The Tale of Inari Okami - InkHound - InuYasha (2024)

Chapter 1: This is Where it Starts

Chapter Text

The Tale of Inari Okami - InkHound - InuYasha (1)

Rain came down in sheets, dripping down between her breasts, traveling the length of her thighs, and pooling into the heels of her boots. The woolen socks were soaked, and squelched between frozen toes that flexed and shifted in search of purchase within their leather confines. The torrential downpour had bathed every inch of her chilled and minutely shaking body. It made the sturdy bow slick and cool within her white-knuckled grip.

But it was useless. She didn't have any arrows left and all she could do was watch. The last moment she would ever see, the last memory she would ever be able to burn into her brain in pure, bright technicolor; the rain and the battle...

Above all, the blood. The dark, crimson spray of it, cutting through the sheets of endless rain and creating a hissing steam as it sailed through the air in defiance of gravity; aimed right for her.

Stop.

The giant bones of the great Inu no Taisho bore silent witness to the final destruction of Naraku, and maybe later, years down the road she would wonder about that. About the odd placement of the final battle in such a way so that it gave the appearance of being interconnected. Of everything, in some gnarled, twisted fashion coming full circle, even if it was so far from the truth of it. As she would come to understand, in the days, weeks, and months to come.

She put everything she had into the one sacred arrow and let it fly, carried on by frustration and a prayer. Watching with furrowed brow and desperate eyes as the great, blazing pink fire, streaked through the barrier and pierced Naraku. The sheer size and strength of it purifying him in one fell blow. It was perhaps the most beautiful out of all the many things and events that led up to that one moment. Not even laying eyes upon Inuyasha for the first time could top the bone-deep satisfaction of seeing Naraku's final, and complete destruction.

The looks on her friends faces, at finally, finally, knowing it was over; the greatest battle against their greatest foe, that look came to a close second, in her mind.

No...

Her heart swelled, even before the gift touched the pads of her fingertips. It felt almost as if it would burst within her breast, this burgeoning feeling of light and laughter, this sensation of heat and gratitude, of affection... and love.

She knew it was beautiful, and that a great amount of time had gone into the fine, supple stitching. Each gem-like bead had been selected and sewn into the unknown pattern with infinite care. The beads were smooth and cool beneath her touch, just as fine as the material it had been sewn into, and she cradled the gift delicately in the palms of her hands. If she focused just enough, and carefully traced one edge of the outline with the sensitive pad of a fingertip, she could make out the familiar design she recalled seeing from years past.

A smile teased at the edge of her lips, and she wondered at the meaning, even as she felt careful claws attached to fine, masculine hands take the new, silken cloth from her fingers and move behind her to-

No... this isn't where it starts.


She thinks, that if she were going to start her tale, or if she were to look at all the moments and strange points in her life... She would have to say that it started here. Her luck was always such, that of course, fate would come knocking, at the oddest, if not most inopportune moments in her life. This one, the biggest one, just happened to be in class, even if she hadn't known it then.

So yes, she would have to agree.

Here, is where it starts.


"And that dear children, is why it's incredibly important that you triple, yes, TRIPLE CHECK, Mr. Oshin, looking at you," the instructor emphasized as he mock-glared at the shame-faced student amidst the laughter of the class, "-that you ensure all of your tools are back on the tray, before you stitch the patient back up." They finished as more laughter ensued.

"But in all seriousness, the majority of physician malpractice and patient injury or death, after major surgery is due to a surgeon's forgetting to retrieve his scalpel, clamp, or spare car keys from inside the patient's insides. Make. Sure. You. Retrieve. ALL. Of your tools!" The instructor waited a long moment in silence until the rest of the class had fallen silent and took his words to heart.

"With that being said, I expect a minimum five page essay on the next chapter in your books, bright and early this Monday morning, class dismissed." He called while chaos broke out, "Ms. Higurashi, a moment, before you leave!" He added once chairs started scraping across linoleum floor in their haste to leave to begin their Friday.

Kagome bit her lip and sighed deeply, sending up a small prayer that she wouldn't be kept back too late. Not that she was about to waste her time, trying to get through the throng of rapidly exiting students. Instead she made last minute notes in her schedule planner about the assignment and packed away her study materials. Once she'd hefted her book bag over her shoulder and adjusted her pea-coat, Kagome tucked in her chair and headed towards the large desk at the front of the class.

"Yes, thank you for waiting Ms. Higurashi, I'll keep this brief since I know you have other appointments," her instructor spoke after he'd found a spot to pause in organizing the multitude of papers on his desk.

"Thank you Mr. Sen, I appreciate that." She smiled honestly. In truth, she was grateful he remembered; Kagome had made a point to inform all of her afternoon class instructors about her auditing another course at a smaller college in her hometown. No others seemed to have bothered.

He rested a hip on the edge of his desk and crossed slender arms, taking a moment to push the sleek frames of his glasses up further on the bridge of his nose as he regarded her.

"I would like it if you would consider applying for the internship at Amatseru Memorial Hospital. You're the top student of all my classes that I'll be recommending for it. And I have it on good authority that you would be placed into the hospital's leading diagnostician and surgeons team. You have the brains, and the raw talent, Ms. Higurashi. Too few people have your kind of eye in the field." He spoke, getting straight to the point.

Her eyes widened and for a solid minute, Kagome couldn't think of a single thing to say. She'd known that she'd been good, she had to be with the amount of work she'd been putting into her education (and to be completely honest, her practice too, given that she'd been using her friends as guinea pigs whenever they got injured. Whether that was destroying rogue youkai with Inuyasha and crudely stitching up a giant gash in his stomach, or pushing the bone back into Miroku's flesh, setting his arm, splinting it, and then stitching up the wound after he'd fallen off a newly finished roof...), the point was she'd been actively applying her education in a manner that modern day Japan wouldn't exactly consider ethically acceptable. Or legal. But that was beside the point right now. Kagome had just been handed the highly coveted residency opportunity at Edo University, on a platter. Practically gift-wrapped. Stupidly she realized it had been a hot minute since she'd even acknowledged his words.

Heat suffused her face so fast she wandered distantly, if her head would explode. Kagome bowed low and with utmost sincerity as she bit the inside of her cheek to make herself say something. Anything!

"Thank you for the recommendation Mr. Sen, I'm incredibly honored." She spoke quickly as she straightened, meeting her instructor's eyes.

"So you'll apply then?" He questioned, as sharp as ever.

"I will have to speak with my family about this before I make a decision. But to even be recommended by you sir, I'm most thankful." Kagome replied, she still didn't know what to think about it. The internship was something she had not even considered possible, for a number of reasons. Namely half a dozen reasons, five hundred years ago.

"I understand, but don't take too long deciding, the application deadline is next month." He warned. Not a moment later he moved himself off the desk and began sorting through his papers, "Get going Ms. Higurashi, traffic will hit soon and you've got a class to audit at another college." He dismissed.

"Thank you again, Mr. Sen. Have a good weekend." She said quickly, departing with a quick bow. Once she cleared the classroom, she bolted down the hallway and headed for the parking lot.

In the years since Naraku's defeat, Kagome had learned to drive. A skill that had become a necessity once she finished up her highschool education, obtained a general education diploma, and then applied herself to college. Splitting her time between medical courses at the university, and then auditing courses at the local community college had meant that subway times had her missing classes, bus systems had her late to them, and taxis made it too expensive for her to attend. So her mother had taught her, and she'd taken to borrowing the family car for her array of classes.

She checked her watch, she had twenty minutes until the class started, and it was one she really couldn't afford to miss out on. So while careful, Kagome pulled out of the parking lot, and sort-of-kind-of bent the speeding rules a bit in order to get to where she needed to go on time.

Surprisingly, with Naraku's defeat, the well had not closed as they all had initially thought. Once she'd purified the jewel and held it whole and unbroken in her clasped hands, Kagome had informed her friends that she had wished it away, so it could not harm or tempt anyone ever again. And despite the lack of magical fanfare accompanying her wish, when they'd seen her open hands with no jewel, they'd grimly (and in Inuyasha's case, very grudgingly), agreed that it had been for the best. Unfortunately... She'd lied. Kagome still felt very, very guilty for having done that to everyone, especially after everything they'd all been through together. But even at the tender age of fifteen, deep down, she'd known the truth. There was no such thing as a completely pure wish, none that any mere mortal creature could devise, at any rate.

With a careful turn of the wheel she entered the community college parking lot and maneuvered the family car into the first open spot she saw, parked, then promptly got out, locked the car, and booked it like no tomorrow to the kennels.

In truth, while her hands had been clasped and she'd bowed her face close to her hands in determined prayer... She'd stuffed the shikon jewel into her mouth and swallowed it. Now, she'd never be sure if she was, or was not Kikyo's reincarnation, and good kami she certainly hoped not. But the simple fact was she had been born with the jewel inside of her body. So it made sense, for as far as her fifteen year old self had managed to think (especially on such short notice in front of a crowd), she didn't do too badly. Although her throat had been sore for weeks after.

The students were still filing in, so Kagome was able to thread in between them and get a good spot close to the exam table, but still out of the instructors way when he moved around. She was quick to pull out her notepad and pen, in addition to turning on the record function on her mobile phone (discreetly of course, but she was not always fast enough to write down notes and pay attention to what was being shown in this class), and clipped it to the strap on her bag.

Initially, she'd worried that her friends, and Inuyasha in particular, would be able to sense the jewel the way Mistress Centipede had when she'd bitten her side and pulled her down the well, heralding the start of her incredible journey. But he never seemed to, and neither had any other full yokai that they came across in the weeks and months to come. It was only a few years later, when she'd turned eighteen that she figured it out (well, maybe not entirely, but enough to satisfy her thoughts); Kagome surmised that when she'd been born, the jewel had been too close to the surface of her body, probably by fate's design, so that she could get pulled down the well. In that way, she was sort of like the jewels cover, or container, the way a katana blade had its sheath. Her body protected it and shielded the jewel from discovery. Which in turn meant, once she'd made it whole again after Naraku's defeat and swallowed it, the Shikon was placed deeper inside her body than before, making it seemingly impossible to detect. She wasn't even sure where it was inside of her, exactly, it was a magical item capable of great power... But it had yet to surface or attract any dark or demonic creatures since she'd taken it into herself, and her miko powers hadn't been affected either way, which left Kagome to believe she'd ultimately done the right thing in the end. Or so she hoped.

"Good afternoon class! Today we're covering canine behavior and anatomy that we've learned about through lecture previously, which we'll now review with a variety of subjects as you see before you." The instructor swept in through a set of lab doors, in a white coat and a no-nonsense manner. While he addressed the class he moved to one of the kennels and unlocked it, reaching in and carefully withdrawing perhaps the most adorable little puppy Kagome had ever seen. The rest of the class shared her opinion, based on the series of swooning cute puppy noises they made.

"Yes yes, puppies are always adorable." Their instructor dismissed easily as he set the squirming little ball of furry joy onto the exam table, "This is an eight week old German shepherd puppy, on loan for this lesson from a good friend of mine, in addition to his litter mate who is currently whining at being left out at the moment."

Several students cooed and attempted to give the other puppy some attention briefly before their instructor took control of the class once more.

"As was discussed in the previous lesson, canine domestic dogs are considered 'puppies' for roughly two years, depending on the breed. And in comparative dog years, that means they're not fully mature dogs until they're twenty-three to twenty-five years old." He paused long enough to distract the puppy with a chew toy so he would stop trying to crawl off the exam table to check out all the new people.

Kagome could not help but make the comparison to Inuyasha, who still seemed to be in need of some maturing. And that thought made her wonder if by inuyokai standards, he was still considered a puppy. Food for thought, she made a small notation in her notebook and tuned in once more to the lecture, not allowing herself to get too distracted right now.

"Canine behavior and social skills is largely determined in the first twelve weeks of a puppy's life. They learn a significant amount of behavior and communication from their mother, hierarchy, sending and receiving nonverbal, and inhibited bite behavior-" the instructor continued on, rolling up one white sleeve of his lab coat to allow the puppy to teeth and play on the perceived new toy within his grasp, "As you can see, while excited, he has learned what is, and is not acceptable in terms of biting strength. At most, he is covering my arm in drool and at the worst, some light scratching."

The lecture and demonstration continued on in the same vein for the rest of the class period. With their instructor introducing different breeds of dog in varying stages of growth and development, as well as a few who were currently ill or wounded and being treated. In each case he pointed out key areas of anatomy or behavioral signals that the common man, woman, or child failed to interpret and respond to.

"This is one subject we will not see out of the cage, but as you can clearly see, this female bull-terrier mix has been poorly socialized," he indicated to one of the cages, carefully pointing on specific nonverbals the dog was displaying to convey her message in the only way she could, "On top of that she has recently undergone surgery and has retreated to the farthest edge of the cage, away from us, tail tucked in tight against her body, ears listening to us but not receptive to us in a positive manner, but more of a wary, cautious one."

All throughout, Kagome continued to diligently take her notes, even though she was continually side-tracking herself with the multitude of comparisons between domesticated dogs and her friend Inuyasha, in the feudal era. Granted that was one of the reasons she'd began auditing the veterinarian courses in the first place. She'd been walking to the grocery store one day and had gotten a bit distracted when she'd overheard two vet-track college students discussing shared avian territorial behavior displays, to which she'd later witnessed in action when her and Inuyasha had been asked to investigate the sudden infestation of crow yokai in a local village. Once the parallels had been drawn, Kagome had been unable to resist stacking more courses on her plate (which she smartly chose to audit as opposed to attend, she really did only have so much time to spare these days). The added education— while daunting on top of her medical course load, had turned out to be highly beneficial in her interactions with the various animal-base yokai she'd come across.

As the class drew to a close, and everyone exited the kennels, Kagome packed away her things and checked her watch. The class had taken a little longer than anticipated, but it was her last one of the day and she didn't have any volunteer work to do this evening. Which meant she could finally head home, take a nice hot shower, and then see what her mother had settled on for dinner tonight before getting started on her homework. After all of that, she had a nice soft bed that had her name written all over it with an eight hour guarantee. She grinned with pleasure and headed to the parking lot.

Once she'd gotten into the car and pulled into traffic however, she couldn't help but recall Mr. Sen's words, and the internship offer. Kagome hadn't been exaggerating about how prestigious and coveted that internship spot was. A solid ninety-five percent of the class was most viciously competing against one another to claim the highest grades, and attempting to win varying instructors' recommendations to put on their applications for the internship. Four students had already dropped out since the start of the semester for varying medical reasons because they just hadn't been able to handle the stress, pressure, and collective savagery from the student body on the medical track. It was crazy to witness at times and Kagome couldn't quite fathom how she'd been able to make it so far without succumbing herself. However, if she had to be truthful about the why of it, she'd have to admit that she had not cared the way the rest of her classmates had. She'd signed up and taken the classes for the sole reason of helping out her friends. Kagome would never be greatly skilled in battle (sure she could shoot a fiery pink arrow blazing with reiki like no one's business, but beyond that, she was that sad damsel in distress), but that didn't mean she wanted to remain useless. She was smart, and she had access to the modern era and all of it's medical and technological advancements. It was something she'd most ignorantly not taken advantage of in her young teen years (seriously, packing ramen and over the counter antihistamines?), and had sought to better remedy as she matured.

