Buckle Up, Minna-san! This chapter turns really dark, really fast! But I promise it will finally pull some of the puzzle together!

Normal Disclaimer: They still arent mine!

"If You Don't Mind" belongs to Evanescence and Amy Lee: I use it solely for story progression and make no claims or profit from it's use.

Chapter 33


"For the last time, I'm FINE!" Kagome shouted in frustration. In truth, she couldn't shake the intense feeling of foreboding she'd awoken with. Today was the day they left the rehearsal booth and began to actually lay down the first track. A solid month had passed since they signed the contract for NGR to produce the demo, and for all intents and purposes, everything had gone rather smoothly. Well, as smoothly as could be expected with four highly creative personalities and often volatile tempers trapped in a tiny room three days a week.

Their time at the club was over in about six weeks. The entire group was both saddened that it had all gone by so quickly, yet excited to take this next step in their lives. Kagome wondered if she was really ready to step back into this world, but Koga had assured her that this time it would be on her terms, at her pace. Neither of them were young and naïve anymore. Koga was an expert in his field, and highly respected by many of the top studios in Japan. More importantly, Kagome knew what she didn't want, and how to stand up for the things she did. It was a great help that she wasn't in this alone. The rest of her friends were right there alongside her, both to catch her when she faltered, and to cheer in the victories they attained.

"Fine," Inuyasha huffed. "You're fine, I'm fine, the whole fucking world is fine!" He punched the elevator button forcefully, nearly cracking the thin plastic covering. "I can tell by the joyful smile on your face!"

Kagome pinched the bridge of her nose, took three deep breaths and counted. Then she counted again. By the time she was done, the doors slid quietly open and the four band members entered the elevator. Miroku and Sango, Kami love them, pretended they were somewhere – anywhere – else. She slid the dark sunglasses from her face and sighed. "Inuyasha, I'm just having a bad morning, that's all." Trying to diffuse the tension a little, Kagome leaned close to his ear. "Maybe it's just a lack of sleep," she teased.

That remark made him smirk as he pulled her closer. "Not my fault this time. I was working peacefully on putting together your dresser."

"Wait… what?" Sango shrieked, proving she had been listening intently to the entire exchange. "You're moving in with this idiot?"

"Hey," Inuyasha began to protest as Kagome explained.

"I'm not moving in, Sango. It's just a small chest to store some spare clothes in when we're up late working. "

"Uh-huh," Miroku grunted knowingly. "Sango and I often…work…into the wee hours of the morning."

That comment earned him an elbow to his gut. "Pervert." Sango, blushing furiously, was the first to exit the now too small compartment. "What studio are we going to?"

Inuyasha looked down at the bright pink Post-it the receptionist had handed him and said, "11-B"

A sharp pain twisted in Kagome's stomach. "Are you sure?"

Inuyasha handed her the paper, frowning when all the color drained from her face. "What is it?"

"Nothing" she snapped. "Let's just go. The sooner we get in there, the sooner we get out." Kagome brushed past her bewildered bandmates and strode down the hall. How many times had she walked this path? It was as though muscle memory had kicked in, carrying her forward when her mind kept screaming turn around! Of all the recording studios in this building, they had to be put in the one she'd been assigned to all those years ago? What the hell were the odds?

The group followed behind, shooting each other looks of worry. The posture of their lead singer was the same as the day she had come to do battle with Seguchi-san. She looked neither right nor left, just straight ahead, determined to reach their destination. When they reached the door, Kagome paused, hand outstretched and hovering a few inches away from the doorknob, staring at it. She half expected it to come to life and drag her inside, trapping her forever in a hellish nightmare.

Miroku reached past her to open it, giving her shoulder an encouraging squeeze as he walked in. Sango gave her a bright smile and followed him in. Inuyasha hesitated, taking the suspended hand in his own. "Angel, look at me." When she turned her head slightly, he saw the trepidation in her eyes, the mist of tears that she was fighting so hard to control. "This is us. This is now. Beyond that door is not your past, but our future. It's just one more step. Are you ready?"

