Disclaimer: I don't own InuYasha; Rumiko Takahashi and a large publishing conglomerate hold his leash.
A/N: It's an AU set in modern Tokyo, and it's all Ranuel's fault. Due to a chance comment about the physiology of calico cats she made a while ago, I've had to pry a rather fanged little cream-and-tortoiseshell bunny off my ankle.
In this version, Inuyasha was pinned to the Goshinboku by Kikyo's arrow, courtesy of Naraku's machinations, but Kagome didn't fall through the well to free him; instead, the sealing wore off after a couple of centuries. He's spent his free time since trying to reclaim the Tetsusaiga from the hereditary keepers of the Sunset Shrine while reaching an accommodation with Sesshomaru; they both use concealment spells to blend in with the modern human population.
Oh, and no subduing rosary; if watching the hanyou eat dirt is a particular fetish of yours, better find another fic.
Bouquets: to my lovely CMAs, Forthright, Ranuel and SilverOnTheRose.
Warnings: Violence, coarse language.
Chapter One: The Visitor
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"He's here again."
"Really? That's the second time this week."
"Not that you're counting or anything…"
"Mo-ther. Don't you think that it's kinda creepy?"
"He might be new in Tokyo and he finds the city overwhelming… our shrine is famous for its forest, don't forget."
"I dunno… he dresses like an American… and his hair!"
"I think his hair is rather attractive." When her daughter rolled her eyes, Mrs. Higurashi added, "You have to admit that he is quite handsome, Kagome."
"If you say so," the young woman muttered, peering out the kitchen window at the bustling throng cheerfully celebrating Setsubun on the grounds of the Sunset Shrine. The tall young man under discussion stood out by virtue of his height and his extravagant hip-length black hair flowing loose over his shoulders and down his back. Dressed in jeans and a leather jacket with a motorcycle helmet under his arm, he stood on the edge of the crowd in full view of the two women assessing him through the kitchen window.
Mrs. Higurashi shook her head as she moved to secure a budding twig from the Goshinboku into the knotted paper ribbon holding back Kagome's glossy hair. Turning the young woman away from the window, she gave the eye-catching white and red traditional shrine maiden's outfit a final brushing down before saying, "Perhaps he'd appreciate a friendly welcome, if he's indeed a newcomer. It wouldn't hurt for you to say hello, would it?"
"So long as Gramps doesn't take that as permission to start interrogating him about his family background and financial situation," Kagome replied with some asperity.
"He's just trying to look out for you," her mother protested.
"I'll admit he was right that I was too young to marry Hojo right after high school, but he's worked really hard at scaring off anyone else who's taken an interest in me."
"He's very proud of your medical studies, Kagome, and he doesn't want you to be distracted from them."
"I know… but it'd be nice to go out with someone of the opposite sex for a cup of coffee without them being subjected to the third degree." Smiling in an attempt to take the sting out of her words, she escaped into the foyer. I shouldn't have snapped at Mom like that, but it's hard not to feel a tiny bit of resentment. If Gramps only knew about all the dates that I've turned down because of his attitude… I know that he's being protective because Dad is gone, but it's annoying to have to have a social life limited to lunchtime. Donning a pair of straw sandals while shouldering her quiver and bow, she took a deep breath to compose herself before sliding open the door and stepping outside. The first person she came face to face with was the handsome, dark-haired stranger… and his reaction was certainly memorable.
"Holy fucking gods!" He stared at her, his mouth hanging open, his face gone ashen and his violet eyes wide with shock.
Kagome blinked. "And good fortune to you, too, sir," she replied with as much dignity as she could muster before bobbing a crisp bow and heading into the crowd. Her teenage brother, dressed as an acolyte, winked cheekily as he sold 'sacred arrows' from his table at the side of the stage. While their elaborately-robed grandfather addressed the crowd in his reedy voice, she posed for pictures with giggling teenagers and shy children until her part in the Sunset Shrine's unique twist on the traditional celebrations marking the beginning of Spring was required.
