Thank you, thank you, thank you to all those who read, and especially to those who review! You guys keep me motivated (I know it doesn't look like it) but it seems I get a nice little message just when I'm feeling like giving up on this thing. So please, please keep them coming! I promise I will finish this!
I can't believe it's been over a year now since I updated... Cross your fingers I can get back on track and finish this-- I keep getting ideas for totally unrelated things! If I could get any of them finished, I'd have something else to post at least, heh.
I have been periodically updating my user page, so you can always check that, in the event that I don't update for a while again. I really want this fic done, so we'll see if, now that I have a new job and am living more on my own, I'll get more time to sit and write. I hope so—I want the time. But it seems my writing muse won't always cooperate.
This chapter is, really belatedly, dedicated to Kristine Batey, aka Bachan. I didn't know her that well at all, but I felt she contributed a lot to the Inuyasha community and she will be greatly missed.
Chapter 34: Nothing Lost, Nothing Gained
Kagome was thankful Kirara wasn't traveling through the air as she felt the big cat move under her. She hadn't really thought she'd need to ride as well, but Morihiko was still rather unsteady. It was easier for her to ride and help hold him up than it was for her to walk and hope he'd always fall to whichever side she was on.
The drugs used on him must have been fairly powerful for him to take so long recovering-- Inuyasha always seemed to regain his strength so fast. But then again, she'd never seen the hanyou drugged by anything other than powerful scents. Perhaps what Morihiko had been given was some stronger version of whatever herbs Sango employed to help smoke out or subdue demons. Or maybe even just a much higher dose than the demon exterminator normally used.
She wished she knew more about such things-- Kaede and Sango had taught her little bits here and there, but she was still a long way away from being familiar with even half of what each of the other women knew. Maybe she should have paid more attention to her grandfather and his attempts at teaching her the ways of the caretakers of the shrine. Or maybe even listened to Houjo when he explained the healing properties of the gifts Houjo brought her when she returned to school after one of her trips to the past.
A wry half smile tilted the corner of her mouth at the thought, only to be disrupted seconds later by the gasp that escaped her lips.
Her fingers clenched in Kirara's fur as the fire cat's gait shifted slightly, bringing with it the clinking shift of the chains pooled in front of Morihiko, indicating a small dip in the floor. She had to carefully shift her own weight to keep herself upright, which was no small feat while she had one arm around the windwalker's waist.
Your grip is a bit tight, priestess.
"Sorry," Kagome muttered, concentrating on shifting her arm once again.
It was the third time he had complained in what she thought had to be only as many minutes. It was beginning to make her wonder how Lady Tamaeri could put up with him. But she also had to remember that he was in a bad state at the moment, and very resentful of needing anyone else, let alone a human, to help him.
Inuyasha was the same way, and she still put up with him, didn't she?
Luckily, it was usually the hanyou's pride that was bruised, not his body, but he still ended up complaining, or even lashing out at someone else, when he was trying to hide just what a fool he knew he'd been. She knew he didn't always realize what was coming out of his mouth before it was said and the damage was done. And she knew he was sorry afterwards, even when he put up a front and refused to apologize. Knowing that didn't always make it hurt any less, but it did help her to eventually forgive him.
Especially when he did something exceptionally sweet, or at least exceptionally sweet for Inuyasha. He never brought her flowers or other little gifts. And he rarely touched her in any sort of affectionate way. But he was always saving her from danger, and worrying about her health and safety before his own (though he complained about her being a weak, fragile human at the same time), and carting her around, and bringing things to her at school when she forgot them in her hurry to get back to her studies. And then, of course, she had to take into account his guiding her around since she lost her sight, and his apologizing, and then keeping her in his lap to keep her warm while they were at the windwalker's festival... and then kissing her...
He had kissed her, hadn't he?
And he hadn't been under any sort of spell, nor had he thought she was the reincarnated priestess at the time.
He'd kissed her, and--
No! She didn't have time to think of that now. She had to get herself and Morihiko to safety, and somehow find the others.
Involuntarily, her arm clenched tighter around Morihiko. Her heart rate sped up as she realized she hadn't been paying enough attention. The windwalker could have slipped to the floor during the space of time she'd been daydreaming, and she wouldn't have known!
