Disclaimer: I own nothing in the Inuyasha universe.
A/N: Thanks once again to everyone for reading, reviewing, following, and favoriting Requirements! Your support means more to me than I could ever express in words. I hope you'll all enjoy this chapter!
I watch as the elder tends to my miko's wounds.
'My miko'... this gives me pause, since when did I begin to think of her thusly? She does not belong to me, and I have no wish for her to. At this thought I feel some alien part of myself scoff at such denial, but before I am able to further analyze my minds sudden and disturbing errant wanderings I hear the old miko sigh.
"I have done all that I twas able, but her wound already shows signs of infection and she has a high fever. Combined with such large blood loss her life is yet in danger; it twould be best to return the child to her own time to seek treatment."
"Then that is what shall be done." I move to gather the prone form of the ailing miko into my arms.
"Wait milord;" the elder pleads, " tis impossible to do so now, ye will do her more harm than good if ye proceed with your actions!"
I pause in my movements, to send an icy glare at her. "You speak in riddles old woman, explain yourself before I lose all patience."
The old woman lets out another weary sigh, and looks sadly down on the limp form of the little miko. "Aye milord, my apologies, I mean to say that while it twould be best for Kagome to return to her home, at present such is impossible. She is unconscious and likely will not wake for quite some time. While I understand that her passages between eras are generally gentle journeys, she would remain in yon well at her end of the passage unable to attract help, or exit the well herself. If he were here Inuyasha twould be able to carry her through the passage and to her family to seek aid, but-"
I interrupt the elder, and I can hear the snarl in my own words. "INUYASHA may pass through the well?" I know that by now my eyes have begun to bleed red in my anger, but I do nothing to calm myself. "HOW is this possible?!"
A slight scent of fear leaks into the air around us but the old woman stands her ground and stammers out a reply. "A-aye milord, he has been able to pass through the well from the first. He is the only other, aside from Kagome herself, though we are unsure of why that should be. The monk and I have come to believe tis because of the beads of subjugation he wears. They hold a part of Kagome's aura and power, likely it be that connection that the well recognizes."
It is not that Inuyasha is capable of something that I myself am not, or that he is able to see a future that holds such curiosity for me, that I find bothersome. No it is that he has yet another connection to the miko, yet another hold upon her that I am seemingly unable to break.
Once again I must ask myself the same question I have asked often since allying myself with the miko. Why? Why do such useless things as this matter to me? Why am I so concerned with this woman's welfare? Why does it irritate me so that the hanyou is connected to her ways that I am not? Why does seeing her, she who is usually so vibrant and lively, lying before me pale and still as death seem to pierce through my chest like a dagger?
Kami, help me why am I so concerned with a weak human woman? But, then she has proven she is anything but weak has she not? Damn it all.
Outwardly composing myself, I decide to move on to a safer topic of discussion. "Have you tended to the children?"
"Aye, they are merely sleeping. I found no injuries or signs of poison, tis most likely that the vile abomination used some form of sleeping draught. It would seem that the same potion affects your retainer as well. They should wake on their own as soon as its effects wear off."
I look on as the elder kneels to the floor at the younger girl's side before she proceeds to tenderly bathe the miko's flushed face with cool water, and then covers her helpless form with a coarsely woven blanket. In a motherly gesture the old miko gently pats the girl's head before she rises once more to her feet.
Spreading my senses out I easily find the scent of the children and Jaken, who lay still sleeping in the hut beside this one. Ah-Un seems to have settled in front of the hut to stand guard. I can feel the anxiety and worry coming from the other humans in the village. Whether this unease stems from the demons in their midst, concern for the fallen miko, or some combination of the two I know not. However, there are three very noticeable absences among the myriad of other scents.
"Where have the slayer, monk, and nekomatta gone?" I inquire, turning to face the currently occupied elder.
She halts in grinding whatever herb concoction she has in her mortar and looks at me. "I have sent them to seek aid from the herbalist Jinenji. He may know of some remedy other than those which I have already tried. He is a friend to the group, and especially admires young Kagome. I am certain he will do all in his power to aid her in her time of need."
