Heartbeat

S-Michael

Kagura didn't want to wake up. In her dreams, she was free. In her sleep she was happy. She knew what awaited her in the waking world. Another day of servitude to Naraku. An endless stream of days, one flowing into the next, an unbreakable chain from which she would never be free. All of Naraku's enemies were dead, save one, and he had all the shards of the Shikon Jewel, save two. Kouga and the shards in his legs.

Kohaku was spooned against her front, and he moaned in his sleep. She could feel his heartbeat, low and slow, and could almost believe that her own heart beat with it, in unison, like her heart wanted to beat, but needed the boy's heart to show it how. Heart and heart, like lock and key. Maybe it was romantic. Maybe. Kagura wasn't exactly a very romantic person, she didn't know.

But that was another reason she didn't want to get up today. They were going to have to go after Kouga and take his shards from him. With no more Jewel shards out there, Naraku would take the shard out of Kohaku's back, and then he would die. Kagura couldn't stand the thought of losing him, but knew the end was near. She hoped for their sake that Kouga put up one hell of a fight.

Kohaku was all she had, and she was all he had. They were prisoners to Naraku's will, neither able to escape. Prisoners together, kept under the heel of his ruthless jackboot. They were all they had that kept them sane. The only peace either of them had was in each other's arms.

Eventually, Kagura grudgingly had to admit that she was awake, much as she hated it. In the moments between sleeping and awake, aware of the boy's nearness but not yet of the iron grasp of Naraku's controlling fist over them, she could believe that all was well, so she squeezed as much out of them as she could. But they didn't last forever, and besides, she had to face reality sooner or later. Never one to run from reality, Kagura opened her eyes.

She looked down at Kohaku and smiled. The sleeping boy was so peaceful, so innocent, so beautiful, and it would be a shame to disturb him. At the moment, it would take a direct order from Naraku to move her. She'd have to get up and eat some time, but until then…she brushed a lock of hair out of his face, and then--ever so slowly--she bent her head down and kissed him softly on the lips. He kissed back, ever so softly. She pulled back slightly, and he opened his eyes and smiled up at her with innocent beauty. How could he seem so innocent, with all he had seen, all he had done? She supposed that however experienced he was in some regards (and he had seen more carnage than most professional soldiers), in others he was still a child. She was a child, too, she supposed. In fact, in actual age, she was a lot younger than he was, even though she was physically and mentally an adult. In some ways it was good to be childlike, though. Only the very young and humans believed that love was forever, after all. Believing in her heart that it was was a human mistake, one that Kagura knew would come back and bite her when Kohaku died (and his lifespan was measured in days now) or (if, miraculously, they found a way to kill Naraku or stop him from removing Kohaku's jewel shard) if he found someone more his own age to be with, crushing her…well, not her heart, she guessed, but the point stood. It was stupid to be so attached to him, but she didn't care. The way she saw it, it was better to feel this intensely and then be hurt than to just not feel. That sounded deep; maybe it ought to have been one of those old sayings people are always talking about.

She didn't really think that they had managed to keep their relationship a secret from Naraku, but he seemed to be turning a blind eye to it as long as it didn't interfere with their duties.

"We'd best cook ourselves some breakfast, boy," Kagura said.

Kohaku nodded. They disentangled themselves from one another. They made a fire, and Kohaku cooked. He was an excellent cook. Well, someone had to take care of the domestic stuff, and they'd all starve to death among piles of filth waiting for Kagura to cook or clean anything.

Kohaku cooked, and they ate. Neither of them spoke. Usually, they didn't. Words weren't often necessary between them; being together was enough. But that wasn't why they didn't speak this time. The end was near. When the shards on Kouga's legs belonged to Naraku, he would take the shard in Kohaku's back and complete the Shikon Jewel.

Why didn't he flee? Kohaku must have known that his end was near. Why did he stay with Naraku? Why did he stay with her? Maybe the second question was the answer. Maybe it was best to just enjoy what little time they had left together.

If they stayed here too long, Naraku might think that they were procrastinating, and he had little tolerance for…well, anything, really. After taking as long as she could to eat breakfast, Kagura stood and streatched. "We'd best be going," she said.

