Author's Note: This is quite an old idea of mine, but I never got very far with it for some reason. I ran across it recently while looking for something to stretch my brain a little between original projects, and decided to take a fresh stab at it. Hope you enjoy!
Warning: Rated M for violent imagery. Well, violent for me, anyway…
Kagome's eyes blazed with a foreign hatred, and Inuyasha's heart pounded in his chest as he stared into them, past the sharp flint of her arrowhead. Beyond her, amid the trees, Sango, Miroku, Shippo, and Kirara lay motionless on the ground, the scent of blood thick in the air. He couldn't tell if they were alive or dead, and even with his demon speed he knew he wouldn't be able to avoid her arrow at this range if he moved to help them. He could see her arms trembling slightly with the effort of pulling the bow taut, but there was not a flicker of remorse or weariness in her hard expression.
"Kagome…" he began carefully, his voice hoarse with tension.
"Give me the shards," she demanded, her sharp tone as foreign as the look in her eyes.
He lifted a hand protectively to the vial of jewel shards tucked into the collar of his haori. "Kagome, don't—"
"Give me the shards!"
He saw it happening a split second before it did, saw flames spark in her dark eyes, saw the bowstring tauten a fraction further, and he reacted instinctively at the same moment. She let loose the arrow just as he drew Tetsusaiga to block, and before he realized what he was doing, a wall of flame was shooting forth from where he stood, tearing the ground and everything in its path to shreds. Everything but the purifying arrow, which parted the flames effortlessly, tearing through the flesh of his hand, through the vial clutched at his chest, knocking him back against the tree before which he stood, and embedding itself in his heart.
The pain was excruciating, all the more so for being so dreadfully familiar—but nothing could compare to the sight of what he himself had done. As the flames of his Kaze no Kizu dissipated, and his vision swam with encroaching unconsciousness, he gaped in horror at the scorched and mangled bodies of the only friends he had ever known. The last thing he managed to focus on was the maimed female form on the ground directly in front of him, her skin blackened and bloodied, hanging loosely from her bones, her hair and clothes all but singed away, the flames of hatred that had filled her visage replaced only with blankness.
Dimly, he could feel the jewel shards shattering against his palm, pink light blossoming from beneath his fingers as fragments became further fragments, propelled away from one another by the force of the jewel's own power. "Kagome…!" he screamed with his very last breath, the darkness swallowing his vision until all he could see was her empty, lifeless face.
And then there was nothing.
Inuyasha awoke to the smell of fresh ramen.
Taking a nice healthy sniff, he heaved a contented sigh and cracked open an eye against the morning sunlight. It was warm, but there was just enough of a breeze to keep him from feeling the heat too strongly—good traveling weather. They'd be able to cover a lot of ground today.
"Morning, Inuyasha!" Kagome called up cheerfully, and Inuyasha glanced over the edge of the tree branch, nodding down to where she knelt at the campfire.
"Morning." He shoved off the branch and landed in an easy crouch, going over to sit beside her. "Where are Miroku and Sango?" he asked, his nose telling him that Kirara and the kit were still curled up in Kagome's sleeping bag.
"Sango went to take a bath. Miroku said he was going to look for berries—guess he's sick of ramen—but I'm betting he just snuck off to spy on her. If he doesn't come back in a minute or two, I'm going after him."
"Good thinking," Inuyasha grunted wryly. "If he's picking berries, I'll eat the Tetsusaiga."
"Try this instead," Kagome said with a grin, handing him a cup of steaming ramen. "Digests easier."
He flashed a slight smile back and took the cup—but as she pulled her hand away, she flinched, hissing in surprise. "What is it?" he frowned, concerned.
"Mm," she mumbled, inspecting the inside of her wrist. He peered over to find a long thin line of red running parallel to her veins. "Just a scratch. You ought to watch those claws of yours."
"Feh," he scoffed. "You ought to watch them—never know what I might do to you, clumsy."
She rolled her eyes. "Don't be silly. You could never hurt me. I'm your only source of ramen, remember? Your stomach wouldn't allow it."
He snorted, scooping up a clump of noodles and slurping them into his mouth. As he did so, however, a strange feeling crept over him, raising the hairs on the back of his neck like a chill wind—but the breeze wasn't blowing at the moment. He frowned, glaring into his cup and poking thoughtfully at the noodles with his chopsticks.
"Something wrong?" Kagome asked.
"Hm?" he glanced up. "Oh—no. I think I had a dream or something, but I can't remember what it was about. Just kinda weird. You know, one of those ones where it feels so real it's like you were really somewhere else for awhile? But I can't remember what it was…"
Kagome shrugged. "It'll probably come back to you eventually. Happens to me all the time—I'll be picking up a jewel shard after we've slain a demon or something, and all of a sudden I'll get a flashback to some dream I'd had the night before where we had to enter a pie-eating contest because somebody accidentally baked a jewel shard into one of the pies."
