any woman to have the skills necessary to heal Rin, yet trusting Kagome's judgment, Sesshoumaru decided to go with his instincts. They had never failed him before.
"How long will this take?" Sesshoumaru asked for the third time in thirty minutes. Kagome tapped the fingers of her right hand on the kitchen table. Her left was busy holding a chocolate chip cookie that she industriously munched on.
"A physical usually takes twenty minutes or so."
"Shouldn't you be watching over Rin while that doctor is examining her?"
Kagome licked buttery crumbs off her fingertips. "I'd only be in the way."
"But what if Matsumoto has questions for you about Rin?" he persisted.
"She'll call me if she needs me." Kagome reached for another cookie. This time she wanted an oatmeal raisin one.
Sesshoumaru slapped his palms down on the table and loomed over her. Kagome was undaunted. He drew the plate of cookies out of her reach. She mourned their loss.
"Will you stop looking at the damned cookies that way?" He growled. "I can't see how you can sit here and eat when Rin could be suffering upstairs. What kind of mother are you?"
Kagome blinked. "I'm not," she said, and then clarified with, "a mother, that is." She leaned up and snatched a cookie, then said, "I'm much too young to even think of getting married, let alone having children. But don't worry so much about Rin. How many times do I have to say that Dr. Matsumoto's the best until you finally believe me, Sesshoumaru-sama?"
He retorted with, "Do you realize that you only call me Sesshoumaru-sama when you want something from me?"
"I noticed it earlier," he continued. "When you were mad, you just called me Sesshoumaru; then just now, and once before, you called me Sesshoumaru-sama. I just realized that you address me differently when you want something. So," he folded his arms and narrowed his eyes at her, "what is it that you want this time?"
He's always surprising me… Just when I think that I have him figured out, he does something like this and I have to rethink my opinion of him. Kagome put her untouched cookie down on her napkin and folded her hands in her lap, thinking over what she wanted to say. The answer was easy.
"I want you to trust me," Kagome said. She saw his eyes widen and looked back down at her twiddling fingers. "And trust my judgment enough so that when I say that Dr. Matsumoto will help Rin, you believe me."
A rusty low chuckle made Kagome look up in wonder. Sesshoumaru had sat back down and was as laid back as she had ever seen him. He was slouched down in his seat so that his shoulders, neck, and head were all that showed over the polished cherry wood tabletop. His eyes were half closed. In fact, if she had to choose one word to describe him, she would have to say that he looked… comfortable…
"You surprise me," Sesshoumaru admitted grudgingly.
"Umm… is that a good thing?" Kagome asked suspiciously. His eyes were suspiciously bright. Kagome didn't know if that was residual humor, or if that meant that he was angry.
"Good for you, bad for me."
Kagome had no time to ponder that enigmatic comment as Dr. Matsumoto's matronly voice called her upstairs.
It turned out that Rin's illness was serious but not fatal. A virus that was spread by mosquitoes, Dr. Matsumoto said, caused Dengue Fever, which was what Rin had. The rash, vomiting, and fever were common symptoms of this illness, and would go away within seven days without any lingering side effects. Rin would be tired for a few days, but given rest and nourishment, she would be up and running in no time. Dr. Matsumoto gave Kagome medicine to keep the fever down, ointment for the rash, and instructed her to feed Rin as many fluids as possible in small increments. If anything else were to happen then Kagome should call her. Kagome thanked the kind doctor and assured her that all of her instructions would be followed. Then she went to give Sesshoumaru the good news.
Back in Sengoku Jidai, with an exhausted Rin in his arms and Kagome by his side, Sesshoumaru had much to ponder about events of the past few days.
He wasn't given much time to think of anything before Kagome said, "You should get going before Inuyasha comes back and finds you here."
"You worry for me?" he asked. It wasn't a suggestive question, but more of a curious one. Kagome could believe that Sesshoumaru would find anyone's concern for his welfare to be a novelty. Still, she wasn't comfortable about admitting that she had grown to like him. Kagome sighed. On the other hand, she hated lying, and suspected that he could tell the difference if she prevaricated.
"I guess I do," she finally admitted. "These past two days have shown me that you aren't exactly what I always assumed you to be."
"You mean that I'm no longer "arrogant, annoying," and, "blood thirsty"?"
