A/N: Greetings all. I've been thinking about doing this story for ages and I'm very excited about it. I'm glad to have you guys reading it, especially those loyal readers who have been following me since the beginning! I adore you all. Anyway, this is the first story of mine that I will be posting on two sites – fanfiction and Single Spark. This is just a note to tell you that the versions will be identical unless I say otherwise. Okay! Let's get to it, shall we?
The Once and Future Taiyoukai
Chapter 1: One Thousand Cranes
She took out a new sheet of paper and turned towards the fox kit. The foil glittered in the firelight, flame upon sapphire blue. Placing it down on her book, she smiled. "Okay, let me show you how to do it, Shippo. It's really simple." She folded it so that the diagonal corners met and creased it with a practiced hand. "And now the other way."
The fox watched with a steady green gaze. "Hey Sango, do you know how to do this?" he asked, keeping his eyes on what Kagome was doing.
The taijiya smiled and shook her head. "No, but I have seen Kagome do it before."
"Come on, Shippo." Kagome pulled out another sheet of paper, a golden one this time. "Just follow my lead."
The kitsune carefully lined up the edges and mimicked the miko's folds. "Why do people do this, Kagome?"
"Well, they say that the gods will grant a wish to anyone that makes one thousand paper cranes."
"Wow. Maybe I should try." He looked down at the paper in his hands with a new reverence.
Miroku leaned back against a tree trunk across the fire. "What would you wish for, Shippo?"
The fox sat in silence for a few moments, a pensive look upon his face. "I would wish for you to stay with us forever, Kagome!" he said finally, looking up at his adoptive mother.
The miko smiled and embraced the kit, the cranes lying half-folded between them. "That's so sweet, Shippo! Thank you."
Miroku turned to the demon slayer. "What would you wish for, my dearest Sango?"
She sighed and picked up Hiraikotsu, weighing it in her hands. "Why do you want to know?"
"He just wants to see if it's about him," teased Kagome. She smiled at the taijiya. "Is it?"
Color darkened her cheeks. "No, of course not. I would wish for Naraku's death and the completion of the Jewel."
"Which would free me from the wind tunnel and allow me to marry you," said Miroku. He chuckled at her stricken expression. "Ah, Sango, all of your roads lead to me."
The demon slayer's blush deepened. "What would you wish for, Kagome?" she asked, as she kept a menacing eye upon the monk.
"Aren't you going to ask me what I would wish for?"
"No!" the girls replied in unison. When the monk pouted, Kagome shook her head with a sardonic smile gracing her features. "I think we all know what you would wish for, Miroku. We have children present!"
The fox kit's tail twitched. "Yeah, and even I know your answer!" he cried. "Don't say it!" Kirara mewed her agreement as she sat beside Sango.
Kagome laughed at the downtrodden monk. "Sorry, Miroku. I think you're outnumbered on this one."
"So Kagome, what would be your wish?" Sango asked again.
"Same as you," she said immediately. She glared at the monk as he cleared his throat. "For different reasons than you think, Miroku."
"Ah, too bad."
Silence fell and they shifted uncomfortably in their seats by the fire. The ability to ignore it only lasted so long. They were accustomed to the enveloping darkness of an autumn night, but they would never get used to the silence. Lately, it had been following them, warping Nature as they walked through the forests. Although they had not discussed it among themselves, the three humans were in agreement about who could be blamed for this oppressive quiet.
Kagome shook herself, trying to fight off the chill, and scooted closer to the fire. Staring into the flames, she asked the question everyone knew she had to ask. "What would you wish for?" It was barely more than a whisper.
A gentle whine filled the air as a snake-like apparition slid out from the dark. It avoided the fire, firmly fixed to the perimeter of the light. Circling Kagome and Sango, it rested briefly upon the miko's shoulder before returning to the dark.
"You do not care."
