Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters in this odd little fic… especially for the honored guest. A nod of recognition is bent towards Rumiko Takahashi for her creative prowess.
A Word of Explanation: There is a new community on Live Journal called iy blind, and the stories that are turned in for each month's contest are posted anonymously. The idea is to let the fic stand on its own merits, but half the fun is trying to guess who wrote what. Well, my 'baituh' and I contrived a bit of mischief. We decided to enter, but we would each try to emulate the other… in hopes of confusing our friends. He wrote a fic with Imperceptible leanings… and I tried to capture something of Max's affinity for twisting plots. This story is the result.
A Debt of Gratitude: Multitudinous thanks to JMaxwell, who poked me in the plot holes and helped me iron out several wrinkles before I could even begin to write this fic. I'm also ever-grateful to Fenikkusuken, who was mine guinea pig as well as mine beta this time around.
Author's Note: Okyakusan means "honored guest."
This oneshot was originally posted to Live Journal on June 24, 2008.
The day Souta Higurashi turned fifteen, he felt its call for the first time. A persistent tugging startled him in the middle of breakfast, and when he continued to cast puzzled glances over his shoulder, his mother asked if something was wrong. He shook his head, saying, "It's nothing, Mom."
As he got ready to leave for school, he took his time lacing his shoes, confused by the strange familiarity of the whispers that beckoned. Something's happening. The conviction stirred Souta's long-dormant hopes about his sister, missing for five years now. Maybe it's her! Could Kagome be back? He was out the door like a shot, sprinting towards the well house, and his stomach twisted with the realization that he knew he was headed in the right direction. He could feel it.
Light from the open doors sliced through the murky interior, revealing the low, square structure that had stolen his sister away. For a moment, he hesitated at the top of the stairs, listening. The air seemed charged, as if an electrical storm was building within the thin walls. Souta took the steps two at a time and leaned over the black maw. "Sis? Kagome?" There was no response.
Wanting to be sure, he descended into the well. Without a flashlight, he was forced to fumble blindly in the dark, but it didn't take long to confirm that he was alone. Enormously disappointed, Souta pulled himself back up the ladder, rolled over the well's rim, and slumped dejectedly against its side.
A gust of wind sighed through the open doors, stirring the youth's hair, and he glanced up self-consciously, wary of being caught. His mother would worry if she discovered him in here, and if he didn't hurry, he was going to be late for school. Swiping his eyes with his sleeve, Souta made his way towards the steps. That's when the feeling plucked at him again, urgently whispering to his soul with half-heard hints and promises.
Intrigued, he surveyed the dim interior of the well house carefully, and a section of the wall beneath the upper platform seemed to want him. Ducking under the steps, Souta crept towards the corner, pushing aside dusty cobwebs as he squinted in the half-light. The paneling was rough, but when his hand slid across brittle paper, it zinged against his fingertips, and Souta stopped to investigate. If he stood to one side, he could make out more papers, spaced at regular intervals. Tentatively, he laid his hand over another one; it tingled against his skin, and when he pulled his hand away, the paper fluttered to the ground. Picking it up, he carried it over to the patch of daylight shining through the doors. This is a… sutra.
Realization struck. That means there's a seal. Something… or someone… is sealed behind the wall. Clinging to a faint, desperate hope, Souta hurried back to the corner, eager to remove the rest of the sutras. Once they were out of the way, he searched for any sign of a door, but found none. Determined fingers pried old timber that had weakened over time, and soon, he managed to wrench one of the slats free. He peered into the cavity beyond, but it was too dark to make anything out.
Undeterred, Souta continued to work until he'd pulled enough paneling away that he could see into the musty space. That's a hand. Pale skin could be differentiated from dark cloth, so he redoubled his efforts to enlarge the opening. Before long, he could tell that the person inside the niche was a man. Not Kagome, then. The last, stubborn planks were tossed aside, and Souta waited for the dust to clear before stepping closer. The man's hair, which hung raggedly around his face, was dark. Not Inuyasha, either. Damn.
