Author's Notes: Before anything else, I would like to thank all the people who had written for updates on this story. There is nothing more touching than to read all your messages asking me not to give up on this project. I owe this small comeback to all of you, and I had promised before that I would not leave a story unfinished, so here is chapter 18 now. Please do bear with me, as I have less time now for updates, but I promise to move things along as best as I can.
I also need to limit this story's parallelisms with the actual storyline of Inu Yasha, because in the two years since my last update (bad Nana!), a lot has happened to the characters and many relationships have evolved (especially S x M, IY x Kag, even IY x Kikyou) to the point that the relationships being developed in this AU may no longer be mirror-images of their more modern counterparts in the series. It is also unfortunate that I have lost touch with the new twists, characters and plots of the later volumes of the IY world, but perhaps it is better this way as I cannot let this story drag on and expand. Perhaps new characters may be included, perhaps not, but we shall see, ne? For now, I will limit the storyline to the characters and events around volumes 27-28 of the series. We shall see how things go from there.
Disclaimer: After all this time, actual story and characters are still not mine.
"You know," said Miroku conversationally, "if you will just tell me what we're looking for exactly, maybe I will be able to help you a little."
This, after he had watched Sango go through every classroom on the freshmen's floor. His interest had been mildly piqued by the anxious way she was going through the classrooms. Most of his attention, however, was taken up by the puzzling notion that Sango was suddenly talking to him and asking for his help.
It had been most unexpected, and to be perfectly truthful, quite exhilarating. It was turning out to be the highlight of his day, and it was taking a great deal of effort on his part not to let it show. Trapping Sango into having lunch with him was one thing, but to have her initiating this kind of move on her own was another.
As he strove to retain a calm, nonchalant front, he did a hasty mental check-up to make sure that his defenses were up and ready to handle any assault that may be in the works. The cause of this startling turn of events was beyond him at the moment, but it was something Miroku intended to find out as soon as possible. It wouldn't do for him not to know what his quarry was up to.
"It might be something," Sango said at last, deep in thought. "Or it could be nothing at all. It's just…"
"Just…?" prompted Miroku as Sango fell silent again, continuing her search.
"The lab's empty!" she exclaimed after checking the chemistry laboratory.
"Were you expecting otherwise?" Miroku asked. "C'mon, what are you looking for?"
"Kagome-chan," she said after a brief hesitation. She wasn't sure if she could trust him not to blab, but if she were going to need some assistance from him sooner or later, he might as well know what was going on.
"Higurashi?" He asked, his brows up. "She'd certainly be easy enough to find. What makes you think she's missing though?"
"Her mother called me. She said Kagome wasn't back from school yet, and she had left no word. That's not like her to just disappear like that and--" said Sango.
Miroku shook his head. "Things like that happen all the time," he said, watching Sango with a sudden intense look, "but that's not the thing that's bothering you, is it, Sango?"
Sango stared at him, surprised at his sharp observation. "No," she said finally.
"Tell me," he said patiently.
Sango shivered. "I--I don't know," she said. "It's just a feeling, I guess. I mean, it could be nothing. Kagome-chan might have just forgotten to call home, but…if she's gone missing, this would not be the first time."
She walked past Miroku. "C'mon, we've got to check the other places of the school. The Kendo Club--"
Miroku caught on very quickly. "You think her disappearance has something to do with the Kendo people?" he asked, suddenly very interested.
Sango looked away, wondering uneasily how he could possibly be guessing correctly at her line of thought every step of the way.
"So that rumor about Sesshou Maru--"
"What rumor?" asked Sango a bit sharply.
"There was some vague talk about how Higurashi had figured in Sesshou Maru's…accident," said Miroku.
"His broken arm," Miroku clarified.
"Really?" said Sango uneasily. She wasn't sure if she wanted to feed Fukuzawa any details than what was necessary. He did not press the issue though.
The Kendo Club did not have practice sessions that day, and Sango found herself staring at the mute wooden doors as they stayed solidly shut.
"Even if Higurashi were here, I doubt it very much if Sesshou Maru would want people to find out that she was hanging around the Kendo Club," said Miroku from behind.
Sango turned to him, annoyed. "I wouldn't be so sure of that, if I were you," she said. She sighed as she turned back to stare at the closed doors. "Well, do you have a better idea where we're supposed to start looking?"
"How about outside?"
"The gardens!" breathed Sango. "I should have checked there first…!"
But even as they neared their destination, it seemed as though the gardens themselves wanted to have nothing more to do with Kagome.
"Well, look who we have here," remarked Miroku.
