Author's Notes: I'm back! :) So excited for this chapter everyone, let's get right to it!
Awesome Betas: Penthesileia, Not_Towa_Wakasa
Chapter 35: From the Aphotic Depths
Kagome trampled through the thick shrubbery, ignoring Inuyasha's panicked cries as they faded behind her. It was almost impossible to see. The only visible light source were the shards strung around her neck. She fought the urge to pull them out and use them as a rudimentary flashlight and kept her focus on the shard the little fox youkai had with him instead. She moved only as fast as she dared to, careful of the bow and quiver of arrows at her back, pushing thick sets of vines and branches out of her way. She forced a path for herself, cursing when she stepped into a wet, muddy spot and felt it soak into her shoes.
She'd been lucky enough so far to be able to ride on Inuyasha's back. He was right - if she were on her own it would take forever to find the shards. She couldn't even keep her shoes dry.
Her heart thudded in her chest. The idea that Inuyasha could be stuck on that tree forever weighed heavy on her mind. What would she do if the fox youkai escaped? What would she do if the arrow he'd pinned Inuyasha with kept him from being sucked back into the mirror at daybreak? What if he died there, pinned to the tree, and left her alone to deal with Kikyou?
...She didn't want him to die. The thought of it left a pain almost unbearable to describe. When it came to Inuyasha, the resolve that she had agreed to earlier was slowly crumbling apart and there was no way for her to build it back up.
It didn't help that he wasn't exactly sticking to the plan either, what with wrapping himself around her while she slept. Not that she had minded, really.
In fact, when she'd woken up, groggy and confused as to why she was so comfortable, she thought for a moment she was dreaming. It wasn't until she sensed the shard coming that she realized he was really snuggling up to her in his sleep.
Don't think about that, she chided herself as she drew closer to the pulsation of the shard.
She heard it then: small, sniffling, almost-quiet sobs and a tiny voice crying out for mommy.
Back at the cave, Kagome had rushed back to grab her bow and arrow so she could follow after Inuyasha, irked that he had run off without her. As she started into the forest, the little youkai popped out from between the trees, right in her path. She'd been so shocked she hadn't known what to do. She couldn't believe her eyes at first, he was so small and cute! She had to resist the urge to pick him up and squeeze him tight to her chest like she always did to her cat, Buyo, at home. He was filthy though, despite his small, plump and childish frame. His skin was covered in scratch marks and dirt, his red hair rusted and caked with grime, his clothes disheveled and ripped, his little feet bare and calloused.
"Where'd the squirrel go?" he'd demanded after freezing in his tracks and giving her a sniff. His eyes were wide, as if worried he'd lost the creature, and Kagome, stunned into silence at the sight of him, merely pointed in the direction she'd seen Inuyasha dart off in. It took her a few seconds before she realized she should go after Inuyasha herself, warn him that a youkai was coming. Albeit a small, cute, disturbingly filthy one.
And now, here, as he cried, she couldn't help but wonder: Is he orphaned? She could barely make out his shape in the darkness. Just enough light pulsated from the small shard still jammed in the acorn he held in his hands. His body was quivering, wrapped into a little ball as he sobbed, calling out for his mom. She didn't want to scare him off again, and she probably only had one chance. Slowly she knelt down, resting her palms on her knees, then her chin on her hands, trying to seem as unthreatening as possible. He stiffened but didn't move.
"My name is Kagome," she said as soft as she could, "what's your name?"
"L-leave me alone," he sniffed.
"I can't. You're crying."
"I-I'm not," he hiccupped and wiped at his face.
"I cry sometimes too," she continued, purposely avoiding any sort of confrontation of his feelings so as not to poke at his pride. "Sometimes I get really lonely and cry, and sometimes I cry when I'm scared and I don't know what to do next."
He sniffed again, loudly, and turned to her. "I'm not scared," he said, bottom lip quivering.
"I know you're not, you're very brave, it's obvious."
"I took what's mine and defeated that stupid dog."
"Yes, you did."
"I just miss my mom."
A flutter rippled through Kagome's heart, half saddened by his confession, half relieved she'd got him talking. She wasn't sure how youkai aged, although she knew it was slower than humans. She was pretty sure this one was very, very young.