Mechanically, she nodded. Inuyasha slowly backed through the open portal, breath caught in his chest. Their arms were fully extended and he sent a silent prayer that she would take that step. He wouldn't force her. He'd wait like this all day if need be. It had to be her choice, or they would just go home and try again tomorrow. And again the next day, and the next. They would do this together, or not at all.

Kagome closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then another. Her heart felt as though it was about to burst from her chest. It seemed that no matter how hard she fought, the demons of the past were always there, threating to swallow her whole. Just as she began to pull away, a comforting light bloomed behind her eyes and she felt the warm pressure of Inuyasha's hand squeeze hers. Kagome opened her eyes and gazed into the warm, patient gaze of her lover. The demons within settled, and she smiled hesitantly at him. "Don't let go," she whispered as she took that first hesitant step across the threshold.

"Never," he replied while pulling her into a tight embrace. The couple stood just inside the doorway, holding on to each other, one with love and acceptance, the other with gratitude and hope.

"Ahem," Miroku interrupted gently. "This is Akihiro-san, our engineer." Greetings were exchanged, and as Akihiro explained the equipment and how the general recording schedule worked, Kagome found herself surrounded by memories. Happy times spent doing what she loved most, learning what each nob and slide did, how the entire process developed, step by step, to create each track. As she wandered into the sound booth, she heard music playing softly over the playback speakers. The nagging sensation of familiarity continued as more vivid, painful scenes began to flash through her mind like a strobe.

Kagome remembered all those long nights at the studio and at her apartment, alone in a dark room with only the cold keys of the piano to share her secret pain. She saw Shiro, face red with anger, shoving her into a wall, a slap in the face that made her head jerk with phantom pain, followed by the hot tears of self-loathing and guilt.

Kagome clutched her chest at the hollow anguish that had suddenly taken hold of her. Where was all this coming from? Shiro would never have done those things to me!

The remaining members of Hell's Redemption remained oblivious to the fact that her world was shattering as they continued to learn about the mechanics of how things were done in the studio. None of them noticed the sound booth door quietly close, or the tears of confusion streaming down their lead singers cheeks.

Trying to get a handle on her anxiety, the background noise of the music came into a sudden, sharp focus.

Where's the light
Killed my day
Lost in the dark of your ways
Wasted my energy, endlessly
On your sweet lie

And if you don't mind
I would like to live the lie
That I will survive
And if you don't mind
I would love to slip away
And leave your world behind

This was the one song she had recorded that was completely hers; the only song on the album that she had written from the first note to the last. Every word was her truth. A secret track that Shiro didn't know she had been writing, let alone recording.

The images of her hidden past continued to assault Kagome, the lyrics penetrating the haze she had lived in for over two years. Keeping her back to the group on the other side of the glass, she trembled with the onslaught of memories that her mind had locked away.

All the parties they had attended – together yet always separate. He'd always told her that no one could know they were lovers, that it would ruin her career before it even had a chance. They would reveal everything once she had established her place in music history.

Insecure, I'm not so sure that
You're not just faking something
Wasted our last day
I can't take the pain, babe

And if you don't mind
I would like to live the lie
That I will survive
And If you don't mind
I would love to slip away and leave it all behind

She was Higurashi Kagome – Japan's next Idol superstar – so young, vibrant and sheltered by her manager. No scandal dared touch her. The arguments between Shiro and Koga were always written off as executive conflicts. How often do managers and agents really see eye-to-eye in this business? Kagome scoffed at the random thought. When it came to artists and their management teams, there were always tensions stirring.

Shiro would often leave her at the studio to work while he went off to "make industry connections". In the beginning, she was naïve enough to believe the excuses. When it became obvious that he cared more about the contacts he was making than their relationship, the anger and resentment began to set in. Her singing became less bubbly, a fact that drove him insane on the few occasions he actually came to the studio. Before long, she had to force the smiles, the love-struck tones, and effervescent dances.