I see, so they have gone seeking the hanyou herbalist... who apparently harbors affection for the miko. I find it vexing that he may be able to come to her aid whereas I can do not but wait and watch. I simply cannot abide these unfamiliar feelings of inadequacy! I choose to leave off such dismal pondering, as the elder has inadvertently reminded me of something that puzzles me.
"She was able to use her reiki to heal the slayer and neko, why did she not heal herself also?"
The elder once again pauses in her work, as she seems to consider how to answer.
"Tis rare for a miko to be able to use their reiki to heal, therefore most rely on herbs as I myself do. I twould believe tis most likely that if a miko did possess such an ability, she twould be unable to use it on herself, for by our very natures miko's must be selfless and pure of heart, and these virtues our Kagome most certainly possesses in abundance. It twould never even enter her mind to heal herself while a friend lay injured. From what ye have described to me of the battle, I twould hazard to guess that when Kagome released her reiki she likely was not thinking of her own safety or survival; she desired not but to save and protect those she most cherishes, and her reiki responded to that wish. That is why her power destroyed the malevolent puppet, while simultaneously healing Sango and Kirara, yet did not cause harm to young Shippo, or ye, milord."
The thought that I am cherished by the miko sends an unexpected and unwanted feeling of warmth throughout by body, as my heart speeds up within my chest. Curse that old woman for planting that thought inside my already turbulent mind!
"If you will excuse me milord, I must attend to my other duties. I shall return shortly to check on Kagome. If her condition should change in anyway please inform me."
With a short bow of her head in deference the elder miko takes her leave of the hut.
From my reclining position against the wall, opposite the pallet where the miko rests upon her stomach I watch her sleep. Her face is turned toward me, relaxed in her unconscious state. I simply observe her while trying to work through all my confused thoughts and emotions.
Suddenly the miko's face contorts in pain and she begins to move restlessly, arms and legs flailing out as she releases soft distressed whimpers. Fearing her movements may reopen her wound; I go to her side and try to calm her.
I snatch up a piece of clean linen and dip it into the basin of cool water that the elder miko left behind, and gently wash the perspiration from her face and neck.
As the cool water touches her burning skin her whimpers cease and the thrashing stills. I see; her fever must have risen since the old woman's departure.
Deciding to go in search of the old woman I move to stand, but as soon as I remove the cloth from the frail girl's neck and begin to rise to my feet her restless movements and pitiful whimpering resume.
The sight and sound of her distress disturbs me and I feel the beast within me becoming agitated. My instinct urges me to comfort the miko, but I have no idea how I should go about doing so.
Sitting back down beside her I hesitate in indecision, but as she cries out in misery my thoughts cease their frantic pace and I react by following my first instinct, I bury my hand within her silky hair and begin sifting my fingers through it, all the while gently caressing her scalp. A low pitched rumbling croon vibrates my throat before issuing forth from my mouth without my permission.
The absurdity of the moment hits me. I am petting the miko...
Absurd as it may be she calms once more and thankfully under my ministrations the crying and whimpering stop as well. Keeping one hand stroking through her hair, I reach for the cloth floating in the water basin with the other. I ring it out and carefully fold it; as I am quite proficient at performing such tasks using only one hand by former necessity, what might have been an awkward chore to some, is a mere moments work for me.
As she is not lying on her back I cannot place the cloth upon her forehead, so I settle it on the back of her neck instead. My objective achieved, I am left with nothing to do but watch as my hand moves in the miko's hair. The sight momentarily mesmerizes me, the startling contrast between my pale flesh and her inky black hair, so reminiscent of a star moving across the night sky, or snow resting upon a raven's wing; a perfectly harmonious yin and yang.
My disturbingly poetic introspective abruptly ends as the miko mutters a cursed name, "I-Inu Y-Yasha."
She calls upon the wretched half-breed even as it is I who tends to her, and I can feel my anger rise.
I am not upset by the girl's mistake, though I reluctantly acknowledge my distaste at hearing that whelp's name pass her lips. My anger is centered solely upon Inuyasha! How dare he betray her this way! He alone could take her through the well so that she may receive the aid she needs, he alone could end her suffering! Yet he is nowhere to be found in her time of need; too occupied chasing after a clay imitation, a mere pale shadow of the girl before me, to bother!
Vow or no vow, I will make the whelp pay for every drop of her blood that has been spilled, for every whimper and cry of pain.
