Chapter Fourteen: The Journey Ends
In the Demon Realm
Kagome ran her finger over the purple flesh of the strange fruit that Kurama had gathered for them sometime the night before. There were several of them left after she and Shippo had eaten some earlier that morning, and the rest were going in her bag to save for later. When the last one was tucked safely within a clean shirt she closed the bag and placed it over her shoulder, only looking back at her companions when everything was finished.
Shippo was sitting on a rock braiding bracelets out of blue grass stalks and giving them to Kurama, which the taller redhead would proudly wear later. Kurama was helping Shippo by finding strange seeds with round holes in the center to use as beads. Hiei, however, was nowhere to be found and it was assumed that he had run off ahead.
Kagome blushed as she thought her rude awakening that morning. Apparently Hiei was unwilling to wake her when she had fallen asleep, or at least she liked to think of it that way, and he had found himself trapped by her grip. Kurama explained to her later that Hiei feels more comfortable above ground, so it was only natural for him to move them both to a higher location. That higher location had been a tree branch. A tall, very cold, very wet tree branch.
It wasn't her fault that she had a panic attack when she woke up at dawn to Hiei poking her in the face with a twig. And when she panicked her grip on his hand tightened and when she went down he went down with her.
The demoness had landed on top of the smaller fire apparition. She didn't even have time to groan before she was thrown off of him and slammed into a tree. With the both of them then sporting bruised wrists and sore backs, Hiei left without even saying good morning.
"He thought that waking you would upset you again." Kurama had told her apologetically, not that it helped her feel better in the slightest. She hadn't even known that Kurama knew she cried!
Kagome looked at the bruise on her hand that was nearly gone, "he could have at least chose a lower branch," she mumbled and made her way towards the boys.
"I'm just glad that you guys didn't land on me. You fell really hard." Shippo chirped as he tied off his fifth bracelet and handed it towards Kagome.
The priestess pulled a face and took the woven grasses. For a few seconds she struggled, trying to tie it around her wrist with her non-dominate hand. The grass was slick and slipped easily from her fingers, she was about to go in with her teeth when suddenly there was another hand upon hers. Kagome startled as she looked up at Kurama, his eyes transfixed to the task of tying the stubborn bracelet.
"Ah... Thanks" she said under her breath. His arm brushed her fingertips when he pulled away and the young demoness noticed that Kurama didn't just have one bracelet that matched her own, but four. "Shippo, didn't you make one for yourself?"
The little cub scratched the back of his head. "Not yet, I might if I have time later if we stop."
Kagome was stumped. "Well, if you wanted one why did you give Kurama three extras?"
"They're not all for him." Shippo said matter-of-factly as he leaped to the taller redhead's shoulder, "he's only holding them for me. One's for Kuwabara, one's for Hiei and one's for... Botan."
Kurama grinned. "I thought the last one was for Yusuke."
Shippo scrunched his nose, making it look like he had just eaten a lemon. "I changed my mind. I don't like Yusuke. He doesn't deserve one."
Kagome couldn't help but agree with her little ward. The lead Spirit Detective hadn't exactly been kind, welcoming or forgiving towards them, and it wasn't as if he bothered to hide his annoyance whenever he was around them. Or at least her. He didn't seem to mind Shippo as much, but Kagome was a completely different story. And even though Yusuke wasn't there, they were still not free from his wrath. They would be back in his presence soon enough and exactly when they would be released from Koenma's custody was a mystery.
A mystery that Kagome was ready to have solved. After her visit with Sesshoumaru and the run-in with Hakkaku she just wanted to lay down in her own bed with a hot cup of tea and honey. Maybe some chocolate to make her feel better. But all of that was going to have to wait, at least long enough for them to get back into the human world.
Maybe she would be able to convince Kazuma to have a movie night. Though, she had a feeling that the Kuwabara household didn't own many coming of age dramas or romantic movies. He was more of the old school American gangster movie type and Shizuru was more the courtroom or social drama type.
If she had to choose between the two the priestess would rather watch movies about foreign crime bosses while Kazuma kept her up on what was happening rather than sitting in silence with Shizuru, save for a few sarcastic remarks, while trying to understand what the plot was.
While getting sidetracked in her thoughts Kagome nearly forgot what Shippo was talking about in the first place, but thankfully he and Kurama had already changed the subject. Now they were talking about the many different colors of bird-butterflies that he had seen during the trip. Just chattering along as happy as could be. He smiled when Kurama started telling him how bird-butterflies were all unique, like snowflakes, with different colors, patterns and tendrils. His mood was as bright as ever.
