Kagome sighed as she trudged along, tired, feeling dead on her feet. Inuyasha was pushing them on mercilessly, never stopping for breaks and she and the others were suffering for it. She honestly didn't know how much longer they could go before one of them collapsed.
"Inuyasha," she groaned. "Can we please stop for a moment?" Something was fueling him, and Kagome couldn't quite figure out what it was that had made him so desperate lately, but she knew she didn't like it. He was becoming more and more reckless as well, his mind elsewhere.
"What are you talking about, Kagome? The faster we move the sooner we'll find jewel shards!"
"Yes, but if you push us past our limits none of us will be going anywhere for a long while. Humans are different from demons and hanyou, remember? Our bodies can only take so much!" She stopped in her tracks, glaring at his back angrily, her shoulders sagging with exhaustion.
He stopped as well, peering at them from the corner of his eye, his arms crossed over his chest. The others were huffing and puffing behind her, leaning on each other to rest.
"Fine. We'll stop here for the night. Set up camp." He then took off in the direction they had been going, faster than before.
"Thank the kamis!" Moaned Miroku as he fell down onto his rear-end. "I thought he'd never stop!"
They all rested a bit before getting back up to gather wood and water from a nearby stream. Kagome hadn't bothered asking where Inuyasha was going. She was used to him taking off as soon as he had his freedom and she could only guess where he was going.
"Gome', I'm hungry," complained Shippo from her shoulder. He was draped over it as she dipped her canteen into the water. "What are we eating tonight?"
"Well, I was just gonna' make us some ramen."
"Ramen?" he moaned in disbelief. "We always have ramen…I'm sick of ramen."
She sat back for a moment, staring at the stream.
"Well how about some fish? We could catch some," she suggested.
At first he complained about the exercise that would be required, but as soon as she got in the water and started splashing him he joined in as well. Despite how tired they were, they caught several medium sized fish and Kagome gutted them there on the banks, throwing their insides into the stream.
"Kagome you are a saint!" Exclaimed Miroku when he saw the fish they carried back with them. He and Sango had started a nice fire while they were gone and they all set about setting up the fish to cook.
After they ate they all settled in for bed, falling asleep almost instantly. Or at least most of them did. Kagome couldn't sleep. Despite how exhausted she was she hadn't been able to sleep for several days, and that night would be no exception.
After Shippo drifted off she slowly got out of the sleeping bag, careful not to bump the little fox kit. Luckily for her he slept like the dead, even when he wasn't that tired. She crept over to her backpack and slung it over her shoulder, turning towards the edge of the clearing. She left her flashlight in her bag, choosing to walk by the light of the moon so as not to draw attention to herself. There were plenty of creatures out there that would be drawn to her without her having to use her flashlight as a signal.
She walked carefully, her eyes adjusting rather well to the darkness, and stepped over each branch and root. Eventually she came to a smaller clearing, not more than fifteen feet across, and set up camp. She sat down and pulled out her textbooks, a notebook and a pen for taking notes.
Kagome used her time at night for studying. She had needed it sorely before the nightmares began, but now that they had she would take full advantage of it. She stopped for a moment, remembering her last dream.
Inuyasha had been calling her a traitor or some such thing; In her dream it was always starting in the middle of a heated argument. Kikyo was there as well, and despite the fact that Kagome didn't know why, he had had to choose between them. It was the moment that Kagome dreaded. Partly because she was afraid of his answer and partly because she was afraid of the results of his answer. What was the reason for his choosing? Was there a circumstance that was coming that would require that they split permanently? Also, she did not see Sango or the others there, but there was another figure in the corner of her mind. It was much too hazy to make out but she knew that they were familiar in a way. She wanted desperately to know who it was.
She didn't know how these nightmares came about, but they had a feeling of validity to them. She knew, somehow deep inside, that these visions were what was to come. And in the same way that she knew this, she also knew what Inuyasha's choice would be. She'd had the dream many times and every time without a single doubt, he chose Kikyo. And each and every time that he did, a piece of her love for him died. It was as if her mind was on instant replay and she was forced to watch that moment again and again, each and every night that she closed her eyes.
She didn't tell the others about it; how could she? But she thought about it constantly. Why? Why does he end up saying such horrible, hurtful things to her? What could she possibly do to deserve such a punishment" Until she'd started having the premonitions she had no doubt in her mind whom she loved, but once they began she had to assume that something would come between them. And that scared her.
She read through the rest of the chapter in her literature book, picking up from where she left off, taking notes along the way. Her homework was a good distraction, most of the time, but she had to admit that getting virtually no sleep was taking a horrid toll on her. She was always feeling exhausted, as if her soul was slowly being sucked out of her, and nothing that she did would help. She brought a few energy drinks from her time, but they only lasted so long. She's tried coffee, but then she was on a constant potty break. And then Inuyasha was being more and more demanding of them lately as well. It was like some vicious cycle that never ended.
Kagome's head popped up at a small sound. It was coming from her right, deeper in the woods. She hesitated, unsure if she should stay or go back. She listened closer, her senses heightened. It sounded like crying.
Making up her mind, she packed her books into her bag and slung it over her shoulder again. If anything she could use it as a weapon. If only she hadn't been dumb enough to leave her bow back at the camp. She always brought it with her, but that night she'd been particularly spacey and had left it behind. Dang it all.
She crept through the undergrowth of the trees, trying to be as silent as possible. But then she saw a dim light before her; there was a fire up ahead. Which meant a camp. She continued on, this time looking around her in all directions. She didn't need to run into any scouts, if there were any.
Once she got closer she saw that the camp was empty. Or nearly. There, near the fire was laying a little girl, huddled in the fetal position. So that had been where the crying was coming from. Unable to stand seeing a child crying, alone, she stepped out of the trees, holding her hands out as the child sharply turned in her direction. She was surprised at the results.
