A/N: Ha ha! I am back! Back from the dead! And so is this story! Yaaaaay!

So yup. Maistwin is here to annoy all of you again. But hey, at least I'm giving you a chapter, right? RIIIIIGHT?! Thought so. Enjoy!


"Dead as dead can be," my doctor tells me

But I just can't believe him, ever the optimistic one

I'm sure of your ability to become my perfect enemy

Wake up and face me,

Don't play dead cause maybe

Someday I will walk away and say,

"You disappoint me,"

Maybe you're better off this way

~A Perfect Circle; "Passive"


Chapter 20

Something was different about the clan that day. Kiryuu Aida already knew that his best friend had led the slayers to a demon's hideout, only the night before. What he couldn't understand was why she had yet to return, and what exactly that had to do with the meeting called by their leader. Everyone was looking at him. Even as they waited for their leader's first words, they continued to look at him, whispering his name.

Where's Yuuki?

The boy slayer, Sasuke, pushed by him in that moment, proving himself to be one of the few people to take absolutely no interest Kiryuu. But this time, he wouldn't have it. He grasped the boy's shoulder, cringing when his action received a sharp glare. "What do you want, pony-tail?" the boy snapped, wrenching his shoulder from him without missing a moment.

His words nagged him, but only for a moment. Kiryuu soon regained his composition, despite the unwanted attention around him. "You went with Yuuki last night…" He cringed, narrowing his eyes. "What happened? Why isn't she here-"

Their leader, Kaori-sama, chose then to speak.

"Thank you for gathering here."

Everyone fell into silence. As if rehearsed, all fell to their knees and bowed to their clan leader, only sitting up when Kaori gave them the gesture. Kiryuu sat there eagerly, doing the best he could to decipher the stillness around him. However, it was for not; the man's expression was near unreadable in the early morning.

"I'm afraid…a rising slayer has betrayed us."

The solemnity of his words had already begun to summon the boy's dread, and the scattered glances of the clansmen could only worsen it. He could see how Kaori look at him, even now.

He didn't like it.

"Yuuki Narita has willingly given herself to a demon. She has allowed it to drink her very blood."

Gasps rose from the crowd. In less than a moment, everyone had forgotten about him entirely. The area was silent.

Kiryuu couldn't believe a word that had been said. The beautiful girl, the one who had called him friend, couldn't have betrayed him like that. And yet, the whispers had already started around him, collecting, growing louder even as he ignored them.

"I knew that girl was up to no good."

"I knew it the moment I saw her."

"She had a witch for a mother. I suppose it was only a matter of time…"

"That's what she gets for making friends with Kohaku-san's ghost…"

He couldn't take it. Words continued to drone from their leader's mouth, but he had long since stopped hearing it. By now, even his breathing was hard, and his fists had clamped shut atop his knees. Suddenly, he shot up and stood, for all of them to see.

"It's a lie!" he shouted.

All eyes fell on him, in that instant. Yet it did not affect the harshness of his breath. "Yuuki-san would never do something like that! She hated demons! You know that!"

Slowly, his clan leader raised his eyes to look at him. In regular circumstances, Kiryuu would have righted himself, and apologized for his disrespect—but he couldn't now. He met the man's eyes with a wary challenge.

"The monk Rikuse confirmed it," Kaori said. "Though you did not see it, that man performed enough miracles to prove his own purity. His word is all the proof we require."

"I don't care what some monk says!" he shouted, whipping his arm in front of him in his fervor. "Yuuki-san would never do that!"

The whispers around him had become a ruckus of suspicion. Not even he could believe the disrespect he had displayed, but he couldn't help it now. But even so, the man's cruel stare caused him to draw back even further. "I understand your pain, Kohaku-san. However, your conduct has no place in this clan. Restrain yourself."

It wasn't the reprimand that caused the slow, painful boiling of his blood. It was that name. Only a glance at his fellow clansmen showed that they, too, recognized the mistake, but would not call it. Because of this, Kiryuu could not sit. His shaking hand clenched at his side, and his eyes drifted towards the ground as he tried to monitor his own rage. "I…am not…Kohaku…" he whispered. Before there was any chance for a response, he looked up and met Kaori's cruel gaze. "Just because some damn boy slayer showed you guys up a million years ago, doesn't mean he's come back to haunt you! Dammit, I am not that boy! I don't care how much I look like him, talk like him, or smell like him, I am not that god damn Kohaku!"

