Chapter IV – The Jewel
The moon, nearly full, shone on the Higurashi residence, filling an open bedroom window and pouring over three figures sprawled at odd angles across a wide mattress. Finding more unlikely bedfellows would be rare. A crumpled sheet lay in a heap over the ankle of a young boy sandwiched between two wolf youkai from five hundred years in the past. Arms and legs askew, Ginta, Souta, and Hakkaku packed the air with snores and slow breathing. They'd had a busy evening. Souta had been delighted to have company devouring dinner with equal appetite and lack of manners. After, the two demons had explored the house – flipping light switches, sniffing closets, and demanding answers from the miniature people trapped inside the TV.
The moonlight didn't disturb them. It coated the room in ghostly pale, leaving dark shadows in every corner. Across the house, it illuminated Kagome's room, where there was less slumber and more tossing and turning.
Kouga lay on the floor wide awake, an arm under his head. Kagome had fallen asleep hours ago and her rhythmic exhales filled the space, addicting in their intimacy and trust. He couldn't count the nights he'd spent fantasizing about being this close to her. Now, lying below rather than beside her, his thoughts traversed paths both futile and frustrating.
Kouga could hear every shift she made. Breathy murmurs slipped out as she pulled her feet up close to her body. Rolling over, away from the moonlight, she sighed against the new coolness of her pillow. He listened tensely, as if moving would make him miss something.
He was so focused he barely registered the necklace resting in a neat coil on her desk. The unguarded shikon-no-tama – once an ultimate goal – was mere background compared to the wonder and curiosity of Kagome's sleeping patterns. Completely preoccupied, he hadn't noticed the speck of black in its round depths had grown since the afternoon.
Kouga's ears twitched as she sighed again, deep in the contentment and comfort of her mattress. He couldn't stand it anymore; it had been hours of this torture. The entire day – the spell, the strawberry, no Inu-Yasha – was maddening beyond belief. He stood gingerly, careful to be quiet, and gazed down at the girl curled toward him. He knew she'd be upset if she caught him staring, but the pace of her breathing assured she wouldn't rouse quickly. His wandering mind had also obviously forgotten the severity of her 'upset'.
Free of reprisal, the youkai let his eyes roam her contours, blocky and thick from her cursed pajamas. He gave the dresser a woeful glance—of all the things to wear….
Covers were drawn to her ears, and long black hair lay sprawled and tangled around her. Kouga bent, gently sweeping a stray lock from her face; claws lingered at her cheek and began tracing the line of her jaw. He ached to touch her – to know her as Inu-Yasha did.
His musings grew bitter. How different life would be if he'd been trapped against Goshinboku the day she crossed over. He could have saved her from the centipede demon, even stopped the shikon-no-tama from shattering in the first place. Certainly been a stronger, braver man than the dog-faced hanyou ever had.
Kouga scoffed in the darkness, unable to pull his fingers from Kagome's chin. Inu-Yasha. Feh.
Arrogant. Careless. Bludgeoning in manners, might, and subtlety.
In the beginning, the oaf had needed a subduing spell forced over his head just to keep from hurting her. How had he won her heart and left Kouga nothing but thin threads of aftermath to grasp onto? Fate was too cruel an overseer to be just.
His memory didn't include how he had been in those early days, careless and cruel, before Kagome's light banished the darkness in his heart, burning away decades of greed and murder. Her powers to purify went far deeper than the miko teachings of any shrine.
Kagome made a snuffling sound. Her exhales lightened, becoming shallow. Kouga was too lost in thought and self-pity to notice the telltale signs of waking.
His imagination continued, creating a year of laughter and adventure at the girl's side. She could have joined his tribe and helped them in their quest for power. The image of Kagome in pelts, flanked by wolves, caused a stirring between his legs. Kouga's fantasy turned less innocent and the stirring strengthened as he thought of long, kiss-laden nights where they could spend hours exploring each other.
The girl under his hand murmured; eyes fluttered open and she gave a small yawn. In the moonlit confines of her room, the fuzzy image of Kouga standing over her sharpened. Her gaze flew wide.
"KOUGA!" She scrambled back to the far side of the bed. "What are you doing?!"