"I miss my mom too," she said, and then, tentatively, "what happened to yours?"
He took a deep breath through quivering lips. "She's dead. So's my dad."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. That must be very lonely for you."
"Is your mom dead too?" he asked. He blinked his eyes up at her as they started to water again.
"I don't know," she whispered, "maybe."
"So you're like me?" he took another step forward.
Should she lie to try and get him to trust her more, or go with the truth and hope he would give her the shard based on that? "My mom might still be alive, but that's why I need the shard you have," she gambled, "I need all the shards so I can put them together and-"
"No!" he took a step back and Kagome's heart jumped into her throat. "No, you can't have it! If you take it from me they'll bully me again, and I don't want to be bullied anymore!"
'Stay calm. Stay calm, she chanted internally, and then: "Who bullies you?"
"The wolves!" he cried. "They found me when my mom and dad died and they took me in, but they don't treat me as nice as the wolf cubs because I'm a fox and - and they think they're better'n me!"
"Oh…" Kagome reached out a hand to comfort him, but he jerked back.
"No! They feed me and let me sleep in their caves and in return I find these," he whipped the acorn around and held it up to show her. Kagome's eyes widened as the pink glow spread across the little youkai's devastated face. The tears had left dirt-soaked trails down his cheeks, "I can't give this to you so I can bring it back and they'll let me eat some meat!" he said.
"Are you hungry? You should have said so sooner," she pulled a snack bar out of her pocket, the one she'd grabbed to entice the squirrel. She guessed enticing the little youkai would work just as well. "I have this."
He cocked his head to the side and leaned forwards cautiously to sniff at the plastic wrapper, then pulled back slightly eyes moving up to her own.
"It's not poisoned?" he asked.
"Eh? Poisoned? Why would you ask that?"
"Well sometimes humans put out poisoned food for little animals to eat, you know? And sometimes little animals that don't know better will eat it, and they bleed out of their ears and nose and eyes and-"
"Well I don't eat it," he huffed. "I can sniff it out. I only look like a kid, you know." he crossed his arms and lifted his nose into the air. Kagome couldn't help her smile.
He's kind of like Inuyasha…
"Do you sniff any poison in this?" She asked, waving it enticingly in front of his face.
"It's wrapped in plastic, I can't tell," he said, is little nose wrinkling in disgust.
"I see…" She said, tapping it against her chin to make a show of her thinking it over. "Okay then," she tore open the top of the plastic and pulled the wrapper off, taking a bite off the top and chewing slowly. "Mmm!" she said, "it's good!"
"Ah… really?" he reached his hands out for it, "I can have it?" Smiling again, Kagome held it out for him to take.
And he did, wrapping his thin fingers around the bar, he pulled it greedily to him and took a big bite. He chewed rapidly, not unlike the little squirrel they'd chased earlier.
"Is it good?" she asked, hoping he'd open up to hear a little bit more.
He nodded, then froze, his eyes narrowing. He took a step back and clutched the rest of the bar to his chest.
"Th-this is mine now. You gave it to me, you can't give it back!"
She couldn't help the giggle that escaped her lips. "It's all yours. I already ate," she lied. "Besides, I-" the words caught in her throat.
Oh no. Oh no, no, no… Dread washed over her in waves. She was going to be sick with it.
"You what, lady?" In the pale light of the jewel, he walked towards her and placed his little hand on her shin.
"A shard," she whispered, eyes wide. "A shard is coming our way."
"What do you-" His sentence also stopped. She watched his eyes widen in fear to match her own. His body started to shiver, different from when he was crying. His little fingernails dug into her skin.
"Naraku," he whispered.
Kagome had never heard that name before, but the terror in his voice convinced her it was someone she did not want to run into.
Before she could move, it burst from the deep, black night, more silent than it should have been. More silent than possible. Kagome could barely make it out before it wrapped around the little fox youkai's body and thrust him up into the air.
He shrieked, high-pitched and frightened, towering above Kagome's head.
"No!" She screamed, reaching for her bow.
It slammed into her then: fat, wet and slimy. It wrapped around her sides and crumpled the breath from inside her. It was a tentacle - which was impossible - but it was. It lifted her off the ground just as it had the fox, squeezing, sticky and cold. She pushed against it, tried to pull her hips out of its tight grip.