The silence that followed was as suffocating as their gossip. Despite this, Kiryuu continued to shake with rage. Hatred filled him—but for who or what, he did not know. He just wanted them to shut up. All of them.

At first, he didn't even realize he had begun speaking again.

"I'm going to look for her," he said. "And I'm not coming back without her."

With the gasps, there were chuckles. There were smirks on their faces. Now, he saw this with more clarity than he ever did. Kiryuu looked towards Kaori for some kind of support, or even a faint remnant of the kindness he had once shown towards him.

Nothing.

Kaori's face was like stone. Though his pale hands remained relaxed over his thighs, his black eyes were hardened to a glistening onyx. When his thin lips parted, his words were brief.

"Then don't return."

The young slayer had never felt loss like this. Only a passing glance over the gathered crowd confirmed his leader's brutality was not opposed. A second was unnecessary. Before he realized it, Kiryuu had left that gathering—perhaps even run from it. He meant to put as much distance between him and that place as he possibly could.

He made only one stop, before he had forsaken his village. When he reached his own hut, it already had the smell of a forgotten place. The door made a lonely creak as he pushed it aside. Still, he knew he would only need a short time here. He saw his objective the moment he stepped onto the grayed mat. There, on his short table, was his only weapon: a kusarigama.

Even in his rushed state, he had to take a moment to admire it. The kusarigama was as sharp as the day it was given to him, the scythe's curved blade gleaming in the mid-day light. In it, he could see the reflection of his dark brown eyes from under black-cropped bangs. They were different than that morning. They were had darkened. As he fastened the weapon to his clothing, he pushed that fact out of mind.

"Fine," he whispered, his hand sweeping over the now-empty table. "She won't care that I've changed."

He wouldn't come back without Yuuki.

********

It had been hours since Yuuki had seen daylight. It felt like days since she had felt it. The paper-thin walls of her new prison somehow absorbed even the slightest remnant of moonlight, the echoing silence forcing her to remember her isolation. Raw skin on her wrists still throbbed from the remnants of the monk's ropes—she was certain that its threads still dug into her skin, even now. Though she was used to pain, it had never been so severe. She was certain now that the false monk had planned for this. Hours had passed since he had left her, but the echo of his words still haunted that room.

"Next time, don't involve yourself in things you don't understand."

With a resounding cry, she slammed her head against the hardened ground, at last letting tears of defeat leak from her eyes. The cloth binds that had replaced her ropes dug tighter because of it, forcing a second, louder cry from her throat.

It was hopeless.

No one here would believe her story; the monk was too thorough. His lies were too effortless. They fell from his lips like sweet flowers.

"This girl has committed a great sin," he had said. "She must have time to be cleansed. If you give us lodging, you may be rid of her soon enough. I can protect you from her, in the meantime."

His smile would haunt her memories. Ever present, ever sweet, it accompanied each and every one of his lies. And they believed it.

She screamed again, this one borne of frustration. The tears had begun to flow faster, spotting the ground with a soft patter. "You won't get away with this!" she screamed. "You can't keep me quiet forever! You can't keep me here!"

Her cries were met only with silence. Soon, Yuuki rolled onto her side, left to pant in darkness. Solitude stilled her.

Then, he came.

The door slid open with a loud groan, flooding her vision with moonlight. Yuuki raised her bound wrists quickly to block it, but found it no use. As her reddened eyes began to adjust, she see the glint of his raven locks, and the golden shine of his staff. But before their eyes could meet, he slammed the door behind him, shutting the light out once more.

"No one can hear you, Yuuki," he said. "Nor does anyone care. You're no one here."

Rage took her before anything else. She tried feverishly to stand, jerking her bound legs beneath her if only to launch herself at him. However, this was for naught. Yuuki hit the ground with a sudden shout, reduced only to staring where she could make out his shadow.

"My people will save me," she growled. "They'll come for you, demon!"

Clearly, this held no terror for him. The next sound from him was laughter—soft, bitter laughter.