"A pie-eating contest?" Inuyasha repeated, bemused.
"Yeah—people in my time sometimes have contests to see who can eat the most of something in the shortest amount of time without passing out or throwing up or whatever."
"They win prizes."
"And the food is free?"
Kagome nodded. "Yep."
"Can I have a pie-eating contest next time we go through the well?"
She laughed. "You don't just do it by yourself. You have to compete against other people. Otherwise you're just pigging out—and that's not free."
"So we'll get some other people then," he said, shrugging.
Kagome shook her head and got to her feet, still grinning. "Somehow I think you'd be at an unfair advantage. I'm going to go find Mir—"
They both looked up toward the trees across the clearing, in the direction of the hot-spring.
"Never mind," Kagome sighed, taking a seat again.
Miroku and Sango returned a few minutes later, Miroku sporting a fresh lump on his head, and Sango a sour expression. The group finished their breakfast and packed up camp, setting on the road again at a relatively leisurely pace. They had gotten word of an uptick in demon activity near a village some miles away, and they were headed in that direction to see if the problem had anything to do with Naraku, as these things so often did. The slimy bastard had been eluding them for the past couple of months, and it was really getting tiresome. Truth be told, Inuyasha wasn't convinced that this lead was going to pan out any better than the last few had, but it was all they had to go on for the time being.
As the day wore on, despite the sunlight and the pleasant breeze, Inuyasha found himself feeling slightly on-edge—as if there were an itch at the back of his brain that he couldn't scratch. He snapped at Kagome when she took an unusually long time coming back from a bathroom break, and she snapped back in kind, which did little to improve his mood. By lunchtime they had fallen into a steady stream of bickering, and Miroku, Sango, and Shippo, having wearied of playing referees, took to riding several yards ahead of them on Kirara during the afternoon.
It was nearing dusk when they reached a small village, and Inuyasha knew the others were going to lobby to stay the night.
"Please, Inuyasha?" Kagome entreated when he made a disgruntled face. "I'm beat, and we've camped out every night for nearly a week."
"I don't know," he grumbled. "There's something about this place. I don't like it."
"You don't like anything," Sango dismissed wearily. "Look, I know you don't like staying in human villages, but it won't kill you to do it every once in awhile. And anyway, it's nearly nightfall, and this place is right here."
"The headman has agreed to allow us use of one of the rooms at the inn," Miroku contributed.
"And food too!" Shippo chimed in from Kagome's shoulder.
Inuyasha looked from one expectant face to the next, his brow still creased with a frown, but his resistance was crumbling. "Fine—we'll stay."
The truth was, he wasn't really sure why he was so dead-set against staying in the village. Granted, he generally preferred the familiar comfort and privacy of the forest over the gawking crowds of a human village, but it wasn't like he wasn't used to it by now. This village was no different from any other—he didn't sense any demon auras or other signs of threat, and none of the villagers seemed to be possessed or plotting against them (which was more than he could say for a lot of the villages they'd stayed in previously). And yet, something bothered him about it. It was that little inexplicable feeling prickling at the back of his neck, telling him that something was wrong, that they shouldn't be here.
They had a relatively pleasant dinner in their room, and then Kagome went to use the bath house out back, since she hadn't taken advantage of the hot spring by their campsite that morning. Meanwhile, the others rolled out the bedding and set up the screen that would divide the women from the men. Inuyasha was feeling fidgety, wondering if Kagome intended to stay out in that bath until she was one big fucking prune, and resisting the urge to go out there and check on her—just to make sure. He was pacing back and forth in one corner of the room, on the verge of giving in to the impulse, when the door finally slid back, and Kagome stepped in wearing a white yukata loaned to her by the headman's wife. She flashed him a small smile as she crossed the room to tuck her regular clothes into her bag. Then she stood up, facing away from him, and he frowned at the slight tension in her form, as if she was nervous about something. When she turned around and looked at him at last, the nervousness showed in her expression as well, though she tried to maintain that easy smile.
"Hey," she said quietly. "Can we talk for a second?"
"Sure," he replied. "What about?"
"Not here—outside." His frown deepened with confusion as she grasped his hand and gently tugged him along beside her out of the room. She led him down the hallway, out of the inn, and then continued straight out into the forest, carrying on down a path of her own making until the village was completely out of sight.
Inuyasha was more confused than ever when she finally stopped in a small copse—not even really a clearing, just a space free of underbrush—and turned to face him.