She couldn't. Despite the thick slime that covered its rubbery skin, it lacked any slip and instead stuck to her, like goo.
I can sense them… they're here...
The voice was… nothing. For a second, Kagome felt that she imagined it. It was a wheeze, a whisper, a bitter, desperate, hostile voice made out of nothing but air. It didn't echo in the space around her, it felt closer, like a dream - no - a nightmare.
You have them… give them to me… the jewel… the jewel…
She bent over the tentacle as best she could, desperately trying to see if it had any shards itself. In the pitch black she could only see a half a foot or so in front of her, and she wasn't about to pull the shards out from under her shirt and swing them around like a beacon. The tentacle just disappeared into what looked like nothingness. She couldn't find the familiar pink glow she'd come to associate with the shard she sensed down there, but she could feel it... somewhere. Whatever this thing was, this Naraku, as the little youkai had called it, it had a shard, maybe multiple.
"No!" the fox youkai shrieked off to her right, "give it back, give it back!" She could hear the despair in his voice; could hear him crying, desperate and fraught. She watched as the glow of the little fox's shard ripped away from him and moved down, down, down towards where the bulk of the youkai lay. She kept her eye on it, hoping the glow would give her a better look at what she was dealing with.
But it was simply swallowed up by nothingness, like a black hole sitting on the earth's crust. Light did not penetrate it. It was just gone.
Shaking - from fear or from the cold? - she reached around to her back and drew her bow, then an arrow. She kept her eyes on the point where she had last seen the shard's light. If the youkai had gone after the little fox's shard, it meant it was coming for hers' next.
What would Inuyasha do, she wondered, if she lost the few shards they'd collected so far? What would he say to her? Even worse, what could she say to herself? How could she live with herself if she gave up the one thing that could guarantee the safety of her friends and family?
Fuck you, she thought, nocking her bow and drawing it taut. Fuck you if you think you're going to take what little hope I have left.
Her training kicked in. All those hours of practicing with Kaede, all those hours of gathering her powers and directing the flow into her arrow. She felt the warmth. She reveled in it. Her chest expanded with it.
It flew through the air, lighting up the atmosphere around it. Down, down, down it rushed, casting its glow on the branches and leaves, on the thick, long tentacle, until it too was swallowed into darkness.
For a fleeting moment, Kagome gave up hope.
But then it struck. Deathly silent. Her powers lit the youkai as it pierced into him, the light flashing, duller than she'd experienced it before. But it was just enough.
There it was: A writhing mass.
The youkai was a bloated bag of skin, moving erratically, like hundreds of smaller creatures had been swallowed up and were desperately trying to rip their way from the inside out. Dark, rubbery skin, like blubber, and disjointed bodies, all writhing and twisted, frantic to break free.
It made a sound then, not the same as in her head. It was different, an otherworldly screech that caused her bones to grind together. There was a pop and the mass burst apart, sending chunks flying in every direction. The tentacle around her loosened. She slipped through the sticky goo.
Her scream caught in her throat as her hip slammed into a branch, causing her to cartwheel in the air before her shoulder slammed into another. She flopped onto a third, her belly smacking into the bark. It was thicker and with less give. It knocked the wind from her lungs. Slowly, still covered in the slime, she slid off the branch and slammed onto the ground, her arrows clattering out of her quiver.
She felt the crunch of glass.
She struggled to lift her head. The few shards she had were scattered out in front of her, the broken glass fragments of the bottle they were encased in mixed up with them. It was hard for her to breath. Her hip throbbed. Her shoulder ached. Her ribs screamed every time she breathed.
Something shuffled towards her. A small hand lifted the disheveled hair that had fallen over her face. The little fox was knelt down next her her, his large eyes wide and puffy and swollen.
"Are you going to die, nice lady?" he asked, his voice meek and worried.
Kagome's heart ached for him.
"Wha… what's your name?" Each breath was a sharp knife, stabbing in between her ribs.
"Shippou," he wailed, his cheeks wet with tears.
She tried her best to smile for him, aware that it was probably more of a grimace.