Kagome, however, was quite the opposite. She had emotions and thoughts weighing her down and untapped powers hidden away, begging for attention at the very edge of her senses. She could pretend to be happy all she wanted, for Inuyasha's sake, for Koga's sake, for Miroku and Sango's sake. But the cold hard truth was that she wasn't happy.
She was a lot of things. She was frustrated, she was angry, she was confused, she was tired, she was annoyed and she was perhaps a little depressed. But happy wasn't on the list.
It seemed that going to visit Sesshoumaru was a bad idea after all.
Pushing away any and all thoughts related to the trip that she had just endured, Kagome placed a fake smile on her face and interrupted the boys' conversation. "I'm all ready to go, are we all set?"
Kurama looked over at her and smiled, faltering only a little bit when he noticed the lack of sparkle in her eyes. If Shippo noticed, he didn't comment, instead he stayed quiet on Kurama's shoulder, gripping a lock of bright red hair for support. "I believe we're ready."
"Alright. You'll need to lead, though, Hiei is still mad at me so I can't sense him that well." She replied with an all-too-even tone.
Although Kurama hardly believed that Hiei's reasoning for hiding his aura was Kagome's fault, he refrained from correcting her. The last thing he wished for was to anger the priestess. She seemed to be in a foul mood, yet Kurama the exact reason eluded him. Sure, Hiei had been rude, but that was not a new occurrence and it had never befouled her mood so significantly. Especially considering how strangely well they had been getting along.
The only other explanation was the knowledge of prince Koga's death.
It was completely understandable for ookami to mourn the loss of a pack-mate, but wolves were usually more open with their sadness and were known to scream or cry out in mourning. Kagome, on the other hand, was reacting in a more reserved manner. Her eyes were distant, her gait was tense, her scents were clouded, her words were rehearsed. 'Her smile is not fooling anybody.'
It was so strange, nothing about her seemed very wolf-like. The only wolf demon trait that she seemed to display was her pack mentality towards her child and towards her makeshift household as well: the Kuwabaras. Not a trait that he had personally, but one that was easily noticeable. Aside from that she seemed so very...
Kurama paused his steps and looked over his unoccupied shoulder at Kagome, the demoness was shuffling her feet behind him as if eager to start a faster pace. A smile played at his lips as he shook his head. The thought was silly. She lived in the human realm for over five hundred years, of course she was bound to pick up a few human traits. Even he had. Though he had only been there a fraction of the time that she had.
Perhaps that explained everything. Perhaps having been born a demon and raised a human had fundamentally changed her natural instincts.
Perhaps she and Shippo were simply a new breed of wolf.
Hiei paused on the branch of a tree, not two yards from the portal site. It was quiet. Far too quiet to be normal and he hated it. The entire trip was too simple and it was starting to wear on his nerves like a sleeping limb.
Something was not right. The lack of demonic presences in the area was unnatural, even Kurama had agreed with him on that. The priestess had taken it as a good omen, with her simplistic human way of thinking it was only natural that she would think that the lack of a bad thing is a good thing. But that was always far from the truth. What was 'good' or 'bad' had nothing to do with what was normal.
Normal was the ocean rippling with small waves, predictable and unhurried. But this was the lack of an ocean completely, the water having been pulled away from the beach leaving a vast wasteland of dull damp sand. And yet the ocean was still visible in the distance, he could feel that something was off, he had felt something taunting the edge of his senses. But he couldn't for the life of him figure out what it was, and that infuriated him.
He had spoken to Kurama about it briefly the night before after he had moved to a higher vantage point. The fox seemed to believe that it may have been some sort of lingering power from the jewel, hiding their presence. That was his explanation as to why they or Koenma's various sensors hadn't been able to detect Kagome beforehand.
But that explanation didn't set right with Hiei.
If their presence was hidden, then there would still have been demons around. This was more as if Kagome had been wearing some sort of demon repellant perfume that neither he or Kurama were affected by.
Even from that distance the fire apparition was still able to sense the three of them.
He was able to sense Kurama much stronger than the other two because Kagome constantly kept her and the kid's auras hidden. At least, Hiei admitted, her ability was adequate in that regard. But he could still sense her presence thanks to his Jagan eye and their previous close proximity.
Their presence, not just hers, theirs. The kid was like an attachment to her, easily forgotten about when she and her shortcomings were so easy to focus on.
Though as of late, Hiei noticed with much chagrin, the kid was becoming equally an attachment of Kurama. The kid's disgustingly obvious need for approval from the male demon was bordering sickening.
A child being coddled at that age would amount to nothing, they are and would continue to be weak.
Not that the vixen knew how to properly raise a demon child.