"No, they won't."

Yuuki had reached the brink of madness. Again she flung herself towards him, shrieking as she did so, but the only thing she felt was the impact of solid wood. She could feel something seeping into her binds, following an intense stinging sensation. Her wounds had reopened.

Before she could do anything further, she felt the man kneel beside her. As his fingers brushed her neck, the resulting shudder nearly choked her. Something wet streaked from the wound he had gifted her, causing another sting to tighten her throat.

"We have something in common," he said, his calm tone reddening her already bloodshot eyes. "Both of us will do whatever we can to survive. Even if that means becoming feral."

Her breathing was as rough as it was audible, intensified by her wrath. She wanted to see him, if only to know that her raging was beginning to cut through that cool exterior. But everything was darkness to her. Helpless, she went limp against the wooden planks, staring into the abyss with a gaze even darker.

"We have nothing in common," she snarled.

Suddenly, the far window creaked open, once more blinding her with light. There, on the windowsill, was the small demon she had glimpsed with him when she was first taken. The kitsune, whom he had called Kazu.

The creature seemed startled at the sight before him, though he soon dismissed his surprise with a shake of his blonde hair.

"I have Sayuri," he rushed. "She's asleep, and there's no one around. Do you want me to bring her in?"

Apparently, Rikuse had already forgotten her presence. A black sleeve brushed over her as he stood, swiftly turning from the kitsune as he approached the doorway. The action itself prevented her from ever glimpsing his expression.

"Bring her in, Kazu. I didn't plan to stay here long."

Kazu moved without a second thought, leaving the frame with only a brief nod. However, he took the moonlight with him. The window swung shut.

She could hear the monk shifting about in the silence, no doubt searching for the door's notch. Even so, she couldn't bring herself to believe that he was as blind as she. Yuuki held her breath, forced to wait for something, anything, to happen.

The door slid open. Though Rikuse shuddered for only a moment in the light, Yuuki was again forced to close her eyes.

"You can't escape," he said. "Don't try."

When she opened her eyes, there was only darkness. She was left to her pain, alone.

********

The moonlight was of no comfort to Rikuse. Neither was the calm that had begun to settle around the small town. The power surge brought by the half-moon left him wavering for days after, its aftertaste left sour in his mouth. He couldn't think straight. Even his calm façade, usually flawless, was affected by a lingering, indescribable rage.

He knew he shouldn't have been attempting this, especially now. But he had made a promise to the man who had allowed them shelter, one he couldn't break. In each town, he had to prove his own 'purity,' to ensure his place among the people. This time, it appeared that he could be of some assistance to a young samurai.

"His name is Hitoka," the man had said. "His daughter has been possessed by a spirit demon."

The task would be simple. Somehow, his mother's genes had been as strong in him as his father's. This wouldn't be his first exorcism, and he knew it wouldn't be his last. That didn't change the fact he couldn't stand them. To watch a poor victim writhe, screaming, clawing, as he tried to draw a creature out of them, was something he would never be able to stand. Tonight was the only night he would look forward to a task; it would push thoughts of Yuuki and Sayuri from his mind. He would go through with the exorcism.

Ironic. A demon exorcising a demon.

The home he came to was small, perhaps large enough for three or four rooms. There was nothing special about it. Yet, he couldn't help but notice a long patch on the pale screen, stretching from the door's apex to the wooden porch. Part of it still hung loose, fluttering in the wind. Something had torn it.

A scream bellowed from the room, almost causing him to drop his staff.

"GET OUT!" it roared.

Now, began his task. Rikuse took a moment to regain his posture, tightening his rope, brushing fingers through his hair. The rings of his staff jingled in new protest, but he would not listen. He had nothing to fear. Taking a deep breath, he placed his fingers against the door, and swiftly slid it open.

Everything had been destroyed. Doors and tapestries were strewn about, clawed to ribbons by what could only have been a wild animal. Immediately, he was hit by the smell wretched to his senses. Something impure. The man was forced to cover his mouth, just to avoid it.

Keep going.

He ventured deeper into the house, already preparing for the worst. Still, he assumed this girl would be less threatening than other tasks he had had to face. The monk saw nothing yet that would seem otherwise.