Kagome lifted her eyes to see the muted colors of their companion's robes, barely inside the corona of firelight. If she moved another few inches back, only Shippo and Kirara would have been able to see her. "Yes, I do." She straightened her spine. "Please tell us."
"I would wish for the ability to take final revenge upon all that have injured me in both my life and death." Kikyo's pale face turned to look at her reincarnation. "I suppose it is a wish not entirely dissimilar to your own."
"I suppose not," murmured Kagome. They looked at one another.
"Inuyasha is returning," said the other miko.
Kagome looked back into the fire with a sigh. Didn't some women throw themselves onto the funeral pyre of their loved ones? They had left them, and they didn't want to be left. She felt as if she was burning already.
She stood up, broke up a branch and put it onto the fire. A few leftover leaves crackled and smoked. Inuyasha came into the clearing and wrinkled his nose. "Take off the leaves first next time," he muttered.
He had brought fish for their dinner, because Miroku had complained about having rabbit for the last several nights in a row. They cooked the fish over the fire in the only aluminum pan Kagome had left of a set her mother had bought for her eighteenth birthday, to replace the ones damaged beyond repair that she had gotten for her sixteenth. Inuyasha sat between Kikyo and Kagome, although it was a large enough gap for all of them to fit into, and talked quietly to Kikyo as the soul stealers hovered behind them.
Ever since Inuyasha had convinced Kikyo to join them on their quest five weeks ago, he was the only one that seemed comfortable conversing with the elder miko. He ignored the unease of the others, even when Miroku made a subtle comment about it. Kikyo, of course, spoke with no more animation with Inuyasha than she did with the rest of the group. It was painful for all of them, but sometimes they thanked the heavens that Inuyasha was there, so that her cold eyes were not crawling over their skins.
Sango touched Kagome's shoulder softly. "How are you?" she asked. This was another recent development – the periodical concern of Sango, Miroku and Shippo on the reincarnation's behalf. They never spoke of it, because 'it' usually sat a few feet away, but they asked anyway, although she could never answer.
"I'm fine." She pulled her fish out of the fire and inspected it. An undercooked wild turkey had ruined her winter holiday for her senior year of high school and she no longer took chances. Satisfied this time, she bit into it.
"Are you going home any time soon?" asked the demon slayer as she picked apart her own fish.
Kagome shrugged. "Maybe. I need to stock up on some first aid supplies and ramen. Why?"
"You've been here for awhile, that's all. I know you don't have any more of those tests now, but you spent your birthday here. Doesn't your family miss you?"
"Of course, but they know why I'm here." She took a thin fish bone out of her mouth and threw it into the fire. "And it's not like I have much to go back to. All of my friends are at university already and Sota's busy with those extra classes he's taking to get into a good high school. It's just Mom and Grandpa."
Sango nodded. "Still, you may need a break from all this."
Inuyasha paused in his hushed, halting conversation with Kikyo and looked over. "Kagome? Needs a break? Keh. I'll let you go home for ramen, but you better come right back!" He chewed on his dinner. "And not yet! I want to find another shard first."
"But we're very close to the well," said Sango, frowning. "Why can't she go home and join us in the morning in the village?"
"No. We need more shards first. The fight with Naraku is coming."
Kagome tossed the rest of the fish bones into the fire. "You've been saying that for more than four years."
"She hasn't even been home since before her nineteenth birthday, Inuyasha. Let her go."
"Let her go."
They all turned to look at Kikyo. "Why are you siding with her?" asked the hanyou, his voice softening considerably.
The elder miko shook her head. "I do not side with anyone, Inuyasha. But if my reincarnation wants to return home, why should we prevent that?"
Kagome felt a knot forming in her stomach. "Well, I would come back as soon as I could."
"Why?" replied Kikyo, her eyes fixed upon the other girl.
She faltered. "I…I… why wouldn't I come back?"
Kikyo stood up with an ethereal grace that only the dead could master. Kagome scrambled to her feet. "Why do you need to return at all?" asked the elder miko, her voice a cold whisper. "I can detect the shards and my skills with a bow surpass your own. I will not endanger the others."