"Shippou," she repeated, "I like that name." She reached out with her right arm, swallowing a scream, and grabbed at the shards scattered out in front of her. She could barely control the shaking in her hand, it caused her to sweep up dirt and dead leaves and glass fragments along with the jewel shards. The glass cut sharp into her skin, just more pain thrown in amongst the rest. She held her fist out to the little fox, her arm shuddering with the effort.
"I know you're brave, Shippou," she wheezed, "can you be brave again for me? I need you to do something."
He sniffed and nodded, holding out his hand.
"Take these back to Inuyasha," she said, dropping the shard-dirt-glass mixture into his palms. It was stained red with her blood, cut open by the broken glass. "Take these back to him and take the arrow out. He'll - he'll be able to help you," a moan escaped from her lips before she could catch it.
"B-but, he tried to kill me," Shippou cried.
"I know, but this is why you have to be brave. He won't kill you, tell him what happened - tell him what happened and give him the shards." She locked her eyes onto his. It was another gamble. Shippou was so small. He was so scared. He could easily run off with the shards and leave them - Inuyasha trapped to the tree and Kagome to die at the hands of the monster behind her - but at this point, what else could she do?
...What else could she do?
"Shippou, I'll distract the youkai. Go. Go get Inuyasha."
"...Lady, are you going to die?" he asked again
Was she going to die? Probably… the thought was resigned, and she was somewhat surprised at how calm she was. If she could get herself up though, before the creature put itself back together… she might have a chance.
"Go, Shippou. Go give the shards to Inuyasha. I'll hold off the youkai. Inuyasha will help you."
His jaw set. He cupped his hands together to hold the shards and nodded.
"Don't die okay? Because you gave me food. I'll come back, it's a promise!" he scuttled off into the darkness.
"Brave boy…" she whispered after him.
There was no point in laying there, waiting for death. If little Shippou could be brave, so could she. Kagome pressed her shaking palms against the floor and pushed herself up, screaming out into the dark, a soundtrack to her excruciating pain. She managed to sit up and lean her shoulder against the trunk of the tree she'd fallen against. Her hip throbbed along with her heart.
Her bow had landed next to her, thank God. She picked it up slowly, along with one of the few arrows that managed to stay in one piece during the fall, and nocked it. She listened for the sound of the youkai putting itself back together.
She wanted to laugh. Hysterically laugh. Was there ever going to be a time that she wasn't on the verge of absolute, utter death? How much more of this could she actually take?
Maybe it actually died? she thought, then felt that hysterical laughter bubble over again. Idiot, she chided herself, like Inuyasha would have if he were there with her. If it's anything like the spider youkai, it's definitely still alive. She drew the arrow back. Willed her powers to pull in towards her chest.
A whimper fell from her lips, painful and scared. Tears leaked through her lashes, her hopelessness crushing her. The warmth she was used to when she gathered her powers was less. More subtle. It was weaker than it had been before. The glow was dim.
She shivered, gathering as much as she could muster before releasing the arrow. It disappeared into that same inky back, the light of her power extinguished in the dark. Not wanting to wait and see what happened, she grabbed at the rest of the intact arrows she could reach, placing them back in the quiver before nocking one. She drew it back.
A tentacle shot out and slammed into her chest, wrapping around her throat and picking her up off the ground.
Kagome released the arrow, aiming only at the slimy appendage, only at what she could see. It burst apart and splattered across her face, the smell causing her to gag as she dropped back down from the few feet she'd been lifted to.
"Fuck you!" she screamed into the darkness, through the sobs that wracked her body. Her hope was fading. She channeled all her rage towards the creature, everything that had happened so far, everything that she'd been through. She channeled it all into one big ball of rage as she reached out and grabbed another arrow. "Fuck! You!" she screamed.
Another tentacle slammed into her. The force caused her to drop her bow. It slithered around her neck again, picked her up and shoved her up against the tree.
Kagome kicked her legs out, the empty fingers of her left hand spazzed desperately at the air as the pressure in her head built. Her grip tightened on the arrow, managed to lift it above her head and started stabbing at the thick, rubbery skin with the arrowhead, but she couldn't get her powers to gather into it this time. It was like something was suppressing it. She was unable to call it forward, like she had when Kikyou had been crushing the breath from her. The strength in her arms weakened, she couldn't thrust the arrow through the thick goop.
She couldn't breathe.