He swore softly, brought abruptly back to reality. His hand hung in the air between them, frozen in mortification. Watching alarm and fear stretch across her face, he backed up several steps, turning around to hide the evidence of his excitement. "N-Nothing."
Kagome shook her head, too naïve to have seen the tumult below his waist. "What's wrong with you?!" She hissed.
Kouga closed his eyes, filling with more embarrassment than he knew he had room for. "I'm sorry," he started. "I didn't mean—."
"Mean to be a lurking pervert?!" Her voice spiked. Though she hadn't seen his arousal, his voyeurism was enough. "Get the hell out of my bedroom!"
He spoke facing the far wall, unable to look at her. "I… can't. The spell, remember?" Even now, it tugged as she edged closer to the window.
Kagome swore, gathering blankets up around her chin. "This is why we're not friends!" She glared. Coming awake to an intense stare speaking volumes was more than unnerving – especially when it lacked amber. "I can't trust you! Watching me sleep? It's creepy!"
The words stung, sinking his frame until he hunched in on himself. "Kagome—."
"How could you? I wasn't even conscious!"
"I am your friend," Kouga's tail gave a dejected swish. "I'm sorry. I would never hurt you," he spoke to the wall, letting the pledge tumble lamely at his feet.
Indignation flared in the girl's stomach. "Friends don't have agendas," shock made her words shake. "They don't say one thing and secretly want another."
Her reaction was blinding. Kouga didn't like being made into a punching bag – even if it was deserved. He spun around, his own irritation growing. "I've never made my feelings a secret."
"Maybe that's your problem," Kagome knew just where to dig next. "Inu-Yasha and I were friends first."
The retort was a slap that left him flinching. "Yeah," he bit back. "That seems to be working out great for the two of you."
Kagome's temper climbed up her chest. She fisted the blanket, pulling it higher. "Better than pretending to be a pseudo-nice guy who skulks over me, objectifying the idea of me in his head," she sat straighter.
Kouga shook his head, sending his rewound ponytail over his shoulder. "I'm not in love with the idea of you Kagome!" His hands matched hers, balling into fists at his sides. "You're the one who doesn't know me! Thinking so little of my feelings only shows how far in your periphery I lie."
"Sorry we're not closer," she echoed his sarcasm. "I can't imagine why."
"We're not close because—."
"Because you watch people sleep rather than get to know them?"
"You've never given me a chance!" He shot back. "You basically have 'property of Inu-Yasha' emblazoned on your forehead! How am I supposed to compete with that?"
"It's not a competition!"
"Everything is a contest with you."
They continued to argue, voices low and strained. Accusations flew, passing back and forth over the bed like a tennis match.
Neither noticed the jewel on the desk; with each biting reply, the black spread, becoming as large as a thumb-print.
Kouga's fists shook as he worked to rein in his anger. Why was everything falling apart? They never fought like this in his time. He said as much. "I don't want it to be like this," he started. "I've argued with you more in the past 24 hours then I have in the last three years," he worked to straighten his knuckles. "I'm sorry I invaded your privacy. It was wrong of me, but I didn't mean anything by it. I promise," he let his open hands hang limp.
Kagome's eyes narrowed. "I'm sorry your pretty daydream is ruined Kouga. I told you. Your image of me is different than the actual me," her voice sank. "Here's your first bit of enlightenment – I don't appreciate being gawked at without consent."
"I'm sorry!" He repeated, raising his voice. "I'm not used to spending all this time with you! It's hard for me!" He lifted his arms, raking fingers through his ponytail. "Being crazy about someone who doesn't give you the time of day and then getting to pretend – for even a moment – that it could be different is tough to control."
Kagome reared. Insight flooded. She hadn't been the only one stiffly polite in Sengoku Jidai – Kouga's light offers and easy smiles had betrayed none of his feelings' depths. How much did it hurt being here with her now, trying to handle emotions he knew weren't reciprocated?
She swallowed, feeling suddenly small. "You know why we're different?" She offered, gentling her tone. "Why we keep fighting?"
Kouga's ears quivered at the change.
"This is how Inu-Yasha and I talk to each other."
He knew she was trying to explain – even somehow suggest they were making inroads towards true friendship, instead of their fall-back for safe pleasantries, but all he could hear was himself being compared to the hanyou. Again.