"Inuyasha, I…" she began—and then laughed and glanced away self-consciously. "Man, this is harder than I thought it would be."
Inuyasha blinked, at a loss. "What's harder than you thought it would be?"
She bit her lip, a faint blush painting her cheeks as she seemed to force herself to look up at him once again. "I…I want to…tell you something, I guess. But I don't know how."
"What do you want to tell me?"
She rolled her eyes. "Well if I knew how to tell you that then there wouldn't be a problem, would there?"
"Uh…yeah…I guess not." He was getting that feeling again, on the back of his neck. He felt gently torn in two, part of him rather enjoying being alone in the woods with Kagome, but another part of him warning of some nameless, faceless danger on the horizon. But what could possibly put them in danger? There was nothing here—no demon auras, no nothing. It was just the two of them.
It was then that he realized they'd been staring into each other's eyes in silence for about a minute and a half—and they were standing quite close, come to think of it. He didn't know what to say or think, but the silence was actually pretty nice. Her eyes seemed to be speaking volumes in the dim light.
Then, just when he was on the verge of losing himself in her gaze, her eyes fell closed, and she leaned up to press her lips ever-so-gently against his, her palms resting lightly on the front of his haori. His heart leapt in surprise, and for a moment he froze, once again caught between joy and terror (although this time he suspected the terror had a valid source)—but then he brushed his lips cautiously against hers in return, marveling at the rush of sensations streaming through him from just that slight contact.
She gave a small sigh that sounded almost like relief, and then wrapped her arms around his waist, pressing her body against his and deepening the kiss. He could hardly believe it was happening, hardly believe that this was her soft hair sliding through his fingers, and her soft curves pressed close against his chest. He felt one of her hands slide around again, loosening the front of his haori until it slipped beneath the heavy fire-rat fur, caressing him through the thin fabric of his kosode.
This was the last thing he could possibly have expected, and yet, somehow, like that prickling at the nape of his neck, like that itching at the back of his brain, it was strangely…familiar. He had imagined what it would be like to kiss her countless times, but this was something else, as though he had dreamed this and forgotten it.
As though he had dreamed it…
Somehow he felt the cold steel a split second before it pierced his belly, a yelp of pain and surprise tearing from him as he reared back in shock. He glanced from the knife handle sticking out of his abdomen up to Kagome—who now displayed none of the demure affection she had shown moments before. Her expression was stone, her eyes dark and malevolent, a cold smirk tugging at the corners of her lips.
"Too easy," she murmured, voice dripping with disdain.
Inuyasha's head was spinning—and yet, he was not as surprised as he should have been. Somehow, he had known this was coming. He had known. But how could he have known?
He yanked the knife from his gut, grunting and pressing a hand to his wound as he threw the weapon aside. "Kagome," he gritted. "What the fuck is going on? What's happened to you? If you're still in there somewhere, fight it, goddamn it!"
Her smirk bowed further. "You're barking up the wrong tree, dog-boy; what you see is what you get. Now," she reached into a nearby bush and produced a bow and quiver, "say goodnight."
He made to leap at her before she could nock the arrow, but the sound of someone crashing through the underbrush toward them from the village distracted him. Kagome heard the same, and whirled around just in time to fire at their uninvited guests instead—first Miroku, then Sango, then Shippo, then Kirara, faster than he had thought her capable of, each dropping to the ground like a sack of cement, with scarcely a gasp.
"No!" he cried out, tackling her from behind just as the fourth arrow was released. She grunted at the impact, but gave as good as she got, struggling against him with much greater strength than she normally possessed. He caught a flash of deep purple, and realized that the jewel shards in the vial she wore around her neck were glowing with an unholy light, pulsing in time with her heartbeat. Maybe they were what was controlling her. Maybe if he could get them away from her, he'd be able to call her back to herself…
With one sharp yank, he snapped the chain and rolled away, flipping to his feet a short distance from her. She gave a scream of rage. "Give them back!"
"Fuck that, Kagome," he replied, tucking the vial into his haori and maintaining a defensive stance. "Dammit, get ahold of yourself already—this isn't you, I know it! You've fought off shit like this before—you can do it again!"
"I have no desire to fight off anything but you, half-breed," she spat, clambering to her feet and nocking an arrow once more, her eyes flashing with utter hatred.
"Give me the shards."
He lifted a hand protectively to his chest. "Kagome, don't—"
"Give me the shards!"
Her eyes flashed, her arrow loosed, and he drew Tetsusaiga, instinctively lashing out—and all at once, the world was aflame. Once again he was pinned to a tree, the woman he loved lying dead at his feet—only this time, he knew for a fact that it was his doing, and his friends had fallen victim as well.