Kagome flushed. Curse his memory. She said, "You're still arrogant and annoying."
"But not blood thirsty."
"Will you leave it alone?" Kagome grumbled. Her good will for him was rapidly receding.
He was all seriousness when he said, "No, actually, I am interested in finding out what changed your opinion." Kagome threw her hands in the air. She looked ready to strangle him. What an odd girl.
"Why?" she asked.
"So that I can prevent repeating the same mistake in the future," he said.
"What in the world are you talking about?" She was completely lost.
Sesshoumaru sighed. He was doing that a lot lately. He spoke slow and clearly, "I have a reputation to uphold. If people start thinking that I am soft then they will not be as frightened of me."
"And that's a bad thing?" Kagome was incredulous.
"Of course." He said that as though she should have known the answer. "These past few days have been anomalous. Do not mistake, I am not a kind person." Kagome opened her mouth to interrupt, but he stopped her. "The next time we meet, we will be enemies."
Kagome gave up. She simply gave up on trying to understand him. It was an uphill battle that would take someone with saintly patience and a lot of time on their hands, and that person was not she. Shaking her head and mumbling about impossible men, Kagome shouldered her over stuffed pack and stomped off to the village, leaving Sesshoumaru behind. He watched her diminishing form with bemusement.
"What an odd girl…"
Sesshoumaru sighed. "Jaken. I thought I told you to wait for my return."
"Yes, Master, but I couldn't sit and let you be led astray by that deceptive human with a clear conscience." Jaken gushed with sincerity. "She hasn't corrupted you with her witchy ways, has she? Just let me know if she has and I'll show her what it means to cross a youkai lord."
Sesshoumaru began his journey back home. Jaken trailed after him, his diatribe a mild and familiar irritation.
[End Prelude – please proceed to Full Circle]
An explanation is definitely in order for this fic. I was actually in the process of outlining another story altogether when this whole thing just popped up in my head and would not leave me alone until it was written. Now it seems that I can use this as a leader into the other fic. -_-
The characterizations still bother me because I feel that I am rushing everything and not taking the time to develop characters. It's very frustrating… @_@ somebody, anybody, help… please… ^_- Yeah, yeah, I'm hopeless.
Many thanks to Rymsie for being a guinea pig *cough* er… for all of her help. ^_^ She saved all of you from many transitional errors and all around confusion. ^^;
-sama: The suffix attached to a name when addressing someone. This is a more formal form than the standard "-san" which is appropriate for politely addressing all people. To use this suffix denotes great respect for the person being addressed.
-chan: Another suffix, this is more informal than "-san" and is often used between siblings and close friends. It is also appropriate to address children using the "-chan" suffix. This suffix has connotations of "little" or "cute".
Shoji: A sliding door composed of rice paper set in a wooden frame. These shoji are still used for doors in traditional styled Japanese homes, although not in modern, westernized homes. The word "shoji" is not to be confused with "shogi" which is a board game popular in Japan.
Kanji: The ideograms (also called pictograms) that are based on Chinese characters, and which are the root of Japanese writing. The Japanese have a triple alphabet (so to speak) that consists of Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. It is necessary for a person to be able to read and understand all three to fully grasp the Japanese language. Romaji refers to using the Latin alphabet to phonetically write Japanese. Furigana is the Hiragana writing of Kanji. (^^; It isn't as confusing as it sounds once you get used to reading and writing Japanese.)
Oneechan: Also written as Onee-chan, this is the word for "sister" using the root "Onee" and suffix of "-chan". Sister is typically written as Oneesan or Onee-san. Again, by adding "-chan", this term becomes one of endearment, or indicates affection and closeness.
Ojiichan: Also written as Ojii-chan, this is the word for "grandfather" using the root "Ojii" and suffix of "-chan". Grandfather is typically written as Ojiisan or Ojii-san.
Hai: Yes, or any other common expression of agreement.
A note about the honorary "O": This is used in front of family titles as is seen in words such as Oneesan and Ojiisan. The Japanese honorary O is also used in some words, such as Ofuro (bath) and Osake (rice wine). The added "O" indicates great respect. This may sound odd for westerners to add to common words such as rice or bath, but to the Japanese it is a common practice. The "O" is not used indiscriminately.