"I don't… I don't endanger them." Kagome looked around at her friends. "Inuyasha?"
He frowned at Kikyo. "Kagome helps us," he said simply.
"At what cost?" asked the priestess. "She is not safe here, Inuyasha. Any demon could kill her in a moment. She is the only one that cannot defend herself."
"After four years, I think I've improved considerably," said Kagome, her eyes wide.
Kikyo blinked slowly. "Improvement means nothing if you cannot prevent your own injury. Or someone else's. You are a liability. I told Inuyasha that when I joined this group."
She looked at him, tears crystallizing in the corners of her eyes. "You've been talking about this. This isn't something you just decided. How could you not fight for me?"
The hanyou's ears were flattened. "I dunno. Maybe she's right, Kagome. You don't need to be here anymore. You can go back and do that university thing all your friends are doing. We've got someone to help with finding the shards."
Sango and Miroku leapt to their feet. "Kagome would never choose to leave us," the monk said, his voice strong and angry. "You cannot turn her away without injuring her and injuring us."
Inuyasha remained sitting as the demon slayer turned on Kikyo. "How can you say she's endangered us? We've all been in trouble at one time or another and it's usually Kagome that saves us! She's saved you on a few occasions that I can remember!"
"You're not sending Kagome away!" cried Shippo.
The other miko stared back at the trio, expressionless and undisturbed. "I simply suggested it because it seems as if Kagome tires of this life. Unlike us, she has another choice. One that she can take now that I am here to take her place."
Kagome looked at the hanyou, sitting with his head bent down. "Inuyasha?"
"Kikyo can cover for you while you're gone, Kagome."
She took a step back, her chest feeling the pain of his punch. "You want me to leave?" she asked.
His eyes were still upon the ground, refusing to meet anyone's gaze. "You'll be safe there. You can have a normal life again."
"Why are you doing this to us?" Sango pled to Kikyo. "Why are you even here?"
Kikyo slowly blinked. "I am here to help in the final battle against Naraku. Inuyasha came to me for that purpose. He said that it had been too long, that things were progressing too slowly." She looked at them as expressions of shock and anger flitted across their faces. "He asked for my help and I gave it freely. Naraku must be stopped soon and my presence will greatly improve your chances."
Kagome's legs felt weak but she didn't even have the energy to sit. "You told her that I was useless, didn't you?" she asked. "You hoped that she would replace me, that I would just go running home to be 'normal' again."
Golden eyes suddenly met hers. "No… I…" He looked away again. "We have to get this done, Kagome."
"Of course. How selfish of me. I hadn't even realized that I was hindering your progress." Kagome reached for her yellow backpack blindly and hefted it up upon her shoulders. "I think I will go home after all."
"No, Kagome! Please don't!" Shippo leapt into her arms and cried, dampening her shirt immediately with large tears.
Any words of comfort died in her throat. She could only pry him off and hand him to Sango, who was shedding a few tears of her own. Looking up at the stars, she found her direction and began to walk. Miroku immediately blocked her path. "Leaving will only let her win," he said, loud enough for everyone to hear.
"It's not about winning, Miroku."
"Then what is it about?" he asked.
She smiled, leaned forward and hugged him tightly. "Keep everyone together," she whispered. "It's the only way to keep them safe, you see?"
He nodded as she pulled away. Without turning to look again at the others, she set off into the forest, with only the stars and a crescent moon leading her down her path. Behind her, she could hear Shippo's sobbing.
The forest soon closed behind her, leaving no trace of the campsite. She finally turned her head, but only the tall towers of trees stood in the moonlight. Her feet crunched on the fallen leaves beneath her feet as she resumed her walk. She was fortunate, she knew, that they had not been very far from the well, and that they had camped in a familiar clearing. Otherwise, she would be hopelessly lost among the quiet trees.