Even as he felt the vial of shards splintering beneath his palm, felt the horror of his actions, one thought rose up above the rest:
I've been here before…
"Kagome…!" he screamed as darkness overtook him.
And then there was nothing.
Inuyasha cracked an eye open against the harsh sunlight.
The smell of ramen drifted up from below him, and the forest twittered with the light strains of birdsong, but Inuyasha found himself immediately on edge. He peered around him into the foliage for some sign of a threat, strained all his senses for any demon auras or other potential enemies—but there was nothing. Only a quiet morning in the forest.
"Morning, Inuyasha!" Kagome called up to him, and he glanced down at her quickly, his heart jolting at the sudden sound. Then he frowned at his own jumpiness and pushed himself out of the tree, landing a little harder than necessary.
"Something wrong?" Kagome asked, looking askance at him as he wandered over and flopped down to a seat beside her.
"It's nothing," he grumbled, still staring around the clearing distractedly. "Where are Miroku and Sango?"
Kagome was still peering at him with a slight frown, but he barely noticed. "Sango went to take a bath. Miroku said he was—"
"If he's picking berries, I'll eat the Tetsusaiga," Inuyasha interrupted vaguely. Then he glanced over at her, confused at the words that had come out of his own mouth. He found her staring back at him with an identical expression.
"How did you know that's what I was going to say?"
Inuyasha shook his head and glanced away again, still frowning. "I don't know…"
Kagome continued to stare at him for a moment before suddenly realizing the water over the cookfire was boiling. She dragged her gaze away and reached for the pot and one of the instant ramen cups. Pouring a bit of the water to the mixture, she stirred it up with a pair of chopsticks.
"Here," she said, nudging Inuyasha's arm with the ramen cup. "Breakfast."
He looked down at the cup for a moment, still a bit dazed, then reached out to take it. As she pulled her hand away, she gave a hiss of surprise, clutching her wrist.
"What is it?" he said.
She shook her head and gave a wry smile, inspecting a long, thin cut along her forearm. "Just a scratch," she said. "You ought to watch those claws of yours."
Inuyasha found himself staring down at the hand he had used to take the ramen from her. The tip of his index claw was lightly stained with her blood.
The day's travels were not enjoyable. Inuyasha couldn't seem to shake the feeling of foreboding that had been following him since waking that morning. Every time Kagome left his sight he found himself getting antsy and increasingly irritable—but he couldn't understand why. There was nothing threatening anywhere in the vicinity, and yet he couldn't get rid of this impression that something terrible was going to happen. And he had no idea what.
Meanwhile, he knew he was driving everyone nuts. He kept trying to follow Kagome when she went to the bathroom, and every time anyone split up he would freak out and try to get them to stay together. By the end of the day, the others were barely speaking to him—so when they all advocated spending the night in a small village they were passing through, he knew he didn't have much chance of talking them out of it.
Inuyasha paced back and forth in front of the inn as he waited for Kagome to come back from the bathhouse. He had only just restrained himself from following her in there as well, but her patience with him was clearly worn out. When he finally heard her footsteps rounding the corner of the inn, he rushed over to her and snatched her up in a fierce hug before he could even question why he was doing it.
Kagome stiffened in his arms at the sudden embrace, but he heard her chuckle a little nervously into his shoulder. "What's gotten into you today, anyway?" she said.
Inuyasha shook his head, still not releasing her. "I don't know," he replied—and it was the truth.
Kagome wriggled a bit until he released her, and she gave him a slightly wry smile. "I think we need to have a little talk," she said.
Inuyasha raised an eyebrow at this, nonplussed, and her smile softened slightly as she set her ordinary clothing on the engawa beside them, grabbing him by the hand and pulling him with her into the forest. The further they got from the village, the more nervous he became—but he wasn't sure if it was the same unease he'd been feeling all day, or something new that was more to do with being alone with Kagome. Or maybe both of them at once.
When she turned back to him, there was a surprisingly tender look in her eyes. She gently ran her fingers over his face—and before he'd even realized what he was doing he found himself leaning towards her, gathering her close to him as he pressed his lips against hers. It was almost like it hadn't been his decision. Or like it was a decision he had already made.
She returned the kiss hungrily, one hand tangling in his hair as the other slipped beneath his haori.
"No!" he shouted, pulling back suddenly, eyes flying open as he somehow knew what was about to happen. But it was too late. He felt the knife pierce his skin even as he pushed her away.
He staggered back a few steps, glancing from the knife to the cold smirk on Kagome's face, wondering what could possibly have come over her—and more than that, how the hell he could possibly have known that this was going to happen. He'd been waiting for it all day, waiting for Kagome to betray him. But Kagome would never betray him.