Because for whatever reason, the well still functioned. It still easily allowed Kagome to traipse back and forth through time with no trouble or delay. Kagome smiled, although Inuyasha could no longer say the same. Upon Naraku's defeat, he'd lost access to his ability to come whine and drag her back to the feudal era for whatever whiny reasoning he could think up. Which had certainly done her wonders in getting her education back on track.

She pressed her foot on the brake as the light turned red. But that was what it came back to, didn't it? Kagome's education, more specifically the gift wrapped internship offer and the reason she'd pursued this direction of learning in the first place. She bit her lip in frustration as the light turned green, and she eased the car back into motion, nearing the shrine with every rotation of the automobile's wheels.

Should she pursue it to its end? Even though it would take her farther from the shrine, and the well? Which in turn would take her farther from the sole purpose of her education? Would she one day be up to her elbows in blood and intestine, regretting her inability to succeed because she didn't complete her studies? Kagome frowned, and in a fit of pique, punched the steering wheel of the family car.

And regretted it immediately once her hand stung sharply with the pain.

"Damnit!" She hissed, shaking the hand to disperse some of the fire in her knuckles while she parked one-handed.

Why was she even thinking about this now? It couldn't just be because of the internship. This was not the first time she'd been offered some kind of educational scholarship of sorts. Kagome brushed the thoughts away for the moment, to better get her things out of the car and start up the steps to home. She had a shower, food, books, and bed waiting for her, the rest of it could wait for the weekend. And maybe a short romp in the feudal era, it'd been a while since she'd checked in on Sango, Miroku, and Shippou. Her continued education hadn't been an easy thing on her friends, especially on Shippou, whom had taken the larger bouts of separation harder than the others. But once they had seen her new skills and knowledge in action, they too could not help but to grudgingly agree that it was a large benefit to their group, as dispersed as they were in the days after Naraku.

"Mama, Souta, Grandpa, I'm home!" Kagome called as she slid the door closed and stepped out of her shoes and into her slippers.

"Oh my god, finally." Souta cried as he stuck his head around the corner, "Clean up all those history and mythology books from the den already, I'm having friends over tonight and they don't need to know how big of a nerd you are."

"Gee, thanks baby brother," Kagome said, deliberately messing up his carefully styled 'careless' windswept locks, "I'll be sure to get right on that."

"Ugh, I just got it how I wanted it! You're the worst!" Souta hissed, one hand touching his hair to assess the damage as he rushed to the bathroom, or more specifically, the mirror.

"The absolute worst, mister!" She corrected him as she watched her little brother race up the stairs.

"Welcome home, Kagome." Her mother said, smiling from where she stood in the kitchen doorway, apron on and washcloth in hand. From the spark of humor glinting in her eyes, Kagome was willing to bet her mother had witnessed the whole thing. "How were your classes?"

"They were good mama," she smiled, "How was your day, did grandpa give you too much trouble?"

"It has been good, and he has not." Her mother replied softly, eyes resting on the ceiling for a moment, "He sleeps more every day, and the aids tell me it should not be too much longer."

Kagome nodded in understanding, her mood a little more somber.

"I'm going to shower, clean up the den a little, and then help you with the rest of dinner. I'll join you shortly mama." She said, leaning in close to kiss her mother on the cheek before she made the trek upstairs.

Once freshly showered and dressed in a modest pair of pajamas (happy clouds and counting sheep hidden amongst them), Kagome stopped inside her grandfather's room to press soft lips to his cheek, adjust his blankets, and murmur words of love and affection in his ear as he slept. Her adventures in the feudal era had made Kagome a frequent acquaintance of death, and her mother and the nursing aids had not been wrong. It would not be long now before her grandfather passed on to the realm beyond. She did not know if she would be here with her family when he passed, so Kagome made sure to see her grandfather at least once a day.

After that Kagome padded down the stairs on fuzzy, striped socks and went straight to the den. She heard banging on the front door and young, teenage boys laughing and joking beyond it. Souta's friends must be here, which meant she needed to hurry it up as her little brother came tromping down the stairs like an ogre. Over the last few months, her side-project had sort of overtaken the family living area. Not that anyone else besides Souta had ever complained about it.

With quick movements and sharp efficiency, Kagome stuffed half-written notes into the corresponding textbook and snapped them closed. Larger, hardbound tombs were stacked neatly on top of each other while the smaller or odd-sized books with soft covers or thinner volumes were slipped into the side-pockets of end-tables and other assorted shelf spaces.

Kagome made note of a few volumes that had been more worn than the others; Taiko, Theology of Culture in a Japanese Context (and assorted volumes), Shogun, Musashi, and a frankly startlingly long list of other history and mythology textbooks she'd been able to get her hands on and devour. She made sure to start an entirely separate stack of books that she would need to return to respective libraries before the end of next week. There were at least three different libraries she'd need to stop at.

She'd started this 'side project', less than half a year ago, and still couldn't seem to find any concrete reason as to why she had this intense compulsion to research the feudal era in her time's history books. Kagome knew she was searching for something, but couldn't seem to find it, whatever it was. It was why she'd expanded her search into the mythology and lore of Japanese culture after a while too, hoping that it might be in the pages of yokai history that had become warped and twisted into modern day fairy tales. Whatever Kagome was seeking within all of these books, she knew she hadn't found it yet, and that, of everything was perhaps the most unsettling.

"Finally, I can see carpet, and the table again!" Souta crowed, cutting into her thoughts with ease while his friends commandeered the couch and television.

"You're welcome, baby brother." Kagome simpered, reaching for Souta's hair once more.

"No, no, no!" Souta dodged the hand and hid behind one of his friends, the one with a bright red blush across his face, "Aren't you going to help mom with dinner?" He said pointedly.

"You got lucky this time, Souta..." she warned, brows arched high as she looked down her nose at him. Drawing upon every single memory she had of Sesshoumaru's beyond arrogant and artfully sophisticated (and in some cases, highly dramatic), exits, Kagome spun on her heel and marched into the kitchen. If only she'd thought to drape a blanket around her shoulders to use as a makeshift cape. Capes were drastically underrated, in her opinion.

"What do you need help with, Mama?" Kagome inquired once her mother turned from the stove and approached the counter.

"If you could place dishes and utensils onto the trays with food, then we could take them out to the boys in the den. We can have dinner here in the kitchen, if that's alright with you, dear?" She replied, gesturing to the two trays and several bowls already filled with food for the growing teenagers to share.

"I think I'd prefer it to having to sit at the table with all of Souta's friends." Kagome laughed.

Her mother smiled in reply and turned back to the stove while Kagome fetched bowls, chopsticks, and flatware to place on the trays. Once both trays were loaded, Kagome took one, and then the other out to the den amidst the raucous cheers and declarations of 'Food!'. She made a third trip to deliver cups and a pitcher of water and a pot of tea before making a break for the kitchen. On her final return back in, Kagome noticed that her mother had already set two plates of food, and matching cups of tea at the far end of the counter that had stools. She smiled easily and slid into her seat, thanking her mother for the meal.

"Spring break is coming up, isn't it?"

"Hn, it'll start at the end of next week." Kagome replied, humming her affirmation around a sip of oolong.

"Does Inuyasha know?"

"He and the others will after I tell them this weekend." She said, thoughts already turning. Her search in history books, the internship offer, and then volunteer work at the kennels. All of it was related in one fashion or another, each one tied to the well. To five hundred years in the past...

"Something on your mind, Kagome?" Her mother prompted.

Kagome gave a visible start, blinking her eyes rapidly and shifting in her seat in order to bring herself back into the moment.

"Just thinking," she began, trying to formulate her thoughts, "About my studies, at school, and at home, and about the well..." she trailed off, still a little distracted by all of it. The well, most of all.

Why did it still work, even with the Shikon back in it's sheath?

A soft, warm hand fitted over her own, startling Kagome with it's firm grip. When she looked up from where her mother's hand held tightly to her own, she saw her mother's brown eyes, a little bigger, and glittering against the ambient overhead light.

"Mama?" Kagome said, voice a soft, puzzled question.

"Don't worry my little girl, it will come to you when the time is right." She said, gripping her daughter's hand in a tight, fond squeeze before releasing it.

Unable to make heads or tails of her mother's innocuous, yet strangely ominous words of comfort; Kagome hummed noncommittally and parroted her mother's actions. Raising her chopsticks from plate to mouth, chew and swallow, then back again. The rice was warm and the meat was savory, but for reasons unknown, Kagome tasted none of it. Lost to her thoughts and worried of the shapes they would form if given enough time.

Chapter 2: Wednesdays Set the Tone for the Week

Notes:

If nothing else, this story will improve my google-fu. And I very much intended for this chapter to encompass the rest of the week, but that's not how it turned out, my apologies.

Chapter Text


It was a Wednesday, and for once Kagome didn't feel like she was drowning in the assortment of homework, or as if she was going to be late to the next class, tardy for clinic hours, or behind in getting to the kennels. The feeling was one of bright relief with a wash of pleasantly baffling accomplishment; she was finally getting a solid handle on this concept of 'adulting'. And at the fresh age of twenty-four, Kagome had been starting to wonder if she ever would, even with all she had experienced (and continued to), in the Warring States era.

And she felt twice as thrilled by having found enough time to have lunch, not with just herself, but an old friend from her ill-fated high school days. Kagome was set to meet and catch up with Ayumi at a small, privately owned cafe just off the main drag of the university in about five minutes. Hopefully her friend had taken it to heart when she told her to arrive a bit earlier, so as to beat the lunch-hour traffic. Kagome wouldn't be able to stay late if Ayumi got caught up in the hellish backlog. The reason why she couldn't afford to stay even a second later than their appointed meeting time? Her next class was to observe an open-surgery (in the theater room, the larger one that had the overhead observatory and one-way windows), on the removal of cancerous lesions within a patient's large and small intestines.

They had been advised to either eat lightly, or forgo lunch entirely.

Kagome had just crossed the street and caught sight of the chalkboard placard advertising the cafe's 'Hump Day', lunch special, when her blue eyes were drawn to the delicate form of soft-spoken Ayumi waving her arm lightly in greeting. Kagome smiled brightly and quickened her steps until she stood beside the cafe table Ayumi had selected for their luncheon.

"It's so good to see you!" Kagome said, embracing Ayumi the moment she stood up to greet her. "You look stunning, Ayumi!" She couldn't help but add, taking in the simple floral-print skirt and white, sleeveless top with a modest low-cut 'v'neck, cinched with a wide, matte-black belt. And those shoes!

"Thank you so much, it's lovely to see you too, Kagome." Ayumi replied, voice softer but no less sincere, "It's been months."

"I know, and I'm sorry for that," She said, brow furrowed as they both took their respective seats, "I've unfortunately stacked a lot of classes in the last two years, so it's really put a bit of a damper on my social life." Especially since she spent her breaks, and most of her free time on the other side of the well.

"I understand that, Kagome, I do," Ayumi was quick to reassure, "Possibly more than the others, I remember how you used to struggle in high school, especially when you were constantly getting sick..." she trailed off, recalling the time which Kagome privately referred to as 'Grandpa's Wildest Tales and Why He was Never Again Allowed Near a Medical Textbook'.

"Ah... yes. It's why I went into medicine, in the end." Kagome fibbed, far more easily than she would have liked. She took a moment to glance over the menu card they had placed at each table in place of prolonged eye contact. Kagome still didn't feel comfortable lying to those she cared about, she didn't think she ever would, really.

Just then one of the serving staff came by to take their order. The serving woman wrote down Ayumi's order of honey and ginseng tea, and savory crepes on her notepad, smiling easily and commenting on her excellent selection given that the crepes were particularly tasty here (and she wasn't just saying that just because she happened to be good friends with the chef), and then she turned to take Kagome's order.She watched, in a sort of oddly detached yet bemused fashion, as the waitress's eyes grew wide while her pale, fair skin became near translucent as any hint of color faded from it. The notepad she clutched fell to the floor from between nerveless fingers with a soft 'plop', not that the woman seemed to have noticed, her attention arrested solely upon Kagome.

The look on the woman's face would remain sharp and diamond-bright in Kagome's mind for years to come.

"Are you alright, ma'am?" Ayumi said, laying a hesitant hand upon the frozen woman's shoulder.

The effect was instantaneous; the waitress straightened her spine with such a swiftness, Kagome swore she'd heard it crack. She turned to Ayumi and flushed brightly, executing a short, perfunctory bow while scraping the notepad up off the floor.

"My deepest apologies, I'll return with your order. Please excuse me." The waitress spoke in a rush, bowing once more and hurrying away from their table and into the depths of the cafe without giving either one of the confused young women a chance to reply.

"I wonder what that was about." Ayumi spoke, eyes on the open doors of the cafe.

"I don't know," Kagome said, "Strangest thing I've seen all week, though." She murmured, wondering if it had something to do with the five hundred years ago. It was unlikely, she hadn't sensed a trace of youki on the woman, or anywhere nearby either.

The pair sat in puzzled silence for a moment longer until Ayumi dismissed the strange behavior and engaged her friend in conversation once more. They had a serious amount of catching up to do since Kagome made fewer appearances with her friends as time went on. Forever caught up in the tangle of schoolwork and near endless hours spent volunteering for every vet-clinic and animal pound in Japan (or so her friends' claimed every time she had to turn them down, for some party or other social outing that cropped up every other Friday). But long absences or no, it was easy enough to fall back into old patterns and make pleasant conversation with a close friend, trading gossip and funny stories fluidly between one another. They laughed easily and moved onto other matters, one in particular that had Kagome gasping in shock and Ayumi blushing near to the roots of her dark hair.

"Hojo?!" Kagome said, hand to her breast.

"...yes." Ayumi replied, curling into her seat and looking painfully shy. Looking as if she feared Kagome's reaction to such unexpected news, almost expected a reprimand given how frequently they had pushed Hojo at her in their early youth.

"I'm so happy for you Ayumi!" More than a little shocked, Kagome still felt thrilled for her friend, that she had been able to find someone in today's busy, and over-worked modern age.

Before Ayumi could reply, or begin to turn the matter of relationships back upon Kagome herself (and what a loaded question that was these days, she thought), the waitress had returned. With elegant efficiency, she placed Ayumi's order upon the tabletop, in addition to a cup of sweet-smelling peppermint tea, and a brown pastry-box tied closed with twine, in front of Kagome. She did not have a moment to recall not having placed an order, when the waitress slid into seiza, right there on the concrete, and then performed a saikeirei; a bow almost entirely reserved for the deepest of apologies or profound respect... The kind of bow one reserves for royalty, just shy of the nirei-nihakushu, for the shrine. As the woman withdrew back into the seiza, she withdrew a slender, hardbound volume from behind her back and presented it to Kagome.