"Who are you? Do you know what happened to my sister?" he whispered to the figure, who stood as still as a statue in the recess. Cautiously, Souta tugged on the man's sleeve, but the decaying fabric parted, revealing one bare shoulder as it crumbled away. As far as he could tell, the man wasn't breathing, but the stranger didn't exactly look dead, either. Gathering his courage, he reached up to touch the skin of the arm he'd inadvertently uncovered. It was cool and dry, but it definitely felt alive.
Souta chewed his lip thoughtfully, then pulled away more of the tattered cloth. With one hand on the stranger's shoulder and the other steadied upon his hip, he pressed his ear to the man's bared chest, hoping to find a heartbeat. He closed his eyes in order to concentrate, but his focus was disrupted when he realized there was light glimmering against his eyelids. His eyes snapped open, and he stared with fascination at the luminescence that was spreading outward from beneath his palm. Jerking his head back, Souta watched as the light suffused the stranger's entire body, glowing like a visible aura.
A pulsation rippled through the air between them, then a second. Souta intently searched the unfamiliar face for some sign of life, so he saw the stranger draw his first breath. Almost immediately, the sealed man began to sway, toppling forward into Souta's waiting arms. Bracing the dead weight as best he could, Souta lowered him to the floor. "Mister?" he called softly, patting a cheek uncertainly. "Hey, are you okay?"
A faint groan and the onset of trembling were the only responses he received. Thinking fast, Souta pulled off his sweatshirt and spread it over the stranger. He hesitated, torn between staying with the man, in case he woke, and getting his mother so they could bring the man into the house. "Listen, I'm going to go get some help. I'll be right back, okay?" he promised. Getting no answer, Souta dashed up the stairs and lit out of the well house as if the very hounds of hell were at his heels.
The setting sun gave way to dusk, and the man woke slowly to deepening shadows. Though he searched his mind for some explanation as to where he was, no answers presented themselves. Lying quietly, he let his eyes wander over the pink room and its furnishings. Nothing seemed familiar. In fact, his bafflement only increased because he couldn't even guess the purpose of some of the items he saw. The sound of approaching footsteps reached his ears, and a door swung open to admit a woman in strange clothing. He could not say exactly what made her attire wrong, but the fact that he knew it was unfamiliar increased his uneasiness.
She crossed the room, pausing at a table that stood against the opposite wall. There was a soft click, and he winced, turning his head away from the sudden brightness. "So, you're awake. You gave us quite a scare, young man," she said with a smile.
He swallowed against the dryness in his throat, but before he could form an answer, a young man walked into the room. As soon as this newcomer realized that he was alert, he hurried over and knelt beside the bed. "You woke up," he grinned. "Hey… what's your name? Are you youkai?"
At a loss, the man remained silent, and in the expectant lull, an elderly man shuffled into the room. Grumbling under his breath, the old-timer squinted at him suspiciously. "I thought you said you unsealed a youkai, Souta. He looks human to me."
The youth's face fell. "Well, I kind of hoped he'd be a youkai, or at least a hanyou, like Inu-no-niichan," he mumbled.
As the wrinkled face pressed closer, the stranger tried to retreat into his pillow. "Nope. This here is a human. I'm sure of it," announced the old man. "What were you doing in our well house? That is a very sacred site, and I don't like the idea of you tampering with the precious..."
A gentle hand on the stooped shoulder interrupted the shrine keeper's building rant. "Give him some space, Grandpa. You're crowding our guest," the woman chided. Brushing warm fingertips across his forehead, she asked, "How are you feeling? Do you think you can drink something?"
"Yes, thank you," he rasped. As he slowly sipped cool water, the boy who had been referred to as Souta talked excitedly with what the stranger assumed must be his grandfather.
"If he's not youkai, maybe he's one of the humans Kagome knew?"
"Are you saying she sent him through the well with a message?"
"No, Grandpa!" Souta protested. "He didn't come through the well. I found him in the well house; he was sealed behind one of the walls."
"Foolish boy, you don't seal humans!" argued Grandpa.
Ignoring the old man, Souta continued to mumble to himself. "A human from the past who knows about the well…" Excitement was plain on Souta's face as he addressed their unexpected guest. "That's it! You must be the monk Kagome talked about! You're Miroku!"
The woman shooed the other two away from the bed and sat on the edge of the mattress. "Do you know your name?" she inquired.