"Yes, Kagura," Kohaku said. He was a soft-spoken boy, and chronically shy. They said opposites attract; maybe there was a glimmer of truth to that. He was as quiet as she was loud, as shy as she was assertive, as domestically and culinarally skilled as she was challenged, haunted by the battles he had fought where she was hardened and callous. There was something innocent about him, too, something Kagura couldn't put her finger on, but it was something she wanted to protect.

They rode the feather through the air in search of Kouga's trail. They had a lead as to his current whereabouts; with any luck, he'd be long gone. Kagura hoped that he was gone. She hoped that he was so far gone that they could never find him, and Naraku wouldn't have an excuse to remove the shard from Kohaku's back…why not just wish for the moon while she was at it? Too bad Naraku couldn't suffer a heart attack right now; that would solve all of their problems (and considering the nature of the hold Naraku had over Kagura, it would also be ironic). Convenient heart attacks didn't happen, though, or at least, not to Naraku. Kagura feared that there was no way out of this situation. Sooner or later, Naraku would have all of the shards, and then…no, she wasn't going to think about it again.

But no matter how hard she tried to change the subject, Kagura's mind kept on coming back to the fact that Naraku would remove the shard from Kohaku's back, thus killing him, and there didn't seem to be a damned thing she could do to stop it. There was a thing or two, she supposed, but everything she could think of involved sacrificing her own life by betraying Naraku (he had zero tolerance for traitors) and only extended Kohaku's life expectancy by a couple of days, anyway. Certainly the brave thing to do, but stupid. If she could somehow guarantee Kohaku's survival, that would have been different, but as things stood… Then again, maybe Kagura didn't want to live if it meant living without Kohaku. Maybe she would try to save him just so that she wouldn't have to watch him die.

But all she would be doing was prolonging his misery by adding a couple of days of fleeing Naraku and mourning her to it. There was no way Naraku was going to let him escape. Naraku was nothing if not persistent, and this close to his goal he was only more so. There was no way that he was going to let some ex-minion of his get in the way of his plans, and he had wanted the Shikon Jewel since literally before he was born.

Was there truly no way out? Was Kohaku really going to die? Was she actually going to sit around and let it happen? She tried once again to turn off these thoughts, but they just wouldn't. It was like trying to stop a waterfall.

Kohaku had only been with them a few months, but then, Kagura was only a few months older than that. Naraku had them searching for Shikon Jewel shards. What that entailed, basically, was hunting down powerful demons, slaying them, and dissecting them in search of the shards.

Kohaku had proven that he could fight. Very well, especially for one of his age. In fact, his skills screamed Demon Slayer, but Kagura wondered how Naraku would go about getting one of those in his service. Of course, secretive as he was, Naraku could have a whole village of Demon Slayers at his disposal.

"So, Kohaku, tell me about yourself, boy," Kagura said.

She felt him shrug against her back. "Like what."

"Where are you from? Do you have a family, and if so, what are they like? Stuff like that," Kagura said.

"I don't know," Kohaku said.

"What do you mean, 'you don't know'?" Kagura demanded.

"I have no memory of any other life than serving Naraku," Kohaku said.

"You don't, eh?" Kagura said. She brought the feather down for a landing. "You!" she shouted at a toad demon. "Where can we find shards of the Shikon jewel?" Maybe not the best way to find something, but it worked."

"I have no idea what you are talking about," the toad demon said.

"Dance of Blades!" The attack cut through the foliage around the toad demon. "Do you still not know what I'm talking about, toad?" Kagura asked.

"Lord S-Something has a shard," the toad said. "He's the most powerful demon around here." Of course, his name wasn't really "Lord Something," but Kagura could hardly be expected to remember the names of everyone she has ever killed.

"And where can we find this Lord Something?" Kagura asked.

"There's a lake in the middle of this wood. That is his home. He lives under its surface," the toad demon said. "You won't be able to take him. He's the most powerful demon around here."

Yeah, like that was the first time Kagura heard that. "We'll see, toad." And they flew off on her feather, leaving the toad demon to wonder.

They gained altitude until they could see the lake, and then glided down towards it. The lake was placid. "Dance of the Dragon!" And now it wasn't.

A large salamander demon rose itself out of the water. "Who dares disturb my home?"

"Are you Lord Something?" Kagura demanded.

"I am," the salamander said, bemused that anything would dare address it like this.

"And is it true that you possess a shard of the Shikon jewel?" Kagura asked.