"May this small token be the key for that which you seek," She spoke with soft words, but the reverence, the flowing hint of steel, of the power laying dormant beneath those words are what struck Kagome most harshly, "Please accept this gift as thanks for all that you have done, for my family, and for my people, Kami-sama."

Kagome accepted the gift without realizing it, having taken the proffered item with bloodless, clumsy fingers. Unable to tear her gaze from the sight of the woman who knelt at her feet in seiza and bowed saikeirei to her, plain old Kagome, just a young woman trapped between the past and her own uncertain future. Helplessly ensnared by the sight of this mystery woman's fair skin, dark hair, and light brown eyes that were wet with emotion she dare not name for fear of what it could mean.

Again, Kagome expanded her senses, desperate in her search of youki, reiki, or the tiniest shred of magic to somehow explain this moment; and once more, she came up short. This woman at her feet held no magic, and could not be yokai, she could be nothing more than a normal, every day human.

"I-" she started, falling silent while clutching the item closer, searching for words. Kagome glanced down at the item to try and get some measure of understanding, to find within it's shape words with which she could speak. It was an old, hardbound book that bore no title on it's cover, nor it's spine. She thought to open it next, and raised her eyes briefly to—

Kagome was on her feet, glancing around their table in search of the nameless woman who had been serving them, and in the next breath had thrown her entire world on its head in a single moment. But she was nowhere to be seen, and none of the patrons seemed to think anything was amiss. Where had she gone? Had no one born witness to that strange scene of a waitress bowing full saikeirei to a complete stranger in the middle of the day?

"Kagome, what are you doing? Sit down, you look a bit pale." Ayumi said, eyes full of worry.

"Did- Did you see where she went?" She asked.

"Who?"

"The waitress, the woman who brought our order and then-"

"Kagome, there are no servers." Ayumi spoke slowly, brows drawn together as she eyed her friend in growing concern. "We went up to the counter and ordered, remember? You suggested this place because we wouldn't have to waste time trying to get a waiter's attention during lunch hour."

"But-"

"Take a seat and drink your tea, it looks like you've really been running yourself ragged with all of those classes and coursework if you're starting to imagine things." Ayumi paused, gaze a little unfocused as she watched Kagome drop back into her seat and stare blankly at her teacup. "I hope you're not getting sick again, you've been doing so much better since high school..."

It was a bit of a challenge, given Ayumi's lack of height, but she raised out of her seat a little and leaned quite far over the table in order to clasp Kagome's shoulder and give it a comforting, supportive squeeze before retreating back to her chair. Her cheeks felt a bit hot from her boldness, but Ayumi felt it had been a much needed gesture on her part. Kagome didn't have anyone but her family and friends to look out for her these days.

"I... thank you, Ayumi-chan." Kagome spoke up a moment later. The childhood honorific falling from her lips so naturally that Ayumi smiled, pleased that she had done the right thing and knowing that her close friend had understood her intent.

A little bit lost in the sea of strangeness she suddenly found herself in, Kagome mechanically took a sip of her tea. She was grateful for the lull into silence while Ayumi tucked into her food. Kagome did not remember having picked this cafe to meet up at, nor had she been aware that they did not have serving staff to wait tables. Feeling abruptly unsettled, Kagome eyed the shopfront and all of it's assorted outdoor decor, wondering if it would suddenly wink out of existence the moment she looked away. Was she going mad, from the stress of it all? With her schooling and time-traveling? She had not sensed anything amiss with the woman, the cafe, or the surrounding area. Had her senses been blocked? Or was she not as strong as she once believed herself to be, that she could be so easily tricked? But if that was the case, why did Kagome still vividly recall that woman, her strangely reverent behavior, and the gift?

The gift!

Sharp blue eyes snapped to the book she held tightly in her lap. It was still there, in her hands. She had not imagined it, that had really, truly happened. Pale, nerve-sweat fingers trailed along the edge of the cover, dipping under it's smooth, worn edge, and curled. Her hand trembled and flexed as her fingers tightened along the cover, and lifted.

"Kagome! It's almost one'o'clock, aren't you going to be late?" Ayumi spoke up, startling Kagome so bad she squeaked and snapped the book shut.

"Oh no!" She glanced at her watch and found the big hand too close to the twelve for her sanity, "I've got to go! It was nice seeing you Ayumi, I'll see you later!!" She cried over her shoulder, book, box, and bag clutched in both hands as she bolted.

Ayumi watched the sight of her poor, over-worked friend dashing across the street with a slight, half-amused smile on her lips. She shook her head and returned to her meal, content to finish it at her leisure. Her date with Hojo wasn't for another two hours, so Ayumi had the time to spare.


Running in a blind panic towards her next class, set the tone for how the rest of the day (and summarily the week, in large part), would play out for her. Never quite late, but not being able to find a moment with which to catch her breath. Going from one class to another, and traveling from university to the local college. By the time Kagome found herself halfway up the stairs of her own home (headed for her bedroom), after rushing around the house to shower, help with dinner, eat, do homework, and then prep for the same chaos all over again tomorrow— She remembered. The woman. At the cafe, with her mysterious disappearance. But more importantly—

"The book!" Kagome clapped a hand over her mouth. She hadn't intended to blurt that out, especially when everyone was asleep!

Skipping over steps in her haste to get to her room, Kagome almost tripped over Buyo (how old was that chubby furball?), when going down the hall, and then promptly stubbed her littlest toe upon closing her bedroom door. She muffled a shriek of pain into one hand and clutched at her abused appendage with the other. After a brief moment spent cursing every hard-edged corner she had ever seen in her entire life— Kagome set her hands at her sides and hobbled over to her bed and sat down. She bent over and clasped a hand on the strap of her bag and pulled it closer to begin rifling through it's contents. After searching it's confines, Kasgome withdrew the book and the box. Setting her book-bag aside, she studied both items carefully. She held the box in one hand, and the book in the other, which should she investigate first?

What had the woman said, when she'd handed Kagome the book?

"The key for what I seek." She recalled aloud. A decision made, Kagome set the small box down beside her lap and focused on the book. A flicker of fear threaded down her spine and squeezed just beneath her lungs. Kagome set the book down and picked up the box, delaying the inevitable.

With significantly less trepidation, she plucked at one end of the twine and pulled the bow apart. She pried open the cardboard top and sifted the protective wax paper tissues aside. Her mouth watered at the sight that greeted her eyes. Maybe this was a 'sorry for screwing up your Wednesday', box of treats. For within it's simple confines, the box held over a dozen artisan chocolates, each one unique in appearance (and in flavor, if she had to bet), and whoever had crafted them had an eye for detail. Some were dusted with gold, others were painted in white or silver, a few were even red with bold, white flowers printed on them. And a select few were decorated with bold, indigo crescent moons upon their tops. Kagome actually had to take the time to wipe her mouth when a spot of drool had literally dripped off her face and struck the lid of the box. She flushed a deep red in mortification, glad for the lack of witnesses, even as she wondered at the meaning behind the gifted sweets.

What if they were poisoned? The thought alone almost made her cry at the abject tragedy of it. Just the mere idea of someone lacing such mouth-watering chocolates with poison... what a waste! Cautiously, Kagome selected one of the chocolates dusted with white that bore a lone crescent moon. She sniffed at it delicately, the faint scent of citrus came to her, but no bitter, insidious twist of poison. Granted, not all poisons gave off an odor... She swallowed her mouthful of saliva absently as she eyed the treat; surely just one wouldn't hurt?

Before she could talk herself out of it, Kagome popped the confection into her mouth and closed her eyes, waiting. The delicacy sat lightly on her tongue, softening little by little the longer it remained within her closed mouth. Where she half-expected a flood of poison to coat her tongue (by the kami, maybe she'd truly become one of those paranoid people, half mad and ranting about the end of the world), instead, the sinfully sweet burst of milk-chocolate and orange-citrus unfurled upon her tongue. Were those traces of cardamom, she was tasting? Kagome moaned a little and slid the chocolate between her teeth and bit down. The delicious swirl of flavor with silken-smooth texture burst into her mouth. She had never really believed in it before, but Kagome was now officially a convert of the 'tasted like an org*sm in my mouth' camp, when it came to food or drink that tasted far too good to be real.

If it was a subtle poison, Kagome wouldn't even be mad, the chocolate was maddeningly, sinfully, and inescapably good.

When the last of the sweet flavor slid down her throats and her tongue could find no more in the crevices of her teeth or gums, she dithered. Torn between gorging herself on the treats and investigating the mystery of the book. The chocolates could wait, but the book? It could too, technically, but she had that niggling, intuitive feeling that it would not. So, with far more self-discipline than she thought herself capable of, Kagome set the chocolates down on her desk (making a point to get up off the bed and set them farther away from herself, to avoid the temptation), and picked up the book once more.

How had the woman known that she'd been searching for something? Something that had to do with all of those history and mythology books she'd been reading. But what? Even she hadn't a clue as to what she was looking for, hell, she wasn't even sure she'd be able to know if she found it in the first place. Kagome only had a vague, flicker of intuition that pushed at her— made her unsettled and uneasy. A feeling of a job, or a task not yet finished.

Something to do with the well.

Once more, careful fingers feathered along the edge of the cover and curled under. Hopefully, this 'key', would give her enough of a clue so she could find out what she was searching for, and the why. Kagome inhaled deeply, then flipped the cover open. When nothing exploded out of it's pages, and her surroundings remained quiet except for the occasional creak or groan of the old house... she opened her eyes and looked down at the open book in her lap.

The front page had only one word scrawled in bold, calligraphic strokes down its center. It was heavily stylized, and the characters were old. The kind of old reserved for five hundred years ago, and even then, a little farther beyond that. Given, even back then, it had been becoming more a poetic art form and less a method of communication among the nobles. Kagome studied the characters, trying to make sense of their beautiful strangeness. She traced along one bold edge of lettering, struck by the near alien beauty and eerie familiarity of it.

She chewed on her lower lip once the word made itself known. It only left her with more questions, she began to flip through the book in hopes of finding clarification. Absently, Kagome felt thankful that the characters on the following pages were a little more modern and therefore easier for to read. Feeling not just puzzled concerning the contents of this old and well-cared for book, Kagome was also fretting over the fact that it was clearly hand-written. It was in the style of the written characters, in the effortless way they were scrawled along the edges of each illustration, and it was in each elegant curve of the land and sea. For within each and every carefully drawn picture was a different view of Japan. However, the more confounding piece of information was this; Kagome knew who the author of this book was. Or at least she should, even if she could not immediately place, or name the whom. She flipped to the front of the book and regarded the front page in silent contemplation.

The woman had said this was the key, or it would be. She had been pouring over every history book she could reasonably get her hands on, and subsequently devoured all the mythology textbooks as well. And now this one book with it's one-word title.

Leylines.

Again, Kagome's mind was full of more questions than answers. What did ley lines (and what exactly were those, anyway?), have to do with her mad obsession with reading every history and mythology book in sight? Chewing on her lower lip, Kagome yanked out her laptop and did a quick search. The familiar sensation of frustrated confusion pulsed at the back of her head, signaling the onset of a headache, and a menacing one.

The concept of ley lines, and their 'discovery' occurred in 1921, somewhere over in the British Isles. The book itself was older, there was no publication date or notation of it anywhere, but Kagome knew it. The ancient calligraphy and style on the front page was testament enough of to all but guarantee that. She didn't even want to consider getting it carbon-dated, there would be too many questions asked and Kagome wouldn't have any answers to give. The conflicting dates aside, the gist of it was that 'ley lines' were a series of metaphysical connections that, like a daisy chain, linked a wide collection of sacred sites around the world. Like lines of power, as if you were to put your fingers down on the throat or wrist of a living creature to get their pulse count. That strong, consistent throbbing beneath their flesh that traveled all throughout their body by the veins that contained their life's blood. Ley lines, from what she gathered, were essentially that— strong pulse points for the earth.

But something still bothered her about the book. Kagome's brow furrowed in thought as she took her time paging through it's contents, pausing in places to read a paragraph, or a descriptor on a particularly detailed illustration of Odawara (or where it would be, one day), and the location of a sacred site. None of it made any damned sense! Kagome snapped the book shut and slapped it down upon her nightstand. This book was a living contradiction, from when it was made, it's design, the information it contained, and down to how it was written! The entire thing was just—

How it was written.

"sh*t." She breathed, eyes wider than saucers as she stared into the beyond. Her mind, figuratively blown away at the possibilities. Ones she could not deny, no matter how outrageous it seemed.

The characters past the title page were a combination of hiragana, kanji, and katakana. A writing style that was not common, nor in any real circulation until the 1900s. On the other side of the well, during her shard-hunting adventures it had been themid 1470s, and man'yogana was more prevalent as the writtenform of communication and records keeping. Add in the painfully familiar style of the hand-writing itself... There were only four people she had been teaching, and that number had dwindled when Inuyasha's patience had snapped and he'd trashed the beginners school book. It'd dropped again once Sango had politely, but firmly shook her head 'no', too caught up in rebuilding her village, too busy with her children, and overall too impatient to learn. Miroku had followed suit not long after, having admired the simplicity and structure of the modern characters, but finding them too cold and unfeeling for his tastes. Which just left her with the one, voraciously enthusiastic learner who cried crocodile tears every time she left him behind.

"Shippou."

Chapter 3: Of Tears and Laughter

Notes:

After this, it's all history in the making... of a sort.

Thank you all for your comments and kudos. <3

Chapter Text

Distraction could have very well been her middle name. It wasn't. But today it certainly could have been. Kagome was ten different kinds of all over the place in her classes (Mr. Sen had given her a look when she'd fumbled her sutures, but said nothing, suspecting her lack of attention had to do with the internship offer), and during her volunteer shifts at the kennels (all, and she did mean all, of the animals had been particularly affectionate towards her today, even crotchety old dog Brutus, a fourteen year old pharaoh hound). She legitimately feared making the drive home today so she'd called Souta to catch the bus and practice for his driver's test by driving them both home in the family car. He'd grumbled, but had been quick to shout a goodbye to his friend and hang up on her, if her mind was less occupied, Kagome would have laughed.

Earlier in the day, Kagome couldn't recall how she'd managed to drive (and not crash), the car to school, to class, or to the kennels, in the first place. But for whatever reason, she had enough presence of mind now to recognize that she wasn't in any fit state to drive. Morbidly, she wondered if her father had died because he too had been as distracted as she, but hadn't believed it would affect his driving. More than a little disturbed, Kagome shoved the idea away and instead took a seat at the bus stop and turned her eyes to the road, looking for the bus Souta would be on.