Why was this happening?
He pulled the knife out and stared at the blood staining the blade, then threw it aside. "Kagome," he gritted out, "what's going on?"
Her smirk bowed further, and she reached into a nearby bush for a bow and quiver. "Die, Inuyasha," she muttered.
He lunged at her, but suddenly her aim shifted and she fired in rapid succession at something crashing through the forest behind them. Inuyasha knew before he twisted in mid-step that he would see each of his friends crumpling to the ground with an arrow through the chest—and yet the sight made him hesitate just long enough. Just a moment too long.
He ducked just in time to dodge the arrow that whistled past his ear, and dove under her defenses to tackle her to the ground and snatch the vial of jewel shards from around her throat. His momentum threw him clear of her, and by the time he had righted himself again, she too was on her feet, her arrow aimed once more at the vial of shards clutched against his heart.
"Give them back!" she screamed, and the sound shook him to the core. Not because he was afraid of her, or even afraid of dying at her hands, but because he was afraid of what he might do next.
His first instinct was to draw the Tetsusaiga to block her arrow—but something inside him told him not to do it, that it would mean disaster if he drew the sword. His fingers clenched convulsively on the hilt for a moment, but visions of the woman before him lying dead and burned on the forest floor flashed through his mind, and he knew he couldn't. There had to be another way.
"Do it," she spat, her eyes sparking with an unholy light.
Inuyasha shook his head slowly and released Tetsusaiga's hilt.
"Do it!" she demanded, the bow shaking in her grip with the force of her rage.
Inuyasha swallowed and shook his head again. "Kill me if you have to," he said. "But whoever or whatever you are, just please let Kagome go."
The fire flared in her visage, and she let out a terrifying shriek as she set her arrow loose. Inuyasha grunted at the impact of the tree behind him, the shattering of the vial of shards in his hand—but there was nothing that could compare to the pain he felt as the darkness descended over him, and he watched Kagome pick up her discarded knife from the ground and, wearing a vicious smile, slit her own throat.
Inuyasha sat up straight and dropped to the ground the second his eyes were open, immediately searching the perimeter of the clearing for the enemy he knew was near.
He whirled and crouched instinctively into a defensive stance, brandishing his claws, lip raised in a snarl. As he took in Kagome's bewildered expression, her hand raised as if she had been about to tap him on the shoulder only to snatch her hand back from his aggressive posture, he suddenly felt a bit guilty for worrying her. He took a deep breath and consciously tried to relax his tensed muscles.
"What's wrong?" she asked, still looking concerned as she watched him straighten up, curling his claws back into fists at his sides.
He shook his head, staring back at her. He couldn't figure out why, but he had the strangely incongruous impulse to protect her and run from her at the same time, even though she was clearly not doing anything the least bit threatening. This was Kagome, he tried to remind himself. Kagome wasn't a threat to him.
"I don't know," he said. But it's you, his mind added in a low whisper. It's something about you…
She kept her eyes on him warily as she turned back to walk over to the campfire again to finish preparing breakfast. He hadn't even noticed the scent of ramen on the air. When she straightened up again and turned to offer him a cup of piping hot noodles, he glared at it in suspicion for a moment before slowly crossing over to her and reaching out to take it.
She hissed as she drew her hand away again, and he looked over to see a thin line of red blossom on her forearm.
"Just a scratch…"
Inuyasha hardly let her out of his sight all day, watching her constantly for what he knew was to come. How or when or where he couldn't tell, but he knew that something bad was going to happen, and it was going to come from Kagome. She seemed understandably distressed by his behavior, but other than that she showed no outward signs of what was to come. The longest he left her alone all day was when she went to the bathhouse.
And now here they stood, in the darkness of the forest, and Inuyasha's senses were more on edge than ever.
Kagome's smile was tremulous as she lifted a hand to run her fingertips over his face, trying to soothe away the tension in his expression. In spite of himself, he couldn't help relishing the gentleness of her touch, wishing that whatever lurked in the darkness of the moments ahead would just go away so he could sink into her arms and enjoy the feeling of her the way he'd always wanted to.
He raised a hand to cover hers, pulling it gently away from his face. He needed to keep hold of his senses, and if he was going to do that, he needed a little bit of distance.
"I wish you would tell me what's bothering you," she said softly, a note of hurt in her voice.
He glanced down at her soft ivory palm, eyes drifting over the smooth skin of her wrist and lingering on her forearm.
His brow pinched inward as he stared at her arm. There was something else now, tugging at his mind. Something he was missing. Something that was missing.
The scratch on her arm. The one he'd accidentally given her this morning when he'd taken the ramen cup from her at breakfast.