They stopped as a silhouette appeared and became distinct from the shadows of trees. Kagome erupted from the gardens, a grim look of determination on her face.
"Kagome-chan!" Sango gasped as she ran over to her friend. Before reaching her, though, Sango hesitated.
She had never seen her friend looking so…angry.
Kagome checked abruptly upon seeing Sango. "Sango-chan…what are you doing here?" she asked.
"Where were you? What happened? What are you doing here so la--" Sango stopped when she noted that Kagome was trembling. That couldn't be good, could it?
"Heads up," said Miroku softly.
From the direction where Kagome came from, another silhouette was rapidly disengaging itself from the mass of shadows from the garden.
"Oy, Kagome!" they heard a familiar voice call. "I'm not finished with you yet!"
Even as Sango turned to stare in surprise at the advancing figure of Inu Yasha, Kagome stiffened.
"Don't you dare follow me around!" she hissed. "I meant what I said back there!"
Sango glanced at Miroku uneasily, thinking that she had indeed made a mistake by getting him to accompany her. Clearly, she had overestimated the entire situation. Not only was his assistance not needed, she had invited him along for a free show.
Because whether anyone liked it or not, there was no stopping this latest tirade from exploding right in front of everybody.
It was stupid, it was totally undignified and Kagome didn't know why she did it. Something was driving her on. Perhaps it had been the tone of that sophomore Murakami Kagura's voice--soothing and patronizing at the same time, with just a hint of scorn underneath.
"I know what they're up to…"
As they stood facing each other in the school corridor that morning, Murakami had smiled coldly as she said, "they're going to rendezvous at the botanical gardens after classes. They always did, back in the days when they were together."
The tone of voice, the smile, the information--they were all calculated to hurt. The situation had all the makings of a trap, but Kagome had to admit it was quite effective. Perhaps Kagura had known all along that nothing was going to keep Kagome away, and she was now confirming the sophomore's belief.
Kagome was ready to cry when she found herself making headway to the gardens immediately after the dismissal bell had rung.
What are you doing? Her mind shrieked. Why are you even listening to her!
But there was no stopping this mad impulse.
And it seemed that the girl had not been lying either. Kitahara Kikyou was already there, waiting. At the sight of her, Kagome stopped and dodged for cover behind a tree.
Kami…did she see me? Kagome thought, her heart hammering as guilt and shame kicked in. That was close. Too close. She had been so preoccupied that she had not even noticed Kitahara until it was nearly too late.
But why would she even feel frightened at the thought of Kitahara seeing her this way?
Because it's not appropriate, Kagome! cried a voice inside her head. You're eavesdropping on a private meeting!
But it's so unfair! Why would Inu Yasha even want to rendezvous with an old flame of his? wailed another part of her head to herself.
Aah…but what's it to you? You don't exactly mean anything to him now, do you? The small voice inside her asked patiently, logically.
But Kagome knew it was not true. At least, it could not be entirely true. Not since that incident with Sesshou Maru…not since the morning after, when she thought she had heard him say--
"I want you by my side…"
How could he possibly say such a thing to her one day and decide to meet up with an old flame of his in the gardens the next? Did he mean what he said at all, or was it just a brief spurt of empathy owing to what they had gone through the night before?
Like it or not, Kagome was intent on finding out the reason for this tryst.
As for Kitahara Kikyou, she merely turned and regarded the direction where the strange rustling sound had come from, her face inscrutable. She stayed that way for a long time, until a new sound distracted her.
Kagome peered around the trunk of the tree as Inu Yasha slowly came into view.
"Well, I thought this day's never going to come," Inu Yasha said sarcastically as he finally spotted Kikyou. "You ditch me time and again and now you want to meet?"
From her hiding place, Kagome could just make out Kikyou's words as she answered, "you can go back the way you came if you don't want to see me, Inu Yasha. It's really that simple."
Inu Yasha snorted. "Don't be absurd," he said, then his voice dropped uncharacteristically until it became only a mutter as he continued, "of course I'd want to meet you. To clear up this ridiculous misunderstanding once and for all. Whatever it is."
As he said those words, Kagome could feel a slow, steady ache form in her chest. So he really doesn't hate her after all…
She wasn't given time to think about the matter further, for at his words, Kikyou whirled around, her voice unusually agitated as she said, "don't give me that! You knew exactly what happened! You were irresponsible enough to have caused that rumor! If you must know, it has caused tremendous damage to my record. Thanks to you, I may never get into university after I graduate, and—"
"That's a lie!" Inu Yasha shouted. "I never said anything that may have caused a rumor! Kikyou! You can't believe that I would do a thing like that to you! Ever since this started, there hasn't been a single day when I do not think about you! "
There was a short, sharp silence that followed when all Kagome could hear was the painful beating of her heart.