"I do," Lord Something said.

"Well, either hand it over or we'll carve it out of your corpse," Kagura said.

The salamander laughed. "That's a good one! You scrawny little pipsqueaks taking on the likes of me?"

He lashed out with his tongue, which Kohaku cut off while Kagura attacked the giant salamander demon with her Dance of Blades. The weakling died after one attack, and collapsed back into the water. Kohaku launched his chain scythe at the demon, and was pulled off when it caught. Kagura flew down to catch him in her arms.

"What the hell are you doing, boy?" Kagura demanded.

Kohaku pulled his chain scythe back to him and removed a jewel shard from the gunk on the blade. "I saw it, when you cut off his head."

"Yeah well, heroism is useless if it gets you dead," Kagura said.

She could have let him go. It was safe by now, and she doubted that he'd jump off. Still, she held him. For some reason, she didn't want to let go. She had never really touched anyone, not like this. It was…nice. Eventually, Kohaku relaxed into her grip, he found it pleasant, too. That was the first time they held each other, but by no means the last.

What was that? That movement down there? Was it Kouga? It was Kouga. Kagura pretended that she didn't see anything. After all, if they didn't see him here, they could waste hours searching for him where he wasn't, and that would add hours to Kohaku's life. If Kouga was smart, and got away…days. Weeks, even.

"There," Kohaku said, pointing out Kouga.

Damn it all! Kagura swooped down at Kouga, and shouted "Dance of Blades!" Kouga jumped aside, avoiding the attack by mere inches. "You'd better run, wolf-boy," Kagura taunted, but she was hoping he would run.

"From the likes of you? Not likely!" Kouga shouted. He jumped and kicked.

Kagura dodged. "Dance of Blades!" she intoned, attacking him again, this time trying to hit. Then it occurred to her…what if she was to lose this fight? There was no way that Kohaku could keep up with Kouga on his own. In fact, no one else in Naraku's…erm, employ…was capable of doing that. If she were to die here, and Kouga escaped, Kohaku would live, at least for a while. As much as Kouga hated Naraku, they would find each other again, but that could be months down the line. And who knew? Kouga might win. Probably not, but possibly. And besides, who's to say that he wouldn't have a stroke of (relative) genius and bring allies with him, strong allies?

Kagura didn't fight to her full abilities. Did she really want to die here, though? If she did, Kohaku would live, for a while, at least, but was life in Naraku's service really all that much preferable to death? She feinted one way than attacked the other. Kouga dodged her attack. She didn't know. She didn't know if it was better to be dead or to be a pawn of Naraku. Surely, she must have thought that it was better, or why didn't she kill herself? She looked at Kohaku, and knew the answer to that question. Kouga kicked her in the temple, knocking her off her feather.

It was a bloody battle, but they won. They were bloody and bruised and injured, but they had won. Kagura was panting heavily (why did she need to breath when she didn't have a heart?), and Kohaku was damn near dead on his feet.

How many demons had they killed this day? One hundred? Two? She didn't know. This demon "lord" had crafted a neat little estate for himself, vassals included. They had literally gone up against a demon army. And for what? Three little shards of some jewel, shards that they weren't even going to keep, but hand over to their master.

Kagura hated her job. She wasn't squeamish about killing or anything; she hated taking orders, especially orders that put her in harm's way for something she didn't even want in the first place. She hated this. She hated Naraku. She hated her life.

Kohaku began to collapse, but Kagura caught him. She held him against her, knowing that if she let him go he would fall. "Are you alright, boy?" she asked gently.

Kohaku rested his head against her breast and began to soundlessly cry. Kagura, not normally one to feel protective, lifted his face so they could look into each other's eyes. She opened her mouth, and no sound came out. What was I going to say? Certainly not that it's going to be alright--it's not.

"Please…" Kohaku said.

"Yes, Kohaku?" Kagura urged him on.

He buried his face in her chest again. "Please…just…hold me. Hold me, and don't let go. I'll fall if you let go." He wasn't just talking literally, either.

"Don't worry; I'll hold you. I'll always hold you," Kagura said softly. She tipped his face up to her, and before she even thought, she kissed him. She knew it wasn't right; he was just twelve years old. But it felt right, and besides, it wasn't like she could screw him up any more than living under Naraku's thumb was already screwing him up.