It was gone.
Inuyasha's hand flew up just in time to stop her other arm as she thrust a dagger at his chest. He stared at her face, twisted with rage, as she struggled against his grip with unnatural strength—but finally he managed to wrench the knife from her fingers and yanked her toward him with his other hand, driving the blade into her abdomen in one swift movement.
"Where is Kagome?" he demanded furiously. "What have you done with her?"
The woman in front of him lifted her eyes to his slowly, dark blood coating her teeth and lower lip as she smirked up at him and gave a weak, hollow laugh.
"I am Kagome," she whispered.
And then her eyes fell closed, and her muscles slowly slackened, her arm sliding from his grip as her body collapsed to the ground in a boneless heap.
Inuyasha stared down at her lifeless form, blood seeping from the corner of her mouth and the wound around the knife still protruding from her stomach—and suddenly his heart clenched with a vague panic. What if he was wrong? His eyes flicked over to her forearm, checking again for the scar, then the other again just to be safe—but it wasn't there. This couldn't be her. He was sure of it. He remembered cutting her only just this morning. It couldn't have healed by now. Kagome was fine. He just had to find her, wherever she was.
Footsteps raced toward him through the forest, and he looked up belatedly as Miroku and Sango stopped short in the small clearing, Sango gasping at the sight in front of her. Shippo and Kirara were close behind, and the second Shippo lay eyes on the still figure at the center of the clearing he burst into floods of tears, tugging at the girl's arm desperately. When Sango fell to her knees beside Kagome's body, hands hovering over the still bleeding wound as though she wanted to help but didn't know what to do, Miroku looked up at Inuyasha, a sharp horror in his expression.
"What did you do?" he said quietly.
Inuyasha looked up, startled, and swallowed, glancing down at the body again, then back up to Miroku with a shake of his head.
"It's not what it looks like," he stuttered. "That isn't Kagome—it's someone else. They've taken her somewhere."
"Who has?" Miroku said, his voice still wary.
"I don't know—she died before I…I mean…" He looked back down at the body again. All signs of rage or cruelty were gone from Kagome's expression, leaving only the blankness of death.
"Inuyasha," Miroku said slowly, calmly, "what made you think that this wasn't Kagome?"
"Her arm," he said. "There was a cut on her arm this morning, and it isn't there now."
Sango leaned over to inspect both of Kagome's arms, then looked up at Miroku, shaking her head. "I don't see a cut," she said, her voice hollow, unsteady, "but I didn't notice one this morning either…"
"Neither did I," Miroku replied quietly, looking up at Inuyasha again.
Panic rose inside him once more as he looked back and forth from one stricken face to another, and over Shippo's silently sobbing form. "It was there," he said, his mouth going dry as he looked desperately up at Miroku. "This morning, I'm sure it was there. It was an accident—it happened when she was making the ramen."
"Inuyasha," Miroku said, "neither of us saw any cut…"
"But it was there!" he shouted, as if his own conviction could make it true. But now he was beginning to doubt even his own memories. He cast his mind back over the events of the day, and found he was having trouble drawing a clear picture of anything at all. Each moment of his existence for the last twenty-four hours seemed to be in a state of flux, occupied by conflicting recollections, each slightly different from the next, as though several days had occurred all on top of one another. What if they were right? What if the scar had never been there?
He stared down at Kagome's face again, so familiar, so still. Only moments ago he had seen it twisted with an insane fury, but now he wasn't so sure he had seen that either. He could also feel her arms around him, taste the sweetness of her kiss—though he knew he had never kissed her before. Or so he thought.
"Oh my god," he breathed. His heart clenched as he stared down at his right hand, the knuckles stained with her blood. "Oh my god…"
He was going to be sick. This couldn't be happening. He needed another chance. Just one more chance to try again. One more layer of reality to make things right. He couldn't live with himself if this was it.
He barely even felt the ground thudding up to meet him as his legs gave out and he dropped to his knees, or the tears on his cheeks as he stared at her. The woman he loved. The woman he'd killed.
And then, he caught it. Somewhere far away through the trees. It was faint, but it was there. A heartbeat, a pulse, and a familiar scent.
Inuyasha's eyes flew open wide and he staggered to his feet. He hesitated only a moment before whirling around and tearing off in the direction of the trace. His lifeline. He barely heard Miroku's rough voice calling after him as he darted through the trees. Please, he thought desperately, please, please, please…
The branches snatched at his hair and sleeves, but he didn't care. He didn't stop or slow his pace until he finally burst through the underbrush into another narrow gap in the forest—and saw Kagome stumbling towards him.