Rikuse came to an entrance covered only by a torn curtain, whose flaps fluttered in a chilling, unnatural breeze. He never had to part them. They separated in a sudden gust, accompanied by the inhuman shriek of a feral girl.

"OUT! OUT!"

Before he realized it, only his staff separated him from this girl, this creature, that clawed feverishly at his neck and face. Her features were a blur of brutality—stringy locks swung this way and that as she snarled, an action that revealed yellowed, bloody teeth. Even with his experience, his reflects were slowed by surprise.

I have to stay calm.

He focused all his energy in forcing her down. With great force, he shoved his staff against the girl's chest, clenching his teeth as he tried to keep her restrained. And yet, she continued to claw, screaming and yowling like an untamed beast. Rikuse had to fight to keep her down.

"What force could compel you like this?!" he exclaimed.

Then, as suddenly as she had sprung, the attack just ceased. The girl relapsed against the ground, chest rising and falling with rapid breath. She didn't seem peaceful. Quite the contrary. Though the air fell still around them, Rikuse could feel the uneasiness that came with an approaching storm. The sensation was suffocating. He kept his staff pressed tightly against her, unwilling to take another chance.

However, the calm gave Rikuse a chance to gather his thoughts. When he next spoke to the incensed demon, his thoughts were ordered, and his voice calm.

"What brings you to this girl, demon?"

He didn't relieve the slightest pressure on his staff, still afraid for the impending attack. An answer was not something he expected. Rikuse was well prepared to finish the job in a moments notice, but some inner curiosity always drove him to ask such questions.

Silence. The monk braced himself for another attack; he could already feel the calming energy running through his form.

The girl beneath him shifted, just moments before he could act. Hair fell away from her eyes, revealing the dark, mocking gaze concealed beneath. She was smiling.

"What gives you the authority to say that, demon?" she asked.

Her words struck his core. He stopped, eyes wide, and unable to move any further.

"What…did you say?"

"You heard me." A cruel laugh shook her form, forcing her head back as she gave tribute to her deep amusement. "I've never seen such a thing! A demon, parading about as a monk!"

His stupor proved to her advantage, clearly. She sat up despite the staff, looking deep into his eyes, judging him without qualm. Then, she smirked.

"At least I don't hide my nature."

There was no physical attack she was capable of that could have struck him so deeply. But the unseen wound gave way to something else. The monk could feel rage begin to rush through him, usually unknown to him in his human form. A red haze slowly clouded his gaze, bathing the girl in a vision of the blood he now craved.

"You're not welcome here," he said, eyes narrowing to thin slits.

The woman could only laugh.

"Neither are you."

He knew he wasn't supposed to kill this girl. She wasn't the problem, it was the demon possessing her. Yet, now, he wanted nothing more than to see her burn. Unable to stop himself, he shoved her back down with his staff with enough force to break her.

"Leave this place!" he shouted.

She didn't seem to respond, for a moment. The girl continued to watch him, waiting for something. Her lips twitched into a smirk. She attacked.

The moment she launched herself at him, he was ready. Through his rage, he could feel the pure energy pounding in his veins, and he forced it upon her with the thrust of his hand. The moment it met her chest, she released her power in a piercing shriek. Her host fell back onto the ground, limp, and motionless.

It was over. Yet, he could feel no satisfaction. Rikuse continued to stare down at the girl, rage eating away at him until he felt he could no longer take it. The demon's words would haunt him, perhaps for days. The job had been no harder than any previous. So how was it that his dread, his anger, could now be so strong?

He couldn't stand it. The job was done. The monk drew himself to his feet with a light jingling of his staff, stopping only a moment to look back at the girl who had been manipulated. He tried, desperately, to bury the hatred that he felt. But it couldn't be done. When he left that place, it had worsened enough to sicken him.

She saw…what I was.

If a lowly, bodiless demon had somehow managed that, it meant that his condition was no longer as subtle as he had once thought. It wouldn't be long before everyone could see it. People would start to turn him away again, and people would whisper about the creature that prowled in their midst. A monster. A freak.