In the darkness of the night, when she was left to herself at the apartment, Kagome turned the emotions that had boiled just under the surface into music. Her writing became darker and the compositions became an outlet for her rage and pain.

Then, like a mirror shattering, the last barrage of memories overwhelmed her.

On that fateful night, she'd finally had enough. Shiro had arrived late to ride with her to the gala at NGR, reeking of expensive perfume and Sake. It was supposed to be the official launch of her career! The album was almost complete, but he had believed it was already finished. The office girls he'd been drinking with had informed him otherwise. They couldn't stop talking about how much they loved Higurashi's new, dark "break up song".

In an instant, her life was altered. He had found out about the final track- her secret song. Shiro stormed into the apartment, furious at her betrayal. "Who told you to add another track? I had each one of those songs hand picked just for you! That doesn't even sound like the other songs! All the time I've taken planning that album and the money NGR invested on recording, choreographers, and press conferences, and you have just wasted all of it! How could you be so damned selfish! Are you trying to ruin everything I've worked so hard for?!"

A rage like nothing she had ever experienced took over. Kagome launched herself at him, claws extended. Shiro caught her wrists just before they reached his throat, but that didn't deter her furious tirade from spewing forth. "Selfish? Nobody ever asked me what I wanted! I never had a choice!" she screamed. "This was YOUR dream! Yet I was the one putting in all the hours recording, perfecting every dance step, talking to the press and smiling for photos until my face hurt! I wanted to be a music teacher! Everything I have done has been for you! Every note, every step, every word I utter is yours! I'm sick to death of being a puppet for you to jerk around! It's over! You are FIRED!"

Shiro had lost all semblance of control and violently slammed her against the wall. When Kagome spit in his face, he slapped her viciously across the face. "You will do as you are told! I own you and your career! You are NOTHING without me!" When he saw rebellion and loathing in her eyes instead of the instant contrition he had been expecting, Shiro pushed away from her and straightened his tie.

"You will ride with Koga. I will go ahead of you to make sure everything is perfect for your big night." The comment was casual, but Kagome knew the underlying threat in his tone. "I suggest you put some ice on your face to prevent any swelling."

Those were the last words he had ever said to her.

Kagome gripped her head. It really was my fault! I killed him! She'd had it all planned out. She would break it off – professionally and personally – leave the apartment with her head held high and never look back! It should have been me in that car! I should have been the one to die in that crash!

The agony of truth rocked through every corner of her being. The cry of a wounded animal tore from her throat and the world went black, the final chorus echoing through her mind as everything faded into oblivion…

And if you don't mind
I would like to live the lie
That I will survive
And if you don't mind
If you don't mind...

Inuyasha opened the door to the sound booth, a snarky comment on his lips, when Kagome screamed in anguish and collapsed in front of him. Falling to his knees as he caught her, he gently cradled her unresponsive form in his arms. "Angel! Wake up! Please!" Hearing the charging footsteps behind him he cried, "Call an ambulance!"

The waiting room at the hospital was eerily quiet. Sango wept, Miroku simply held her while he and Seguchi talked in whispers, leaving Inuyasha to brood in silence. How long had they been here? Hours? Maybe days? No one had come in to tell them anything since stuffing them in this room. Where the hell was Koga? The staff would only talk to their manager, a fact that really got under Inuyasha's skin.

At some point, others joined in their vigil; first Ryuichi, who just touched his shoulder and moved on. That small gesture inexplicably calmed him somewhat. Then Yuki and Shuichi arrived, the former gently chiding the latter to stop sniveling, which made Inuyasha's lips twitch in amusement a bit. Shortly after, the rest of the Bad Luck crew and their manager wandered in. They all left Inuyasha to his thoughts, either because they understood his anxiety or feared it. He didn't care which at that moment.

What the hell happened in those few moments she was alone? This is way more than a normal panic attack! She was tense all morning; hell, she was tense every time we set foot in that building. Something about that studio spooked her, about her time as a pop singer, but I thought she was putting all of the past behind her…but that scream… it sounded like her heart was being ripped from her chest! Inuyasha dropped his head into his hands, curling his fingers into his hair in frustration. Why won't anyone tell me what the hell is happening!?