Disjointed images flashed through his mind, vivid, yet incomprehensible. After a long hesitation, he shook his head. "I don't."
"So, the name Miroku doesn't sound familiar?" she asked.
"I can't say that it does," he answered.
Souta jammed his hands in his pockets. "Can't you tell us anything about where you came from?" he pleaded.
He shook his head again, and the woman took charge. "That's enough. Perhaps once you've had some time, your memory will return. There's no sense in pushing. I'll bring you some dinner, and then if you're feeling up to it, Souta can help you run a bath."
"That would be most welcome," he replied seriously.
After all three filed out, leaving him alone with a few twisting fragments of surfacing recollection, he stretched out his right arm to gaze at his palm. I remember a monk. Was that… me?
The next morning, he sat very still in the middle of the kitchen, eyeing his surroundings warily from his perch on a stool. They'd been able to provide him with what they'd called 'traditional' clothing, and he was grateful that something felt normal. He smoothed his palm over a crease in the cloth of his hakama, but his restlessness went unremarked because of the large sheet that swathed him from the shoulders down. His hostess, a pair of scissors in hand, ran her fingers lightly through what remained of his hair. "There! It's still a little longer than most men's in this era, but you won't stand out so much anymore. If you want to tie it back, I'm sure I can find fasteners in Kagome's…" The woman trailed off, then cleared her throat. With a determined smile, she whisked away the sheet, freeing her guest just as Souta poked his head through the door.
"Are you done with Okyakusan yet, Mom? I want show him around."
"Yes, Souta. Just don't wear him out," she replied with a smile as she reached for a broom. Meeting the taller man's eyes, Mrs. Higurashi added, "Take it easy today; you still need to regain your strength."
"Please, don't worry on my account, good woman," he returned, placing his hand over his heart and offering a grateful bow.
She laughed softly and waved them towards the door, shaking her head after they'd gone. "What a charmer."
Once outside, he stood for several moments, trying to take in the jarring alterations to the world he half-remembered. An airplane passed overhead, drawing his eyes upward, and tall buildings rose above the walls that surrounded the shrine. Souta spoke eagerly of a sister and a well and a hanyou, and the story struck a chord. I know this story. Have I heard it before? In the midst of the courtyard stood a huge tree, and as the youth led him towards it, he thought he recognized it. Goshinboku's scarred trunk stirred sleeping memories, but he couldn't quite piece them together.
"Okyakusan?" Souta called, and the displaced man realized that the teen must have been trying to get his attention for some time. He focused on the boy's eager expression. "Do you remember anything? Do you remember… Kagome?"
"I'm not sure," he answered carefully, not missing the disappointment that washed over the youth. "Perhaps if you showed me where I was sealed?"
"Yeah, sure," Souta agreed.
When the youth grasped his arm to urge him towards one of the small buildings beyond the main shrine, he lengthened his strides to keep up. The boy's attachment to his sister was obvious, and the way his family had pinned their hopes on him was almost pathetic. These people must indeed be desperate. He wondered at his own motives for keeping the returning pieces of his memory to himself, but he decided it was wisest to keep his own counsel for now. Am I being kind…or cruel?
"I think it's high time we found out whether or not you're really a monk," the old shrine keeper announced, clapping his hands and rubbing them together.
Souta groaned softly. "Grandpa, you're not going to give Okyakusan the same useless test you're always giving me, are you?"
"Well of course, m'boy!" exclaimed the elderly man. "How else can we find out how much spiritual power he has?"
Giving their guest an apologetic glance, Souta explained. "If you're who we think you are, you should be able to sense stuff. It's never worked for me, but maybe it'll be different for you. After all, you're probably a real monk."
"Am I?" their guest returned solemnly, giving a skeptical shake of his head.
Grandpa led the way to one of the storehouses, which was little more than a glorified shed. He slid the doors open and gestured to the interior, a smug look on his face. "This room is filled with sacred relics, all of them holy artifacts, priceless heirlooms of the Higurashi Shrine," he lectured importantly. "However, one item in this room is of demonic origin. If you are a monk, you should be able to sense its dark aura. I want you to find it."
Souta leaned against the doorframe and sighed. "It's like looking for a needle in a haystack."