Oh, yes I am anticipating your return very much little brother.
At the thought of exacting revenge for the miko, I feel my beast's satisfaction join with my own as Bakusaiga pulses in agreement at my side.
I embrace my anger reveling in its familiarity as it overcomes the confusing profusion of so many other strange and unwelcome thoughts and feelings.
Two days have passed since the battle with Naraku's minions, and the miko still has not awoken, nor has the hanyou returned.
In the days following her injury the miko's condition has neither worsened nor improved. The monk, and slayer retrieved several cures from the herbalist half-breed, but they have yet to prove useful.
Aside from checking in on Rin and ensuring her safety, as well as that of the rest of the pack, I have not left the miko's side.
She still possesses shikon shards, and as she is currently defenseless I have appointed myself her guardian until her recovery is complete.
The elder miko is currently cleansing the wound on the little miko's back, under my watchful eye. At first she had protested my continued presence due to the girl's state of undress, but after she came to understand that no argument would induce me to abandon my self-appointed post, she relented in her objections asking merely that I vow to remain chivalrous and refrain from taking liberties.
Does she believe me as base as to take advantage of the miko's vulnerability in such a way? Just who does she take me for, the monk?
Vexed at her insinuation I have made a deliberate show of keeping my eyes trained solely and fixedly upon the miko's wound, never allowing them to stray.
"The infection has worsened."
The elder nods still focused on her task.
"Aye, I fear tis so. Her fever has not yet broken either."
The miko begins to whimper and moan, as the elder applies the poultice to her back and without conscious thought I move to her side, and begin stroking her hair.
I have done so, often in the last few days as it seems to calm her, and thus think nothing of repeating the act now. I watch her face as it slowly settles into its former peaceful expression before becoming aware of eyes upon me.
I look up to see the old woman's one good eye staring at me with a knowing look. Just what is it that she thinks she knows?
Gathering her supplies with a tiny half-smile, the miko gives a small bow and departs with an assurance that she will return.
It is not long after her departure that a despised scent reaches my nose, and the sound of a commotion near the village entrance echoes in my ears.
I remove my hand from the miko's hair and place it on Bakusaiga's hilt, just as the door flap is roughly slapped aside. A visibly panicked Inuyasha rushes through the doorway, only to pull up short as he realizes that I have the tip of my sword pointed at his throat.
"Ah, hello little brother; how nice it is of you to condescend to grace us with your presence." I make certain to put enough ice in my voice to freeze a volcano, as I stare in disgust at the hanyou.
"S-sesshomaru, what the hell are you doing?! Let me pass I want to see Kagome!"
My fist tightens around Bakusaiga, as I stifle the growl building within my chest.
"Is that so; and why pray tell should I let such an honor less, faithless, excuse for a half-breed anywhere near her?"
"Listen you bastard, I don't know what crawled up your ass, but I ain't got time for your shit right now. Kagome is all that matters."
Upon hearing those words I feel all my well disciplined control snap like a reed in the wind, and I cannot prevent the cruel, humorless laugh that escapes me. It scrapes against a throat unused to such sounds before abrading the foolish boy's ears. It is with a great deal of satisfaction that I watch those same ears flatten against his head, as his eyes widen.
Before he can react, I sheath Bakusaiga and grab him by the throat. I spin with him, slamming him to the floor mere inches from the miko's infirm form. My grip on his throat tightens as my poison begins dripping down from my hand to sizzle against his skin. My claws slightly pierce his flesh as I lean in closer to his startled face, and in a deadly, whisper soft voice I repeat his words.
"'Kagome is all that matters', is that what you just dared to say? Tell me then; did she matter to you when you abandoned your pack in enemy territory without any warning?"
Seemingly coming to his senses, the half-breed begins to struggle.
"I didn't do tha-" Tightening my fist I cut off the whelps pointless spluttering, along with his air.
"Oh but you did. You knew we headed south on rumors of Naraku. Yet, while we were dead center in southern territory, you leave us to go off chasing after a clay doll animated by stolen souls, without so much as telling anyone first. Do you know what occurred after your departure Inuyasha?"