"Rin?" The little girl gaped at her, her tears momentarily ceasing.
"Kagome-chan?" She hurled herself at Kagome, wrapping her arms around her waist as she continued sobbing.
"What's wrong Rin? Why are you alone?" She rubbed soothing circles on her back, trying to get her to look at her.
"Sesshomaru-sama left and Jaken was supposed to look after Rin, but now Rin is alone and she's scared! Rin doesn't like being alone!"
"It's alright now Rin, I'll stay with you," she offered, hoping to calm the girl down.
"Will you, Kagome-chan? Will you stay with Rin?" Her face lit up at the prospect.
"Of course I will dearest." She wrapped her arms around her tightly, rocking her gently back and forth, listening as Rin sniffled quietly.
"Come on, let's go sit by the fire," she suggested as she unwrapped her arms, instead taking the little girl's hand and leading her to the blankets on the ground.
"Kagome-chan, will you tell Rin a story? Rin likes stories." She looked up at Kagome hopefully as she cuddled down beside her. She pulled a blanket up to her chin, rubbing it on her cheek in an almost habitual manner. Kagome couldn't help but smile. Did Rin have a blanky?
"Of course Rin. How would you like to hear the story of the Mermaid and her Prince?" The child's face lit up in curiosity.
"What's a mermaid, Kagome-chan?"
"They're beautiful creatures that live in the water, half human and half fish."
"They have fish tails?"
"Yes, and they were said to be enchanting creatures that could tempt any being with their beautiful faces and voices…," she whispered, pulling the child into the story, watching as her eyes grew cloudy as she imagined what she spoke of. Kagome went on, quietly and reverently telling Rin the story, watching as she gasped at some parts and nearly cried at others. Soon enough though, Kagome could see Rin's eyes drifting as if heavy weights were trying to pull them down. She valiantly tried to stay awake, but to no avail.
"Does it end happily, Kagome-chan?" She asked sleepily, her eyes having already drifted closed.
"Yes Rin," she whispered back, smoothing the girls hair from her face. "It all ends well. The Mermaid marries the Prince and they all live happily ever after, as it should be."
"Will Rin live happily ever after?"
"Yes Rin. Sesshomaru-sama wouldn't allow otherwise."
Rin's eyes fluttered in her sleep as she murmured a barely audible sound, a small smile dusting her lips.
Kagome watched her for a bit as she slept, entranced by the innocent child. Slowly, her eyelids drooped as well and though she knew what she would see if she slept she laid down beside the girl, pulling her close to her against her stomach, and closed her eyes. Kagome knew it was a losing battle and so fell into dreamland, hoping the others would not panic when they saw her gone in the morning.
"What's a toothbrush Kagome-chan?"
"It's something you use to clean your teeth," explained Kagome as they walked to the stream the next morning. She carried her little parcel of cleaning supplies in one hand and held Rin's hand with the other.
"Can Rin use the toothbrush?"
"I'll give you mine if you want," she offered. "I'll get myself another one the next time I go home."
"Thank you Kagome-chan!" She beamed up at her. "Now Rin can have pretty teeth like Kagome-chan!"
After they both had cleaned up they returned to the camp and Kagome set about making something to eat.
"I bet you'd like ramen," she murmured to herself.
"If Kagome-chan likes it so will Rin." She smiled down at the little girl as she poured some hot water into the noodle cup.
"Rin! Where are you? If you're not here Sesshomaru-sama will skin me alive!" came a shrill voice. There was a rustling in the foliage across the clearing and an ugly kappa bustled out, carrying a staff over twice his height.
"There you are! You un-disciplined child!" He came forward angrily until he saw the miko sitting next to the little girl. "What do you think you're doing you filthy ningen! Get away from Sesshomaru-sama's ward!" When she made no move to leave he came forward, swinging the staff of two heads. "You heard me ningen! Leave this place you despicable-" he fell back with a squawk, a large pebble wedged into his forehead.
"Jaken, silence," came a deep, rumbling voice.
Kagome looked up as the Western Lord silently sauntered into the clearing from the north. He watched Kagome as he neared, eyeing her in what appeared to Kagome to be a suspicious manner.
"What are you doing with my ward, onna?" He made no further movement towards her, and waited for her answer. She swallowed, her nerves rising to the forefront.
"I heard her crying," she mumbled but she knew his heightened senses would pick it up. "I found her alone and I couldn't just leave her like that."
"And why could you not?" His tone sounded curious, though you could never tell from his expression.
"Because she's just a child," she nearly snapped at him. Realizing how her tone must have sounded, she held her breath and glanced up at him from her place on the ground. She couldn't tell what he was thinking, and wondered if she'd angered him.
"Sesshomaru-sama! Rin missed you!" She seemed to have only just realized he was there, having been focused entirely on the ramen, and jumped up to wrap her arms around him. He placed a hand on her head as he watched Kagome warily before turning his full attention to her.
"Have you been good, Rin?" he asked quietly.
"Yes Rin was! She was very good for Kagome-chan! She kept Rin company when she was sad!" His golden eyes flicked over to her before returning to his ward.
"Well, I should probably get going," Kagome got up, dusting off her skirt. "The others will wonder where I've been." She grabbed her bag and waved to Rin, who waved back from her place by the stoic lord.
"Come and visit Rin soon Kagome-chan!"
"I will Rin! Stay safe!" She turned to leave, but heard a deep timbre begin to speak. She turned to see Sesshomaru watching her yet again.
"Onna, you have my thanks."
Her eyebrows rose into her hair in surprise, but then she smiled warmly in return before turning back around and leaving the clearing.
It wasn't until she was almost back to her own camp that she realized she hadn't had a single dream last night.