Kouga gritted teeth. "You don't know me just as much as I don't know you," he muttered. "I hate even hearing his name."
Kagome heard his jealousy and hardened again. "Well you don't own the air," she pushed the covers off and crawled across the mattress. "And I'll mention whoever I like."
Kouga tried not to growl but it rose out his mouth, filling the room. "I wasn't saying you couldn't."
"You sure?" She accused, rising to her knees. "You go on and on about Inu-Yasha and I. Don't like being treated the same? He's not threatened when I voice my opinions."
"Neither am I!"
"Yet you don't like to fight?"
"Yeah," he glowered. "Because I'm DIFFERENT," his shoulders and chest heaved. "When will that sink in? Why do I have to remind you so often? I can still love you and not want to get into a verbal sparring match over every little thing."
"So this is little then? I'm overreacting?"
Kouga growled. "You're—," he stopped. Lifting his head, he whirled toward her desk. A familiar energy rose from its smooth wooden surface. "What—?"
"No…," he started for the jewel, catching himself. "Kagome," he beckoned her to join him. "The shikon-no-tama…," his voice trailed off.
The girl tensed. Their argument forgotten, she rose immediately. Stepping over in crumpled pajamas, she stared at the necklace, cursing she'd gotten so caught up she hadn't felt its nagging pull. Angry glares, tight arms and scowls of fang had ensnared her attention fully, leaving her oblivious to her surroundings – a sure death in the past.
Kouga unclenched a fist, barring her back. "Hold on," he walked forward first, keeping her behind him.
The jewel reacted, glowing brightly; the growth of Naraku's black-violet taint clear. The air around it seemed to vibrate and hum. Kagome closed her eyes and called on her recently unsealed miko powers, reaching past Kouga with her mind, picking up the necklace to investigate. Turning it over behind eyelids, she felt its strengthened corruption fill her mouth with a foul taste.
"How did this happen?" The question sounded faraway, only loosely connected to the waking world Kouga stood in. "I thought bringing it back would finish Kikyo's purification."
He pulled his eyes from the desk, scrutinizing the girl behind him. "Be careful. I can't protect you in an unseen battle."
"I'm not battling—," she started, stopping as the bad taste began to thicken and choke. Growing toxic, it leapt from mere sense to physical reaction. Foam swelled in her mouth. A gurgled inhale finished her sentence as she fought for breath.
Kouga watched in horror as her body began to tremble. "Kagome?"
The tremble strengthened to full on shake. Her knees buckled and he surged forward, catching her as she collapsed. In his arms, she started to seize, neck giving way and head lolling back, jerking violently.
Sparse city lights dimly illuminated a vacant street. Two in the morning saw little activity in Sogo. Miasma, without an issuing master, descended on an empty office building surrounded by closed shops and still street carts. On the other side of the well, it always announced the presence or attack of a demon, but in modern day Japan, it was noticed by no one. The dark ki moved like fog through the air, seeping down into the building's roof. Sounds of movement erupted in its top floor as the energy assembled materials with a malicious consciousness only the priestess' crossing could grant. Computers were lifted from cubicles, broken open, fused, and cobbled back together by invisible strings. The ki breathed life into its creation.
The creature's eyes, twin monitors glowing neon, cried out in pain as a soul was poured into its mangled shell. Incapable of speech, it managed only a mono-syllabic wail to express its agony.
The miasma intensified, growing almost into a tangible presence. It sent the priestess' face into the monster's mind; the human who'd shared Kikyo's soul.
The creature stilled, knowing this was the answer to end its pain. Without further orders, it lifted a large leg, loose wires swaying wildly, and stepped toward the fire escape.
The dark energy left, bleeding through to the next floor. There were hundreds more computers to go through….
Kouga clutched Kagome to his chest, cradling her head as she shuddered and twitched against him. White leaked from the corner of her mouth. He heard incoherent begging rise into the air, vaguely realizing it came from him. Blue eyes searched her face, as if being in his arms could make the seizures stop. Her features were slack as the shikon-no-tama vented its hatred, attacking her nerves and mind with vengeful wrath.
The youkai glared over at the desk, knowing where the assault came from. "Stop it," he whispered, grasping for understandable speech. "Leave her alone," he got louder, gaining resolve. "LET HER GO!" He roared.