Finally, the door opened. Koga looked somber, defeated somehow. He ran his hand through his dark mane, took a deep breath, and looked directly at Seguchi. "She remembered everything."

Bewildered at the random statement, Inuyasha looked between the two men, trying to figure out what he had missed. "Remembered what? Dammit, someone tell me what the hell is going on!"

Miroku gently disentangled himself from Sango, and moved to sit next to his friend. He had a feeling someone was going to have to restrain Inuyasha, and he didn't trust anyone else to handle the volatile man. "Calm down, Inuyasha," the drummer advised while placing a warning hand on his shoulder. "I'm sure Koga will be more than happy to explain everything," he said with a pointed look at their manager. "Won't you?"

Koga gently shut the door behind him and took a chair opposite Inuyasha. "It's not an easy story to tell," he started wearily. "The story Kagome has been telling all of you is, essentially, a lie." He raised a hand at the startled protests. "Please, let me get all of this out before you attack me. In the beginning, everything happened just as Kagome told you. Things between the three of us were like a dream. She was finally recovering from the grief of losing her family, she and Shiro were so much in love it was sickening. He and I had been working on building our business; determined Kagome was going to be our first great success." He chuckled wryly. "When Seguchi approached us about signing her to NGR, we couldn't believe our luck! None of us expected to be offered a contract from such a prestigious label." He paused, lowering his head as he searched for the strength to continue. "We also had no idea that everything would go so horribly wrong.

"The closer Kagome got to stardom, the more controlling Shiro became. Every aspect of her career had to be approved by him; all of her performances, interviews, wardrobe, hair, makeup, songs, and choreography. He would go out to industry parties, trying to make as many contacts as he could. That lead to drinking, women… he was being consumed by his ambition... We argued frequently about how he treated her, but I was always reminded that she was his fiancée, and I should mind my own business.

"Kagome is bright, so it wasn't too long before she caught on to the changes. She knew he'd been cheating, but I think she was already building this illusionary version of him in her mind in order to keep up appearances. Outside of the limelight, Kagome had to find a way to deal with this new reality. She reverted to writing music as a form of therapy, pouring all of her negative emotions into that."

Shuichi cleared his tight throat. When he had everyone's attention, he added, "She'd been recording one of them. The three of us helped with the arrangement. It was pretty dark and had seriously hard undertones compared to everything else she'd recorded. It was meant to be a hidden track; one Shiro didn't know anything about."

Koga smiled wryly. "Well, somehow he found out. I'm not sure of the details, but something happened the night of the gala. All she told me was they'd had a terrible fight about it and something in her snapped."

Inuyasha shook his head in confusion. Something just wasn't adding up. "She told me about that. It was a love song she wrote for him. Kagome said she went back to finish it, but had an emotional breakdown because she couldn't move past her grief. That's when the label dropped her."

"That's not entirely true," Seguchi informed him. "Yes, she did come back to finish it. The track only needed some minor editing to be complete. But it wasn't a love song. I believe it was actually a way for her to tell Shiro she knew everything. It was much darker than all the others he had selected for the album.

"As to her return, we all believed she was strong enough to handle the small amount of work required to finish it. We were wrong. With each take, she became angrier, until she finally picked up the music stand and threw it through the glass of the booth. The engineer fled in fear for his life, and by the time we were able to subdue her, she had nearly destroyed all the equipment."

Inuyasha sat back and closed his eyes. He suddenly felt exhausted. His mind was slowly trying to wrap itself around this alternate version of the story. Every fiber of his being wanted to beat them all to a pulp for all the pain and anguish she had suffered. Yet at the same time, a small voice nagged at him. All the odd pieces were slowly falling into place: Kagome's state when he first met her, all of Koga's warnings, the episode in her apartment, all of the hints of events that he missed or didn't understand. All of this also went a long way in explaining the fine line between anger and desolation in her lyrics. It also put new meaning into her willingness to hide her true identity and embrace the façade of the Dark Angel.