The static lull of watching cars pass her by as she sat in silence, did not keep her thoughts at bay for long. The shocking mystery, the swell of affection that filled her whenever she thought of the little fox-kit... It was a peculiar aberration, to hold in her hands something that Shippou would create, maybe in a few years (try decades), or when he reached adulthood. An object that bore her distinct influence that she had left upon him. The ease with which the characters were formed and joined together within it's pages meant her rudimentary writing lessons would stick with him, that they would be something of hers that he carried well past her death.

A dark subject... Onethat Kagome never fooled herself into thinking that she would live to see the day Shippou grew into an adult. She knew hanyou aged the same as human children did (physically, at least), but such could not be said for full yokai. If anything, they aged and matured at a much slower rate; granted, it was purely conjecture, but from what she had seen... it held truth. Shippou was still so small, and could not hold a fully humanoid form (was that not a thought all in itself? Kagome had never seen his full yokai form, now that she thought about it). The little fox was not the only yokai she'd drawn her hypothesis from, either. The last time she had seen Sesshoumaru, as in really looked at him, she couldn't help but notice how young he appeared. And the few times she'd seen his yokai form? Taking into account what she'd learned from her veterinarian courses, Kagome judged his pure yokai form to be no older than that of a juvenile canine. Paws and snout too big for the rest of its body in addition to the overall slender lines of his inu form, all indicators of growth not yet achieved.

Wasn't that a damnably startling realization; Kagome blinked a little stupidly as Souta's bus drew to a stop. Her little brother hopping off the last step with excited glee as he all but snatched the keys from her outstretched hand. Dumbly, she directed Souta to the car and slid into the passenger seat, the sidetrack of her mind demanding more attention than the present moment.

Sesshoumaru was the equivalent of a teenager. He was something of a puppy, and still had growing to do. A lot of growing, if the great Inu Taisho's bones were anything to go by. Abruptly, all of those battles, arguments, and spats between the two brothers made a lot more sense. She could spend days, weeks even, mulling over and psychoanalyzing that realization and the endless parallels she could draw. Just thinking about teenage boys, their sass, and then a litter of puppies starting to wrestle and learn social skills and pecking order... Good kami the number of connections she could see, the sheer number of them rising above the skyline in her minds eye.

"What's eating you?" Souta prompted, cutting through her headspace and yanking her back to the present.

She was in the car, seat-belted in and Souta was already halfway back to the shrine.

"Seriously Kagome, I know I'm like, your little brother and all," He griped, eyes on the road, two hands on the wheel as he spoke, "But still..." he trailed off, letting the unsaid offer hang between them.

Kagome considered it, her mouth already opening and spitting out words before her brain had half a chance to catch up with it;

"I might have to go back."

The interior of the car was deafening, the silence of it after her soft-spoken proclamation, damning in its completion. When the car came to a stop at a red light, Souta took a moment to look at his older sister, eyes dark and unreadable. Kagome wandered what he saw as he studied her, and what he thought of her words. Even she wasn't entirely sure what to think of them; because she did go back, she went through the well nearly every weekend and on every school break. But something about the words, about the finality of them— they hinted at a possibility that Kagome wasn't sure she was ready to face.

"I know."

"What?!" She slapped her hands over her mouth, shocked at the volume of her screech inside the small, family car. "What?" She demanded. How would Souta even begin to know that when she herself hadn't even considered it? When she could barely begin to allow herself to think of the possibility?

"C'mon Kags," Souta sighed, sounding so much older than his sixteen years. He raked a hand through his hair before speaking again, "Ever since you first started traveling back and forth through time with Inuyasha. We all knew."

"How?" Shamefully, she felt the pinpricks of tears start up.

"How what? How did we all know that you'd one day go through the well and not come back? How did we know that you'd pick them over us? How did we know that once you went through it, we knew that it would stop working, and you'd be five hundred years behind? How'd we know that you'd leave me— us, behind? How does anyone know anything? Because I know!" He snapped, his frustration and anger a live, palpable thing. It flooded the car making it feel as if it were ten sizes too small to contain it and them.

"I'm sorry." Was all she could think to say. The prickle of tears behind her eyes had become daggers, and she felt one slip through the corner. And then another. Kagome hadn't known Souta had thought this, felt it, or believed it; hearing his words hurt, they struck her between the ribs in the space shared with her heart. That her little brother, and the rest of her family had thought these things and believed them, for years... The words hurt the way that hearing the truth sometimes did. And that awareness, of all things, was the most damning of all.

Souta parked the car in silence. He'd turned the engine off and withdrew the keys, he reached for the handle of the door to escape the atmosphere when he paused. She heard the gusty sigh of her brother before she felt him reach for her—

And sharply yank on a section of her unbound hair.

"Souta!" She hissed at the flash of pain. She smacked his hand away and glared at him through watery eyes.

"It's okay." He said, nodding, "Like I said, we've known, Kags. Mom and I have had time to come to terms with that."

"How? I never thought—"

"Mom was just hoping you'd get to finish med school first and spend the summer with us before you left." And with that, Souta 'dropped the mike', and got out of the car, leaving her to stare at the spot he'd vacated. Leaving her to scurry after him and demand (quite shrilly, Souta was pleased to note, ever so obnoxiously), answers.


If she'd thought for one measly second that dinner was going to be a mindlessly pleasant, yet overall quiet affair— Kagome was proved wrong. More so once Souta opened his big fat stupid mouth and told her mother that she would be going back, permanently. This Friday. As in, tomorrow. Tomorrow! Kagome hadn't even been given the time to digest (never mind adjust to), the fact that she would! Truly, she'd never considered the possibility that one day, she'd jump down the well, with no intention of coming back. Never mind so soon!

Honestly, a very small, and incredibly naive part of her had blithely assumed that the well would keep working and she'd spend an indeterminate amount of time going back and forth. Forever keeping a foot in both worlds, and somehow making a living out of it. But that was the simple, girlish wish of a starry-eyed teenager that she just... wasn't, anymore. Kagome had done a lot of growing up in the last few years, and because of that she didn't trick herself into feigning ignorance or naïveté about the way the world worked.

Suddenly, her mother's word from a last week took on a a subtle nuance that Kagome had not considered previously. It would appear that her brother had been right, they had 'known' for quite some time what decision she'd make in the end. A decision that Kagome herself had not realized until very, very recently. Today, in fact.

"Well, I suppose that does not leave us much time then." Her mother spoke after the pin-drop silence Souta's proclamation had caused.

"No... I suppose... not." Came her stilted reply as Kagome watched her mother raise a napkin to her mouth, dab a few times, and then set it down. But that was not even the odd part, oh no, because in the next moment she got up from the table and retrieved the cordless phone. She then plucked a bright orange sticky note off the fridge (Kagome vaguely recalled it being the one with her school numbers scrawled on it), and then carefully made her way up the stairs. Kagome craned her neck to the side, watching her mother disappear up them in mystified silence.

Souta started laughing.

Kagome whipped around to glare at him, but she lost the fierceness of it when he too got up from the dinner table. But before he went up the stairs, he grabbed one of the medical textbooks off the large bookcase in the den. Her eyes widened when she caught a glimpse of the cover.

Pathology of Infections, Diseases, & Infectious Diseases.

Fifth Edition; complete with full-color illustrations!

"Oh." She stared at her plate of scarcely touched food, then glanced at the foot of the stairs. She looked back at her dinner, not really seeing it.

"Oh no! NO! NO! NO!" Kagome shrieked, bolting for the stairs. She couldn't believe them! Sure, it wouldn't matter in the end because she'd be gone. But come on, this wasn't high school anymore!

Any and all protests of the horrible violation of what little reputation she had at both college and university, abruptly died once she set foot into her grandfather's room. Because of course, that's where they both were, for the last grand medical excuse for her absence. It just figured that they would have planned out something like this.

Kagome's smile was a little rueful as she watched the impossible scene laid out before her; Souta holding the textbook open and dutifully flipping the pages as their grandfather scanned the contents absently, raising a shaking finger and tapping one passage, and then another. And another. All the while, her mother is on the phone, seated right on the bed beside that beloved (and absurd), old man, detailing Kagome's sudden ailments to whatever poor office official answered the phone.

"Oh yes, it's a most severe case, the rash came on quite suddenly," her mother nodded, voice sad with a touch of sympathy as she listened to the speaker for a moment. She leaned over the two men on the bed and then glanced at one of the full color illustrations; her eyebrows nearly went up to her hairline, and yet her mother gamely continued; "Yes, it is quiet tragic, especially on top of those pustules and the inflammation! The poor girl accidentally burst one, it leaked this thick, milk-white fluid all over the place! And the smell, just awful! We're already packing her up into the car to head for the local hospital. She's suffered rickets in the past too, so we're a bit worried about a reoccurring—"

At the rate her family was going, Kagome wouldn't be able to show her face in public for the rest of her life. The smile fell off her face at the thought as she leaned in the doorway, expression serious. She supposed that was the point of it though, Kagome would be gone for good soon, and they needed to come up with something to explain her abrupt absence. Maybe she shouldn't go? The idea held no significant weight to it though, and she knew it. She loved her small family, unquestionably, and without reserve. Everything she had become, everything that Kagome had accomplished was due to her family's unwavering love and support of the choices she had made throughout her life. It was because she had that support, and that endless amount of love that would enable her to make this next big decision. The one she would never be able to take back or alter once made.

By the kami, if that wasn't terrifying in and of itself, Kagome didn't know what was.

She worried her bottom lip as she watched her mother finish the call, she clenched then smoothed the fabric of her shirtsleeves as Souta closed the textbook with a satisfied smile and lay it on the bedside table, and Kagome felt the pangs of sadness and loss as she watched them both share a laugh with their grandfather as they helped to resettle that silly, grinning old man back down into bed beneath the warm covers. Kagome would miss them, so terribly much. Even when she was old, gray, and five hundred years backwards in time— before any of them were ever born, she would miss them.


For a last day spent with her family, she honestly hadn't expected there to have been so much shopping. A somewhat fancy restaurant for a 'last meal' of sorts, possibly. A more quiet and home-made meal around the dinner table? More likely, or at the very least, an activity Kagome would have reasonably expected given prior history with each of her successive adventures beyond the well. But no, it would seem her mother and brother had once more, planned out the last outing, with enough forethought and expectation about certain life decisions she would make— to plan and arrange accordingly. So much so, that Kagome had (and still was, admittedly), been quietly alarmed for the majority of the morning and early afternoon.

Her mother had called out for work (on the excuse that Kagome was, once again, unreasonably ill).

She had then called Souta's school, and had him excused for the day (she hadn't been present for that phone conversation, but Kagome wisely assumed it had to do with a sudden onset of illness on her part).

Next, Kagome had been handed a wrapped, toasted breakfast sandwich and a juice box at the literal, crack of dawn (a thing she hadn't believed existed outside of the feudal era, given modern invention and all that), and stuffed into the car. All the while, half-dressed and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes while Souta gloated from the passenger seat, looking unreasonably awake and put-together. Which was just unfair, he was a bratty teenage boy and all, it hadn't been right.

An indeterminate length of car ride later, to which she could remember little of— Souta was missing. This did not seem to concern her mother at all, seeing as how she waved off Kagome's concern, parked the family car, and then proceeded to drag her through the shopping district. And then inside each and every store found therein, or very nearly.

By the time they reached the end of the street, Kagome had been laden down with bags of clothes, shoes, and small, self-reliant, and highly durable camping supplies. Her mother had cheerfully informed her it was near time for lunch, lets drop by the car to store the purchases for safekeeping, and Souta should be back about now from his own errand to join up with them. Whatever Souta's errand had been, Kagome apparently didn't need to know, or concern herself with— even if she knew it was directly related to her pending trip.

Trip.

Kagome could tell that her mother was trying her very best to maintain a positive and upbeat attitude about the whole thing... But she was losing her daughter, forever. Sure, Kagome wasn't going to be dead, but it would be the same thing, in essence. And with that at the forefront of her mind, and taking a page out of her mother's own book; Kagome smiled and continued on. She would be content to play her part as the fondly exasperated daughter, preparing for a long trip, and play along. If she happened to see the cracks in her mother's smile, or the way her eyes shined a little too brightly in the light... Kagome would grin, or pout, or whine. And throughout it all, she would pretend not to see.

Instead, Kagome would try her hardest to immerse herself into the present so that she could treasure these last moments in time with her mother, and brother. Whenever said brother happened to show up from his last errand, anyway. Sometimes that brat really made it hard for her to be sentimental and appropriately mature for her age at the same time. Mainly when aforementioned bratty baby brother was being so smug about all of it. Kagome needed to short-sheet his bed or something before she left. Just because she was leaving didn't mean that he was allowed to get uppity all of the sudden. She was the older sibling. She was smarter, wiser, and a thousand times more mature than he'd ever be. The brat.

She smiled.

They had lunch in one of the more expensive restaurants that was known for their udon and sushi. It was a good meal, with good conversation, and casual brushes of affection typically reserved for less public settings. And she only spilled her water on Souta once. Okay, twice. But the second time had been on accident. Mostly.

After their meal, Kagome had been ushered back to the car and the three of them had left the city and headed back to the shrine. As soon as they'd gotten all the packages up the stairs and into the house, Kagome had been all but shoved into her grandfather's room with a book to read aloud while her mother and brother took care of the packing. Again, their forethought and planning left her more than just slightly alarmed. But once more, she continued on and played her part, had cracked the book open somewhere in the middle and began reading to her sleeping grandfather. Only a short while later, Kagome was allowed to leave the room at Souta's supremely annoying behest (after she finished up the chapter and bid her grandfather a final goodbye), and followed him downstairs.

So of course she took a moment to 'use the bathroom', and instead rushed to Souta's room to set up a few last minute pranks. She couldn't possibly let him have the last laugh, no matter the circ*mstance.

The rest of the evening was spent playing a variety of board games, followed by making dinner together, and enjoying a quiet meal with tea for the final time. Which she magnanimously refrained from spilling on Souta. Her mother had then handed her a new pair of hiking boots, and a change of clothes they had gone out and purchased earlier that day. Once she'd changed into the new outfit, Kagome had given her mother the book Shippou had written (she'd read it in its entirety and taken enough notes so as to feel comfortable leaving it behind). It was perhaps the one thing she felt was on par with her feelings, that she could bequeath to her mother.

A juxtaposition of conflicted feelings, yet still full of love and affection.

Their goodbyes were full of thick voices and watery eyes. Of stones in their bellies and fists clenching around their throats. Kagome cried. Souta pretended not to. Their mother held them both and swore that she would never be prouder of either of them than she was at this moment, that she would always love them, and that if their father were here, he would feel the same.


All packed up and ready to go, she swung one leg over the well; the movement fluid and easy from the years of constant repetition. Straddling the rim of the well, Kagome paused, struck by the moment as she brought the other leg over. She sat there with her jean-clad legs dangling into the dark abyss, taking a breath, and just... feeling.

