Author's Note: Hey everyone, did you think I'd forgotten about you all? Sorry for the update so late in the day, but with the holidays coming up my days are more busy than usual. But I'm glad I was able to get this out to you all before the day ends!
I'm sorry for my current lack of response to your reviews. I have no excuse for it except that I struggle with clinical depression, and I have only been able to scrounge up the extra energy to finish this chapter. I will be working this week to reply to the backlog that has built up, but I hope until then that you all keep letting me know how you feel about the chapters! I read every single one as they come in!
Dedication: This chapter is dedicated to Angel-the-hedge for leaving me my 650th review! I can't even believe it's gotten so far, so thank you very much Angel-the-hedge for reviewing and continuing to do so! I always love hearing what you have to say. This chapter is for you!
Awesome Betas: Penthesileia, Not_Towa_Wakasa
Chapter 41: Impasse
"You ready, Shippou?!" Kagome shouted out into the forest.
She was standing at the mouth of the cave, her toes peeking over the five-foot cliff-side drop, her newly-reinforced bow gripped tightly in her hands.
"Ready!" she heard his voice echo from far away.
"Now!" she called, nocking her arrow and drawing it back, her gaze on the treetops. The corners of her lips curled up when she heard him give a whoop of excitement before hundreds of small, black birds took to the sky. Her eyes followed them as they waved across the horizon, like silk flapping in the wind.
She aimed. Fired.
One fell from the sky, her arrow stuck through its wing.
Another arrow was immediately nocked to her bow, and another bird fell, this one struck through its chest.
"Yes!" she cried before drawing again. Aiming. Shooting.
A third fell into the canopy.
She drew and aimed again, but the flock had moved too far away, now just dust specks in the sky. Slowly she lowered her bow and let out the deep breath she'd been holding. Well, three wasn't too terrible. She was still a bit rusty. She hadn't been practicing as much as she should have since she and Inuyasha set off from Kaede's house, but it looked like she hadn't regressed too poorly with her training.
She bent her knees and sat down, her legs swinging absentmindedly over the cavern lip and waited.
Inuyasha was behind her, sleeping in the dark depth of the cave. She stiffened her back, an attempt to stop herself from turning to look at him over her shoulder. She'd already glanced at him a hundred times since he stepped foot back inside right before daybreak, a routine he'd gotten into over the last four days. She didn't want to give him the satisfaction of knowing she kept looking at him, and even though he looked asleep, she wasn't so sure he was actually asleep.
Every once in a while his ear would twitch her way. On one hand, it was hard not to watch him sleeping. She'd never been in a position to watch him, he was always awake as she drifted off to sleep and up before she'd had the chance to awaken. Always watchful as she slept.
Kagome couldn't deny that it was a big reason why she'd fallen in love with him. She felt cared for, despite the situation they were in. Despite the fact that they'd practically been forced together against their will. Despite the fact that it obviously wasn't love on his part keeping him around.
She huffed and folded her arms. Inuyasha hadn't spoken to her much in the last four days, and whatever, it was fine. It's not like she'd been in the mood to chat with him either, what with the brutal rejection and all.
That night… The night he'd ripped her own heart out of her chest and stomped it into smithereens on the floor of the cave… It had taken her a long time to stop crying. Even after he returned at dawn, slipping in quiet as a mouse and curling up, back turned to her, as far away from her as he could, the tears still slipped down her cheeks, wetting her hair as she pretended to sleep inside her sleeping bag. Really, he had probably known that she wasn't asleep, but she was relieved he at least played along.
And that's what they'd been doing for the past four days - pretending. Kagome was hyper-aware of his movements while he was around, and irrationally worried that he wouldn't come back when he slipped out of the cave at nightfall, although she knew he probably wasn't going far.
He still needed her, after all.
"Kagome!" Shippou shouted, exploding from the treeline as a speeding ball of fluff, the arrowed birds tied together with twine and slung over his shoulder. He scrambled up the side of the cliff and lifted himself over the lip of the cave. "Good job today, you got three!" he held them up as if they were an Olympic gold medal.
Kagome smiled and raised her finger to her lips. "Not so loud, let's let Inuyasha sleep, okay?"
He rolled his eyes and dropped the birds down next to the fire - now just slow burning ember in the daylight. "Fine, but," he glanced over and then dropped his voice even more, "he's not even asleep, you know."
She couldn't help but grin, glad to have him with her to distract her from everything else while she healed. Still, she changed the subject. "Thank you for helping with practice!" she said. And she meant it. The empty hole that had been carved out of her chest four days ago seemed to fill up almost completely when Shippou was near. He was so darn cheerful, it was hard for some of it not to rub off on her.