"Well, it's done and there's nothing anyone can do to erase it," said Kikyou, trembling. "It's too late to return to how we were before. I must be mad, calling you out to meet you like this. But I just---I just wanted to see you…"
She hung her head, and Inu Yasha made to move over to her, arms outstretched.
At this point, Kagome turned away, feeling that hearing and seeing anymore was going to make her sick, when she caught sight of a pair of dark shoes standing quietly a few feet away from her. To her horror, dark trousers were to be seen rising from them, giving way to more of the same as Kagome, petrified, slowly looked up at her fellow eavesdropper. She could see hands thrust into the pockets of those trousers…up, up her gaze went, past the meticulous male school uniform and onto the impassive face of Sesshou Maru.
Kagome did not quite know what happened next. She supposed she must have opened her mouth, intending to scream (although mercifully her throat had seized up), but one cold, slanting look from Sesshou Maru had quelled that impulse.
He turned back to the scene before them, his golden eyes narrowing as he took it all in. Then abruptly, he turned and walked away.
What was he doing here? What did he mean by this? Kagome wondered as the shock finally subsided. And found that she had thoughtlessly taken a few steps back while retreating from Sesshou Maru so that she wasn't hiding anymore.
She gasped as she turned to see Inu Yasha and Kikyou gaping at her. She had somehow emerged from behind the tree and had been backing away from Sesshou Maru and into their direction.
"Ka—Kagome!" Inu Yasha cried, arms still frozen in Kikyou's direction. After a second, he dropped them to his sides as he hurried to her. "Wha---what---!"
Kagome could feel the blood drain from her face as a rush of mortification hit her. This can't be happening…!
She felt Inu Yasha's hands close down like a vice on her arms.
"What are you doing here?" He asked, his voice rising.
But Kagome was staring at Kikyou. Noting the direction of her gaze, Inu Yasha turned back to stare at Kitahara.
Kikyou continued to look on sadly. "Is she…more precious to you now?" she asked, and without another word turned and hurried away.
"Kikyou!" Inu Yasha released Kagome and made to run after Kitahara. Realizing that it was too late, he halted after taking a few strides and stared after her.
When he turned back to Kagome, his face was livid. "How much were you able to take in?" He asked, his voice barely under control.
As he moved to approach her, Kagome suddenly said, "stop right there. Don't you dare come to me."
Inu Yasha froze in his tracks, an incredulous look replacing the thunderous expression he had been wearing just a few seconds ago. "Wait. You're angry…WITH ME!"
Kagome glared at him. "I'm sorry to have to say this, but I saw everything!" She cried.
Inu Yasha blinked. "Ev…everything?" He echoed.
"Everything from the beginning!"
Inu Yasha could not find anything to say to that, and after a while Kagome sighed. "Inu Yasha, just what in the world am I to you exactly?" she asked tiredly.
"Eh? Where are you going?" Inu Yasha asked as she started to walk away.
"I'm going home!" snapped Kagome. "And don't you follow me, you…you lousy two-timer!"
And that was how Sango and Miroku had found them.
"Oy, Kagome!" yelled Inu Yasha. "I'm not through with you yet!"
"Don't you dare follow me around!" hissed Kagome. "I meant what I said back there!"
She turned to Sango and closed her eyes as though she had developed a particularly nasty headache.
"I—I came because your mother called," began Sango awkwardly. "I thought you were in trouble; that's why I brought Fukuzawa along, and—"
Kagome raised her head to stare in astonishment at the sophomore. Miroku gave her a small wave.
"Oy!" sounded Inu Yasha from behind, and Kagome turned to flee. "I'll call you later!" she threw over her shoulder at Sango.
Sango and Miroku watched as the two disappeared, arguing as they went.
"Well, that's that," said Miroku. "It's been very…informative."
"Yeah," muttered Sango in disbelief.
There was a short silence before Sango lifted her head to look at Fukuzawa. "I'm sorry it turned out to be a waste of time, but—but I wish you'd keep this to yourself. I mean, there's no point in discussing this with anyone else, right?"
Miroku looked at her, his expression perfectly serious as he said, "only if you say the magic word."
And Sango erupted. "I knew it! I just knew it!" she railed as she stormed off. "I shouldn't have brought you along! What on earth was I thinking back there!"
Miroku was laughing as he caught up. "Relax, I'm just kidding!" he said as he drew level with her long strides. "And, indeed, what were you thinking in bringing me here?"