Not that his own childhood was the ideal comparison.
Hiei's grip on the branch tightened leaving frayed claw marks. What was it about that girl that turned his burning hatred to gelatin? He had hated her enough to want to kill her. He had even considered slitting her throat that first night of their journey. And yet now that familiar disdain that he was so accustomed to in his life was shrinking and fluttering away. Leaving what in it's place something akin to pity.
He recognized the feeling, since it had happened to him before, but only ever twice:
The last time being when he defeated Shigure and Mukuro had confided in him.
The first time being when he saw his mother's grave.
Somehow the thought of comparing Kagome to those two events made him want to hate her even more. He did not care for the priestess, he didn't even like her. Though of course he had hated his mother as well, but then the hatred had simply dispersed as if it had simply blown away with the snow.
He had accepted Mukuro as more of a means to a front row seat for the power struggle than an ally as she had wished. But ever since she had bared her soul to him, he couldn't help but think of her as a confidante. Her pain and suffering reflected his own, but she was stronger than him and had come to accept things that he never could.
She had the ability to get into his head and under his skin just to irritate him. Just to try to get him to see something as she saw them that he couldn't grasp.
Just to plant an idea or thought in his mind so that it eats him alive, because that's what confidantes did. Hiei thought back to the words that the female Mazoku had said to him when he was at her palace only a few days ago and slammed the back of his head to the tree trunk.
"God dammit Mukuro."
Sometimes she was a meddling bitch.
It was a little past noon by the time the oblivious foxes made it to the portal site. Or at least Hiei thought that they were all pretty oblivious. The fox who thought that the other foxes were wolves walked under Hiei's branch and pulled out the communicator while the other foxes took in with astonishment that the corpses that had been there when they left were completely gone.
"Carrion creatures." The fire apparition said dryly. "Drank every last bit of blood from the ground, ate every rotting piece of flesh and ground the bones to dust."
Kagome glared up at him in disgust. "Thanks for painting a picture of it."
The elder redhead of the group cleared his throat as he closed the communicator, the image of Botan being snapped shut in his hands. "Botan will open the portal in a few minutes, she simply needs to find Ayame." He put the round disk in his pocket and looked over at Kagome with a weary smile. "And yes, scavengers played the biggest role, but the rain would be the culprit for cleaning the area of fluids."
"Eww." Shippo laughed out from his perch on Kurama's shoulder. For the first time in a long time Kagome thought that he sounded like a typical little boy, the kind who liked playing in mud and poking dead things with a stick.
"Boys are so gross." She said, making sure not to single any of them out. It happened in the past too, guys were gross when talking about dead things. At least Sango kept the gore talk to a minimum. "I'd rather you just told me that their bodies turned to ash and were carried away by the wind. Like what my powers do, it leaves less mess."
Hiei stood up from the branch he was lounging on and smirked grimly at her. He looked utterly delighted to be arguing with her and making her squirm. "Then you would rather be able to breath their dead ash into your lungs? To consume part of them? Repulsive."
"Hiei!" Kurama scolded.
The fire apparition turned to glare daggers at his friend. Then he smirked. "Death is vile. No matter what caused it. Murders like us are the filth of the earth, don't you agree, Youko?" And then he was gone, through the portal that had shimmered into existence the moment he stopped speaking.
Kurama looked taken aback. He could never remember Hiei ever calling him by that name, perhaps the first time they had met but never again afterwords. He couldn't begin to think about what had put the forbidden child in such a foul mood. And that hurt.
As Hiei's friend Kurama figured that he would continue to speak to him as they had before. Continuing on a conversation long after the others had quieted down, disguising battle plans and theories. But ever since the night before their telepathic link had been completely severed. Hiei had no desire to speak with him beyond that last statement.
He had seen the detective and Kuwabara argue and go for days without talking. But Hiei had never been the type to argue.
'He must have something important on his mind.'
"Kurama..." He jerked when he felt Kagome place her hand on his shoulder. Reflectively she pulled her hand back and scowled at the ground.
Kurama sighed. There he was only making a situation worse. "I apologize." He said reaching out to grab her hand. "I was lost in thought, you startled me." Her hand was so small compared to his, he was almost afraid that it would break just by holding it. But that was a foolish thought, because she was a demoness. All demonesses were far stronger than they looked. Yet, why did she look so frail?
"Your hand is cold."
The priestess slowly pulled her hand from his grip and held it against her chest. "Yeah well, my clothes are still damp..." She stood there for a few moments crossing and uncrossing her arms, but when she finally looked up at him she looked exasperated. "He's wrong. You're not filth, he was just twisting my words like he always does. And you're not a murder either. You're a good person. You're Kurama still... right?"