Nimble, surgeons' hands clenched the aged wood and delicate fingernails scraped against the grain as she sat on the edge of her decision. The straps on her travel pack (a modest, dark brown bag no where near the monstrosity of its previous successor), began to dig into the meat of her shoulders, its weight a heavy thing pulling at her back. The solid trappings of her supple leather hiking boots gripped her calves and sock-clad feet, they looked fresh and clean, so newly freed from their box and in her eyes; seemed to beg for the adventures found in the dark below. She lifted her gaze from the pit and looked behind her, towards the door. Kagome had said her goodbyes, had done everything in her power to convey to them that she loved them, and would miss them terribly. Yet some part of her still believed it wasn't enough to convince them, and that if she looked at the door long enough— her mother, or brother, would come barreling through it to selfishly demand that she stay with them.

Kagome didn't know what she would do if that happened. Not that she'd have to find out. Because if it were her, she wouldn't, her mother raised her better than that. Her mother had taught her to love, and be loved. Had raised her to not be selfish with love, and had, in her own quiet way, shown her how one loved completely, and selflessly. And because she wouldn't, Kagome knew that neither her brother or mother, would slide open that door while she sat here, stuck in time.

There was no breeze in the well house, the doors and walls ensured that. Still, Kagome could hear the subtle creaks of old panels as the late fall breeze touched it in passing. Despite the chill in the air that sent goose flesh prickling across bare arms, Kagome had foregone a jacket. It was the middle of summer back in the feudal era, and she didn't want to sweat buckets the second she arrived. In retrospect, she should have guessed that the magic of the old well was changing... fading. How some trips seemed to take a little longer, or the way the shining blue light would dim on others. Maybe Inuyasha's inability to cross through time had been the first sign. Or maybe she was imagining things and misremembering the odd quirks of it all. Maybe she did not have to choose one life, one family, over the other. The well hadn't truly given any real indication of its pending failure, as far as she could tell...

"Mmmmrrrrrow."

"Buyo?" Kagome spoke, more than a little bemused. What was that fat old cat doing out here in the well house? "Buyo, you know you're far too old to be outside these days, come here, I'll take you inside."

"Mmrrrrrow?" The family cat came around the edge of the well, brushing his mostly grayed-out fur against the corner, then taking a leap up onto the rim. Buyo rubbed himself against Kagome's outstretched hand, and then against the soft denim of her hip and thigh. He purred loudly, butting her hand and leg with his head while turning in ungainly circles so as to receive petting along his spine and flanks.

It was on one of these little turns that his back leg dipped into the well, losing purchase and completely throwing off Buyo's much needed sense of balance. Kagome bent sideways to catch him and haul him up. Even with the assistance, Buyo promptly dug one paw into the wood grain, and the other into the meat of Kagome's thigh as he slipped backwards, yowling in shock and alarm all the while.

Kagome yelped in pain and pulled her leg away as she pushed Buyo up so he wouldn't fall into the well. In saving Buyo from his clumsy imbalance, he upset hers. So when Buyo went up, Kagome went down.

Bright blue light burned and faded to black around her in one final, blazing show of color as she fell. As the brilliant lights grew dim, and the fantastical azure hues became washed out and gray, one thought filtered through her mind as the world went black;

Of course it was Buyo.

Chapter 4: Fox feet and the mercurial humor of elders.

Notes:

I do apologize for this one taking so long, but per my outline for this chapter, certain things needed to be accomplished. Couple that with my work schedule, it's uh... a little challenging.

Happy reading!

Chapter Text

Cicadas buzzed softly in the distance, likely somewhere in the fields not far from where she reclined. The bark was warm and firm, it's rough edges making themselves known as they pressed against the length of her back through the thin material of her shirt. Sweat beaded and pooled in the small of her back, between her breasts, and in every bend and crease of her body that did not actively have polyester or cotton glued to it. These were the kind of days that were best served with cat naps, iced tea, and paper fans used by limp hands attached to equally limp bodies propped up in rocking chairs underneath wide awnings.

Summer was in full swing, and the full-bodied heat of it gripped everyone, and everything with it's languid, loose-limbed daze.

"So you're staying."

Except Inuyasha.

"As I've said," Kagome took a moment to flap the uchiwa fan she held loosely with damp fingertips, "...yes. I'm staying."

"For good."

Kagome would have heaved a great, gusty sigh of exasperation... if the action would not have costed so much energy. As it was, she didn't bother, content as she was to recline a little further into the base of her tree (yes, it was hers given she was currently leaning into it), and tip her head back. The beginnings of a lazy, sultry-warm, afternoon nap tugged at the edges of her mind and body. It felt like a delightfully grand idea to follow through with at the moment.

"Yes."

If Inuyasha would quit bothering her, for long enough.

"No trips back home."

Kagome could just hear his cute ears flick back and forth as he tried to comprehend this apparent bombshell. One she'd dropped on him three days ago, yet he still struggled with it. Or couldn't seem to believe what he was hearing.

"Nope." She had an itch on her left collarbone. Kagome tried her best to pretend she didn't. The strength required to lift her arm high enough to scratch was currently absent due to the heat of the day.

"Not for 'homework'."

She could hear the quotations on the one word that had gotten him 'sat' many a time over the years. Kagome knew he sometimes flinched whenever one of their group mentioned her studies. Privately, this conditioned fear-based response, pleased Kagome. Immensely. Very little could put the fear of unholy hell into Inuyasha, and the fact that something as innocent as a word mentioned in casual conversation could, was inordinately satisfying. Especially with how ornery he could be, with anything and everything that didn't meet with his personal expectations.

"No homework."

Perhaps that was a little morbid of her, but Kagome was okay with that.

"No more ramen?"

Good kami, of everything, everything. The ramen is what threw him the most over this rather sudden turn of events. She would have snorted with suppressed laughter at how sad he sounded. Depressed, even. But the pressing weight of summer hugged her being, leached the motivation and energy from her limbs. That nap was sounding better and better with every passing moment that the sun inched closer to its zenith.

"No ramen." Unless he made it himself. She hadn't bothered to learn how to make noodles from scratch. Not when learning to set bones and sew tight and neat surgeons sutures were the more viable skill.

"...why?" He finished, at last. Inuyasha crouched down beside her, under the shaded bough. His voice had been pitched lower and softer, the toneof it conveying his befuddlement and complete incomprehension as to her motives.

Kagome cracked one blue eye open to take in his expression. His face was scrunched up, golden eyes bright with confusion. He had his head canted to the side, the picture of inquisitive puppy with one dog-ear standing upright and the other bent and cut to the side. She knew that the temperature had to be in the triple digits, yet Inuyasha still wore his fire rat robes without a smidgen of discomfort nor a droplet of sweat to bead his brow or dampen his collar. She closed the eye and breathed slow and deep, pondering an answer to his question.

A question that, had she been younger and still hopelessly in love, would have sent her into a fit. One that would have ended with Inuyasha eating dirt, and her crying in the privacy of a bath. After all, if a girl follows a boy on a grand adventure, and they share many heart-wrenching moments and death-defying acts... Is it not then natural to assume that the girl is in love with the boy? That she would give that boy everything, if he had but asked? If only that boy had grown and matured as the girl had, maybe then he might have realized. But that time had come and gone, and Kagome found herself to be a better person for it in the long run; to have loved and let go.

She thought about her last days back in modern japan, and the strange afternoon with an unknown woman. Recalled her voracious need to 'find' something in the history and mythology books. Kagome considered her higher education and her motives for going into medicine (surgery, in particular), and the litany of audited veterinarian courses that absorbed what little free time she may have had. The realization that her family had known the choice she'd have to face, and the decision she would make. Lastly, the book about the ley lines in Japan, and how Shippou was responsible for its creation. Kagome thought about all of those things that she had taken on, the decisions she would have to live with, and the sacrifices she'd made... and knew that she would never speak of them.

Not to Inuyasha.

Maybe not to anyone, ever.

"Because it was time. The magic was fading." Kagome tilted her head down and rested her cheek upon her shoulder, "Now be quiet, I'm going to nap."

If Inuyasha fussed or made a scene, Kagome didn't care to pay attention. She had a very promising afternoon nap to get to.


They made it to Sango's village, moments before the sun reached it's highest peak overhead. To which, Kagome was more than grateful for Inuyasha's bratty insistence that they depart before sunrise (or more like before the sun even considered thinking about cresting the horizon for morning), so that the pair could arrive right around lunch time. She felt the shift in wind direction as they crested the hill, and not one strong breeze after the first, Kagome heard Shippou's abrupt cry;

"KAAGOOOMEEEEE~!"

Bright auburn-orange hair flashed in the sunlight as the little fox-kit bounded straight for her, his previous task or preoccupation forgotten upon catching scent of her. Kagome couldn't help but smile in the face of his boundless enthusiasm, even in the insufferable heat that had her shirt clinging with sweat-soaked determination to her damp and perspiring flesh. She tucked unruly bangs behind curved ear-tips (a fruitless endeavor but an inevitable habit), and dropped to her knees in the grass. With arms open wide she caught the flying ball of exuberant fluff, fur, claws, and fox-tails that when combined, made up little Shippou.

She laughed as he whined, fussed, and nuzzled into her sweat-slicked throat as his tiny, claw-tipped fingers burrowed into the damp material of her shirt. He'd doubtlessly leave a series of small tears in the garment from his enthusiasm, but Kagome didn't mind. If anything, she was stupidly grateful that Shippou was this enthusiastic when greeting her after a long absence. Sometimes, when it was late at night and she lay in her childhood bed, she wondered when he would lose interest. Feared the day that he wouldn't regard her as a person worth such childish love and devotion. He may never say it, or even consciously think of her as his adoptive parent, but Kagome would always think of him and love him, as her own son. It was not a subject she would ever dare bring up, she didn't want to run the risk of little Shippou being hurt and taking offense, or thinking that she wanted to replace the loving parents he had lost.

"I missed you Shippou-chan." Kagome murmured into his silk-soft hair. She hugged him close to her, having found him to be unfairly (and pleasantly), cool to the touch. Weren't yokai so lucky to be unfazed by the summer heat?

"You were gone so long! Why do you have to leave so much? It's not fair!" Came his childish whine into her throat. While she couldn't be positive, Kagome could have sworn she felt a small, prickly, and damp appendage swipe across her over-heated flesh.

"Quit whining y'stupid brat." Abruptly, Shippou was ripped from her arms by Inuyasha. He sneered into Shippou's face as he held onto the fox-kit by both of his tails; "You were told why she's-"

"Inuyasha." The warning was as clear as the clipped delivery of his name.

"Keh." Inuyasha dropped Shippou and stomped off towards the village, intent to get out of earshot before Kagome said something that would have him eating dirt.

Kagome watched (with no small measure of personal amusem*nt and satisfaction), her silver-haired friend depart with a swiftness that belied his callous dismissal. She then turned her gaze to where Shippou sat in the dirt, tiny hands fisted and swiping at the tears spilling from the corners of his eyes. Bits of dirt and grass stained the knees and seat of his small hakama from both the days activities and Inuyasha's rough treatment. Yokai or no, Shippou was still a small child, likely no older than a seven year-old boy and shouldn't be handled so roughly. Her lips firmed at the thought, she'd been young and blind in her affections for Inuyasha that she did not pay much attention to his borderline abusive behavior towards the little fox. But she was here for good now, and for as long as she lived, that behavior would stop, even if she had to 'sit' Inuyasha all the way to the states.

"Shippou," She reached forward with both hands, using one to card through his unruly locks (she would have to brush his hair again, and tie it up the way he liked, too), and the other to gently pull one of his fists away from his face. Her hand swallowed his easily, and again she was reminded how young he was, and how slow yokai appeared to age. "It's alright, no need for those tears anymore."

Shippou hiccuped and sniffled, his free hand still rubbing at his watering eyes. She watched his two tails flicker behind him like the flame of a candle, and then fluff up in surprise when her words had finished tumbling around in his mind. He turned his head up to regard her open face with perhaps the biggest set of watery green eyes that she had ever seen. Dainty fox-feet traversed the scant distance between the two until Shippou was standing upon her cotton-clad thighs, staring up at her with naked hope, red-faced with tear-tracks drying upon his cheeks.

"You're going to stay?" His voice was a whisper, as if he dare not raise it in case she heard and changed her mind. "For good?" He ducked his head down, afraid, before boldly turning his gaze up to hers, waiting for the truth in spite of his fears.

"Yes, I'm here," Kagome smiled and hugged Shippou, "I'm here with you for as long as you'll have me." She used her thumbs to wipe the remains of his tears away.

"Okay." He looked seconds away from a fresh set of waterworks, but Shippou did his best to keepthem back, "You're staying forever then."

"That sounds good to me." She said as she felt tears prickle at the corners of her own eyes. Kagome would not become a blubbering mess. She would not. "Why don't you show me what you, Sango, and Miroku, have done with the village while I was gone? I want to know what I've missed."

"Oh, you'll love it! Sango let me use the paints you brought last time in the kids' rooms!" Shippou said, tears forgotten in the wake of her news and the opportunity to show off his accomplishments. He hopped off her lap and pulled her towards the village by the hem of her skirt (he was still much too short to reach her hand when she stood).

Helplessly, Kagome followed after him in unabashed amazement. Children were incredibly resilient, and a lot like those little rubber balls you found in coin-slot machines back in her time. They could take a lot, and still bounce back from anything you threw at them. She wondered if it was the same for yokai children, or if they were a lot more durable, or less. Her eyes caught on his two tails, she couldn't rightly recall the moment he gained the second one...shethinks it had happened sometime during the final battle.

While she remained silent in her rumination, Shippou continued to talk, at great length, and in even greater detail about his many accomplishments and grand feats achieved in her absence. He never seemed to tire or grow bored of it, as he went from one topic to the next, trotting forward on tiny fox-feet and retaining a firm grip on the fabric of her skirt.

Two tails and fox feet.

Again, the thought came to mind, one that persisted when she greeted Sango and Miroku. It stayed with her when they all sat down together for lunch and caught up on each other's lives. When she played with Sango's twin girls, teaching them how to play hop scotch, it was there. Next, when she rocked Miroku's son to sleep for his afternoon nap, it remained. The thought became more prominent in the afternoon when she had Shippou (and the twins, however briefly), sit down for a shortwriting lesson to see how far along he had progressed. And when she lay down for the evening (after sitting Inuyasha into a nearby pond, twice, for hitting Shippou and because he needed the bath), with Shippou burrowed beneath their blankets and curled up next to her hip, one small hand fisted into the fabric of her sleep shirt and the other tucked up beneath his chin... it came to the forefront of her mind, and kept her awake long into the night.

Why had she never seen Shippou's full yokai form?