Sota handed her up onto the stage, where she bowed to her grandfather before taking her place facing the Goshinboku. Readying her weapon, she listened with half an ear as his age-thinned voice rose and fell in the cadences of the centuries-old story of the courageous priestess who slew a rampaging youkai at the cost of her own life. Notching an arrow, she drew the bowstring taut to her cheek and sighted down the shaft at her usual target, a small knothole in the centre of a large bark-free patch marring the ancient tree's trunk while she waited for Sota's cue.
The crowd tensed, like it did every year and held its collective breath, like it did every year, as the climax of the story was reached. Sota's hand cut the air and Kagome let fly. Polite applause greeted her feat, as the arrow quivered just slightly to the left of her target. Didn't correct enough for the wind, just like last year she sighed, inspecting her aim with a critical eye as the ceremony concluded with tossed packets of toasted soybeans. Coach Sagara wouldn't be impressed.
She didn't notice the other person not impressed with her marksmanship. The dark-haired young man had stayed only long enough to witness the arrow thudding into the tree before bolting for the red-painted torii gate. He was currently storming down the shrine's stone staircase two risers at a time, rubbing the left-hand side of his chest with one hand as he fumbled in his pocket with the other. Clearing the last few steps in a single jump, he stalked towards a sleek motorcycle as he successfully retrieved his cell phone.
Punching a number, he barely waited until his brother answered before snarling, "You fucking asshole! Did you think that was fucking funny?"
"Dammit, Sess… do you mean you knew nothing about the girl?"
"I assume that you refer to the granddaughter of the current priest, one Kagome Higurashi?"
"What is the problem?"
"Only that she has an archery habit and could pass for Kikyo's twin sister!"
"The Sunset Shrine, as you well know, has a long history of its priests and priestesses utilizing so-called 'sacred arrows' in ceremonial purifications. As to the woman's resemblance to her revered forbear, I had no idea since I never encountered the Lady Kikyo."
"Did you retrieve your weapon?"
Snapping off any other smart comments by closing his phone, the young man cursed luridly as he straddled the motorcycle and yanked on his helmet. Punching the throttle, he jumped the machine off the curb and roared away, all too conscious of the phantom pain in his chest.
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"Well-shot today, granddaughter," the old man wheezed as he carefully set the box containing his tall black ceremonial headdress on its shelf.
"Thank you, Grandfather," Kagome replied as she pulled her hair free of the paper ribbon. The twig slipped to the floor; when she picked it up she noted that the leaf buds had slightly opened, revealing a tiny sliver of vivid green hidden inside the burnished brown husk. As she left the foyer ahead of her grandfather, a fat calico cat thumped down the stairs leading from the second story and stretched elaborately before winding around her legs. "Darn it, Buyo… will you stop shedding already?" she grumbled good-naturedly at the furry deposit left behind on her scarlet hakama as she swept the cat into her arms.
"Hurry and get changed… the soba noodles are nearly ready!" Mrs. Higurashi sang out from the kitchen.
"I'd kill for a cheeseburger," Sota muttered on his way past, his layered kimono hanging around his waist and revealing the ratty t-shirt he'd worn underneath the silk.
"You and me both," Kagome chuckled as she slung the cat over her shoulder and tucked the twig behind her ear.
"Have a soybean instead," he offered, tossing her a couple from a clearly purloined handful.
Grinning, she flicked back one of the toasted nuts. "Demon begone!" she cheerfully taunted before spluttering, "OW! Buyo… watch those claws!"
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Two days later…
Kagome narrowed her eyes at the archery butt set up behind the house, gauging the distance with a practiced eye before notching her arrow and slowly drawing back the bowstring. Controlling her breathing, she zeroed in on the bull's-eye and released between one heartbeat and the next. Yes! The arrow joined three more clustered tightly around the centre of the target.