Quickly he shook out of it when he realized what she was asking was a lot simpler than that. Not that that wasn't a question that he wouldn't mind answering someday. Did regaining his old powers and emotions cause him to revert to his old persona, or was he still the Kurama that Yusuke had risked his life for the day they met? Or was he somehow a confused combination of the two?
"Youko Kurama, it is my full name. And thank-"
"Don't thank me. Please, there's nothing to thank me for." Kagome frowned and walked over to the portal. She just wanted to crawl into a tiny little hole and die. Slowly. She knew that Hiei was in a bad mood because of her. It was her fault that he was so harsh to Kurama. She rubbed her temples. A burden, that's what she was. All of her life she had been a burden, even in the past Inuyasha had said it to her face on a few occasions.
But she did learn something out of that trip.
Demons could in fact get headaches.
Kurama watched as Kagome disappeared through the portal without looking back at him. He looked down at his hand expecting to find something there, but it was empty. A tug on his hair alerted him to the child who was still perched on his shoulder.
"She's been in a bad mood all day, it isn't your fault." He said, chirping softly while he fiddled with the long red locks. "She'll tell us what's wrong eventually."
"How can you be so sure?"
Shippo smiled. "Because she's Kagome." He said as if that explained everything. The kit watched as a ghost of a smile appeared on Kurama's face. Shippo didn't falter, he couldn't give up just yet. Kagome had always praised him on his abilities. "Hey Kurama?"
"Isn't 'Youko' a girl's name?"
Especially his ability to keep people going with a smile on their face.
Kagome didn't know what she was expecting when she came back through the portal and landed on the coffee table in the Kuwabara's living room. Botan and Ayame were on either side of the portal, keeping it steady. Yusuke was standing next to a very calm looking Hiei. Shizuru could be heard digging around in the kitchen.
And Kazuma was directly in front of the coffee table with a lopsided grin on his face. With her standing on it they were roughly the same height. "Welcome back!" he's familiar gravely voice said with a chuckle.
After blinking a few times and taking in his white button down shirt and crooked tie, she smiled. Honestly smiled. The smile only widened further when he swung her off the table and onto the floor, not even thinking twice about touching her.
Yusuke looked to be biting the inside of his cheek.
A ripple appeared on the portal and shortly after Kurama and Shippo were on the table where she had just been, both of whom were grinning to some extent. The moment that Kurama had stepped down from the table there was a flash of black, and Hiei had disappeared once again through the portal. Kagome looked on, slightly confused as Yusuke stepped up and through the portal as well, waving carelessly as he went.
"Be safe!" Botan yelled after him as the portal sputtered out of existence.
Kazuma looked at the confused faces of Kurama and his new friends. "Koenma sent them out on a mission." He said, waving it off as nothing. "Somethin' really easy, I didn't want to go."
"Actually, Lord Koenma wanted him to stay here. For you Kagome, to help you get settled in again." The happy-go-lucky voice of Botan purred throughout the room, popping Kuwabara's ego.
Kazuma scowled and crossed his arms. "Well I wouldn't have gone even if he asked me."
The blue haired spirit guide perked up and poked him in the gut. "You're not cheating on Yukina, are you?"
"What!?" Kazuma shrieked. "Am not!"
As those two argued flippantly, Kurama attempted to catch Botan's attention by asking her what the mission was for. But before he could get an answer there was a clanging sound from the kitchen hallway.
Shizuru was walking towards them with a sudsy bucket and washcloth in hand. "Reunions later, Red. You've got the honors of washing my table that your grimy feet have stepped on." She handed him the bucket, which he took reluctantly, before draping the cloth over his shoulder. "I made sure not to wash it all week, just for you."
Kurama smiled weakly before giving in to the sigh he was trying to hold back.
"Oh, that reminds me!" Botan chirped, taking a brown paper bag from the inside of her sleeve. She handed it to Kagome. "Here, I was told to give this to you. Lord Koenma said that he had wanted to give it to you in person, but some things came up in the spirit realm."
The bag was light and small. She didn't know what to think. She wasn't expecting anything because she had already received the scrolls that she had asked for and the jewel was still resting on her collarbone. Slowly she opened the bag and peered into it.
A soft smile bloomed on her face as she slid the small green and gold hairpiece from the bag and into her hand.
Kazuma stared at it blankly for a few moments before recognition clicked in his head. "Wow." He said slowly. "That's kinda stalker-ish."
Kagome snorted a laugh.
A break from her self destructive thoughts was just what she needed.