"I did good?"
"Of course," she replied, opening her arms to him.
He took a step, then hesitated. Kagome was careful to keep her smile on her face. She hadn't been able to get the full story out of him yet, but it was obvious that he hadn't been touched in a loving way in a very long time. Her heart ached for him. Still, it lasted only a moment before Shippou crawled into her lap and wrapped his small arms around her torso, burying his head into her stomach.
The way his nose dug into her reminded her of her friend's pomeranian nuzzling into her when she'd go over to visit. She felt a pang of homesickness for her normal life as she squeezed Shippou back, again thankful that she had at least someone she could feel close to at this time.
Inuyasha huffed behind them, changing positions in his sleep - fake sleep, because she knew now that he was definitely faking. She refused to acknowledge him, refused to give him anything more than a glance.
"We can have bird meat for dinner," Shippou said, words muffled by her shirt.
"Sure we can," she replied, thoughts drifting. Despite Inuyasha's brutal rejection of her feelings, he was still insistent that they wait at the cave until Kagome was healed. But it was almost a week now and the bruises had faded into colors of sky blue and lavender, and she felt only slight discomfort when she twisted the wrong way and skin stretched across muscle. It couldn't be too long now that he would make them leave the cave that had become their rudimentary makeshift home.
Shippou hopped off her lap and started moving whip-fast around her, his movements seemingly random. She watched him pick up small pebbles of loose rock that had fallen over the centuries from the walls and ceiling of the cave and piled them beside her. He'd been chattering to her as she'd been lost in her thoughts. She felt a pang of guilt that she hadn't been listening to him.
...Although if she'd learned anything about him over these past few days, it was that he liked to talk. It tended to be about nothing and everything, and he didn't seem to need answers or replies to any of his stringing thoughts.
Inuyasha had been calling him 'runt' most of the time, but she's also heard him call him a 'kit'. She'd deducted he was a fox youkai, and couldn't help her amusement that, well, his behaviors were a lot like a fox.
His red tail whipped behind him as he moved and pounced, collecting and gathering as many small pebbles that would fit into his hand before dumping them onto the growing pile.
Kagome smiled. "What are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm collecting pebbles!" he said, his little body shivering with excitement. "Cause there's nothing else to do and we usually just sit around and I know this game that I can teach you and we can play and then maybe when we get back to the wolves I can play better with the cubs because they always win and get to take my meat portion and sometimes they make me do their chores for them which isn't fair but they make me do them anyway and watch and laugh at me."
He took a breath.
"You'll have to teach me how to play," Kagome interjected quickly at the chance. She turned and swung one leg up over the lip of the cave, bending at the knee and laying it to the side, the other still hanging over the edge. She leaned back against the wall as Shippou enthusiastically started setting up pebbles in a particular format that only made sense to him.
Kagome hugged her sweater firmly around her waist. The sun beating down on her legs felt good even though the air around them was chilly. Her breaths weren't quite visible yet, but they would be for sure in the coming months.
She frowned, wondering how they would manage when it started to snow. They were pretty far down south, but still… Would they have to dig through the snow on the hunt for the jewel shards? Would they have to battle more youkai in the bitter, winter cold?
The thought of dealing with more youkai sent a chill up her spine. In the dead of winter it would be even worse.
She cursed to herself. She had always believed she was lucky, but where had her luck been the moment she stepped into that stupid museum?
Must have used it all up, she thought grumpily to herself.
"Hmm?" her attention snapped back to Shippou, who had placed a hand on her knee.
"I was showing you how to play, were you listening?"
She managed an abashed smile. "Sorry, Shippou. I got lost in my thoughts. I'm paying attention now though, can you show me again?"
"Yeah, it's simple!" he said, although it was more of a shout. Kagome's eyes veered to Inuyasha's back. They weren't exactly being quiet to allow him to rest, although really, he didn't deserve quiet, the jerk. She caught the shift of his shoulders, and his ears twitched their way. He was listening to everything they said.
She wouldn't give him the satisfaction of playing into whatever he was trying to glean from their conversation, and now that she thought it through, she decided she wasn't going to stay quiet so he could nap. She hadn't had a good sleep for four days. Why should he?