"You have a good eye."
"Eep!" She spun around to confront the speaker. The violet-eyed, dark-haired young man stood about ten feet away with his hands in his pockets, looking remarkably unthreatening. He's so quiet on his feet… I didn't hear a thing! Ugh… how creepy is that? Kagome lifted her chin as she collected herself. "Can I help you? If you want a blessing or a sutra… or a Shikon-no-Tama keychain… my grandfather can open the shop for you."
He arched a dark eyebrow. "Shikon-no-Tama keychains? Seriously?"
"Specialty of the Sunset Shrine," she said with forced cheer as she assessed the unexpected visitor, retreating a step when the stranger squared his shoulders and bowed formally.
"Please accept my apologies for my rudeness at our first meeting," he offered as he straightened.
"Oh! Um… er, thank you. Apology accepted, Mr.…"
"Sha Nishiki," he supplied, smiling a little at her fluster as he proffered his card.
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Nishiki. Kagome Higurashi," she quickly replied, accepting the card with a polite bow before stepping backwards out of range. "My mother noticed your earlier visits to the shrine… 'Adamant Antiquities'? You're an art collector?" she asked. He sure as heck doesn't dress like any of the antiquarians or historians that I've seen!
"Something like that," he agreed equitably, but didn't elaborate.
Kagome frowned at his evasiveness, which only increased her sense of unease. "Is there something in which you're particularly interested?"
She didn't understand his crooked smile as he shrugged. "I haven't visited the shrine in years; thought I'd drop by and see if anything has changed."
The young woman couldn't help chortling, but she hastily hid her laughter behind her hand. "It's a traditional shrine; you weren't seriously expecting change, were you?"
Sha chuckled as he waved at the trees. "I like that you can't hear the street noise up here; it's very peaceful."
"Yes, it is," she agreed, retrieving an arrow from her quiver and twirling it between her fingertips as a politely subtle hint that she'd like to return to her archery practice.
He didn't take the bait, instead indicating the bristling archery butt. "Do you compete?"
"Yes," she replied shortly, but he wasn't dissuaded.
"Do you have a ranking?"
"You… follow archery?" she asked incredulously. Definitely an oddball!
"You might say that I retain a keen interest in the sport," he allowed with another of those crooked smiles.
"I made it as far as the national trials last year," she admitted shyly, but with a touch of pride.
"Impressive. May I ask why you were using the sacred tree as a target during the Setsubun festival?"
Kagome tapped her foot. "Weren't you listening to my grandfather's story?"
He had the grace to look sheepish. "My attention was elsewhere, so maybe you could give me a summary?"
She sighed lightly, reluctantly conceding that her practice was likely over for the day. Coach Sagara will be extremely unhappy if I don't make the top five at regionals next weekend. Stepping smoothly into tour guide mode, she led the way towards the stately tree. "The origins of the tradition go back about five hundred years, to the very founding of the Sunset Shrine. A powerful priestess guarded a mystic jewel called the Shikon-no-Tama from all those that sought to acquire its power for personal gain, regardless of whether they were human or youkai."
"What made the Jewel so special?" he asked, falling into step beside her.
"It apparently had the power to grant wishes, so was sought by the ambitious."
"Sounds like a load of crap," Sha scoffed, shoving his hands back into his pockets.
"Wouldn't you like to have your dearest wish granted?" Kagome retorted, then wondered why his mouth twisted as he looked away.
"Wishing for something that you weren't meant to have leads to nothing but trouble," he finally growled.
Clearing her throat in the awkward pause, Kagome continued, "One day, a powerful youkai came seeking the Jewel. The priestess defeated him time and again, but he persisted… until one day he succeeded in mortally wounding the priestess, stormed the village and seized the Jewel. With her life fast ebbing, the priestess managed to put a sacred arrow through his heart. Before succumbing to her injuries, she ordered that the Jewel be burned along with her body. The scar on the Goshinboku's trunk marks the spot where the youkai's body remained visible for over two hundred years… that's the official story, anyways."