There was a whine and Kagome looked up to see a soul stealer floating leisurely above her head. "Go away," she said. "I know the path. I'm really going home."
The soul stealer remained. "What?" she asked. "Are you waiting for me to get killed by some forest animal, so that you can take the rest of my soul? You already have most of it." She continued on her walk and it followed. She strangely pleased with its company, although she didn't say another word to it.
It took more than four hours to navigate the forest's nighttime landscape, although her path was fairly clear. She didn't feel her exhaustion until she broke free from the tree line and emerged into the clearing with the Bone-Eater's Well. She looked up at the soul stealer to see that it was already turning back. "Goodbye then," she muttered, shaking her head clear of the fogginess of sleep. It must be nearly two in the morning, she realized.
She sat down on the side of the well, letting her bag fall to the grass beside her. It was no longer heavy with books thankfully, although her shoulders still ached. A chilled breeze swept through the clearing and she rubbed her palms on her jeans. She was glad that she didn't still wear her school uniform. Sometimes she wondered how she had survived her school years in the Feudal Era without getting frostbite.
The chill in the air suddenly turned to pure ice. Shivering, she stood up and looked around the clearing. There was a youkai here, watching her, she realized. Bending down, she got a grip on her bag, preparing to jump into the well on a moment's notice. "Inuyasha?" she called, already knowing it wasn't him.
"I should kill you for such an insult."
Her breath began to shake as she turned around. "Sesshoumaru-sama," she murmured, bowing deeply to the taiyoukai on the other side of the well. He was clothed in his customary white and red, with one sleeve hanging empty at his side. None of his usual companions were with him and she realized that he held Tokijin in his right hand, unsheathed and swirling with its dark intentions.
"I'm surprised to see you here," she continued, when he didn't say anything. It was the truth – the gang hadn't seen a whisper of the taiyoukai in over a year. "May I do something for you?"
"As if I would ever the assistance of a human," he said, the sneer in his voice palpable.
Kagome bowed again. "Of course, how ridiculous of me." She dared to look at his face, pale with its aristocratic nose and cheekbones, except for the bright marks upon his forehead and cheeks. She realized in a flash of panic that his eyes held an anger that was normally reserved for Inuyasha or Naraku. Then it was gone. "Are you going to kill me?" she asked.
His amber gaze swept her body. "Do you want me to?"
"No, but, forgive me, we haven't seen you in ages. Are you after the Tetsusaiga again?"
He looked away for a moment. "What use is a sword that I cannot wield?" he asked. As she continued to peer at him, he sighed inwardly. "No, this Sesshoumaru has no interest in the Fang any longer."
"Then why are you here?" she asked, her voice quiet. "What do you want with me?"
Sesshoumaru sniffed. "When have I ever shown any interest in you, human?"
"Never," admitted Kagome softly.
"Then why should I begin such a unworthy pursuit now?"
The miko frowned. "Alright, I get it. I'm no use to anyone. How am I supposed to know that? I mean, for all I know, you could have come here planning to kidnap me or kill me in order to get to Inuyasha. Not that that would work by the way, but since when have you needed a good reason to kill people? The fact is we haven't seen you in a year, so I'm very sorry I'm not up to date on your present quest for power." She took a deep breath and glared at the taiyoukai.
"I should kill you," he repeated, lifting the tip of Tokijin up. He considered it and then let the blade down, swinging loosely from his fingertips. "But I will not. Tonight, no harm will come to you from me, human."
She narrowed her eyes. "Why not?"
"Because you want to die and I do not satisfy the wishes of lower beings," he replied, sheathing the sword and turning away.
"I don't want to die!" she called. He continued to walk away. "Hey! Just because I don't have a life worth living doesn't mean I want to die!" She turned white as she spoke.
Her words made him pause and he looked at her over his shoulder. "This Sesshoumaru cares nothing for your problems." He continued to walk away.