Even when the house lay far behind him, Rikuse lacked the ability to think. His mind continued to go over the incident, again and again. He tried not to think of himself as he was—a two-faced being, both pure and impure, that could bring only death. He tried to think of himself as a wanderer, without identity. But that was a lie. He would always have his identity. After all, his very name had been given to him by the woman he so recently betrayed.

The trees taunted him as he walked the forsaken path, shaking as they exchanged their whispers. It's Rikuse, they seemed to say, The treacherous beast who walks with such pride.

He couldn't stand it. The young man hurried his pace, hoping to return to his rented shelter without incident. Still, he stopped the moment he came upon the place. The small house cast strange shadows in the darkness, reminding him of his first anxiety. Rikuse had left that place before Sayuri could be brought there. To return there now would mean facing the girl he had almost killed just days before.

What have I done to Lord Sesshoumaru?

Sayuri had been wrenched from her home without warning, without being able to say goodbye to her family. He couldn't bear to imagine what Rin and Sesshoumaru were thinking now, as they no doubt knew who took her. Rikuse had betrayed them in the worst possible way. If he finished what he had set out to do, they would never see their child again.

I'll…just have to face it. There's no turning back now.

It took great courage for him to open the door. The youth could only hope that his comrades would already be asleep. He held his breath as he observed the room, praying that there would be no motion from any of them.

For once, he proved right. Yuuki had passed out in the middle of the floor, cheeks still stained with tears. Across from her lay Kazu, curled up with Sayuri's rope still held tightly in his hands. And the demon child, beautiful, silver locks spread about her, lay sleeping on the wooden floor.

Rikuse felt relief. He closed the door behind him, though he left a slight crack open to allow for moonlight. However, relieved as he was, he couldn't help but feel a twinge of regret at the sight before him. Yuuki, especially, didn't deserve this. Her only sin was misfortune. Despite the tight binds about her wrists, he could still see the streaks of blood that had escaped the reddened flesh beneath. They would have to be changed.

Though he was a coarse demon, Rikuse was gentle by nature. It didn't take a second thought before he knelt before her, already untying the cloth he had used to fasten her wrists. His staff was forgotten before the doorway. Beneath the ties, he could feel where her skin had been rubbed raw. Some cuts were so deep they continued to bleed. Her pain was unimaginable. When he saw this, Rikuse felt guilt knot his stomach.

I'm sorry.

Energy began to flow through him once more, allowing his muscles to calm with its warmth. Brushing his fingertips over her wounds, he could feel the skin beginning to heal, little by little. Before long, no fresh blood soiled his fingers. His guilt was eased, but only slightly. Rebinding her wrists only reminded him of his own sin. The slayer should not be captive at all.

"Why do you do this?"

The small voice that called to him alerted his dwindling reflects, forcing him to turn around with a sudden jerk. When he met Sayuri's sapphire eyes, his guilt revived with the force to choke him.

"You're not evil." The young girl sat up with regal leisure, never allowing her gaze to leave his. Even in the dim moonlight, her features shone with unnatural beauty. Tilting her head, she continued in a softer voice, "I don't believe you want to do any of this."

To gaze at her brought him great pain. Her eyes glowed with Rin's beauty, while each measured word she spoke echoed Sesshoumaru's deliberate nature. He couldn't stand it. Rikuse stared into a dark corner as far from her as possible, but found himself entirely unable to wipe the image of her from his mind.

"Don't ask questions," he said. "It will only make your death more painful."

"But you don't really want to kill me," she insisted.

He closed his eyes tightly, forced to clench his teeth to stifle his own emotion. When he parted them, the words he spoke were as firm as he could make them.

"I'm not who you think I am."

Perhaps she would have said something, had Yuuki's groan been softer. Rikuse shot up, moving as swiftly as he could back towards the open door. He refused to sleep in the same room as his prisoners, especially if they were awake. This was for practical reasons, of course—it would be difficult to sleep in a room with someone screaming at you. However, the man had just retrieved his staff when Sayuri spoke up once again.

"She's been awake the whole time."

Rikuse froze, fingers already around the door's notch when he heard this. He looked back at the demon, eyes narrowed in disdain, though his true emotions were a mess of anxiety. Yuuki couldn't think he was weak.

Left without choice, he left the room, and clasped the door shut behind him.