"Official story? There's another version?"
She looked up at the scar, her hair twining softly around her face. "The priestess and the youkai loved each other, but were torn apart by the jealousy of a third, who tricked them into believing that the one had turned on the other."
Sha moved closer, watching her intently. "Do you believe that?"
"Yes," Kagome whispered, turning to meet his gaze. "Because the priestess sealed the youkai instead of killing him."
"Huh? What the hell do you mean?" he demanded.
Kagome again looked up at the scar. "If she had purified him, the youkai would have vanished on the spot, leaving only the arrow behind. However, his body's existence for over two hundred years is well-documented in the shrine records; people came from all over to see him as well as offer prayers for the priestess. She could have sent him straight to hell, but she didn't; she gave him the benefit of the doubt."
"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," he snapped.
"That's love," she calmly retorted. "She believed in him until the end."
"More like she didn't want to see him again, so sentenced him to centuries alone in limbo," Sha muttered, and then his gaze sharpened. "Until she could be reincarnated…"
"I beg your pardon?" The young woman warily edged away from his sudden intensity. Did his eyes change colour just now? That's not possible, but I could swear…
Sha shook himself. That's Kagome, not Kikyo, idiot, even if her scent is the same… but I can't help thinking that if this isn't some kind of cosmic joke, then maybe… Looking away to collect his thoughts for a moment, he finally asked, "So, if the youkai was sealed, why isn't he still hanging up there?"
"My grandfather believes that the seal lost its strength over time and eventually released the youkai, but not before the Goshinboku was permanently scarred." Kagome was quiet for a moment, then added, "It must have been terrible for him when he woke up… the changes to his surroundings, the lack of anyone he recognized… a nightmare come to life. I imagine he must have been terribly lonely… I wonder if he ever learned the truth?"
"You mean your 'unofficial version', right?" The young man's gaze was again uncomfortably sharp. "Assuming that it might be true, do your traditions happen to identify the bastard who played games with their hearts?"
She bit her lip, thinking carefully. "There are two names associated with this third person; one is 'Onigumo' and the other is 'Naraku'. It's impossible to tell if they are two separate people or one in the same." Watching Sha's brow furrow in thought, she decided that her mother was right. He is quite handsome, if a little strange. How many guys with his looks choose to spend a Saturday afternoon hanging around an old shrine talking about legends?
After a long pause, he casually asked, "So, does your shrine have anything else of historical interest?"
"Storehouses stuffed with 'valuable national treasures', to listen to my grandfather talk," she chuckled. "How about a 'sacred sword' that supposedly belonged to the sealed youkai?"
"Now you're talking; antique swords are a particular interest of mine… but wouldn't the youkai have taken off with it as soon as he woke up?" Sha's tone was just the slightest bit too keen even though his manner remained casual.
"I have my doubts that this is a youkai weapon… this might be a very traditional shrine and all that, but still…"
"You believe in the fairy story of the sleeping youkai pinned to the tree," he pointed out.
"Touché," she agreed equitably. "Most sacred swords are examples of perfection, but this one… well, it doesn't look like any other I've ever seen. It was definitely used prior to being dedicated, which is very unusual, because it's all beat-up and scruffy-looking as if it came straight off the battlefield."
"More beat-up than the Kusunagi-no-Tsurugi?"
Kagome laughed, and he allowed himself to admire the bright sound. "Ours makes the Imperial Sword look like it just left the forge."
"Really? I don't remember seeing something like that the last time I was here."
"It's kept in storage because my grandfather says that it's too fragile to display."
"Any chance that I might be able to… dammit! What the hell…?" Sha yelped as he hastily retreated from a hissing, spitting, snarling, yowling furball that moved with surprising agility for its chubby bulk as it squarely planted itself in front of Kagome. The calico cat's pale celadon-green eyes blazed with fury as it emitted a long, loud and threatening hiss before darting forward and dealing his leg a vicious swat.