"Right, of course" she said. She laughed a little, a sad and hollow sound that even made Sesshoumaru almost flinch. "What about Inuyasha's problems? Do you care about them? Do you care that Kikyo is going to drag him into hell before he has a chance to really live?"
He stopped again and turned around fully. "Then my brother is a fool."
"No kidding," she bit out. "But that doesn't change the fact that that's what will happen. She'll kill him, just because she died a bitter death."
"Much like you will if you continue shouting," he said, his youkai senses picking up on the demons attracted by the young girl's noise.
Kagome sighed, immediately recognizing the genuine warning in his voice. "Why are you being nice to me? Well, not nice, but why are you listening?" She looked at him. "Why are you here?" she asked again.
Sesshoumaru just looked at her.
"Fine. I guess you don't have to explain yourself." She sighed again. "I'm going home. I may not be back. I don't know. I haven't decided yet."
He continued to stand there.
She scoffed. Now he gives the silent treatment, she mused. He was practically chatty just a minute ago. "I've had enough silence, thank you. Kikyo has filled me up with silence." Kagome leaned against the wall of the well. "I hope that Inuyasha doesn't get taken to hell. Will you care if he does?
"No, of course you wouldn't," she continued after a moment. "I would. It's not fair that she's still here, when she should be dead. Of course, it's not fair that I'm here when I shouldn't be either. I suppose I'm sort of a hypocrite."
She looked down into the well, but she couldn't see the bottom. "It's funny. When you said that you would kill me, I wasn't scared. Well, I was scared of death but not of you." Her head jerked up as his lip lifted in a soft growl. "I'm not saying you're not intimidating, Sesshoumaru. Kami knows that that growl is intimidating enough for most humans to wet themselves.
"But have you ever known something, without knowing why you know it?" She looked at him again as the snarl died. "Maybe you have, maybe you haven't. But I knew that you are not the one that will kill me. I may die by a sword, but it won't be yours. What's even funnier? I kind of hope I'm wrong. I don't think I'd mind dying because of you."
Kagome smiled at him and bowed for the third time. "Thank you for listening to me, Sesshoumaru-sama. I'm not making a lot of sense, I know. Let's just say I've had a strange and disturbing night." She sat on the lip of the well and swung her legs over. "I know you don't do humans favors, but do you mind if I ask you for one anyway?"
The taiyoukai's eyebrow lifted.
"If I don't come back, or maybe even if I do, will you look in on Inuyasha every once in awhile? They might need your help against Naraku, at the very least." Her smile faded. "Thank you."
She slid into the dark shadow of the well and Sesshoumaru watched as it spewed forth a cloud of blue light. Delicately sniffing the air, he could tell that the girl was no longer there. There wasn't even a corpse lying at the bottom.
"Interesting," he murmured, before walking away.
Shippo took aim and fired.
"Hey!" Inuyasha's hand went to his chest, where the slimy residue of Kaede's soup was seeping through his haori. "You little brat!" He started to stand, but Kikyo pull gently on his sleeve.
Sango turned to the little fox. "Shippo, it is not appropriate to fling soup at Inuyasha." She sent a swift glare towards the hanyou, who in turn glared at the fox kit. "It's wasteful of food. Next time, finish your meal and then throw the empty bowl at him."
"Wait a minute!" The dog demon stared at the normally proper demon slayer. "Don't tell him to throw things at me!"
"Why not?" asked the taijiya as she turned back to her food.
"Yeah. You deserve it," said Shippo, turning tail and going to sit between Sango and Miroku.
Inuyasha rubbed at the stain with his sleeve, smearing it. "Hey, it's not my fault she hasn't come back. It's only been a day anyway. She'll calm down."
Miroku set aside his empty bowl and exchanged a look with Sango. "Actually, we have spoken about this. Sango and I believe that Kagome may not return." His brow furrowed despite itself. "And I believe it is very much your fault, Inuyasha."
"How do you figure that?" growled the hanyou.