"Nonsense," Grandpa insisted. "Anyone with even a speck of spiritual power should be able to find the parcel I hid earlier. Naturally, I can sense its presence, even from here."
The tall man stepped forward and politely addressed the old man. "Since you've already made the preparations, I'm quite willing to try. May I?"
"Yes, yes, go on," urged the shrine keeper.
Souta watched with interest as their guest moved slowly through the room, his face neutral as he gazed at the crowded shelves that lined the shed. Stepping around a stack of crates in the middle of the room, the man paused. That's when Souta again felt that soul-deep tug. Immediately, his eyes veered towards the corner where the unsealed man was standing, and he knew that Grandpa had hidden the demonic artifact there. To his amazement, Souta could even see which box didn't fit in with the rest; its aura was weak, but distinctive. Whoa. Is that youki? Why can I see it, all of the sudden?
Their guest also seemed to detect the faint demonic signature, since he was staring straight at the correct box. Grandpa stumped impatiently into the room and fixed his test subject with a challenging look. "Well? How about it? Can you sense it or not?" he demanded.
"It would seem that I can," the man replied evenly, though Souta thought he looked kind of confused by the fact. To prove his assertion, the tall man closed the distance to the item in question and reached out to tap it lightly, saying, "This is the one, sir."
As the would-be monk came in contact with the box, Souta saw brief flare of light as the man's reiki reacted to the presence of youki. The swiftly-fading luminescence reminded him of the aura that had enveloped the man on the morning he'd been unsealed. What the hell was that? Is that what spiritual power looks like?
Meanwhile, Grandpa was congratulating himself and their guest. "This just proves what I've said all along. I pegged you as a holy man right from the start. Like calls to like. You'll be a real asset to the shrine…Houshi-sama!"
He sat at the table, toying with his empty teacup while Mrs. Higurashi puttered around the kitchen. Over the last week, afternoons had proven to be the longest part of each day, as it was the time he waited for Souta to return from school. Though the old man and the woman were tolerable, he found he preferred the young man's company. Something about the boy's serious brown eyes was familiar, though he couldn't say what, or who, they reminded him of. The sizeable gaps in his memory were a growing source of frustration, but Souta helped keep him from despair…or insanity. With unfailing optimism, the teen let him know that he was confident the past would come back to him.
A clatter at the front of the house announced Souta's arrival, and he set aside his cup with a sigh of relief. Catching either the sound or the movement, Mrs. Higurashi paused in her dinner preparations. "I'm so sorry. Would you like more tea, Okyakusan?"
He refused her offer with a smile just as Souta strode through the door, making a beeline for the bowl of fruit on the counter and snagging an apple. "I'm home," he announced unnecessarily, then proceeded to lift the lids on the various pots simmering on the stove. "When's dinner?"
Rapping his knuckles with a spoon, his mother chased him out of her work space. "Sooner than later if you'll run to the market for me," Mrs. Higurashi replied.
Souta chewed thoughtfully for a moment before shrugging. "Sure, Mom. Say, Okyakusan, do you want to come along?"
"I would like to see more of your city," he admitted, rising to his feet.
"Hang on a sec; I just thought of something," Souta said, and he was out of the kitchen and up the stairs without further explanation. He glanced bemusedly at Mrs. Higurashi, who just smiled and shook her head. When the youth clomped back downstairs a few minutes later, he was struggling to tuck a voluminous kosode into his hakama. His mother plucked the apple core from between his teeth and offered to help, but he warned her off. "I got it, Mom; I can dress myself." She left him to it, pulling pen and paper from a drawer to make a list instead, and Souta glanced at the newest member of their household. "I thought it might be better if we both went traditional," he said casually.
When they reached the red torii gate that marked the way out, he halted, gazing out over a world that seemed so unnatural. Souta paused a few steps down to wait for his companion, seeming to understand the culture shock he was experiencing. "This is the future…your future."
"I believe so," he replied, restlessness and curiosity urging him forward.
"This'll be a short walk. The market we use is only two blocks away, perfect for your first time out." Souta pointed out the direction they would be going and smiled encouragingly. "Feel free to ask me anything, okay?"
"Thank you, I will. Please, lead the way." Souta set a slow pace, giving him time to take in the strange sights and sounds and offering brief explanations now and then. The teenager was completely at ease with all of the outlandish things that surrounded them, and the displaced man took refuge in silence, content to observe for now.