The truth was that no matter how you cut it, they were screwed, so they might as well enjoy themselves while they could. Kohaku stopped shaking, but didn't try to regain his footing either. He let her hold him up, let her hold him. He relaxed into her grip…he was giving himself to her. All that he was. His heart, his soul…his body.

She didn't take him. He was just twelve. He wasn't old enough for sex, and she wasn't going to force it on him. He loved her, fully and completely, with the full intensity of a thousand suns. She would not betray that trust. She did not take him. They did not have sex. But that was the first time they kissed.

All this flashed across Kagura's memories lightning fast. She was still in the air when it was over. She rolled as she landed and ended up sprawled on her back spread-eagle. Maybe not the most dignified way to die, but at least she would face it head on. She realized right then that she had never told Kohaku that she loved him. He knew that she loved him, and she knew that he loved her, but they had never said I love you. Somehow, it seemed unfinished.

The chain scythe flashed across Kagura's field of vision. It cut one of Kouga's legs going one way, and the other going the other way. Kagura stood. Kouga was hamstringed and Kohaku was holding two jewel shards. Kouga's jewel shards.

Kagura's heart sank. Kohaku, you fool. I was trying to save you. She realized that she wasn't going to go back to Naraku. No force on this Earth could make her watch him rip the shard from Kohaku's back and end his life. (What would InuYasha and her other dead foes think if they knew that she was so conflicted on the inside? Would they laugh? Would they pity her? Would they care?)

"Kohaku, run!" She knew, intellectually, that the boy had no chance. Naraku would track him to the end of the world and beyond for those three shards. She knew, intellectually, that she was just prolonging his suffering. She knew, intellectually, that she had just signed her own death warrant for no reason. What she knew intellectually didn't count for shit, though, apparently.

"Kagura?"

"Naraku is going to kill you! Now that he has all the jewel shards, he's--" she felt something akin to a heart attack, even though she had no heart.

You would betray me so close to my victory? That isn't smart, Kagura. Everyone who could have killed me is dead, Naraku's voice said in her head as he squeezed her heart.

"Kagura!" Kohaku shouted. He ran to her and held her against him. The funny thing was, she could almost feel her heart beat…

She has betrayed us, Kohaku. Return to me, Naraku ordered.

"No!" Kohaku shouted. He held her against him, willing her not to die. There was no heart in Kagura's chest, he knew, but sometimes when they were close, he could feel something, like there was something in there that wanted to beat, that wanted to be a heart, like it was trying to learn what to do from Kohaku's heart. The jewel shards. The ones from Kouga's legs. They had worked in harmony with one another for such a long time. They were twins. It was then that Kohaku knew what to do. Something in Kagura's chest wanted to beat. He would teach it.

Uttering a silent prayer over the jewel shards, he removed first his shirt and then Kagura's. He put one shard in her "heart," digging it deep up in there…and then he put the other in his. He leaned his ear against her chest. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump thump. Kohaku grinned like an idiot. That heartbeat was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard! Calmly, quietly triumphant, he replaced her clothing, for modesty's sake, and then his own. For the first time in his sad life, there would be a happy ending.

Kagura felt like she had been on the losing end of a fight when she came to. She couldn't feel Kohaku snuggled against her, so how could she feel his heart? Memory came flooding back, and she realized that she should have been dead.

Kagura opened her eyes. There was nothing against her chest. She put her hand against her heart…it was beating! But how? Immodestly, she opened her shirt and noticed a little red hole. Kohaku wordlessly opened his shirt and revealed another. Neither spoke. They closed their shirts.

"How?" Kagura asked.

"Kouga's shards are twins," Kohaku said.

Twins? "They work in concert with one another?" Kagura guessed.

Kohaku nodded. "My heartbeat makes your heart beat," he said.

She held him to her chest, feeling his heartbeat, and indeed they were in sync. It half-reminded her of a saying, something about two hearts beating as one, but she doubted it was meant literally. Naraku no longer had power over her. She would live as long as Kohaku did.

Tell most adult demons that they had a mortal's span of years to live and it would be a curse. For Kagura, who was little over a year old in real time, it was a blessing. As short as her life had been so far, she appreciated time in a way only a small child could, so forty or fifty years seemed an increadibly long time, instead of like the weekend after next like it would seem to most demons. Besides, being drawn down in death with him meant that she was guaranteed not to have to watch him die.