It was too dark to tell, but she was sure her vision was blurring, sure she was blacking out.
She heard her name echoing through the woods around her.
Sweet, sweet relief as she sucked air into her lungs. She didn't even care that she slammed back onto the ground, or that her body screamed out in pain. She could breathe. She could breathe!
Clawed hands scooped up under her shoulders. Her legs scraped against the ground as strong arms wrapped around her and pulled her back against a warm chest.
"Kagome, hey," he said, his voice urgent but with a hint of gentleness that she had never heard before. His hands wiped at her face, clearing her tears and the grime that covered her cheeks. "Hey, hey, hey, look at me. Look at me." His fingers gripped her under her chin and lifted her head up. She obeyed and opened her eyes.
He was so close to her, his brows drawn, an expression she'd never seen before on his face.
"Inuyasha," she breathed. She brought her hand up against his cheek as her eyes filled with fresh tears. She tried to blink them away. She wanted to see him clearly. "You came."
"Of course I came, idiot. What, you think I-"
She didn't want him to speak anymore, unless it was her name falling from his perfect mouth. She wrapped her hands around the back of his neck and pulled him down, bringing his lips to hers, cutting off the useless words she didn't care for.
She kissed him. Poured her relief into him as the tears fell from her lashes and dripped happily down her face, warm and comforting against her cold skin.
Inuyasha hesitated slightly before his hand came up to cradle her head and he pulled her closer to him. He was gentle. He was so gentle with her, as if she were glass.
He kissed her back.
Was it just her, or was it different this time? There was no rushed lust. The stir she felt was calm and deep. Was he speaking to her like she was speaking to him? Did he know that she was thanking him?
...Did he know that in that moment he was her everything? That she would die without him? Not just here, now, swooping in and saving her as he always did, even in the very beginning, shielding her from Kikyou as he had before. No, she would die without him from now on.
She could no longer imagine her life without him, could no longer go another day without his hands on her, touching her in some way. Even just a brush against her skin would be enough.
She could no longer live without him.
He broke the kiss, his hand at her cheek. "Can you sit up on your own?" he asked, breathless.
She nodded, "I can do anything you ask me to," she said, her lids heavy, suddenly drowsy and tired.
His eyes widened for just a moment before they hardened again. His hand moved away from her cheek and he turned his face away from her. She felt cold without his eyes on her.
"Stay with her, runt," she heard him say. "You protect her with your life, do you understand me?"
"I'll protect her with my life," Shippou replied.
Oh, Shippou, Kagome cried on the inside.
"If you don't, I'll do worse to you than I'm about to do to this youkai."
"I got it, you stupid dog. She saved my life, so I'll protect her with it!"
Inuyasha held her shoulders steady as he stood up, allowing her to set her shoulder back against the tree before letting go.
"I'll give it to you, fox - you're brave for a little shit," he said, and Kagome detected admiration in his voice. "Stay here."
She couldn't see him move in the dark, but she heard him kneel down before jumping with those crazy powerful legs of his, heard his clothes whipping in the air as he flew. Heard him shout as his claws ripped through tentacle blubber.
She could barely make out Shippou's form as he moved in between her and the chaos happening in front of them in the dark. He thrust his arms out to each side, as if he were a shield that would stop a tidal wave. She could see his little arms quiver in the dark. He was scared out of his mind.
"D-d-don't worry, lady, I w-w-won't let anything happen t-t-to you anymore!"
"Shippou," she said, trying to hold on to the feeling of Inuyasha's arms wrapped around her as she shivered, "you're the bravest youkai I know."
"I-I've always been brave!" He shouted into the darkness, over the snarling and ripping and shredding and screeching echoing in the dark.
Yes, Kagome knew for sure.
...Shippou had always been brave.
Mmhmm. Mmmmhmmmm. I'm diggin' this chapter very much, yes I am. I was so excited to finally get Shippou out in the open and really fling him right into the action. I hope you all enjoyed it too! Make sure you check out my tumblr blog, I sketched a layout of Kaede's house that appears in chapters 26 -29, I am super stoked on it! It's silly, but I love it. Also, make sure you visit my betas and check out their work! Give them both some love, they deserve it! Can't wait for the next chapter everyone, see you then!