"Buyo! What's gotten into you?" The young woman paused in mid-admonition to stare at the impressive slashes torn right through his jeans while Sha growled ferociously under his breath. The cat growled right back, its back tightly arched and its tail bushed out, not backing down an inch. "Are you all right, Mr. Nishiki?" Kagome asked, then let out a dismayed cry when she saw the blood staining the tough denim. "Oh, gosh! Let me get a bandage! Bad cat!"
As she ran towards the house, Sha fixed the defiant feline with a steely and suddenly-golden glare. "Fuck off, kitty. No tree's high enough to keep me from gutting your fat ass if you ever do that again." Buyo curled her lips back over her fangs and hissed again. Sha smirked. "Ya got nerve, rat-breath," he conceded. "I promise that I'm not gonna hurt your human. I just need to retrieve something that belongs to me and I'll be on my way." The cat narrowed her pale eyes, but the arch in her back may have relaxed the tiniest fraction. Stooping and pulling up the shredded leg of his jeans, he dabbed at the blood trickling from the three deep claw marks in his shin. Glancing up at the house, he muttered, "She'd better hurry up, or there won't be anything left to bandage, and how the hell will I explain that?" Frowning at his reddened fingertips, he wiped them on the paving stones before straightening. "Ya got one helluva right hook, kitty. I'll have to remember that." Both man and cat looked over as Kagome burst from the house and ran towards them, a medical case in her hands.
She'd barely taken half a dozen steps when the fabric of reality shifted and tore. Sha leapt backwards as several paving stones appeared to heave upward, releasing a geyser of rock and earth. Shit! How'd that get through the dimensional boundaries? Kagome skidded to a halt; the cat yowled sharply and bolted around the edge of the rift to press up against the young woman's legs as if forcing her back.
The ground trembled and shook as a column of damp earth shot skyward, raining clods and stones all over the courtyard… until a nightmarish creature erupted into the light. 'Blood… sweet blood… the gift of life!' The vaguely humanoid, definitely centipede-like creature fastened its attention on Sha. 'Did you summon me, boy?'
"Not intentionally, ya hag. A face as ugly as yours ought to stay hidden!" he sneered… and then noticed Kagome. The young woman was staring wide-eyed upwards at a spot roughly corresponding with the back of the centipede's head. She can see it? Shit!
Kagome could most definitely see his opponent as the medical case slipped from her nerveless fingers. What is that? Wait… something's odd… odder than a giant, talking caterpillar in the middle of my yard… it's like I can see through it…sort of. Blinking hard, she stared intently at the damaged paving stones and scattered earth, then up at the bobbing, weaving entity. I can hear it, feel the ground shake when it moves… even smell it… whew! Something's rotten in Tokyo… but it's blurred around the edges and I can faintly see the outline of the well house through its body. Is this real or an illusion of some sort? Her arm moved almost before her brain, and she brought her bow and an arrow into firing position. One way to find out!
'I hunger, boy… I require more blood,' the creature hissed, its pincher-like jaws clacking as its multiple legs fidgeted. 'Yours is particularly tasty… Urk!' It swung around and Sha gaped at the arrow bristling from its back. 'You impudent child… you dare attack Mistress Centipede?'
Kagome's entire body was screaming to run, but she fought down the impulse as she notched another arrow and sent it into the youkai's chest; Sha was mildly impressed by her lack of fainting or fleeing. As the youkai screamed furiously and dove at her, he rapidly intervened despite the risk of exposure. "Leave the human alone, hag! Sankon Tessou!" His attack tore a sizeable chunk out of the creature's armoured side, but a last-second twist saved it from being completely sliced in half. He was still airborne when a coiling loop of its body slammed him into the Goshinboku's trunk. Sha felt something 'crack' in his side and figured he'd blown at least one rib as another coil wrapped itself around both him and the tree; a second and third coil immobilized him.