By the time they completed their errand, one thing had become very clear. He was completely dependant upon the Higurashi family. On some level, he was grateful to be alive, but at what cost? He was deprived of everything: his name, his memories, his freedom. If this was his future, it had trapped him and robbed him of the one thing he was sure he prized above all else. Control.
A crescent moon hung low in the sky when he slipped out of the silent house and into the night. Though he couldn't explain the power he felt welling up within his body, he saw no reason not to make use of it. Right now, it was telling him that there was youki nearby, and not the faint, weak aura of some long-dead relic. This demon was very much alive, and too close for comfort.
Taking a stand some distance from the residence and its sleeping occupants, he faced the general direction of their intruder. "I know you're there," he called out, keeping his voice low. "Show yourself."
"As you wish," returned a light baritone, and suddenly he could make out a figure standing upon the wall, silhouetted against the sky. "Is that better?"
"What are you doing here?" he demanded. "A shrine is no place for the likes of you. Be gone, demon."
The youkai leapt from the wall and strolled forward. "You don't say," he replied, sounding rather amused.
"What are you after? Do you intend to harm these people?" He could see his opponent much more clearly now, but he did not recognize the demon's face. "Leave here, or I'll be forced to purify you."
"You'll… purify me?" echoed the youkai incredulously. "Oh, now that is an interesting turn of affairs. You actually possess spiritual powers?"
"I would be pleased to demonstrate," he replied silkily, advancing a couple of paces.
The intruder skipped backwards, staying well out of range. "Not so close. I haven't come this far to be…"
"Okyakusan? Okyakusan, are you out here?" came a hoarse whisper from the direction of the house.
The youkai's attention swiveled towards Souta, who was picking his way towards them across the courtyard, but the man quickly stepped between the demon and the boy, practically growling. "This is your last warning. Leave us in peace."
"Wait, are you…" The youkai began to chuckle, and soon, rich, rolling laughter filled the air.
The man drew himself up. "What is it that amuses you?" he asked warily.
"Do you mean to say that you're protecting these people?" returned the youkai with a smirk.
Souta reached him then, and he felt the boy's hand on his back as he peered around his shoulder at the mirthful demon. The displaced man glanced at the teen's pale face, then glared fiercely at his opponent. "He seems to know you," Souta murmured.
He froze, emotions tumbling. "You… know me?" he finally uttered.
"Yes, indeed," the demon confirmed. "We'll talk again. Soon." With that, he turned and simply disappeared.
The woman's faith was as stubborn and optimistic as her son's. For him, five centuries had passed in a moment; but in this household, five years had passed like an eternity, and all that while, she clung to the belief that her daughter would return. "Won't they be surprised to find you here, waiting for them?" Mrs. Higurashi inquired, a brave smile on her face.
Still, to his ears, there was a faint ring of false cheer to her tone. She harbors fears; there are lurking doubts. The desire to mine that weakness, and perhaps exploit it, swirled into being. The woman's fragile hope was eroding away, a little more with each passing day. She would be so easy to crush. He shook himself, trying to dismiss the dark turn his thoughts had taken, and replied, "I'm quite sure I will be a surprise, but it remains to be seen if it will be a pleasant one."
"They must know you," she countered. "I'm sure of it."
He turned his attention back to his tea, and she returned to the dishes, but after a few minutes, Mrs. Higurashi tapped a finger against her chin. "I wonder if it's here…or if she has it with her?" Her excitement grew, and she hurried from the kitchen. The sound of doors and drawers opening and closing could be heard from somewhere upstairs, and when she returned, she had a small book in her hands. "Kagome's photo album," she said, extending it towards him with both hands. "Why don't you look through this? Maybe it will bring back some lost memories."
Lifting the cover with care, he stared in amazement at the first glossy page. He flipped through the pictures slowly, keeping his face blank, then returned to the first image. With a swift glance to make certain that Mrs. Higurashi's back was turned, he extracted the photograph and tucked it away.
As he stood, his hostess looked at him expectantly. "Did the pictures help?"
"I can't say that they did," he replied with an apologetic shake of his head. "If you'll excuse me?"