The annoyed voice in her mind faded soon after the word. Whatever it was the windwalker had to say was covered by his own hoarse, violent coughing. The chains rustled once again as he apparently moved to cover his mouth with one hand.
A few seconds later, the faintest breeze brought what she thought was a familiar whiff of something herbal, and quite pungent. It clung in her throat no matter how much she swallowed and coughed. And beneath her legs, she felt Kirara twitch as if she, too, were finding it hard to breathe with whatever was in the air.
What is ... this awful scent?
"I don't... I don't know," Kagome managed to choke out. It was all she could do to attempt to stop the coughs, but nothing worked. And she feared they were going to draw quite a bit of attention with all the noise, if they weren't doing so already. She hoped Morihiko would at least warn her if that were the case, however.
She again felt the tiniest movement of air against her legs, and guessed they must be close to an exit of some sort.
Her ears strained to pick up any sound beyond her own coughing and the windwalker's, and she wished, not for the first time since being captured by Shiori, that she had hearing as good as Inuyasha's. The half dog demon would surely have coped with being blind far better than she was able, with his superior sense of hearing and smell. In fact he had proved he was much better suited to the loss of one of his senses, hadn't he? When he learned to first truly use the Kaze no Kizu, he'd been blinded by his opponent's poison, and that was how he'd been able to smell the wound of the wind. And he'd also told her how acutely he missed his youkai senses in his human form. But the loss of his superior awareness didn't stop him from fighting as if he had his powers. The thought would have annoyed her if she hadn't been so worried about other demons whose hearing was almost as good, if not the same, as the hanyou's.
No, she didn't have his keen senses, nor would she gain them any time in the near future.
Fortunately, once her own coughing fit died down a bit, she was able to pick up several other noises.
Apparently whatever was in the air was causing others to cough as well, for she heard intermittent clearing of throats. Then there were numerous thumps, grunts, and yells, and once the rather loud sound of splintering wood.
What was going on?
A battle? If so, who were the participants?
Surely she would hear familiar battle cries, like Sango throwing Hiraikotsu, or Miroku using his ofuda, if her friends were involved. Although their silence didn't necessarily mean anything, either.
From the sound of things, there were many beings taking part in the fight.
But why didn't Morihiko--
Something in the air is making it difficult to see.
Well that answered her question, before she'd even finished it! Kagome thought, wondering if the windwalker had somehow read her mind, or if his comment just happened to be placed at the right time.
It is hard to miss something that blatant.
Kagome wasn't sure at first how to respond to the remark. The faint thread of arrogance and scorn in his voice made her angry, yet it took a few seconds for the actual words to sink in. If he'd been able to somehow hear her thoughts just a moment ago, who knew what else he'd been privy to. Had she been thinking of anything embarrassing? Before she'd been listening to the outside noises, she had been reflecting on--
Why a demon, even only half of one, would cavort with a human is entirely beyond my understanding. Surely you can save such thoughts for another time, preferably when we have parted ways.
He had heard her! Kagome felt her cheeks heat in mortification, wanting nothing more than to disappear and leave him to his own devices. "I... You... Well, excuse me!" she stammered indignantly, coughing once again at the sharp inhalation of air. "You didn't have to listen!"
I do not expect a human to know how to keep her thoughts hidden.
"Well, thanks for that! I'm sorry if this poor human doesn't understand the ways of your kind! I suppose it didn't occur to you to let me know this before I embarrassed myself?" Angrily she swiped at the moisture pooling in her eyes from the renewed coughing fit.
I was trying hard to ignore your voice and concentrate on being your eyes.
"I..." Once again, she was at a loss for words. What was she to say to that, when she knew he was in the right? This was not the time for petty bickering, not when they were ensconced in the middle of enemy territory. She hadn't been doing her part. And she did need his help. "I'm sorry," she murmured, running her fingers through Kirara's fur in an attempt to soothe her own frazzled nerves. "I realize we need to work together at this point, so I'll try to keep my thoughts focused on the task at hand."
Thank you, Priestess.
She'd been half-expecting some sort of grunt, like Inuyasha's usual noncommittal "Keh", as a response. At least Morihiko was a bit more polite, even if the attitude was similar.
Perhaps this Inuyasha would benefit from a new set of manners.