Sango, Miroku, and their children waved goodbye as Inuyasha led the way back to Edo, leaving Kagome and Shippou to trail after in his wake. His ire at the pair was palpable, and Inuyasha would hold fast to his bad mood for the bulk of their trip back. His nose stuck up into the air, brows pinched together, arms crossed over his chest with hands tucked into the folds of his haori, and onward he stomped with tessaiga strapped to his hip, it's length wagging behind him like an awkward tail. Altogether he made the picture of a perfectly upset, tantrum-having, teenaged boy.

"Inuyasha," Kagome said. She waited for some measure of acknowledgement on his part, and received none. "Inuyasha, I did apologize for almost drowning you in the lake. And for that second S. I. T." She made a point to spell out the word, in recent years she noticed that just saying the word (without any intent, mind you), triggered the subjugation beads.

"And the first?" He prompted, still refusing to glance back at her, or Shippou.

"Not until you apologize for hitting Shippou."

"Yeah! Say you're sorry!" Shippou needled.

Kagome raised her hand up to her shoulder where Shippou sat, and tweaked one of his pointed ears in silent admonishment. The little fox was just as culpable given his bad habit of baiting Inuyasha, one she intended to break him of. Granted, he was just a child, but he still needed to learn better behavior.

"He deserved it!" Inuyasha turned his head to glare over his shoulder at the pair, "And I'm not saying sorry!"

"He, is just a child Inuyasha, you, on the other hand, should know better." She replied, struck with the abrupt feeling of sympathy. For her mother. Having recalled the numerous arguments and fights she'd gotten into with her little brother when she was younger. Although, they'd continued to argue up until the day she'd left, but not like they used to. It'd mostly been in play, and had not ever devolved into violence. Unless you counted spilt tea or short-sheeted bed linens.

"Keh!" With the one word reply (that was more noise than actual speech), Inuyasha took several great leaps across the open fields, leaving the pair of them far, far behind.

"You should have sat him for a little longer. In the lake."

"Don't say things like that Shippou, it's mean." Kagome felt obligated to say that, even if she agreed with the sentiment. It wouldn't do for the little fox to develop her rather morbid sense of humor. Not that she'd ever been inclined to dark-humor before, but it had sort of rubbed off on her over the years spent learning the fine art of cutting people open to fix their insides.

"I guess." Shippou didn't pretend to sound phased by her rebuke.

"Let's head back before he does something I'll make him regret later." She replied, more to herself than Shippou.

The pair shared mutual looks of resigned commiseration before continuing on with their trek back to Edo. It was only thanks to inordinately good timing that Inuyasha had decided to do the equivalent of 'stomping off to his room and slamming the door', after they had reached the relative safety of civilization. The sprawling paddy fields had few workers tending them throughout (the rice had already been harvested for the season), but they were otherwise alone. However, it has always been safer to travel in the more 'human-trafficked', areas than the forests or plains where yokai tended to dwell. If he'd left before then, and both Kagome and Shippou managed to make it back to Kaede's village relatively unscathed... she would have murdered him. Literally, murdered. With her delicate hands wrapped around that pale throat, shaking and choking the life from him until his pretty golden eyes bulged out of his head like one of those silly American toy stress dolls. And she would have done it with a smile, if Shippou had gotten hurt in that particular scenario.

But it was all in all, good timing. So Inuyasha was saved from one very, very slow murder.


"Welcome back child, how is the monk and tajiya? And their brood?" Kaede greeted, having caught sight of Kagome and Shippou once they had drew near her hut.

"Happier than ever, and doing their best to keep those twins out of trouble!" Kagome replied. She took several steps closer to assist Kaede back into the hut. The older women was getting on in years and did not walk as steadily as she once used to.

"The twins?" The older woman spoke, a slight frown on her face. Kagome helped her to sit down by the hearth, then grabbed a spare blanket and wrapped it around Kaede's shoulders. She had felt the slight coolness of flesh on the elder woman and didn't wish her to fall ill, even if it was near sweltering outside.

Shippou, swift on his paws, was quick to rekindle the smoldering embers by placing fresh logs into the pit and adding a burst of foxfire. Even he took note of Kaede's words and turned to them, curious and perhaps wondering if she was playing a joke.

"Kaede, is everything alright?" Kagome bent down and clasped the woman's shoulder with her right hand as her left fitted itself upon Kaede's wrist, taking her pulse.

The wizened miko gave a visible start, then appeared to shake off her momentary confusion. Kaede turned her face towards her and placed her free hand upon the one Kagome used to take her pulse. Her smile was brief, but warm.

"It was nothing dear, a passing distraction." Kaede said, her voice pitched in a warm, but firm dismissal. "Where be Inuyasha? There have been several new requests for aid."

"I'll get him!" Shippou said, bolting out the door without waiting for a reply from either of them. His prior confusion over Kaede's behavior forgotten.

Kagome wished she could claim as such too, but her worries were not so easily dismissed when roused. Especially since she knew (from both firsthand experience and her years spent in medical school), that there were a wide variety of mental ailments that could befall the elderly. And while Kaede was significantly younger than the senior citizens of her time (by a good, fifteen, maybe twenty years, at least), she knew that the average lifespan for denizens of the feudal era struck much earlier. In large part due to the harsh lifestyle, and because of the lack of legitimate medical advancement. She wanted to press Kaede about the lapse, but did not think it wise to do so just yet.

"What d'we need ta'kill now?" Inuyasha demanded by way of introduction as he entered the hut. He folded himself down by the fire across from where Kaede and Kagome both sat.

"Well?" He prompted, arms crossed and hands tucked into his sleeves, "I ain't got all day y'old h—"

"Sit." Kagome waited until Inuyasha had fully face-planted onto the deck before turning her attention to address Kaede.

"Who needs our help, Kaede-san?"

The older woman adjusted the blanket around her shoulders and leaned closer to the fire. Kaede thanked Shippou when he reached up to affix the tea-kettle above the small fire without being asked. With hands that shook, Kaede began to gather and prepare cups for tea. She said nothing for those long minutes, content to wait in silence for the water to boil and tea to steep. When it was ready, Kagome made a point to retrieve it from where it hung over the fire, and pour its contents into respective cups. She then set the kettle upon it's plinth beside the fire, and waited.

When Inuyasha began to show increasingly agitated signs of impatience and temper— Kagome glared him into submission. Her sharp blue eyes laser-focused upon Inuyasha for even a hint of back-sass. One slender brow rose in silent challenge when the hanyo's ears swiveled backward and his mouth cracked open. With infinite patience, Kagome waited for Inuyasha to defy her silent command, to call her unspoken threat. His cute dog-ears remained back, but he closed his mouth, golden eyes averted and arms crossed. He would sulk for the next few hours at the very least, but silent, he would remain.

Shippou, of course, was next to become impatient. He'd likely lasted as long as he had due to his desire to one-up Inuyasha at any and every, given opportunity. Thankfully, his lack of patience manifested in quieter forms. Ceaseless fidgeting, wandering eyes, and sharp flickering bursts of movement from his tails. Like a candle flame in the breeze, they danced back and forth in rapid succession. Yet, for all of his restless energy, Shippou remained seated and respectful.

Wisely, Kagome hid both her quiet victory and burgeoning, parental pride behind a small sip of tea.

"The town to the north is beset by a plague of spider yokai. Tis' three days ride, five on foot, from here." Kaede spoke at last. She hummed and took a sip of tea; "Many have said that these demons are pests, spinning their webs so thickly, devouring their chickens, and damaging their homes beneath the weight of their egg sacks."

"That's hardly worth our time! They can get rid of the problem themselves! Just burn their webs!" Inuyasha grunted, looking put out at the request. He was never entertained unless the threat was potentially life-threatening, Kagome noted.

"While rudely spoken, Inuyasha is not wrong, Kaede." Kagome replied softly with an idle shrug.

"Aye, I said as much to them myself." Kaede murmured into her cup, a slight twitch curling the edge of her lips.

Such cheek! She'd nearly snorted her next sip of tea at Kaede's reply! Kagome hoped to be that subtle with her delivery when she was old and gray. She'd be lucky if she kept all of her teeth and didn't go absolutely batty, honestly. A future being known as that old crazy lady spouting nonsense about flying 'machines' and 'chocolate cake'.

"So? What else?!" Inuyasha barked. His own steaming cup lay neglected, the hanyo had yet to develop a taste for the particular brew.

"Our neighboring village to the south is most upset at the kappa demon's thieving of their linens, seducing their women, and the—"

"It's their mating season! They'll all f*ck off in a few days. C'mon!" Inuyasha interrupted before Kaede could say another word.

Kaede did not seem bothered by Inuyasha's outburst, merely took another sip and waited for the silver-haired hanyo to settle down.

"There was also complaint of an infestation of yokai mice feasting upon—"

"Mice? Demon mice are afraid of their own shadow!" He said, once more cutting the older woman off as he climbed to his feet, knocking over his cup of tea in his haste.

Again, Kaede was unbothered by the display, or the spilt tea. Once more she waited in silence. If anything, she appeared to be the very epitome of peace and calm. Kagome was beginning to sense a pattern here, an underlying joke that no one else was catching onto. She watched as Kaede kept quiet, pointedly waiting for Inuyasha to contain himself once more.

"A married couple requested the removal of a small family of flea—"

"Flea yokai? Fleas?!" This time, when Inuyasha rushed to his feet, he stepped on the fallen cup and crushed it beneath his heel. He yowled in pain and hopped around on one foot. She didn't think the broken shards of clay had done him any real damage, in fact, Kagome surmised the action was a lot like the reaction anyone would get when stepping on a lego.

Once more, Kaede said nothing in the face of his upset as Inuyasha cursed and hopped around the small hut. Again, Kagome felt the edge of the older woman's joke, and this time, she felt the curdling sensation of mirth tugging at the corners of her mouth.

Kaede's silence was absolute until once again, Inuyasha lost enough steam to sit back down and wait for her next words. The elder woman nodded once and took another sip before speaking.

"There was mention of other small, lesser demons finding their way into local crops, aye, but nothing that would be of interest for ye." Kaede said.

Kagome's lip ached from holding it between her clenched teeth. The sting of pain was all that held her laughter at bay in the face of Kaede's words and Inuyasha's abrupt fit of temper when stomped out of the hut. Shippou looked adorably confused as he looked between the remaining pair; Kaede was the picture of calm as she poured herself more tea (with only a slight tremble of the hand), and Kagome, who sat rigidly in her seat, doing her level best to contain herself.

"I don't get it." Shippou said, arms crossed, "What's so funny?"

"You'll understand when you're older, child." Kaede murmured sagely

Dam broken, Kagome howled with laughter.


Later in the evening, when the worst of Edo's summer heat had passed with the setting of the sun, Inuyasha, Kagome, and Shippou heard rumor of a terrible toad yokai preying on a nearby village to the southeast. It had reached the trio by word of mouth from a cluster of migrating field hands. They spoke of the monster's great size and even greater appetite for both human flesh and livestock. One said the great beastly toad of a demon had poisoned the village's crops, another claimed it had destroyed the house of the village's lord when it took to the air in a single hop, to land upon it's roof and make a home for itself, and the last shook with terror and said not a word.

Inuyasha had practically vibrated with excitement at the prospect, Kagome felt a moment's hesitation at the words of warning, but knew they had the power to help, and therefore should; and little Shippou was helplessly caught between the two, seeing as how he would be staying behind with Kaede while the two 'adults,' would be going to deal with the giant toad.

When they broke the news to Kaede, she told them to exercise great caution and suggested that they consider recruiting Miroku and Sango to take with them as back up. Inuyasha laughed and waved off the old woman's warning.

"We've taken on Naraku and his entire horde," Inuyasha grinned, hand upon tessaiga's hilt, "Sango and the monk are retired now."

Still, Kaede had persisted and advised caution at the possibility of the large toad yokai being poisonous. Kagome thought that perhaps they should recruit their friends just in case, but knew that Inuyasha had a point. In their many adventures, Sango and Miroku hadn't always been there with them to fight their enemies.

"Keh! How bad could one toad yokai be?"

Chapter 5: This isn't one of those American Cartoons, sadly.

Notes:

I do apologize for delays and the array of parenthesis (however they seemed to fit with the flow and how I wanted to convey things in this chapter), and I hope you enjoy reading. Sesshoumaru should make an appearance in another chapter or two...

Chapter Text

"How bad could one toad yokai be?"

As it turned out, one toad yokai could, indeed be very, very bad. It had taken Inuyasha and Kagome three full days and nights to reach the village that the yokai had lain claim to for reasons unknown. Perhaps because the daimyo's house looked like a giant lily pad. Who could say? The point Kagome was trying to illustrate here (even as she strung another arrow, charged it with blazing-pink purification— and let it fly), was this:

Being here, fighting this giant toad yokai, was a terrible, horrible, and all around bad idea.

The worst part of it all had been how unbelievably stupid she had been to not notice all of the painfully obvious warnings they'd received along their trek. The first of course, being the initial words of caution and fear from the migrating field-hands— that last one who'd been shaken and mute (a very telling sign, kagome thought snidely, as she watched the reiki bleed away from her arrow when it hadn't even reached the halfway point to its target). Next it had been Kaede's warnings and persistent suggestion that they take backup (which again, in hindsight, they really could have used about now as she watched Inuyasha get tossed like a limp rag into a nearby copse of trees... Again). And then, about halfway through their journey to the village, on the second day, the next sign had presented itself. One that should have spoken volumes— should have made them stop in their tracks and veer off to go pick up Sango and Miroku before continuing on. But no, Inuyasha had balked at the mere idea of turning back now, silence be damned. That was it though, the silence.

A complete lack of woodland sound. There had not been any rabbits scurrying along the forest floor, no birds ruffling their feathers as they settled into their nests, and what was even more terrifying? Not even the rhythmic, low-level buzzing of insects had been present. The closer they drew to the village, the more unnerved she had become. Forests should not be so still, so eerily quiet.

And then, there was the last warning (and the most damning, in retrospect; Kagome watched as the giant toad's tongue retreated back into its mouth once before slipping out and sliding up and over it's left eye, shoving itself beneath the lid and seemingly scratching an itch); the dead and dying that they encountered in passing. The people, the animals, the trees, the plants, and the very earth and water itself... All of it had been mottled black and green, infected with a poison that consumed all, piece by piece, leaving poor, twisted and gnarled things in place of the once hale and whole bodies they'd had. The air itself was stale and dry, bleached of any moisture or life it may have born.

All of these things presented themselves— clear warnings of the danger to come. Signs they had resolutely ignored, and that was before either of them had even set eyes upon the monster they now faced.

Not a demon, oh no— this creature was beyond that (Kagome knocked another arrow and held it longer, until her fingers ached and sweat dotted her brow; she held it until the light of purification burned so bright that all else was naught but half-hearted shadow), the toad was huge! Bigger than the great bones of Inuyasha's father! No wonder it had been able to take one single leap onto the daimyo's home with ease! There was little mystery as to why the stately building had collapsed like a house of cards, either. The amphibian's size was great due in part to its overall build and largely because the behemoth was grossly overweight. Rolls of mottled green and dark mustard skin stretched far and wide around the toad's body, they bulged outward, near unable to contain the large amount of fat cells the beastly creature had accumulated.