"You have your line," Shippou said, pointing to the groove he'd drawn into the dirt in front of her, "and I have my line," he pointed to the perpendicular groove he'd drawn about a foot away from her own. "These are your pebbles," he continued, pointing to the neat row he'd lined up in front of her line, "and those are mine," he pointed to his own. "You have to call out which pebble of mine you're going to flick over my line. If you hit it you get to call another one and try again, but if you miss it's my turn. If you miss and hit a different pebble over my line, then I get two turns no matter what!" he clapped his hands eagerly together, his smile taking over his face. "Do you get it? Can we play?"
His excitement was infectious. It reminded her of the way her brother sometimes acted when he got really into something. For a while it had been power rangers, but he'd recently grown out of that phase.
She forced the thought of her brother back. She didn't want to think about her family right now… she didn't want to think about anything but completing their goal and getting back to a normal life.
"Sure, and I'll even let you go first," she said.
"Okay!" Shippou jumped in that fox-like way he had about him, his tail fluffed out behind him as he scampered back behind his line.
"Can we make it more interesting?" Kagome asked as an afterthought.
His eyes lit up with delight, "Yes! How?"
"Every time you call out and knock one of my pebbles behind my line, you get to ask me a question, and I have to answer it, and every time I do the same you have to answer one of mine. Does that sound fun?"
"Yeah! I can ask you anything?"
"Sure. I'll even let you go first."
And she did. They played back and forth. Kagome kept her questions light at first. Favorite color? Favorite food? Best dance move? Shippou's questions reflected hers for the most part, although he also threw in some more creative ones, like which bug tasted the best to her? She tried to make her answers to those questions as ridiculous as possible, which caused Shippou to roll back in a fit of contagious laughter.
Hours passed as they played, only breaking for lunch before getting back to their game, because what else was there to do? The sun had begun its decline towards the horizon. Eventually Inuyasha would stir, stalk outside and disappear into the woods, just as he had the last four nights.
"Okay, your turn!" Shippou announced, sitting back from his battle line.
"I'm surprised you're not tired of this game yet, Shippou," she said, still trying to feel him out.
He shook his head, "No way, this game is really fun and you're right, the questions make it more fun! What are you going to ask me next?"
"Hmmm," she said, pointing to one of his pebbles and flicking hers to knock it back. She'd gotten pretty good at it over the hours, and he seemed to be taking all her questions in stride, so if she was going to make that shift, now was the perfect time. "How long have you been staying with the wolves?"
His eyes rolled up thoughtfully and he slowly counted on his fingers. "A long time," he finally said.
"Four weeks?" she asked.
"More than that."
"Six? Twelve? Or has it been more than a year?"
He scrunched up his cute button nose. "Kagome, you're only supposed to ask one question."
"Oh, sorry," she said. She didn't want him to catch on to what she was doing: trying to get information from him. But she was getting carried away too quickly. "Your turn then." She watched him point to one of her pebbles and successfully knock one over the line.
"Ha!" he shouted, triumphant. His energy had no end, he was just as excited as every time he managed to knock one of her pebbles back. "We're asking more serious questions now." It was a statement. Smart cookie.
"You can ask me anything you want, Shippou."
He fidgeted in his spot, his small fingers wringing together. "How come you and Inuyasha ignore each other now?"
Brat! Kagome shouted on the inside, eyes going wide and choking on the air she inhaled. She shot another glance Inuyasha's way and cleared her throat, trying to keep her cheeks from reddening. "Ah," she said, unsure of how to explain. "Sometimes adults fight… and right now Inuyasha and I are fighting..." It wasn't technically the truth, because in reality she'd thrown her heart at him, and he'd taken it and tossed it to the floor and stomped in until it lay flat and ruined at his feet. It wasn't a fight. It was an obliteration.
...But she wasn't about to admit that to Shippou. Especially with Inuyasha so obviously listening in.
Shippou squirmed more in his seat. "Sometimes the wolves fight, but they actually fight. Inuyasha doesn't talk to you at all."
His innocent words stabbed right into the open hole where her heart used to be. She laughed. It was wooden and too loud, even to her own ears. "It's fine, I don't feel like talking to him either," she said, hoping that Inuyasha heard her loud and clear.
"I thought you were mates, 'cause Inuyasha got really mad every time I tried to come near when he was healing you and he wasn't being very nice but he was nicer than the wolves are and I knew that you would wake up soon and be really nice again because you were really nice to me before the Naraku youkai attacked," he said.
So much for keeping her face from turning red, she could practically feel the heat that radiated from her skin. Mates was such a strange word for him to use. "What does 'mates' mean?" she asked, half-worried to hear his reply.