Then she noticed that Kouga was still alive. She went over to examine him. Kohaku had hamstringed him. A mortal would have been crippled for life. Kouga would recover with a week or so of healing. Not that that would help him if she decided to kill him right now.

"What should we do with him?" Kohaku asked.

Kouga stared up at them defiantly, knowing he couldn't fend them off with just his hands, but determined to try to fight back to the bitter end. An admirable opponent.

"Leave him," Kagura said. After all, he was Naraku's enemy, not theirs. She doubted that he'd be able to defeat Naraku, especially without jewel shards, but it certainly didn't hurt them to let him try. "Come, Kohaku."

Kohaku got onto the feather, and they took off. "Where are we going?" Kohaku asked.

That was a good question. It wasn't like they could go "home" again. Gee, wouldn't Naraku love that? "How about we travel the world, just you and me?"…with Naraku always chasing us. The world was a big place. There were a lot of things in it, mostly unknown. Surely, there had to be something out there that they could use to defend themselves from or kill Naraku.

"Sounds wonderful," Kohaku said wistfully. He sat in her lap, and she wrapped her arms around him, holding him to her chest. Yes, it did sound wonderful.

They were free. The price of their freedom was high, and Naraku would chase them to the ends of the earth, but Kagura and Kohaku were free of his control, and that, at least, there was nothing he could do about. He could kill them, but he couldn't re-enslave them. In that respect he was powerless against them. I am the wind. I am the wind, and Kohaku is my mate. Kohaku is my mate.

They flew west, across the sea to China, and from there? Who knew? Perhaps they would keep going west, ever westward, across desert and mountains, and eventually they would hit ocean again. And then what? Who knew? Who cared? Kagura intended to live every moment of freedom to the fullest. I am the wind, and Kohaku is my mate. That reminded her, she still hadn't of said-- "I love you, Kohaku."

"I know. I love you, too, Kagura," Kohaku said.

They soared off westward, into the unknown, into a brighter tomorrow. And that was the first time they ever said to one another, "I love you."

FIN

Author's Commentary (As If You Care)

Kagura and Kohaku are my favorite couple. I honestly don't understand why it is not more popular. I mean, Rin/Sesshoumaru is pretty popular from what I hear, and Kagura/Kohaku is less both freaky (age differential somewhat less extreme) and more plausible (unlike Sesshoumaru, Kagura is not racist against humans (a phrase I coined), and Kagura and Kohaku actually have common ground--they're both forced to serve Naraku against their will) than Rin/Sesshoumaru. It just makes more sense all around, period. I can't think of any reason for Rin/Sesshie to be loved while Kagura/Kohaku is ignored…well, that's not strictly true. I don't think that this is true, but…could it be because a Kagura/Kohaku romantic relationship involves a younger male romantically linked with an older female? I probably shouldn't be talking like that, though, and it's probably not true in the first place. Could just be that I'm jaded. Ah, well; I've wasted your time with this long enough.

I've wanted to write a story about Kagura/Kohaku for forever and a day, but it was hard gathering enough around them to justify a story. They were just so…so natural a couple that I couldn't think of any special circumstances to push them together. The way I saw it, they would just slowly grow together, slowly realizing their feelings for one another, and as their relationship progressed to another level after another level, it would just flow, just be so natural, that they would not fight it. Yeah, that's nice…but it does not a story make. That would be an essay. Stories need twists, turns, and complications. When you read a story, you need to not be able to tell right away how it is going to end. I'm not entirely sure what the point I'm trying to get across is. It could just be that I don't know where, when, or how I got the idea to do this particular story (I usually like to talk about that sort of thing in the Commentary). Another thing I like to do is shamelessly plug the other stories I have written about the same show. I have three other InuYasha titles to my name. In Your Dreams and Never Trust a Demon are InuYasha/Jakotsu romances, and Ties That Bind is…well, it's hard to explain what Ties That Bind is, exactly. You'll just have to read it. It's not complete yet, though. Well, I hope you liked this story, please R&R, and tell all your friends! My biggest hope, though, is that I inspired some of you to write more Kagura/Kohaku fics, because this couple is dangerously underrepresented, as in this is the only fic there is about them (aside from the uninspiring Eye of the Beholder). Bye and good luck!