Sango eyed him with misgiving. "I just took you along because I thought there might be trouble and you were the only one who happened to be there, so don't you go concluding you're suddenly special or anything!" she said.
She turned away from him in a huff and they continued to walk side by side. For a brief moment, the swaying motion of their hands brought each into contact with the other. Sango felt the touch like she would a jolt of electricity.
"Hey! No touching!" cried Sango as she snatched her hand away.
"Sango, come on," he said in mock exasperation, "You ask me to accompany you this far and I've been good. What would it take for me to show you that you can trust me a little?"
"Oh, please." Sango rolled her eyes. "I never said I could trust you. I doubt if I ever will. Only…I think I've come to know more about you now…"
"You do?" he asked, caught off guard. "And how did this come about?"
She gave him a withering look before saying, "does that help any?"
"Does what help any?"
"Your game!" she said wearily. "You can stop it now. It's not getting you what you want, is it?"
"What are you talking about, Sango?" Miroku asked.
Sango took a breath. "I know that despite your tactics and your reputation, you've never succeeded in having an actual girlfriend before," she said.
The effect of those words was immediate. Miroku halted in mid-stride, the shocked expression on his face priceless. He stood there staring at her with wide violet eyes and his mouth hanging slightly open. It lasted only a few seconds--long enough for him to recover and to slip back into his mask, but it was a step to the right direction as far as Sango was concerned. It was about time he got his due.
The devil had chinks in his armor, after all. Sango had a feeling she would gleefully review this moment over and over in her mind for some time to come.
"That's quite an assumption," said Miroku, coolly amused. "Got any proof to back your statement?"
Sango shot back a cool, sidelong glance. "Let's just say I got that from a very reliable source," she said enigmatically.
Miroku fought to keep his brows from twitching into a frown. "Like who?" he wanted to know.
"I'm not in the habit of name-dropping," she said, not quite able to stop the grin from showing on her lips.
Man, but it felt so good to have the last word for once! She felt sure she was going to win this round. There was no way he was going to wriggle out of this one!
Miroku stood there, looking at her with an inscrutable expression. Then, as if a well-trained mask fell into place, he smiled.
"I don't believe you when you said you don't trust me," he said smoothly, expertly falling back to the previous argument before the disconcerting revelation that she had been asking about him. "You wouldn't have asked me to accompany you all the way here if you didn't. It just wouldn't make sense, would it, Sango?"
She froze as he moved a bit closer. She could feel the hair rise on her nape as he said teasingly, "could it be that despite all your highly convincing declarations against me, you're finally finding me interesting?"
And she leapt away as she felt something graze her butt. But not before she realized in a split instant that that something had been his hand. And not before she had lashed at him with an open palm.
"Why you…you pervert!" She breathed, full of outrage.
She watched him touch the side of his reddened face and felt the outrage mount as he laughed—laughed!—and said dryly, "this is getting to be quite a habit. But do bear in mind, Sango, you haven't come close to knowing anything about me…and you can never be off your guard whenever you're with me."
She would have wanted to say plenty to that, but the sight of him laughing only made her more glaringly aware of the foolishness of bringing him here. Going ballistic was only going to make matters worse and provide him with more ammunition against her. So she did the only thing she could think of doing at a time like this. Mustering all her self-control, she kept her head high as she turned from him and walked away.
Murakami Kagura knew how it felt to be afraid, but she had to admit that in agreeing to handle and maneuver the senior Sesshou Maru, she had gone in over her head.
Especially when he was here now, obstructing her path as she prepared to go home from cheerleading practice. She could tell that he had been to the rendezvous, but the plan had not gone the way it had meant to because it was very obvious that Sesshou Maru had not gotten himself into the fray.
"What was the purpose of your telling me about that rendezvous?" He asked again. There was nothing about him to betray the fact that he was angry as hell, but Kagura could sense it.
Mizuno Naraku…where the hell are you when you're needed?
To judge from the quiet grounds, nobody would come running to her even if she screamed for help.
"Get out of my way," she said, her voice not quite under control, and tried to barrel her way around the still figure blocking her path. A hand shot out from nowhere and bit onto her arm, effectively preventing her from going anywhere.
Sesshou Maru watched impassively as the younger girl struggled and tried to claw her way out of his grasp, not yielding until he got both her hands trapped, until she got tired and merely stood there, panting.
Kagura felt a chill run down her spine as Sesshou Maru looked down at her, a cold smile forming on his lips as he said, "I will not be used like that. You will tell me why you have chosen to inform me of that rendezvous, and who sent you."