The monk leaned back against the wall of the hut and closed his eyes. Even then, he could see Inuyasha sitting beside Kikyo, closer than he really thought was appropriate. "For two reasons," he said, when he felt that the hanyou had stewed in impatience long enough. "First, you replaced her and you basically told her so. Second, unlike every other time you have fought, you have not gone to fetch her from her time. She must feel very abandoned, wouldn't you think, dearest Sango?" His eyes opened and immediately fixed upon his intended.
The taijiya nodded. "I don't remember the last time you've left her there for so long."
Inuyasha scoffed and looked at his other companion for support, but she had none to give. "She'll come back on her own."
"Are you sure of that?" asked Miroku, yawning. He had stayed up late the previous night, worrying about Kagome's safe return to her own time. He had seen the soul stealer slink off to follow her. That only had aggravated his fears for the girl. In the morning, Sango and Shippo had had dark rings around their eyes as well.
The hanyou shrugged. "She always does."
"And maybe that's the problem," murmured Sango. Her eyes strayed to the door and she stood up. "I think I'll go help Kaede."
"Why? What's she doing?" asked Inuyasha.
The demon slayer shrugged and went to the doorway, lifting the mat out of the way. "I don't know. Coming, Shippo?"
"Sure." The sullen fox trooped over to her feet, where he waited to be scooped up into her arms. Arms that comforted, but not the way that Kagome's did. He rested in his "aunt's" hold and peered over her shoulder as they left, leaving two pinpricks of emerald to watch the others.
The uncomfortable and familiar silence settled over them. Miroku shifted in his place, his eyes going to the doorway every other moment. "Kaede has been doing a lot of work today," he said. Anything to stave off the quiet. He should have followed the other two, he realized belatedly. Now it would just look like he was running away. On the other hand, he was reluctant to leave the hanyou and miko alone together. Bad omens swirled around their heads.
"My sister does not enjoy my presence," said Kikyo, her voice flat.
"Well, are you really her sister?" he asked. He hadn't intended it to sound so biting, but he could not conjure up any guilt over it.
"My memories tell me that I am," said the miko. "And memories is all I have left of my form when I was alive."
Miroku looked over to her, but only for a moment. It was autumn and even glancing at the undead priestess chilled his heart more than was necessary. He wondered idly if she would burn in the summer, and fill his lungs with fire. He supposed that she would. To give comfort to them would be contrary to her very being. "You have part of that soul that Kikyo had."
She raised a delicate eyebrow – the first sign of emotion in over a week. "The soul that is not mine either, just as Kaede is not my sister?"
The monk's head turned away, rolling on the boards behind him. He stared at the spot Sango had occupied, trying to draw from the warmth she left. The smell of that stuff she put in her hair – the liquid stuff Kagome had given to her as a New Year's present - lingered in the air. "Whatever you possess, I'm sure you think it's yours. Does anything else matter?" he muttered. He closed his eyes and tried to relax his muscles. "I'm going to sleep. Goodnight."
Inuyasha scoffed lightly. "Whatever. She'll come back," he said, his lip curling up into a smirk. But Kikyo watched as it faded and the hanyou stared into the fire without blinking.
Soon, Sango and Shippo returned, their eyes drooping from staying up too late. Kaede barely turned to look at the group assembled in her common room before heading into the tiny bedroom that held only a bedroll and a few pots of herbs and beads. They dropped off to sleep, one by one, until only she and Inuyasha were awake. He finally moved, taking a stick and poking the dying embers of the fire. They crackled weakly and he gave up, sliding backwards until he found a comfortable place.
Kikyo stood up. "I'll be back," she whispered. She didn't wait for an answer, and as she slid out of the hut, she wondered why she bothered to reassure him. A remnant of the time that their lives twined together, she was sure. Now, they were burnt and brittle and they could not touch each other without disintegrating. A long time ago, she would have mourned this state of their relationship, but Kikyo didn't have time to mourn any longer. Her heart was incomplete after all. Maybe sympathy and love had been the parts that had been lost. Maybe that was why the others wouldn't look at her, not that she cared.