She was covered in scrapes and bruises, and the unfamiliar kosode that had been hastily tied around her was torn and dirty, but she was alive. He barely slowed his momentum as he thudded into her, crushing her against him and dropping to his knees, body racked with gasping sobs that he couldn't seem to control.
"Inuyasha," she wheezed, clutching at him in relief and surprise. "Are you alright? What's happened?"
"I thought I'd killed you," he said with a shudder, face buried in her throat as he tried to breathe in all of her he could. "I thought I'd killed you…"
She hugged him a little tighter, her voice still a little bewildered as she tried to soothe his distress. "I'm fine, Inuyasha. I'm alright…"
He pulled back suddenly and tugged her forearm into view. Blinking through tears, he confirmed the presence of a long thin scar across her skin. Without even thinking, he bent down to kiss it fiercely, trailing kisses all along the scar and then scattering them across her face until finally capturing her lips in one long, breathless embrace.
When he finally released her, she panted a little, staring back at him with a strange mixture of bewilderment and affection. He pressed his forehead against hers, eyes falling closed as he still held her face in his hands. "I'm sorry, Kagome. I'm so sorry…"
"Inuyasha," she said, still a bit dazed as she cupped his cheek with her palm. "What happened?"
He shook his head, still not opening his eyes. "I don't know. I still don't know—something terrible. Where have you been? What happened to you?"
"One of Naraku's minions, I think," she said. "They must have drugged me with something while I was in the bath, because I woke up in a cave a little way away from here, and the jewel shards were gone. He wasn't one of Naraku's best and brightest though—I took care of him with a sharp rock."
"A rock?" Inuyasha said, something almost like a chuckle quaking through the tears still on his cheeks as he looked up at her again.
"Well, I put some spiritual power into it," she explained with a sheepish half-grin.
He nodded with a slight smile, settling back on his heels and swiping the tears from his face with the sleeve of his haori. Kagome's smile faded as she caught her first full view of his expression.
"What happened, Inuyasha?" she asked again quietly.
Inuyasha looked down at his hands in his lap, a frown creasing his brow again. "They sent someone back in your place," he said darkly.
He nodded. "I don't know who or what, but she looked exactly like you. I couldn't even tell the difference by scent. Maybe it was because of the yukata—she must have stolen it from you when they took you from the bathhouse. But I knew…I knew what was going to happen. Ever since this morning…"
Kagome nodded slowly. "I thought you'd been acting strange all day."
Inuyasha glanced away, once again trying to sort through the strange mix of conflicting memories he had of the day, all layered on top of one another. "It's almost like…like I'd lived through it before," he murmured. "I remember it happening before—you cornering me, trying to kill me—"
"I tried to kill you?" Kagome said.
"Well, she did—the one who looked like you. She killed the others too, and she pinned me to the tree, and I drew the Tetsusaiga and…"
The Kaze no Kizu flashed through his eyes, and he saw their bodies strewn before him again.
"It kept happening, again and again—but then I would wake up, and the day would start over again. Always with the same ending. All of you dead, and me pinned to a tree with your arrow through my heart. And no matter what I did, I couldn't stop it. Not until this time, when I killed you first."
"Oh, Inuyasha," Kagome breathed, reaching out to brush a lock of hair back from his face. He looked up at her guiltily, but found only sympathy in her eyes. When she leaned forward to wrap her arms around his neck, he buried his face in her shoulder again gratefully, holding her close.
"You're not safe with me, Kagome," he whispered after a long silence, and he felt her stiffen. She pulled back suddenly, looking alarmed.
He swallowed. He couldn't quite believe what he was about to do, and he reached out to gently stroke her face with his roughened palms. "It wasn't you, but it could have been. Miroku and Sango were right—I acted too fast, on instinct, before I could be really sure. I may have saved the rest of us this time around, but in every single scenario, you were dead."
"Inuyasha," Kagome said quickly, gripping his wrists as though she was afraid he was about to get up and leave right then and there. "This was not your fault. Whatever that imposter said or did is nothing I ever would have done."
"I know that, Kagome," he said. "Not on purpose, anyway—but don't you get it? It didn't have to be someone else made to look like you—it could have been you under some kind of spell or something, or it could have been me that was going crazy, seeing things that weren't there. Either way, you would have ended up dead, and it would have been my fault."
Kagome shook her head firmly, still holding onto him. "I don't believe that, Inuyasha. You know me. You would never hurt me if there was anything you could do to stop it. I don't believe you could have hurt me if you hadn't known somewhere deep down that it wasn't really me. I don't think the Tetsusaiga would have let you do it if you hadn't known somehow."
"You don't know that, Kagome."
"Yes, I do," she insisted stubbornly. "And even if I'm wrong, I don't care. I love you, Inuyasha."