He closed the bathroom door and leaned heavily against it. Pulling out the photograph, he gazed at it intently, then crossed to the mirror to scrutinize his own face. Though he certainly had nothing to be ashamed of, his features were unremarkable compared to the silver-haired, golden-eyed hanyou glaring out from the photograph. He was only human, with dark hair and eyes, not unlike the second man in the pictured group… the monk they wished him to be. Miroku.
A word seeped into his mind. Kazaana. It had been a generational curse afflicting the line of a monk, passed down from father to son. Memories trickled back more swiftly, and he gripped the sides of the sink as he stared into the mirror. The curse was not mine? With a final flood of realization, he came to himself, and his eyes widened in shock. The curse… was mine. Impossible! How can this be?
Souta peeked out of the corner of his eye at their guest as Grandpa talked. The seemingly endless string of names and dates was boring the young man to tears, and he wondered how Okyakusan was faring under the weight of the Higurashi family's 'long and illustrious' history. Thinking the man's patient expression was more a matter of courtesy than interest, Souta decided it was time to make a get-away. With a barely-polite interruption and a lame excuse, he dragged their guest out of the shrine and into the sunlit courtyard. "If we let him, Grandpa could probably trace our family tree all the way back to your era," Souta confided. "I don't know about you, but I can only handle so many ancestors in one sitting."
"We aren't actually needed elsewhere?"
"Nope!" Souta cheerfully admitted. "I was plotting my escape, and you looked like you wouldn't mind coming along. Since you rescued me, this makes us even."
The taller man considered his young companion as they strolled across the courtyard. "I don't recall rescuing you."
"The other night… you kept that demon from making trouble."
"Ah," Okyakusan replied distractedly.
"That youkai was really powerful; I could tell. He probably could have killed us if he tried, so in a way, you saved my life." With a sidelong look, Souta added, "I thought I'd return the favor by saving you from terminal boredom."
The boy's logic provoked a long, low chuckle, and Souta grinned over his accomplishment. A short time later, the teen's words caught up with the man. "How could you tell that demon was powerful?" he asked, his face unreadable.
"Wasn't he?" Souta hedged.
"He was," Okyakusan replied, dark eyes studying the young man's face keenly. "Why did you come looking for me that night?"
Souta thought back to the insistent tug that had pulled him from confused dreams that night. The whispering impulses had both beckoned to him and warned him away, and he hadn't been able to ignore his urgent need to get to Okyakusan's side. Once in the courtyard, he'd known without a shadow of doubt that the person speaking with his new friend was a demon. "I… thought you might need some help," Souta finally said.
"What did you expect to do?" the taller man asked with an amused quirk of his lips.
The youth shrugged. How could he explain what he didn't understand? That night, he'd seen the invisible clash of auras and grasped the magnitude of power contained by the two men facing off in the darkness. What bothered Souta more than the presence of a demon, though, was the effect that confrontation had made on Okyakusan. The shimmers of pure light that periodically glimmered around him had been changing since that night, and though the deepening colors were beautiful in their own way, they filled Souta with a strange sense of foreboding.
He sat on the bed, leaning against the wall with the corner at his back. "I know you're there," he said, breaking the nighttime silence.
"Interesting," murmured the demon, stepping from the shadows. "Most humans wouldn't have noticed me; you're very perceptive."
"Do you think so?"
His gently mocking tone made the youkai straighten warily, and with a regretful sigh he said, "You've remembered."
"Enough to get by, but not enough to satisfy my curiosity," replied the unsealed man. "Tell me something, Byakuya. Why am I… human?"
"That's a long story," the illusion master remarked, gesturing inquisitively towards a chair. "May I?" The man on the bed extended a hand with the air of a lord, but his dark eyes never wavered as Byakuya took a seat. "I'd like to make it clear that this isn't my fault. Well, not entirely," the demon began.
"I want answers, not excuses."
"Answers I have. Reasons? Those may be more difficult to come by," Byakuya remarked with the ghost of a smile. "I'm not the one who betrayed you, Naraku."
"Betrayed?" the man frowned. "I was sealed. Who sealed me?"
"If you mean who sealed you inside the well house, that was Midoriko," Byakuya supplied, enjoying Naraku's stunned reaction.