She made her way through the fields slowly, the soul stealers joining her when she was too far from the village to be seen. They dropped souls into her, the lights of other lives. Another thing that she would not mourn.
There it was. Right on the crest of the hill. Kagome had reluctantly explained what the well did the third night after she had joined the group. Kikyo had asked for the full story, surprising everyone with her curiosity, and Kagome had complied. The priestess suspected that the girl had never told a lie in her life.
She ran her hands over the wood, her fingers finding the weaknesses and rot that even a magical time portal had, apparently. She could smash it, she thought. Then Kagome would never be able to return. But she hadn't brought any weapons, and although her clay body resisted a lot, it did not have enough strength to tear it apart with her hands.
This was the monk's fault, she mused. He shouldn't have brought it up. Because the truth was that whatever she possessed was hers. But she didn't possess Inuyasha yet. She almost had him, but Kagome prevented total control. And as long as he had a hope of her return, he would never be entirely hers.
She needed Inuyasha. She needed Inuyasha in order to possess what she truly wanted – revenge.
Her hands rested upon the wood again. She could feel its magic only with her touch. It was ancient and worn, too old to even determine where it had come from. Not that it mattered. Ancient magic still had its weaknesses. It would still fall to her.
Kikyo closed her eyes, envisioning the power of the well and the tunnel it made through time. It glowed, swirling with iridescent pink and purple in her mind. She pushed through, trying to get to the other side, where Kagome was and where she would stay. The power of the well resisted, pushing her back towards her proper end. It felt sickening, like the pull of your stomach just before becoming physically ill.
The priestess opened her eyes. She was surprised it had resisted and that it had done it so successfully. She turned aside and retched, but her stomach was empty. Her soul stealers wound through the air in agitation, their tiny legs twitching as their mistress steadied herself.
It is stronger magic that I thought, she mused in silence, running her hands over the boards again. It hummed with power, the force that had pushed the undead priestess out. Its exertion had made it temporarily weak. Kikyo hesitated only a moment before trying again, envisioning the cloud of magic that became the tunnel through time.
She didn't try to go to the other end again. She stopped at a point of her own choosing, close to her end of the tunnel. Her consciousness reached out to the walls and grabbed on, pulling them in. It was a fight and even her mind was breathless from the force she had to use, but soon the tunnel became hole and then nothing more than a crack in time. Kikyo pulled back and closed it completely, satisfied that her reincarnation would not be able to break through.
Her eyes fluttered open once again and she looked up to see that dawn was approaching. It had taken longer than she had thought. Her body could barely stand upright without the support of the soul stealers, who now wrapped around her torso like a corset. They tried to lift her away, back to the village, but she stayed them with a single word.
The priestess turned to see Inuyasha walking up the hill, with a frown and Tetsusaiga over his shoulder. "Inuyasha."
"What are you doing up here?" he asked.
She heard the suspicion in his voice, although he probably was not aware of it. "I felt an evil aura moving nearby. I came to see what it was and I was led here." She looked up at the sky. The stars were still out, although fading. "Why have you come? You know I do not sleep. You could not have been worried about me."
His frown deepened. "No," he admitted. "I woke up early so I could go get Kagome. If I don't, the others will just complain. Plus, she still has the shards."
"You think that it was wrong for me to say that we didn't need her," observed Kikyo. "You feel guilty."
Inuyasha looked away as he sheathed his sword. "Keh, I just don't want Shippo throwing food at me all the time."
Kikyo smiled without mirth. "Inuyasha, you have barely changed at all. If you cannot admit the simple truth that you miss my reincarnation, it is no wonder that she will not return to you." She narrowed her eyes, although the smile remained. "Do you think that if you told the truth that she would stay with you forever?"