"I have a question," Sango said quietly. "There is one thing that doesn't make any sense…"

"Just one thing?" Miroku quipped.

Sango just glared at him and continued angrily, "If all of you knew about what really happened, why did you let her live this lie for so long? You were supposed to be her friends! How the hell could you do this to her?!" She simply couldn't fathom that all these people who claimed to care about Kagome would let her suffer like this!

The members of Bad Luck hung their heads in shame. "We didn't know any of this until it was too late," Hiro explained. "We'd gone on tour shortly after Shiro's funeral, and didn't arrive home until weeks later."

"We were following the advice from her doctors," Koga explained with a deep sigh. "Kagome was near catatonic for three days after her collapse at the studio. When she finally woke up, it was as if she had been just scouted and signed to NGR, back when she and Shiro were the perfect couple. The doctors said at the time she may not be able to survive the emotional trauma of what she had done. Her mind would need time to heal and work through all of the harmful negative emotions she was experiencing. Therapy has helped, but she refused to let go of her perfect version of Shiro."

"So why now?" Inuyasha cried. "What the fuck happened to trigger all of this?"

Seguchi hung his head for a moment before looking Inuyasha in the eye. "Several unforgivable mistakes that I was unaware were happening. First, the studio you were in was the one she always favored, the one she nearly destroyed. I left instructions that you were not to use that one, but I was misheard and you were assigned there. Secondly, some of my staff recognized Kagome when you were there last week, and word spread like wildfire. Lastly, when the engineer found out he was going to be working with you, he managed to find that lost track and had it playing when you arrived."

"So it was a perfect trifecta of fuck-ups," Inuyasha groaned. "She was pretty worked up about coming back to the studio. She kept going on about photo ops, radio and T.V. shows, and game shows?"

"Those were all things Shiro arranged to get her name and face out there," Koga supplied. "Most are pretty standard for the industry, but Shiro pushed her a little harder than ordinary artists. Kagome worked a minimum of 16 hours a day; half in the studio, the rest in appearances, parties, etc. Shiro was determined to make her a household name before the album even hit the stores.

"Which is why her only single was so popular," Miroku added as he reached across and took Sango's trembling hand. He understood her pain and anger for their friend. Even though there was nothing they could do to change the events of the past, the need to avenge Kagome coursed through all three of them. "So what happens next?"

The door opened once again, and two doctors entered the somber room. "Higurashi-san is awake," the older man said. "She is aware of everything that has happened and where she is."

The younger female doctor stepped further into the room, giving a gentle, comforting smile to the group assembled. "Higurashi-san is stable physically, but her emotional state is still extremely fragile. She is asking for Taisho-san-" Inuyasha stood at the question in her tone, "-but there are some things we must advise you on first."

After hearing what Koga had just told them, he stiffened and stated firmly, "I won't lie to her."

"Not at all," the first doctor assured him. We ask only that you speak calmly when you see her. Any sign of aggression could trigger a spiral effect."

"Do I look like a fucking monster?" he raged. When Inuyasha felt Miroku's grip on his arm, he took several deep breaths and tried to get himself under control. "I'm sorry, I just want to see her! I need to know she's alright! She needs to know I'm still here, that I'm always going to be here!"

The female doctor approached him. "That is exactly what I was hoping to hear. The next months are going to be difficult to say the least, but crucial to her recovery. She will need a strong support system to keep her on the right track." She looked at all the people gathered in the room, all of the people who seemed to care very much for her young charge. "I can see you all care for Higurashi-san deeply, so it will be up to all of you to get her through the rough road she has ahead of her once she is released."

"And when will that be?" Koga inquired.

"At least three or four days, depending on the rest of her test results. At that time we will assess the state of her emotional health and make a decision on her short and long term care. It will be a day by day struggle for her, but we are confident that she will make a full recovery in time. How much time," she added at the unspoken question in their eyes, "is entirely up to Higurashi-san." She smiled at Inuyasha and motioned to the door. "This way, Taisho-san."