"How is that possible?" he demanded.
"When you wish upon the jewel, many things are possible," Byakuya said cryptically. "However, it would appear that the Shikon no Tama has a particularly twisted sense of humor. When the jewel grants a wish, there is always some unforeseen consequence," the demon explained.
Naraku's eyes narrowed. "You speak from experience?"
"I do," Byakuya admitted wearily.
"Inside the meidou," the incarnation answered. Shaking his head, he held up a hand. "This will make more sense if I start at the beginning… or rather, at the end. Do you remember taking the Shikon no Tama into your body?"
"Do you remember making a wish?"
"Yes," Naraku replied, impatience edging his tone.
"Yours was not the only wish made that day," Byakuya revealed. "Through the meidou, Kagome and I entered the jewel itself; and Inuyasha wasn't far behind us. The Shikon no Tama tricked Kagome into making a wish, which set off a spectacular chain of events."
"What was her wish?"
"She asked to go back home," Byakuya answered, adding, "the poor, little fool."
"Why? What happened?"
"The jewel agreed to let her go home, but she was forced to take the scenic route. She's been trapped inside the Shikon no Tama, waiting out the centuries. It was decided that she would take Midoriko's place within the jewel, so Midoriko was expulsed."
"Yes. Oddly enough, the ancient priestess was no worse for wear when she was dropped onto the battlefield. In fact, she proved quite useful when her equally-lively counterpart was ejected minutes later. You see, Inuyasha's wish also went amiss."
"What did he ask?" Naraku inquired.
"Once Kagome's fate was sealed, he wished to stay with her. Inuyasha was promptly consumed by his youki, doomed become the girl's opponent for the next five hundred years. Thankfully, that made my presence unnecessary, and I was also released."
Naraku digested this information in silence, then asked, "Where is the Shikon no Tama now?"
"Right where you left it." The illusion master said, pointing. "You took it in, and it's been in ever since. When you were found standing near the well, still as a statue, the old priestess and the monk and even Midoriko tried to kill you or carve the Shikon no Tama from your side, but nothing they tried worked. In the end, they had the well house built, and you were sealed inside with a barrier to hide the jewel's presence from passing youkai."
"I still possess the jewel," Naraku mused aloud.
"Your so-called spiritual powers may be a side effect of its presence; the Shikon no Tama is stimulating your inherent reiki now that you're human."
"Which brings us back to my first question… why am I human?"
Byakuya slowly shook his head. "I don't know."
Naraku's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Your life was tied to mine; my youki fed your very existence. My humanity should mean your death."
Anger briefly flashed through Byakuya's eyes at this revelation. "That brings us to my own misbegotten wish. I asked to be free of you, so perhaps the Shikon no Tama made you human in order to break the chains that bound me to you."
"You asked for freedom? How novel. Why are you here, then? If the jewel is truly vindictive in the way it grants wishes, why seek it out?"
The incarnation's laugh was bitter. "If only I had asked for freedom. No. I asked to be free from you, Naraku. The Shikon no Tama saw fit to take your place; it sustains my life now, and I am little more than its slave."
Though Byakuya fully expected derision for his mistake, Naraku lapsed into a thoughtful silence. When he finally spoke, there was admiration in his tone. "So, the Shikon no Tama grants wishes, but manages to benefit from each of them in some way. Very devious."
"You and that damned jewel deserve to be together," remarked the illusion master dryly.
"Is that why you're here now, Byakuya?" The demon's sour expression elicited a low chuckle. "If Inuyasha and Kagome are about to be released, I assume someone needs to replace them."
"Yes," was the clipped reply.
"And you're to represent the demon side of the equation?" Naraku prodded.
"Who is to be your human counterpart, if I may be so bold to ask?"
Naraku's brows lifted in surprise. "No? I'm hurt. Won't I do in my current state?"
"I'm sure any human would do in a pinch, but the Shikon no Tama has an affinity for certain souls. It was enormously pleased to acquire Kagome, and it wants a suitable replacement once her captivity ends."
"What is so special about Kikyo's reincarnation?"