"What truth?" he asked. "She's got to know that I miss her, unless she's a complete idiot."
The priestess shrugged and the soul stealers released her. She could stand on her own now. "I meant the truth behind that. The fact that you have no desire to join me in hell, no matter what promises you made to me."
"I… I live up to my promises, Kikyo."
"But you do not love me anymore. I have no place in your heart except as a former love." She circled the well, her fingernails scraping across the wood.
Inuyasha fidgeted. "I do love you," he said.
She shook her head. "Your voice has no love in it." Her brown eyes pierced him. "You have kept me company when the others scorned my presence, although I do not care what they feel towards me. You talk to me, although I do not care for conversation. You make sure I am comfortable, although I do not care about my comfort. You do not do anything of these things out of love, Inuyasha. I am not the fool that my reincarnation seems to be. I know that you simply do these things out of guilt."
"I love you," he insisted, stretching out his hands to her.
Kikyo did not move towards him. "You reach for me, but you do not desire to touch me. If you did, you would have done so long ago. You fear for the feelings of my reincarnation."
He frowned, the lines creasing his face more deeply than they did four years before, when Kagome found him pinned to the tree. He was ageless, but every battle and every trial had added its weight to his features. "I don't love her," he said softly. "I never could. Even if I don't love you, Kikyo, it's not fair to her. I'm still held back by what you call guilt."
The priestess's eyes flickered towards the well. Its magic was dying, cut off from the tunnel through time. Soon, even her oblivious hanyou would realize the difference in the air. Kikyo wondered if he spoke the truth. He certainly believed that he was. He believed that he loved neither her nor her reincarnation. It didn't really matter of course. Either way, it would be easier with the well closed off from Kagome's time.
One more test. For the truth.
"Very well," she said. "If it as you say, you should go back for her. For the fox kit and for the monk and the demon slayer. She has survived this long." She tried to look genuine.
Inuyasha nodded, not noticing her strained expression of acceptance. Clay could not smell of deception after all. "Yeah, I'm going to go get her. I'll be right back."
Kikyo nodded, not trusting herself to say anything, lest she give it away. She watched as he jumped over the rim of the well and into the pit, a slight smile upon his face. She listened for the inevitable crash and when it came, she trained her features before looking down after him. "Inuyasha?" she murmured.
"It's not working," he said, getting to his feet and shaking off the dirt. "Ow."
"Are you alright?" she asked.
He nodded and put his hands on the walls around him. "Why isn't it working? Why am I still here?" He looked up at her, his eyes narrowed. A shot of fear and elation went through her all at once. Did he know? "Stand back, I'm going to try this again."
She stepped back as she was told and watched as he leapt out and right back in again. There was a softer fall this time – he was prepared for it. "Damn it!"
"What's supposed to be happening?" she asked, keeping out of sight.
He appeared again, crawling out with a frown upon his dirt-smeared face. "I'm supposed to be there, at Kagome's house." He scowled back at the well.
She knew it was a risk, but if she said nothing, the others would automatically assume her guilt. "Maybe it has something to do with the evil aura I sensed earlier," she said, keeping her eyes lowered.
"Was it Naraku?" His eyes were widening and she could see the desperation.
"I don't know. Is he aware of the well?"
His shoulders fell. "No, I don't think so." He stared at the well, his eyes slowly growing murky with frustration. "I have to tell the others."
Kikyo shook her head, while her soul stealers circled the hanyou. "Don't. They don't need to know yet. It will hurt them and this may be temporary. I'll see what I can do, so that the well works again." She smiled softly and stepped forward, touching the back of his hand with her cold fingers. "Trust me."
Inuyasha looked at the well again and then back to the priestess. "I will."
A/N: This is more like a prologue than a first chapter, but I hate having prologues because then chapter 2 is actually chapter 1 and so on and so forth. Anyway, glad to have you all reading this new story of mine! It should be interesting.
Please review – I live for reviews!