I relieve just enough pressure from his throat so that he may take short breaths and answer the question. Further reinforcing his foolishness, the hanyou wheezes out the words that seal his fate.
"O-obviously you were attacked, but you were there, why didn't you protect them yourself, dickhead; or couldn't you handle the job?!"
My hand tightens once again, as I feel my eyes bleed red, and I snarl in his face.
"We were not attacked, we were ambushed! The miko and I sensed them mere moments before they were on us. The wind witch kept me pinned down with a barrage of attacks. The miko destroyed one of the puppets and saved the slayer and neko, but a second Naraku clone had kidnapped the children! It erected a barrier that only the miko was able to enter, It could have killed both she and the children! If you had been there we could have broken the barrier! But no, instead the miko was left to fend for herself, while the rest of us were forced to stand by uselessly!"
I forcefully turn his head to look at the miko still slumbering beside us.
"Was she all that mattered to you when you left her to suffer? Her injury was severe. The elder miko has done all that she was able, but the miko's condition only worsens! She has whimpered with fever, writhed with pain, and hovered near death for two days, while she called out for you! If you had been here she could have been returned to her own time for aid, but you have been too occupied doing Kami knows what with that moving statue to consider the welfare of your pack!"
I lean in closer to the miserable wretch, our noses nearly touching.
"Give me one good reason not to end you, Inuyasha. Tell me why I should not return to you every ounce of her pain and suffering tenfold?!"
Just as I am poised to sink my claws into his neck and rip out his throat, I feel a soft, fluttering touch upon the hand I have braced against the floor. I quickly jerk my head around, only to find beautiful blue eyes staring back at me. Though they are dulled with pain and lacking their usual sparkle there could not be a more welcome sight.
"P-please Lord Sesshomaru, d-don't, don't hurt him."
Her voice is hoarse and gravelly from disuse, but it might as well be the sweetest cadence that ever reached my ears. Without thinking, I turn my hand so that it is palm to palm with hers and thread our fingers together. Never taking my eyes from her hazy feverish ones, I release the hanyou.
"Welcome back miko."
My head feels fuzzy, and I hurt all over, especially my back.
I'm still not sure what exactly is going on, but I think I just stopped Sesshomaru from killing Inuyasha. But why exactly was he trying to kill him this time, and what did he mean; welcome back from what?
With a jolt all the pieces fall into place and it all comes rushing back to me as my mind finally catches up with my body. So that's it, I wonder how long I've been unconscious?
I feel something cool engulfing my hand and look down to see what it could be since I don't remember injuring my hand during the battle, and I'm shocked to see a clawed hand laced with mine. I might have thought it was Inuyasha's hand if it weren't for the white kimono sleeve, and the magenta wrist stripes I can see peeking out from under it.
Lord Sesshomaru is holding my hand...wait...LORD SESSHOMARU IS HOLDING MY HAND?!
Before my brain can go into full meltdown mode I feel the cool sensation suddenly leave my hand and a growl rips through the air.
"Kagome, are you all right?!"
Inuyasha had apparently recovered and then proceeded to push Sesshomaru back, inching into and taking over his place at my side, while the Lord of the West stares at him with murder in his eyes. Idiot; I just saved his life from my sick bed and he just goes and pisses Sesshomaru off again like two seconds later, just great.
"…Hurts," my throat is so scratchy it feels like I've been gargling glass, and a mild strangling sensation prevents me from saying much. Clearing my throat, I'm just about to attempt speaking again, when a small cup suddenly enters my field of vision; I reach for it and carefully clasp it in my weakened hands. After taking a sip, I send my savior a grateful smile, only to realize I'm looking at none other than Sesshomaru.
Before I can give him my thanks, Yasha forces my attention back to him.
"How could you not sense those puppets sooner wench? Naraku's minions always reek, and they almost always have jewel shards. Were you out there daydreaming, or studying for one of your tests again?"
Okay, I am so regretting not letting Sesshomaru kill him now. I wonder if it's too late to... STOP! Bad Kagome, bad!
"Inuyasha, I wasn't daydreaming, or studying! Somehow Naraku is able to mask his presence completely now. He can even block out the aura of the jewel shards. Kagura, and the first puppet we were able sense only seconds before they attacked, and the second puppet no one could sense at all. It was like they just appeared out of nowhere!"