Byakuya looked pleased to once again have the informational upper hand. "Ah! Kagome was much more than the successor to that priestess's soul. She comes from an unusually gifted line of shrine keepers and inherited a great deal of power from her honored ancestor," he hinted broadly.
Realization dawned, and Naraku's expression closed. "Midoriko."
"That means the Shikon no Tama wants…"
The next day, Naraku withdrew from the rest, slipping away to a secluded corner of the shrine compound. Time was short, very short according to Byakuya, and he needed to think. Inuyasha and Kagome would be expulsed soon, and their arrival would put an end to his peaceful cohabitation with the Higurashi family. They would know him, and they would kill him. I can't stay and face the claws of an enraged hanyou; I can't flee and survive on my own in this era. Either course was unacceptable.
So he set his mind to unraveling the conundrum, finding a measure of enjoyment in his scheming. Time slipped by as his plans for a new beginning took shape, and after a few hours, Souta found him and slouched down beside him. "Is something wrong, Okyakusan?" the youth asked, concern plain on his face.
"Does something seem to be?" Naraku evaded.
"Yes, actually," Souta replied, holding his companion's gaze.
Is something wrong? What an understatement! Human. He was human. Even if he survived Inuyasha's lust for vengeance, a human only lived so long. To age and die here, in sequestered anonymity, held no appeal for one whose very nature was ambition. He had tasted immortality, inspired fear, ruined lives, and turned humans and demons alike into his playthings. To change now was impossible. "There is nothing wrong that cannot be remedied," said Naraku smoothly.
"Can I help?" Souta offered.
Naraku studied the teen's open face with detachment. He had the boy's trust, and he knew the boy's weakness. It would be easy… too easy, and the benefits far outweighed the risk involved. Regaining control of his life again was tantamount, and there was just one way to accomplish his goal. "Yes, you can help me," Naraku admitted. "Tell me, Souta… would you like to go where your sister is?"
When Kagome's excited greeting rang through the house, Mrs. Higurashi dropped her favorite vase, shattering it into a thousand sparkling shards. Ignoring the loss, she ran to meet her daughter, pulling the girl to her heart in a desperate embrace. "You're back! I just knew you'd return!" Spying Inuyasha hovering nearby, Kagome's mother reached over to pull him into a joyous group hug.
Questions and answers and explanations were exchanged in a flurried shorthand, and the noise they made drew Grandpa. The old man listened carefully to a second, less-frenzied explanation as to his granddaughter's whereabouts for the last five years, but finally he interrupted. "Aren't you forgetting something? What about our guest? Didn't anyone tell them we have their Houshi-sama here?"
Baffled, Kagome looked from Grandpa to her mother. "What's he talking about, Mama? You have company?"
Meanwhile, Inuyasha's hackles rose, and he leapt with a growl toward the stairs. "What the fuck are you doing, inviting someone like that into the house!" he shouted over his shoulder.
The family rushed up the stairs after him, and skidded to a halt outside Kagome's bedroom door. Inside, Inuyasha was circling a man who stood very still in the center of the room. Mrs. Higurashi was the first to break the stunned silence. "I don't understand. This isn't him; I've never seen this man before!"
The hanyou's lip curled. "Well, I know him. This is Byakuya; the sneaky bastard is one of Naraku's incarnations. That explains the scent in here."
When Inuyasha's prodding brought no response from the silent figure, Kagome approached, and peered more closely into the illusion master's face. "He's changed, though. He looks human!" she exclaimed.
Inuyasha noted the altered features, and after sniffing with care, he turned puzzled eyes to Kagome. "You're right. He ain't a demon."
"There's more," Kagome said, swallowing nervously. "Inuyasha, the Shikon no Tama is inside of him. I can see it." With a stricken expression, she rushed to her mother, seizing her arm. "Mama… where's Souta?"
End Notes: This oneshot was entered at the Live Journal community iy(underscore)blind, which kicked off its first contest with the theme "A New Beginning." 6,521 words.
If you'd like to see a true plotter at work, I recommend the story Erosion by JMaxwell, which can be located at http(colon)/www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net/s/4238867/1/. Summary: "Inuyasha wakes up in Kagome's bedroom after the final battle with Naraku, unable to remember how he got there. With the well sealed, he must adjust to a new life in the modern era even as a force from the past puts his happiness at risk."