Kagome's convulsions intensified. Her eyes flew open; the blue-gray irises he loved had rolled into the back of her head.
Her mouth opened. "You'll pay, Prince," she spoke through the foam in her teeth in a voice not her own. The jewel manipulated her vocal chords, forming words that sounded swallowed down and forced out. "You weren't supposed to follow her back."
Kouga's arms tightened. "Stop this. You'll kill her."
"You've already sealed her fate."
He heard rushing feet approach the door. "I'll do anything," he whispered. "Just leave her alone."
Her spasms ceased suddenly, body going limp. The doorknob turned and Ginta, Hakkaku, and Souta burst in. The boy reached for the light-switch, flooding the room in harsh, artificial glare. The jewel dulled instantly, harmless and inert.
Seeing his sister, his mouth dropped open in terror. "MAMA—!"
Hakkaku's palm cut him off. "Hold on cub," he soothed, staring at Kouga for direction.
He beckoned them forward with his chin, feeling wetness climb in his eyes. Struggling to stay calm, he blinked it back, wanting only to envelope Kagome and weep. "The shikon-no-tama," he said hoarsely. "It attacked her."
Ginta slipped his hand into Souta's, squeezing gently – offering reassurance he himself could use. His prince rarely looked scared. Guiding him into the room, Hakkaku followed, closing the door behind them.
Souta did what Kouga refused to allow himself. Big tears grew and fell down his cheeks as he gazed at his sister. "What's wrong with her?" A loud hiccup chased the question.
Hakkaku placed a comforting hand on his small shoulders. "Don't worry. Lord Kouga was here."
Ginta squeezed the fingers engulfed in his tighter, careful to temper his strength. The child had endeared himself quickly and he was as reluctant to see him suffer as any of the younglings tussling among their clan's cave floor. "Nothing serious has happened under his care," he assured. "He loves her just as much as you do."
Souta rubbed a hand across his eyes. "As much as Inu-Yasha?"
"More," both men answered in tandem.
Kouga knew the pair were trying to console the young human, but their words only made him feel worse; he had been powerless, unable to help. "Look cub," he fought to keep his voice free of waver. "The world your sister travels to is full of danger. She's seen more of it than I could ever bring myself to tell," despite all the magic of this time, the jewel was one thing he was far more versed in. "She's strong, impossibly so, and her enemies fear that strength. That's why we followed her through the well – to protect her from those threatened by her powers."
Souta considered him a moment. Clutching Ginta's hand and searching Kouga's face, he seemed a child and nearly a man at the same time. "What can I do to help?" He asked finally.
Hakkaku and Ginta both grinned; pleased as much by the boy's fiery resemblance to their beloved sister as his dining etiquette.
Approval touched Kouga's features. Assessing the woman in his arms, he flicked to the desk warily. "We need to get her to a priestess."
Souta scratched his head. "You mean a hospital?"
He tested the foreign word silently. "If that's the village where one lives, than yes. She must be powerful though."
"Dr. Hana's the best," Souta said. "She's treated us since we were little."
"A priestess and an accomplished healer," Ginta raised a brow. "Excellent."
Kouga nodded his agreement, sliding arms further under Kagome and lifting her from the ground as he got to his feet. "Lead the way cub."
Souta held up his hands. "We can't go right now. It's like two in the morning. Unless you want me to wake Mom and get her to drive us. I don't have my permit yet. And Dr. Hana doesn't work in the emergency room."
There were too many unfamiliar words for the youkai to understand. All three shook their heads and stared at the youngest Higurashi in confusion.
Souta sighed. "Why do you say priestess instead of doctor?"
"She needs to be purified of the evil that's invaded her mind," Kouga spoke like it was obvious.
"Ah," dawning filled him. "Grandpa might be able to help with that."
Hakkaku and Ginta shared a look over his back.
"He seems more comfortable with spells that vex rather than mend," Ginta offered gently.
Souta straightened. "My world's different than yours. Trust me."
Kouga appraised him anew. He hefted Kagome higher in his arms. "Any brother of hers is mine as well. Tell us who to seek for help."
The boy's chest puffed a bit. "Come on," he let go of Ginta's hand and led the way to the door. "He'll know what to do."