Kagome released the arrow with an immensely satisfying twang. She watched it streak through the air in a glorious, fiery arc to strike the monstrous toad. A viciously pleased grin split her lips as she watched the arrow-tip sink deep into the meat and fat of the creature's right arm. Unfortunately her satisfaction was short-lived, the reiki-infused arrow did little more than cauterize the fresh wound.

Was the toad yokai so fat that her purification abilities were rendered null and void? Or were her powers just tanked, today? Of all days!

"Inuyasha! Watch out!" She cried, moments too late as the toad's long, slimy tongue whipped out of it's mouth and batted the hanyo right into a hut, collapsing it upon impact.

If Kagome hadn't seen Inuyasha take harsher blows in the past, she would have flinched. The way things stood, she couldn't help but be a little critical of his form. What Inuyasha needed to do was refrain from taking all of those giant, ridiculously telegraphed leap-attacks into the air. They clearly weren't going to work in this scenario, or most any other that involved a moderately intelligent opponent. She looked around and carefully made her way between poison-blacked huts and crushed remains with precise movements, Kagome gave the monstrous toad a wide berth too as she walked around the broken huts and decayed remains of villagers to reach her friend.

The entire village of Etogoya looked like the ghastly remains of a war zone; one where only one side fought while the other slept, with bioweapons. Everywhere she looked, in every direction— barren trees, rotting corpses, crumbling buildings, and all of it, every last little bit of it was blackened and raw. The poison gases and youki taint that the giant toad demon exuded (seemingly without conscious thought or effort, much to Kagome's utter dismay, and perhaps that was why her miko abilities were in the toilet today, they were working in over-drive just to keep her breathing and poison-free), had completely and irrevocably decimated everything it'd touched. Even as she slipped between two half-destroyed walls, Kagome couldn't help but wonder if the Earth would be forever stained, to remain a barren, darkened blight upon the surface where Etogoya once stood.

Kagome took a quick peak up at the Godzilla-sized toad to ensure she wouldn't be attacked on her short trek towards Inuyasha to check on him. Her friend hadn't gotten up from the last blow yet, so she was a bit worried. Although why she bothered to spare a moment to glance up (seriously, was that thing even threatened by either of them? The arrow hadn't even drawn it's attention, and it was still sticking out of it's arm), was more out of habit than actual worry. The toad didn't consider her worthy of notice, and it treated Inuyasha as little more than a mildly irritating insect it didn't care to eat. She wondered if the creature cared for anything, it clearly had not cared for the mindless destruction it had caused.

Because after this? Even if they managed to destroy this monster today (and boy was that a very big if, in Kagome's mind), Etogoya was no more. It had nothing to do with the absolute destruction of the village, or the death of their crops and livestock, and everything to do with its people. Every single resident of Etogoya had died. They had likely taken ill the moment the toad demon had come within a few miles of their town, an illness that had advanced rapidly the closer it drew. Death had come for them all when it had taken on the form of a monstrous amphibian that stank of sour, meat-rotten poison and leapt into the heart of their village. Kagome could only hope that their deaths had been swift and not long, drawn out affairs of agony.

It started to rain then, as absurd that concept was, in the middle of summer, in the remains of the once bustling village of Etogoya. The small droplets were little more than casual blips on her peripheral as she inspected Inuyasha for injury. Maybe the small smattering of rainfall was the earth's way of trying to combat the monster's poison?

Inuyasha struggled to pull himself up from beneath the pile of rubble, and then get his feet up under his body until he was crouched beside her. He had one hand gripped tight upon tessaiga's hilt, with it's large, bladed fang planted deep in the ground. His entire body had a fine tremble to it, his eyes were wide and fever-bright (and focused on the giant monster squatting casually amidst the remains of the daimyo's ancestral home, Kagome thought it was perhaps trying to find something to eat, judging by how it's tongue was halfway up it's own left nostril), but what was truly unsettling about Inuyasha (and made her fret about the possibility of him being poisoned by the great beast of a yokai, too), was the wide face-splitting grin he wore.

"Inuyasha? Are you-"

"It's a Shikou-yokai." His grin was the stuff of razor wires and nightmares, it made Kagome shiver from seeing it, "Ain't killed one of those before. No one I know of has, either, not even my stupid half-brother." Inuyasha paused long enough to wipe a trickle of blood from his nostril before turning those wild, bright-gold eyes upon her; "I'll be the first."

"What?" Kagome hoped the crash-landing hadn't completely scrambled his brains, "Inuyasha, what are you talking about? The giant toad is a what-yokai?" She'd never heard of it before, and Kagome was desperately hoping that Inuyasha wasn't being slowly poisoned by the monster, either.

"Shikou-yokai, Kagome," he drew her name out, as if to admonish her for detracting from his fun, for taking time away from his greatest challenge, his most entertaining of conquests; "They're at the top of the yokai food chain. A step below the kamis themselves. And I'm going to kill it."

"A what? Inuyasha no, we need to-" Inuyasha shook off her words, and her hands, with all the care one would give a fly, "...get out of here." She watched her dear, stupid friend stride boldly from the broken remains of the hut, and leap towards the huge toad with a battle cry and tessaiga raised high.

Kagome hurriedly climbed to her feet and scrabbled out of the broken hut after Inuyasha (partly in fear for her friend, and partly because she thought the damned thing would collapse at any moment). All she could do from her vantage point was watch as the silver-haired, overgrown man-child of a hanyo leapt from one broken rooftop to another, gaining speed and momentum. Once he'd acquired the desired vantage point and enough power to launch into yet another aerial attack, Kagome watched as Inuyasha took another great leap up high into the air, and angled his body to best deliver one of his powerful, signature attacks with his father's fang.

She slipped on a smooth bit of mortar and stone that had become wet from the rain and fell hard on her ass. Her cry of pain went unheard, drowned out by Inuyasha crash-landing into another hut. Kagome struggled to her feet, rubbing the damp, sore-spot on the seat of her jeans. Gingerly, she bent down and retrieved her bow and the few remaining arrows she had left. She'd need to get a better vantage point to use them since Inuyasha refused to make any sort of tactical retreat. Bow slung, and arrows back in their quiver, Kagome eyed the toad, their immediate surroundings, and briefly, Inuyasha's flying form (angled towards the toad, and yelling his battle cry at the top of his lungs, just announcing to the world at large where he was and how he was going to attack), she turned her head from him deliberately (if he was going to be stupid, fine, she wasn't going to worry about him getting hurt then, she wasn't), and made for one of the lone watch towers that was still in tact. Conveniently, the tower didn't look like it would collapse if she climbed on it, and it just so happened to be somewhat close to the toad. The kind of close that was perfect for shooting reiki-infused arrows into giant, bulbous, and slightly glazed, toady-yellow eyes...


"I'm going," Kagome huffed as she wiped her wet, rats-nest-mess of hair out of her face, "To kill him." She grunted once, and then wrenched her boot out from a pocket of mud and mortar.

The rain had upgraded from a light, refreshing drizzle, to a full-blown downpour of such epic proportions that it's sheer, astounding magnificence of nature rivaled that of the fat, slimy (and dare she say it... mentally delayed? Because if any of the previous indicators were to be taken into account, it would be an accurate assessment, to put things mildly), toad of monstrous proportions. Every. Single. Square. Inch. Of her body was soaked through with so much water that she may as well have been swimming.

That, and mud.

On her quest to reach the tower, Kagome had slipped, stumbled, tripped, fumbled, and overall busted her ass more times than she dared to take count. Her jeans were a patchwork of brown mud and dark blue denim, her boots had bits of grass stuck in the lacing, and her bare arms were lined with scrapes and goose flesh. She didn't even want to talk about the state of her shirt, or her hair. Great kami did she not want to talk about her hair right now.

She'd made it to the base of the tower, and had begun her perilous climb up the wet, wooden ladder that was held together by little more than human ingenuity (of a bygone era, in her mind, even if she was stuck living in it from this point on), and rotted twine. There were many things on her mind, a great many worries (would Shippou be alright if something happened to her?), and pressing mysteries to consider (like that baffling book on ley lines, that woman dulling full-tilt saikeirei), and much more immediate things to fret over, of course. Such as the giant, poison-exuding monster of a toad yokai that had single-handedly decimated an entire village without a modicum of effort (or any thought either, in fact, Kagome was fairly certain the demon had believed the daimyo's house had been a lily pad, if only because the walls and roof were once a very attractive shade of green, prior to its destruction), in addition to Inuyasha's fruitless attempts to damage or destroy the monster. Really, he looked more like an annoying bit of red and silver fluff to bat around with the way the toad was treating him. But, of all these things, the only truly concerning issue Kagome had in mind was this;

For the love of all that is holy, do not let me slip and fall off this godforsaken ladder and die.

A woman of simple goals, Kagome was. Or so she liked to believe, particularly in this instance when she had made it three-quarters of the way up, and had made the worst mistake possible. She'd stopped to look down. In doing so, her fear of heights (a previously undiscovered fear, apparently, in spite of her travels upon Inuyasha's back), had doubled. No, tripled.

Each rung of the ladder creaked in warning at her touch, and every bit of twine that stuck out from it's twist of knot work implied a decades-old threat... But Kagome had learned from her experiences during her shard-hunting teenage years; she did not stop to look down again, and she did not pause to catch a single, panicky breath, in her upward climb. If a rung was going to snap, she would have three other points of contact to rely on. Should the twine unravel, and the ladder fall to pieces beneath her hands and feet; Kagome would cling to the center pole and ride it down to the bottom. She'd be terrified and screaming bloody murder the whole ride down— but she'd live.

Plans of action in place, she nodded once, sharply to herself, and then tried to wipe the excess water (and wretched mess of her hair), away from her eyes. Not willing to free a hand to do this, she instead used the curve of her shoulder. Little good it did, though. Her shirt was drenched, so the action was an entirely wasted effort. It'd been like trying to mop up a spill with a dripping rag, all she ended up doing was making it worse. Not that she needed to see just yet, anyhow, but it was the principal of thing, really.

Five grueling minutes later, Kagome made it to the top of the tower, and scrabbled and scraped her way across the deck. Didn't bother to climb to her feet, or her knees, oh no— she didn't trust this rickety platform with it's thin, guard shack walls and half-assed exterior railing that looked more decorative than protective. Not when coupled with this endless, godforsaken rain that came down in pounding torrents. So, Kagome crawled with her stomach to the floor, knees and elbows scraping, the points of her bow click-clacking against the floor in time with her movements, and the remaining arrows in her quiver threatening to spill out and scatter over the edge in a given moment. Shamelessly, she belly-crawled across the platform until her fingers met the thin wall of the poorly built shack. With far less grace than a drunk camel (she saw a video once on YouTube, it was that bad), Kagome hauled herself up against the dripping surface (literally, nothing up here was safe from the elements— which Kami had they pissed off?), and edged around the corner until the monstrous toad-yokai came into view. If the beast was in any other direction, she would have gone inside the small enclosure for additional cover, but as it was she would suffer a severely limited line of sight (the tower appeared to have been constructed for external security purposes, not internal ones), plus Inuyasha's angry battle cries were sounding more and more like the frantic shrieks of a banshee. A signal that usually meant a slow spiral into desperation... which would mean a possible slip into a full, feral yokai state.

With this beast?

And this rain?

Scratch that.

Monsoon.

It would spell a very, very bad day for them. One that she might not walk away from, and that was something Kagome could not, and would not allow to happen. Not today. So, as she shored up her slightly tarnished nerves of steel and unslung her bow (took a single moment to yank her bangs up and out of her face, forget the unending cycle of rainwater sleuthing down it, that was a lost cause), and knocked an arrow. She planted her feet (her mother had really chosen a good set of boots, they did have excellent traction, her slip'n'slide trip up here notwithstanding), and pushed her shoulders up and back. Next she took in her line of sight, selected an appropriate target (the crease of the closed, right-eyelid), and pulled the bowstring taut. Kagome inhaled once, slow and deep, held it, and then exhaled. The exhale had been smooth and steady, it was the perfect time to release the faintly glowing arrow.

...If she wanted to shoot Inuyasha in the face.

Kagome watched as he sailed right past where she stood, with her bow strung and arrow knocked; a strange, high-pitched gargle escaping him as he flew by to crash into another crumbling hut. Seems a lot like another attack of his was cut short, and Inuyasha's typical snarl of anger at aforementioned thwarted attack, had been muffled. By one slimy, disturbingly long and overly twisty tongue. Now, if the sheer, unadulterated wrongness of this entire situation hadn't been hanging heavy upon her mind; Kagome might have laughed at Inuyasha getting some open-mouthed tongue action from a toad.

Releasing a grunt of frustration, Kagome slackened the tension on her bow, and clutched both it and the knocked arrow one-handed to rub at her eyes. The rainwater pouring down her face alternately stung and blurred her vision with minuscule sparks of white. It made getting the arrow on target difficult (more-so if Inuyasha made a habit of being thrown about in her line of fire), but Kagome would rather be inconvenienced by her miko powers instead of poisoned by the youki-tainted rainfall (which made sense, really, that her reiki-infused arrows were flaking so badly). Every square centimeter of this place was coated in a slow, life-sucking miasma-like poison— no thanks to that great beast of a toad. That, or she was just imagining the toxic rain and it was because of other reasons, like her powers were just going to sh*t.

Whatever the motives or explanation ended up being, those could wait— preferably once she was warm, dry, and far, far away from this place. Besides, Inuyasha was looking a bit more worse for wear this time, and the watch-tower she stood on had begun to creak and groan in a rather frightening manner. Kagome really didn't want to stay up here any longer than needed, even if she hadn't planned exactly how she was going to get back down.

Really, if she thought it would have helped any, Kagome would have hollered at the hanyo to wait, to attack from the left, or right, or to do anything at all different. But it wouldn't, because she knew her cries would fall on cute, deaf, doggy-ears. Which meant that she had to work around Inuyasha's leap-attacks so that her good friend wouldn't catch an arrow. With his face. However, since he was still down for the count (or so she guessed, she couldn't really see what he was doing, not with this ongoing flood. All she could really make out was a vaguely blurry red shape somewhere down to her left), she pulled the arrow back and took aim once more.

Light sputtered and grew to life along worn feathers, damp wood, and the beaten steel-tip of her arrow. Kagome inhaled deep, and exhaled out upon the arrow— her breath further ignited the bright, burning light upon its shaft until motes of pink danced along its outermost edges.

Once more, she aimed for the crease, that corner-crack of the giant's bulbous-yellow right eye.

Inhale.

Hold.

Exhale.

Release!

The arrow hadn't made it ten feet before the tawdry light of purification was lost, defeated by the sheets of poison rain. Frowning, she looked on through squinted eyes (and poised one hand above her brow to block the rain), tracking the arrow's progress. Tried, at any rate, as if she could see it in this weather, not once her reiki had been wiped out.