"You know, mates," his said, scrunching up his face as if the topic grossed him out, "like kissing and making babies and stuff." He didn't seem to notice the way Kagome's face drained of color. "My mom and dad were mates and they kissed a lot and then they had me and then they kissed a lot more. Kissing's pretty gross, but my mom and dad really liked it and they did it a lot. So I thought maybe Inuyasha was kissin' you or something, but I haven't seen you guys kiss at all, so maybe I was wrong?"
"So your parents were husband and wife?" she asked, ignoring his very wrong assumption about the kissing - because up until four days ago there had definitely been some kissing - and trying to get to the bottom of this mates stuff.
He looked at her quizzically. "What's husband and wife?"
"When two people love each other and they want to make a commitment to each other, they become husband and wife."
He nodded. "Yeah. Mates. But with kissing." Then he sighed, "Kagome can we talk about something else less boring? I thought maybe he was ignoring you for other reasons."
"What other reasons would he be ignoring me for?"
"Well cause you're human n' stuff. Youkai and humans don't get along, even hanyou don't hang out with humans. So no offense or anything but I was thinking that it's weird that you two live together in caves and when I thought you were mates I thought it was really weird."
Her gut clenched. "Most youkai don't like humans, huh?"
"Yeah, humans are pretty weak and lots of youkai even eat humans cause you're weak and all."
"What about you? Do you eat humans?"
His little nose scrunched up in disgust. "No, I like mushrooms and rabbits and frogs and-"
"You probably don't see a lot of humans, huh?" she interrupted.
"I see them from a distance but I stay away because of the poison."
Oh, that's right, he'd mentioned that humans sometimes leave out poisoned food for young animals before. "Well, I'm really lucky that you like me then."
"Yeah, I like you a lot! Cause you stayed and tried to fight the Naraku youkai when it got me in its arm and you shot an arrow straight into it and then you told me I was brave."
"You are brave."
He smiled. "I am!'
She wanted to press him more about this mates stuff. Youkai lived differently and had different customs than humans did, she'd gleaned that much with her time spent near Inuyasha, but he was pretty tight-lipped about specifics.
...Although that's probably more to do with us constantly running around and trying not to die.
And before the ripping-Kagome's-heart-out incident, she'd actually gotten him to speak about his life a bit. Just a tiny bit. Part of her wanted to know more. But honestly, who was she kidding? Inuyasha had made it perfectly clear that he wasn't interested in being more than travel partners. While he cared about her in some way, she knew it in the way his gaze heated up anytime it lingered on her, in the way his voice changed when he spoke to her sometimes... he was still driven by his need to collect the shards, gain his freedom, and become full-youkai.
And could she blame him? No, she couldn't. It would be hypocritical to do so. If she was in his position, she'd want to gain her freedom at all costs, too.
She'd caught a glimpse of Inuyasha in full-youkai mode before, back in that horrifying attic. His full-youkai scared her a bit, if she was telling the truth. She couldn't imagine them sharing anything together if permanently changing himself that way is what he strived for.
So she had to bury it. Bury her feelings, and her needs, and her yearning deep inside, because she knew this was coming to an end and she knew that she was going back home and living a normal life once this was all said and done.
But god, she was sick to death of burying who she was becoming.
"Can I ask another question?"
"Sure, Shippou," she said, dropping the pebble in her hand and leaning back against the cave wall, shivering at the wind that blew in from between the trees. She'd have to get up and re-start the fire soon, the light was rapidly fading from the sky now and the temperature was dropping. "What do you want to talk about?"
He stood and took a hesitant step towards her. Then another. Kagome smiled and opened her arms, inviting him into her lap again. He hopped a few steps - just like a fox - and made himself comfortable there. He looked up into her face, tilting his head back to do so. "I wanna ask, but-" he cast a tentative glance Inuyasha's way.
"You can whisper it to me," she suggested, leaning down so he could reach her ear. He cupped his small hands around it. She felt his hot breath against her skin.
"When you leave the wolves, will you take me with you?"
Out of all the things for him to whisper to her, that was not one she expected. His words caused flashbacks of that awful night to rush through her, of little Shippou crying alone in the foliage, his words echoing in her memories: "I just miss my mom."
She kept her head dipped, her voice low. "You don't want to stay with other youkai?"
He shook his head, his lip jutting out. She opened her mouth to reply, but didn't get the chance.
Inuyasha snorted. He sat up from the cave floor and turned to glare at them.
"No fucking way," he snarled.
Shippou froze in her lap, and Kagome unconsciously squeezed him tighter to her chest as Inuyasha rose from his spot and stalked towards the mouth of the cave. He stepped to the edge, the last bit of light fading from the horizon, and sniffed the air.