"Ah... yes, he would," Kagome agreed, biting her lip and letting a small self-conscious laugh escape. She was feeling extremely awkward, now that she knew he could pick up her thoughts so easily. "Could you, um, tell me... if there's any way I could... not always let you know what I'm thinking?"
He didn't answer right away, and she grew more anxious as she felt the seconds ticking by. He was probably thinking how stupid humans were, to not understand how to control their own thoughts.
"Uh, you know, just... forget I--"
I do not know, he answered before she could finish her muttered request, the faintest hint of puzzlement in his voice. You are not of our kind, and the connection is a difficult thing to explain.
Her response was a rather intelligent "Oh."
This situation is beyond my understanding. I have never before encountered a human, yet I could hear you when I awakened.
"Wait. Does that mean others can hear me as well?" Kagome's fingers tightened on the windwalker's arm in growing alarm.
Surely we would have been discovered sooner by the racket you make when speaking in the way of humans.
But I believe we would not have made it this far if your mindvoice was being heard by others.
Kagome set her jaw and counted to ten, allowing the breath she'd drawn in to rush out with a faint whistling sound.
This was not the time to be fighting, as she'd just told Morihiko mere moments ago. They needed to find a way to get back to her friends, and then back to the windwalker's family.
For a human, your claws can still do damage.
Kagome sucked in a breath, gagging once more as her now fairly dry throat protested the intake. She pulled the hand holding onto the winged youkai away from his arm and brought it up to cover her mouth. Even if she had been able to see, the coughing would have kept her from noticing how the muscles flexed in his forearm when she let go.
The other humans are here?
Kagome barely registered Morihiko's words.
Had she heard right? She thought someone had called her name, and it wasn't the windwalker.
She waited, trying to still the spasms of her throat so she could listen and find out if her mind was merely playing tricks on her.
This time, the voice was much stronger and louder, as if the speaker were closer to her. High-pitched and child like. It sounded like--
"Kagome! You're all right!" the kitsune cried, his voice carrying to her ears as if he were standing right next to her, though his words were the tiniest bit muffled.
A fox child? What do you mean by bringing a kitsune with you?
Morihiko's mind-voice was slightly stronger, though it seemed his rising ire was the most likely cause of the shift in his energy level. For now, though, Kagome ignored him and focused on Shippo.
"I'm fine, Shippo, but-- what about the others?" She'd had to pause to cough and swallow once again, but she was able to take a couple of deep breaths without further aggravating her throat.
"I was with Sango and Miroku, and Miroku was--"
How many have you brought with you?
"What?" Kagome asked, unable to fully understand either speaker, but neither seemed to hear her as they both continued on as if she hadn't spoken.
"--hurt. And Inuyasha was off fighting some demons, and so was Maruku--"
And how do they all know my brother?
"Damn it, you feathered freak, get out of my way!"
Kagome completely lost what either of the two demons near her had said as her ears swiftly focused on another, much more welcome voice.
She let go of Morihiko and attempted to shift both legs to one side so she could slide down from Kirara's back, but ended up nearly toppling herself off of the firecat's rear end. Luckily a pair of strong arms caught her before she could land on the ground.
She barely waited for Inuyasha to pull her off of Kirara before she turned in his arms and reached both hands up to his face. She felt his mouth moving under her fingers just as she spoke.
"Inuyasha are you okay?"
"Kagome, are you all right?"
Kagome could feel her cheeks heating slightly as she let out a tiny self-conscious laugh and nearly jerked her hands away from the hanyou's cheeks. "I'm fine," she responded quietly, finally settling on resting her hands on his arms. "I knew you were coming."
"Keh. Like they could stop me."
The comment made her heart skip a beat, but she tried to ignore it. "Uh, I f-found Lord Morihiko," she stuttered awkwardly, gesturing with one hand in the direction she thought she'd come from.
Inuyasha looked up and met the windwalker's narrowed gaze, remaining silent as he sized up the dark-winged youkai. Morihiko had definitely seen better days, he thought, eyeing the dirt that covered skin, hair, and feathers. The crude chains would not have been a deterrent to a healthy demon-- they weren't even attached properly to any sort of cuff. They were merely wrapped around and tied together with a strong piece of rope. In the youkai's weakened state, however, they had apparently done their job, judging from the marks on his wrists and ankles.