He drew in a sharp breath, gaze snapping back to hers. It wasn't like he hadn't known it was true, but he had never actually heard her say it before. He was surprised how strongly the words affected him, even more so because she didn't look away or try to hide what she had said.
"I would rather die tomorrow at your side than live a hundred years without you," she finished quietly. "That's the truth."
He stared at her for a long moment, thumbs gently caressing her cheeks. Then he leaned in and kissed her deeply, feeling her arms slide up to curl around his neck, his own wrapping her about the waist and drawing her against him. When he drew back from her lips he feathered kisses across her cheek and hugged her even closer, wrapping himself in her scent. He wanted to say the words back to her, knew she wanted to hear them—but he also knew that she understood why he couldn't. Not yet. And even if he couldn't say it, she knew the truth.
"Thank you," he whispered instead. It was enough, for now.
The rest of the group was immensely relieved to learn that Kagome was safe and sound, and none of them really ended up getting much sleep that night. Both Kagome and Inuyasha had to repeat their individual accountings of what had happened for the others' benefit, and the adults spent most of the evening debating various scenarios and trying to work out exactly what had occurred. Miroku advanced the prevailing theory that the time loop had been triggered by the arrow piercing the vial of jewel shards in Inuyasha's hand as he fell unconscious. His intense desire to rescue Kagome must have reacted with the magic of the shards and sent him back to a point in time before the scenario had played out—but, due to the jewel magic's fickle nature, without the benefit of complete foreknowledge.
By the time they had all talked themselves out, Shippo was already fast asleep in Kagome's lap, worn out from worry and relief. Kagome tried her best not to wake him as she transferred both of them to the futon that had been laid out for her on the women's side of the privacy screen.
Sango cleared her throat at Inuyasha when he strolled over to their side of the screen, settling himself against the wall next to Kagome's futon.
"What?" he said irritably.
"I think you're supposed to be over there," Sango pointed out wryly, nodding toward the screen behind which Miroku was settling in for sleep.
Inuyasha glared at her. "I'm not going anywhere. You want privacy, you go sleep over there."
"With that hentai?" Sango protested, a blush rising on her cheeks. "Absolutely not!"
"It's a privacy screen, not a sound-proof barrier, Sango dearest," Miroku sing-songed from the other side of the room, and Sango glared at him through the screen.
"Oh shut up," she called back to him.
"Sango," Kagome said, "don't worry about it—I'll just move over to the men's side."
"No, no," Sango conceded, waving her back down as she made to get up from her futon. "It's alright, I guess. Not like he's going to try anything."
Inuyasha shot her a glare, not sure whether to take this as an insult or a compliment—so he settled for the usual vague irritation. Kagome gave him a reassuring smile and a pat on the knee as she and Sango both settled down into their futons.
"Goodnight, Inuyasha," she said quietly.
He smiled back at her a little in the darkness. "Goodnight, Kagome."
Inuyasha awoke to the sound of birdsong, the bright morning sunlight drifting through the slatted windows of the inn, and the absence of Kagome's scent.
His eyes snapped open and darted to her futon on the floor in front of him—the covers were neatly arranged, and there was no sign of her. Only Shippo, still snoring softly on top of the covers, and Sango and Miroku both still asleep on their respective futons.
Inuyasha rolled to his feet and hurried across the room, slipping out into the corridor and breaking into a run as he headed toward the entrance, trying to suppress his rising panic.
He skidded to a halt on the floorboards and darted back to the doorway of the central room, where he found Kagome sitting cheerfully beside the cooking fire preparing breakfast. There were rice and vegetables ready for most of the group for when they arose, but Inuyasha noticed one open cup of ramen sitting at her knee as well.
When she poured boiling water over the noodles and offered him the cup, he released a small sigh of relief and walked over to sit beside her. He was very careful of his claws as he took the cup in his hands, staring down into it and stirring it a bit with his chopsticks.
"Déjà vu," he muttered with a wry smile, watching the noodles swirl in the pale yellow liquid.
Just then, Kagome leaned over and gave him a soft, lingering kiss on the lips.
He stared over at her as she settled back on her heels again, smirking innocently to herself and returning her attention to the rest of the meal she was preparing. His smile turned genuine, and he felt his cheeks flush despite the cool breeze streaming in through the windows.
"Okay," he chuckled. "That was new…"
A/N: Inuyasha WAFF. Home sweet home…
(Well, okay, plus some blood and charred flesh—but there was WAFF at the end… ;)
Some of you may already have picked up on this, but the premise of this story is based on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called "Cause and Effect." I guess you could also compare it to Groundhog Day, now that I think about it—but it was really the ST:TNG episode I was going for…