I see Yasha's eyes turn from smug curiosity to worry and I know immediately what's coming.
"I have to warn Kikyo! She doesn't know about this, she's in danger!"
I watch as an unholy light enters Sesshomaru's eyes at Inuyasha's words.
As Inuyasha moves towards the doorway with no other thought but to reach his precious Kikyo, I see Sesshomaru move to intercept him. I reach out and once again clasp the youkai Lord's hand in mine.
"Just let him go."
He looks down at me with a puzzled frown.
"You do not blame him for what happened to you, or for leaving you behind now that he knows of your injury?"
I let out a weary sigh. I really do feel awful. When I move it sends pain straight to my back, I feel sick and all I really want to do is go back to sleep. I'm just so tired.
"I chose to fight. I chose to enter that barrier knowing Inuyasha wasn't there to break it; and as for his leaving me now, it's not exactly a surprise. Kikyo always comes first, always."
I hear my voice hitch on the last word and I hate myself for it, but for the moment I can only focus on the return of the numb emptiness currently spreading through my chest. This time though, I welcome it.
Suddenly I feel cool skin brush against my cheeks in a feather light caress. Startled I look up to see Sesshomaru kneeling beside me. I slowly become aware of the warm wetness of the tears trailing from my eyes, and realize with shock that the tender brushing I felt was the inu youkai wiping them away.
"Miko, why do you cry?"
"Remember when I told you that one day I would have to choose whether to let go of my feelings, or keep holding onto my love for Inuyasha? I just realized I've been slowly letting go for a while now. Every time he chose her over me, each time I saw them together, the times he looked at me, but only saw her, I think a little bit more of my love died until only a small kernel of hope was left. I guess the death of that last little bit of hope hurts more than I thought it would, that's all."
It was all too much suddenly, Naraku, the battle, Inuyasha, How sick I'm feeling, all of it; the weight was just too much to bear. As I begin to fully break down, I impulsively lean forward and bury my crying face in the neck of the Lord of the West.
Through my sobs I feel one of his hands hesitantly settle against the back of my head, cradling it as his fingers softly move through my hair. Somehow, this show of gentleness and comfort only seems to make me cry harder.
I don't know how long we stayed like that, but I do know that I will forever be grateful to the proud inu Lord who held me with care as I cried for the end of my first love.
After the miko had finished mourning the last of her unfortunate feelings for my ungrateful wretch of a brother, I decided to begin preparing her things so that she could return to her own era.
While the aforementioned idiotic hanyou, had once again run off to the clay doll, the miko had regained consciousness, and as such was able to cross between times on her own and seek the aid she was in need of.
For although she had finally awoken, her fever had not abated, the infection still raging inside her body. She was quite obviously in a weakened condition, a state that was only made worse by her emotional outburst. I refused to take any chances with her health, and despite her initial refusal I forced her to return to her home.
She insisted on seeing, and saying farewell to the children and her friends before she consented to leave, naturally they were all overjoyed to see her awake once more. However the effects of her illness were obvious to all, and became a cause for much worried speculation after I rejoined the pack from escorting the miko to the Bone Eater's well.
It has been a week since her departure, and I am becoming impatient for her return. I recognize this feeling, though I was but a pup the last time I experienced it. I felt it every time my father left the shiro to embark on a long journey, and know its cause well.
I miss the miko.
I have fought against these feelings she stirs in me, yet they only seem to grow stronger the more I resist them. I do not understand exactly what is going on, but for now at least I am content to wait and see what will happen.
The pathetic half-breed returned only yesterday. Apparently, he spent most of that time in search of the clay miko but was unable to locate her. Either his nose is a disgrace to inu kind, or the clay one did not wish to be found by him. If that is the case I cannot help but wonder why that should be.
He is to go to the miko's era today to see how she fares. It still bothers me that he is able to cross over to her time, but knowing that she has released the feelings of love that once bound her to him, makes me feel slightly better. He has also been far more cautious in my presence since our last confrontation. I am grateful for this, as I do not think the miko would appreciate finding him dead upon her return.
The slight evening breeze shifts and I suddenly smell sakura blossoms and peaches in the air. The miko has finally returned.