Kagome wasn't sure what was going on, and the stretched out silence began to grate on her nerves. So she did the one thing that came naturally, hoping to overcome the awkward moment.
"So you are all right, Inuyasha? Like I said, I found Lord Morihiko, as you can see. Well I'm sure you can see that," she rambled, her voice quieting a bit as she seemed almost to be mumbling to herself, then picking up volume as she continued. "I'm glad you're here, though. Where are the others? Are they all right? This would be so much easier if I could see them for myself. But it was Shiori who kidnapped me. And she put me inside some kind of wooden... building, and I ended up practically tripping over Lord Morihiko. And then Kirara showed up, so I knew you and the others had to be close, and then Lord Morihiko woke up and we somehow managed to get out of there, but I was so afraid someone was going to hear us and find us before you came and then I wouldn't know what to do since I-"
"Shiori brought you to him?" Inuyasha interrupted, his brows knitting together in confusion. "Why would she do that?"
"Well, I don't know, Inuyasha," Kagome shrugged. "She just told me to get Lord Morihiko out of there. That we were going to help her-"
"Help her do what?"
"Would you let me finish? What is it with you and interrupting me?"
"Kagome..." he muttered in a warning tone.
"Sheesh. Calm down, Inuyasha. She told me that we were going to help her beat Ataru."
"Why the hell should we do that? Besides the fact that that bird-brain is irritating, we came here to--"
"You carry... Shikon shards."
Inuyasha's head whipped around, his mouth open as if ready to finish his sentence. The unfamiliar, hoarse voice had come from the windwalker still sitting astride Kirara.
Morihiko attempted to say something else, though it was cut off by a harsh cough.
"How do you know that?" Inuyasha asked, his amber gaze narrowing on the winged youkai as his fingers tightened on Kagome's arms and he began to shift her aside.
Morihiko nodded towards Kagome, still unable to speak.
Inuyasha frowned down at the girl beside him. Her unseeing eyes were fixed somewhere on a point past his shoulder. "Kagome, you told him we-- Damn it!"
He grabbed Kagome and threw them both to the ground, rolling several times.
"Inu--sha?" she questioned, coughing on the dust stirred up by his actions.
"Stay down!" he ordered, moving away and swinging his head around in search of their attacker. The light-winged demon rested only a few feet above him, crouched on the roof of the wooden structure like some misplaced gargoyle. Its eyes followed some point past the hanyou, giving him the advantage as he leapt directly into its line of sight, claws extended.
Kagome was wise enough to do as Inuyasha said, but she knew she could be trampled if she stayed where she was. But she didn't know which way to go.
"Kagome! Over here!" she heard Shippo call, fairly close to her right. It was followed by the soft sound of his small feet running across the dirt.
"Kagome, come on this way!" the kitsune urged. He grabbed her hand and started to pull as she was pushing herself to her knees.
What Inuyasha failed to notice were the dozen or so other youkai waiting on the far side of the roof. And by the time he was high enough to see them, it was too late.
His hesitation cost him dearly. The demon he'd been after grabbed his arm and used his own momentum to send him smashing through the roof.
The hard ground knocked the wind out of him, but his faster-than-human recovery rate had him springing back through the splintery hole seconds later.
He was just in time to hear Kagome shriek and see her hoisted in the air by one ankle. "Inuyashaaaa!" she cried, arms flailing in an attempt to find purchase on something.
Sango's battle cry was followed by the loud swish of her bone boomerang as it swooped through the mass of youkai, scattering them in every direction.
Inuyasha followed the one with Kagome, leaping after him and narrowly missing with each swipe of his claws. "Damn it, let her go!"
"As you wish!" The light-winged demon grinned maniacally back over his shoulder. Inuyasha watched as the demon's fingers slowly opened, leaving Kagome's ankle free of their hold.
The youkai flew back in the other direction as Inuyasha threw himself forward, catching Kagome and skidding across the ground with her in his arms.
"Inuyasha! The shards!"
At Sango's yell, the hanyou's eyes went wide and his gaze flew to the youkai gathering once more on the roof.
Sunlight glinted off the familiar broken chain as it dangled from a clawed fist.