Kagome kept a supportive hand at Shippou's back. Inuyasha wanted to be a jerk? Fine, but she wasn't going to play into his childish game. She looked back down at Shippou, trying not to let him see how much she let Inuyasha bother her.
"It's okay, Shippou, we don't have to decide now. We'll talk it all out soon, okay?"
Inuyasha snorted again, "Not happening." His eyes swept across to land on Shippou's wide ones. "We're not on a fucking nature walk. If you didn't notice, it's dangerous to tag along."
She tried not to let it annoy her that he was actively avoiding her gaze, although up until now she'd been doing the same.
"Inuyasha," she started, but his attention was back to the forest. He leapt out into the trees before she could continue.
Goddammit, she cursed on the inside, letting out an aggravated sigh. Why does he have to be so childish? She picked Shippou off her lap and set him down, standing and brushing the fine dirt of the cave floor from her jeans.
"He hates me," Shippou said.
"He doesn't hate you, he's just mad at me right now. And," she added as an afterthought, "it is dangerous to come with us."
"I could help though," he pouted, folding his arms, "I can trick others into seeing and believing things, like I did with the arrow."
"That is very helpful," she smiled down at him, trying not to let on just how angry she was. "But let's not worry about it for now, we'll bring it up later, after we've collected the shards we came for. We should get the fire up and going again for dinner tonight. Want to help me look for firewood?"
He nodded eagerly and scampered over to the cliff edge, waiting for her to climb down before he followed. "I bet I can get more than you!"
"I'll take that bet!" She said, glad to get his mind off of Inuyasha's bitter words. "Why don't you go that way," she pointed off to the left, in the opposite direction Inuyasha had gone, "and I'll go this way."
"Okay meet you back here!" He ran off in between the trees. Kagome watched him go before she turned and headed into the forest herself, wishing she still had her convenient glass bottle necklace to carry the shards in. At the moment, they were still wrapped around the small ripped bit of Inuyasha's T-shirt and stuffed inside her pocket. She wasn't about to pull them out and expose them.
It was almost impossible to see far, and she didn't bother trying to be quiet as she trudged over the rocky terrain. The ground sloped downwards slightly, and she kept her hands out, feeling for trees she could barely see to keep her from running into or tripping over anything. It wouldn't be much longer now, she knew.
She was right. Only minutes after wandering around aimlessly, he dropped down in front of her. She jerked back, her voice rushing out in a high-pitched squeak, her hand slapping to her heart.
His ears flattened against his head, and even though she couldn't see it, she knew he was frowning.
"Where the hell are you going?" he growled, taking a step towards her.
She folded her arms and stood her ground, despite his silhouette towering over her. "I'm here to tell you to back off of Shippou. Stop being so mean to him."
"I'm just being honest with him."
"You don't get to decide these things without talking to me. You're not the only one here."
"I'm the only one keeping you alive, so what I say goes."
"That's not going to be how this works, Inuyasha,"
He took another step forward. "It is," he seethed.
His breath brushed across her face, she could feel how close he was. She wanted to reach over and slap him, so she closed her fist at her side, gritting her teeth against the string of insults she desperately wanted to hurl his way.
"It's not. You can't just stomp around and lay down the law, no matter how angry you are at me, or how much you don't want me around you. You can't just-"
His hand slapped over her mouth. The move was achingly familiar. He'd done the same, when she was admitting to him how she-
"Shhh," he breathed, his voice a harsh whisper, breaking through her thoughts. His arms slipped around her waist and he took another step, pressing her to his chest.
Her heart pounded, so loud there was no way he couldn't hear it. What was he doing? She hadn't come out here to freaking make out with him, she'd come out here to tell him off. But she noticed then that his breathing had changed. His face was turned away from her. She could see the silhouette of his ears flicking back and forth across his head.
Oh shit. He hears something. She immediately stilled her breathing.
She heard it then.
A growl. Low and deep and threatening. Another joined. Then another. Whatever it was - they were - snarled.
Inuyasha whipped around, dropping into a crouch and snarling back. His arms splayed out to the sides, creating a wide barrier. Kagome took a step back.
A dozen pair of yellow eyes, maybe more, peered out through the trees.
Next chapter we get back to some action! I had a hard time getting this out to you all, but I hope you enjoy it for what it is. :) I'll be continuing to post every two weeks for the moment, it being the holidays and all. I'll reconsider returning to posting weekly once the holidays are over, but no promises. In the meantime, I hope you all have a fantastic Thanksgiving! I can tell you already that I am very thankful for each and every one of you! You keep me going!