The centipede's head and upper body snaked towards him, its fangs opened wide. 'Die, impertinent dog!' He somehow managed to jerk sideways despite his hard-edged bonds and the pain in his ribs, so that only one of the creature's fangs pierced his shoulder instead of both going into his throat. The coils tightened to the point of bone-cracking pain as his attacker pulled back in another bid for his life.
"Get away from him!"
The centipede hesitated, then sinuously curled towards Kagome.
"Stupid girl… run!" Sha shouted just as the young woman was abruptly and shockingly wreathed in a terrifyingly familiar violet-pink glow that originated in her chest as she aimed another fletched projectile.
'The Shikon-no-Tama!' Mistress Centipede joyfully shrieked. 'I will devour you and gain its power for myself!' As the youkai flew at her, Kagome bravely held her ground and released her arrow right into its maw. However, the centipede flinched out of the way at the last possible moment, allowing the energy-charged missile to speed straight for the pinioned Sha.
Oh fuck… not again! He ducked as best he could as the arrow buried itself in the Goshinboku not an inch away from his cheek, crackling and sizzling as its spiritual power burnt out… but not before he felt his ears begin to slide down the sides of his head and his fangs to recede, not to mention experience the full brunt of the pain from his cracked rib. Dammit… what a time to lose half of my youki power!
His attention snapped back to the matter at hand when Kagome's terrified scream split the air. Horror snaked through Sha's guts as the centipede bore down on the young woman, sending a rushing coil ahead of its main body that knocked her off her feet. As her bow went flying and another arrow fizzled out, it sank its fangs into her belly and yanked her into the air. Shaking her like a terrier does a rat, the youkai attempted to tear Kagome apart right before Sha's eyes. No-one deserves to be eaten alive! He desperately tried to sort through his available options, but stopped dead when Kagome's screams abruptly ceased, as if her neck had been snapped. A moment after that, he was blinded… and completely purified… by an explosion of brilliant pink light. The coils trapping him fell away and he slid down the trunk to land in an awkward heap among the gnarled roots and spasming flesh.
Kagome's body hit the ground with a sickening 'thump' on the other side of the destroyed picket fence. Sha painfully heaved himself over the splintered wood and twitching body parts; as he staggered towards the fallen girl he distantly noted that the head and upper body of the centipede had vanished. A chill breeze swirled and the rest of the creature's body crumbled to dust. The dimensional rift began closing, restoring the courtyard to its normal appearance as the energy ebbed away, leaving the heavily bleeding young woman sprawled across the paving stones.
Crouching beside her, wincing as his injured body complained bitterly, Sha considered how to best deal with the situation. Her gramps must be completely deaf and lacking spiritual powers to have missed the commotion. How'm I going to explain her injuries? "Another Shikon miko, huh?" he murmured, flipping open his phone with the intention of tapping into his brother's youkai network of specialists to bring help for the girl, but he was blindsided. Swearing luridly as he rolled clumsily across the ground, he couldn't help the yelp of pain when a heavy weight landed on his bruised chest. Razor-sharp claws dug into his throat and he froze, looking up into a pair of furious pale-green eyes.
"You deserve to die for your carelessness, dog!"
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A/N: Sankon Tessou = Iron Reaver Soul Stealer; Inuyasha's basic claw-strike attack. I usually use the English anime term, but decided on the Japanese just for the heck of it in this fic.
Kusunagi-no-Tsurugi – One of the three treasures of the Japanese Imperial Regalia. It is a bronze sword of archaic design, thought to date back to the Bronze Age peoples of the Korean peninsula. Along with a bronze mirror and a jade magatama jewel, tradition states that it was given to the first Emperor by the sun goddess Amaterasu. References to the three items often appear in Japanese manga, anime and video games.