I arrive at the well, and reach my arm down into the dark opening. I feel a warm soft hand clasp mine and I lift the little human out of the depths of the well.
"You know this scenario seems awfully familiar to me. You're not going to accuse me of being a cheater this time are you?"
Hearing the laughter in her voice and watching the merriment dance in her eyes is a relief. She is herself again.
I merely shake my head in exasperation at her cheek, and ask, "You are well?"
I watch as a radiant smile lifts her lips and lights up her face. A bit in awe that it is I that has caused such a reaction.
"Yes, I'm alright now. My back's not completely healed yet, but the infection is gone, I'll have to be extra careful for a while so that I don't reopen the wound but I'll be fine. How has everyone been?"
"The monk, slayer, kit, and nekomatta are well and have remained at the old miko's village. I have been making camp on the outskirts of the village so that Rin may continue to play with the kit. The hanyou returned only yesterday from his journey, and has been asleep since his arrival but otherwise seems unharmed (unfortunately). There have been no further signs of Naraku or his minions in your absence."
"What about you, how have you been, My Lord?"
I raise my brow in question.
"Why do you ask miko?"
She smiles as she looks at me, a touch of mocking laughter hiding in her eyes.
"Ohhh, that's so mysterious! That'll get the ladies swooning for sure! Just keep up the aloof disdain act and you'll have 'em falling at your feet, you won't need my help at all!"
I decide to play her game; for it seems that I have even missed her impertinence.
"Miko, I am beginning to believe you have developed a false impression of me. Has no one ever taught you that you should not bait a wild beast?"
Imitating my previous look, the miko raises her brow.
"Are you trying to scare me? If so it won't work you know; because I've found out your secret."
Fear that she has somehow divined my strange new thoughts and feelings consumes me, but before I can utter a denial, she continues on.
"You're actually a really kind and caring person under all that surly pomposity."
I scoff. All that worry and that is what she believes she has discovered? Perhaps the fever has left her wits addled.
"Where did you get such a ridiculous idea, miko?"
Suddenly to my great annoyance she begins wagging her finger in my face.
"Ah, ah, ah, you won't fool me with the ice lord look, you pretend you feel nothing but I've been watching you for a while now and I know I'm right!"
With those words I feel my anxiety returning. I'm startled as I feel her soft hand cup my cheek, as she looks up at me with a soft, warm smile.
"It's in your eyes. The rest of you may scream cool indifference, but your eyes always give you away. When you're angry or annoyed they burn like the fires of hell. When you look at Rin-chan they soften and warm. When they're blank and empty you simply don't care. They cloud over when something puzzles you, and they seem to simultaneously light up and sharpen when you're curious about something. I've seen so many emotions reflected in them in the short time we've traveled together, but my favorite was when they were filled with care and worry as you lowered me into the well a week ago. Against all odds you've become a very dear friend to me Sesshomaru."
I simply stare at her too shocked to move as she braces her hands on my shoulders and rises up onto her toes, until she's softly brushing her lips against my cheek.
"Thank you, for everything Lord Sesshomaru." The combination of her soft kiss and her whisper of gratitude seem to accelerate my heart.
She steps back with a light blush on her face, and begins walking in the direction of the village without another word; then suddenly she stops and turns back toward me. With a wink in my direction, she assures, "Don't worry though it's not obvious that you're not a living block of ice, I'm just observant. I promise I won't reveal your secret to anyone; I mean really think of all the poor people who would die of shock if I did! If it will make you feel like a big mean youkai Lord again, I'll cower in fear and even let you call me a filthy human if you want."
Laughing, the impudent little minx resumes her journey to the village. After recovering from my shock I begin to follow, shaking my head at her audacity.
Later that night, I watch as the miko interacts with her friends and the children. She gives them gifts from her time, each one seeming to have been specifically chosen with their likes and personalities in mind. I notice that she treats my brother no differently than she did before her departure, laughing and fighting good-naturedly as always, despite the pain he has caused her.
She does her best to see to everyone's needs, to nurture and protect those around her, never expecting anything in return. Indeed she takes great pains to care for them yet cares so little for herself.
But I...I have discovered that I care for the strange little miko far more than I should.
Inuyasha: Yeah, not so much. (F-)
Thanks for reading!