"No more playing around!" Inuyasha howled. It came from somewhere to her right, but Kagome couldn't be sure.

As long as he wasn't jumping in the way of her shot, Kagome didn't much mind what sort of tantrum he was about to throw. With a firmed jaw and a whole metric ton of frustrated determination— Kagome withdrew another arrow from the quiver on her back (she only had one left, after this. Had to make them count, or bail out before the toad decided to pay them mind), and knocked it.

The target was the same.

She inhaled, and waited.

Waited for the warmth to leave her fingertips and fill the arrow. She waited— for the light to build, to grow, to roil and writhe in a dazzling show along the shaft. She waited until the arrow itself groaned, threatening to shatter under the strain of holding so much more reiki than it was built to withstand. Her vision dotted and she needed to breathe. Still, she waited. Waited until the shaft gave way to a series of brilliant, glowing hair-line fractures along its length— and still, Kagome held fast.

The rainwater started to hiss and steam wherever it touched the burning arrow— Now, now was the time.

Kagome exhaled, and let the arrow fly.

It blazed a trail of blinding light and steam as it cut through the downpour, the heat and strength of its purification cleansing every drop it touched, and causing it to evaporate from the heat. The arrow'spath was one of pink fire and vapor as it flew straight for its target in clear-cut directionthat she could track easily with her eyes (in spite of the blurry and watery sight that it was, good kami her eyes stung). She watched the arrow burn through the toxic air and rain, to strike it's target.

A flash of intense satisfaction filled her being when she saw the arrow plunge deep into that closed eye, lighting it up in fiery blaze of purification. Watched the closed lid reflect a menagerie of light and shadow as the eye itself was burned away beneath it. Spurts of pink fire slipped from between the scrunched eyelid, hissing its fury betwixt mottled green flesh and sizzling dribbles of black blood. The damage overall was minimal given the monster's size, but it had been a calculated blow on her part; complete loss of sight in the right eye, and destroying the nerve-endings by aforementioned eye, that run the length of the entire right side. Until those deadened nerves were physically removed, they'd continue firing all the wrong kinds of signals (a great distraction tactic that should help Inuyasha), and if left untreated, the dead matter would corrode the tissue surrounding it, and in turn slowly turn septic. That same, septic, poisonous tissue would be spread throughout the yokai' entire body, traces of it carried by the monster's own blood cells. One way or another, the toad yokai's days were numbered, it's ability to corrode and poison its surroundings through sheer carelessness were drawing to a close.

The feeling of deep satisfaction was cut short when the toad opened its mouth and let loose a bellowing shriek of pain and anger, breaking the sound barrier (and her ear-drums for all she could tell), and shaking the remaining structures of Etogoya with it's powerful reverberations. A few of the buildings collapsed beneath the sound waves, and Kagome fell with them, her knees hitting the wooden deck hard with a wet, splash as she clapped both hands to her ears and screamed in pain herself.

She didn't see Inuyasha's attack, but felt the residual heat and wind of it (the rain blown sideways for several long, and highly uncomfortable seconds had been a strong indicator), buffet against her trembling body. It had been one of tessaiga's signature attacks, she's fairly sure, even though she'd been unable to hear Inuyasha calling it out beneath the toad's sonorous wailing. But what she did see, in the split second her eyes had been able to open and take in the blurred sights of Etogoya in shambles, a giant toad with a burnt out eye leaking slow trails of black blood, and the silver and red blur of her friend still airborne— all small inconsequential things when the key detail registered in her brain. It was the one thing that had her blindly scrabbling forward across the deck of the tower, and yelling something she couldn't even hear (her ears were still ringing and she couldn't hear f*ckall from the yokai's yelling, was it still yelling?), one hand clutching the edge of the deck, and the other stretched out in a sad attempt to render aid.

The toad yokai's tongue had stretched and snapped out of its mouth, and this time, instead of batting Inuyasha aside like some annoying housefly— the slimy appendage wrapped around his torso several times, pulled tight, and then retracted back to whence it came. Retracted. Backward. From inside the toad's wide, gaping maw. And then clamped shut with the finality of a door slamming. The reflexive swallow that followed was akin to the deadbolt being thrown.

"No."

It.

"No!"

It had swallowed Inuyasha!

"No! Give him back!!" She screamed, launching herself up onto her feet, "You give him back right now you— you monster!" Kagome tore her eyes from the beast to look around, where was her bow?

"Inuyasha, I'll get you out of there, I promise!"

Sheets of rain all around and the thousands of drops that formed them, were striking the deck repeatedly and the upward splashback of it made it hard to look at; and harder for her to find what she sought when the platform she stood upon seemed to move and tremble. Was it just the illusion created by the water, or has the poison from it further corroded the wooden planks and beams so thoroughly that it was now a matter of time before it all came tumbling down? Kamis this was not the time to think such things, she knew. Upon hands and knees (again), Kagome splayed pale, shaking fingertips out in front as she searched near-blindly for her bow. Where was it?

In her hasty, questing search, she nearly pushed the bow right off the edge of the tower's platform. But an iron grip and another pseudo-lunge maneuver completely lacking in grace, saved it from doing a nose-dive. Shakily, Kagome climbed to her feet, bow in one hand, and the last arrow clutched tighlty in the other, and moved her body into position. She had one arrow left.

One shot.

One chance.

What was the target?

Right jaw, where the tendons held it together? Strike and dislocate it, forcing the mouth open so Inuyasha could escape? She hadn't studied a lot of amphibian anatomy so she couldn't say for sure. Nervous systems ran similar in most living creatures, the same couldn't be said for bone structure. But it wasn't a completely horrible idea. In fact, it was the best one she had, the only one, really.

"Kami I hope I'm right." She prayed aloud with arrow knocked, target locked, and putting every last bit of miko-power she had into the arrow. She forced so much into it that the feather-tip singed, the shaft cracked, and the steel-tip glistened wetly, it's sharp edges growing soft and smooth as it started to melt.

When she started to feel sick, from the toxic air and the burning rain, Kagome exhaled and released the arrow. She didn't need to look at her fingers to know they had blistered, didn't need to look at her bare arms to know that they had become black and blotchy from poison exposure. All she needed to look at was her arrow, and when it struck the beast.

The force of the blow pushed the giant toad back a scant number of feet (a shock in its own right given it's greater girth and size), and caused the remaining walls and bits of roof of the daimyo's ancestral home to collapse. It was little more than a pile of rubble now, with a giant, half-blind, and partially purified toad yokai squatting amidst it all. Brilliant waves of purification from the shattered arrow had forced the toad's mouth open (however briefly), and had singed the entirety of it's right face, but it had done little else. Except cause the toad's remaining eye to snap open as it's face slowly turned toward the direction of the attack, and that oblong, rounded slit of a pupil settled on Kagome.

Something was rushing up. Or down. Inside of her body, there was a very distinct rushing sensation. Along with a complete absence of sound, except for that very loud and rapid thumping sound going off somewhere in the back of her mind. Oh god, why was it looking at her?

The slit of the toad's mouth cracked open, and dimly, she saw the pale, slimy tongue begin to move within the dark cavern.

Kagome gripped her bow with white-knuckled, nerveless fingers. Rainwater burned trails down her face, her back, between her breasts, along her belly, then down her thighs and calves until it pooled into the bottoms of her new boots. The thin wool of her socks (terrible to wear for summer, but she didn't want to risk blisters by wearing regular thin socks in these boots, as redundant as that now was), squelched and itched uncomfortably between her toes and around her ankles. Every inch of her was wet, and every bit of her was being poisoned from the air, the rain, and the overwhelming aura of the Shikou-yokai (and what did that even mean? Before today, she'd never heard of it), as she stood there, trembling like a leaf upon the platform.

Standing there, watching her death unfold before a giant yellow eye and a wide, gaping maw that was moments away from ejecting a long, nubile, appendage covered in (what she assumed was), highly toxic mucous.

But something changed then, the tongue did not propel itself forward and strike her, instead, the yokai hesitated. The yokai paused, and started to expand. Not the kind of expansion that implied it was 'puffing' itself up to appear bigger, no, this was altogether something quite different. It grew large, it's skin bulging out and growing tight and smooth. If she took enough time to draw a comparison, or if she had to liken the sight to someone else, she would say the monster right then, looked a lot like one of those American cartoon characters after they'd swallowed a stick of dynamite that had been lit. And then gone off in their bellies.

Except the toad did not revert back to size. It did not emit a burp of smoke, and it did not display any singed hairs or a face suddenly covered in black soot. In this instance, the toad grew bigger.

And bigger.

And bigger still.

Until it couldn't anymore. Because when something is too full, and cannot contain it's contents when under so much pressure... it will do the only sensible and natural thing that it can.

It exploded.

Whatever Inuyasha had done, from within the belly of the beast, had worked. In hindsight, Kagome could not (and would not ever), be sure if what he had done was a good thing (in the long run), or the single-most terribly wretched (and selfishly imbecilic), thing he could have ever done. That is not to say that she spent any significant amount of time to ponder this particular thought as Kagome watched the toad yokai's flesh give way. Watched as it tore itself apart and exploded out in a shower of flesh, bone, shredded organ, torn muscle, and blood.

Giant bursts of black, viscous fluid that cut through the torrents of water in the same manner her reiki-infused arrows had. Creating hiss and burning steam in its wake. And burn it did. Everything that black-blood landed upon burned and crumbled to pieces beneath it's acidic touch.

When a bomb goes off, it erupts up and out. In a complete, seven hundred-twenty degree coverage.

The remains of the Shikou-yokai were thrown in every direction. It's blood behaved no differently from what she could see. And what Kagome could see, was the biggest glob of it, slicing through the raging downpour, and headed straight towards her.

The last thing she saw, was the red and silver figure of Inuyasha, as he stood in the epicenter of his own explosion, and the black blood cutting a hissing, steam-filled path across the air, barreling at her like a freight train. She felt something thick and syrupy strike her, and then something like a jolt, a shock to her system.

But then, it was just black.

And Kagome, knew no more.

Chapter 6: Hell is a realm of many places, and the pit is for those that burn...

Notes:

I had to cut this in half, it was getting to be too long and I didn't want to leave people in the dark. Additionally, this story is new, it is not on any other site, and there is no more to be posted until you see it here. Happy reading...
EDIT 24OCT17; combined chapters 6 and 7!

Chapter Text

Unbearable heat and a heavy, claustrophobic pressure against her body. Is it hers? She does have one, she's fairly sure— but clarity is lacking. There is a moist, damp feeling that pervades. Something sticky, or stuck. She finds there is an itch where it is stuck (whatever it is), the urge to rip it off comes to the fore, but fades.

The warmth is intense and everywhere, all over, no inch of her is free from it. The heat, the stick, an itch. She feels a part of her move, a compulsive knee-jerk type of reflex. It ripples throughout her body (and in this moment, she concedes that yes, it is her body, she has one), and awakens a part of her. A part of herself that she had not been aware of having been asleep.

The impossibility of the heat had been a lie. It had been more.

So much more.

Her world was black and she was trapped in hell. In hell, she writhed and danced to the tunes of fire and agony.

"Kagome stop! You're making it worse, just hang—!"

Her world remained dark, but the fires grew dim, and her mind slipped away from her, to somewhere much darker than she could readily follow.

When she surfaced, broke the barrier from the quiet void of nothing to the black of something— the fire came with.

She knew she had a mouth, if only because of the unending barrage of screams that came tearing out of it. Just like she knew her body— because of the fire that burned and blistered along its length. The heat that corroded bone and liquified muscle. She knew that her dark world was but one wretched corner of hell, for though her body burned and her mouth bled screams— she could not move, could not flee.

She didn't know if this pain-filled world lived in the dark, or if she was forbidden sight. She did not know to be thankful, or something less so, at the lack of it. In her limited sphere of the dark, with those horrible, unending screams ringing a twisted cacophony, and with every inch of her bathed in fire... she couldn't find it in herself to even care.

"Hold her down! This poultice must be applied before—"

Why? After everything she had done— after everything she had sacrificed, why did the kamis deem her unfit for all but the fiery pit? Was she truly, in her heart of hearts— a bad girl?

"I'm trying y'old bat—! Hurry!!"

Had she really done such awful things in her life, or her previous ones, to warrant this unending, searing hellfire? Would she burn eternally until the marrow from her bones blackened and crumbled to ash? Or would her curse, her punishment be infinitely more cruel? Would she live in the horror of the Greeks Titan god Prometheus? Chained to a cliff side where an eagle would come and make a meal of him, and each morning would Prometheus find himself whole and hale, only for the eagle to come and feast upon him once more. A cycle of pain without an end for all of eternity... was she to suffer a similar fate for the actions she'd made in life? Or for the ones made in her previous lives?

Something cold and cool slid across her face, all else still burned and scorched, but the shock— the absence of fire, was a relief. A sensation so jarring in and of itself that it broke off her volatile cries and punched air deep into abused lungs she had all but forgotten. She prayed to all— to any of the kamis who would listen to her piteous pleas for mercy, for forgiveness. Please let that cool, icy flood spill across the rest of her body, Let the fires dampen and die so that she could bask in its absence. She would rather freeze than burn for another second. She did not care what it would cost, so long as it stopped.

"Kaede... that poultice-"

She could have wept, for her prayers had been answered! The fire was going away, to leave her poor, battered body as the winter chill spread from her face and down, down, and down. Relief from the heat, from fire, from hell itself— was coursing through her, leaving a wet brush of winter-slick in its place.

"Aye, Inuyasha?"

Tiny pinpricks danced around, in, and behind the places where she knew eyes to be. They felt like delicate snowflakes buffeted by winds that could not be sensed. It was cold and felt like those moments that preceded tears. She did not know if this was bad, because it did not hurt, it did not burn, it did not scald. It is because she did not burn that she sagged against her unseen bonds and breathed deeply through a dry, scratchy throat. She wished that icy chill would flood her mouth and ease the parch in her throat.

"That doesn't go on eyes! Get it off! It doesn't smell right— get it off, get it off now!"

"Oh aye? Ye sure? I've been doing this for a great many years now and I know what medicines go where and-"

"Take it off now before-"

The flurry of gentle snowflakes became a storm of pounding hale. The bits of delicate snow had hardened and sharpened themselves into dozens of icy blades that slashed and cut in a riotous maelstrom that left her vision a whirlwind of white and crimson. Her body had been given a reprieve from the fire, and in exchange for such— the cold and ice of her balm, her salvation, carved for themselves a cavern of ice and snow. Carved and cut a home where her eyes had been. A deep, expanding cold pierced her, stabbed her, and cut into her with all the fury of a mighty snow storm.

"Wha—? What have I done? This is not the-"

She did not burn from the fire, but from the ice. Once more, her bodyrose of its own accord, her hands clawing at the air, fighting unseeingly, unconsciously, against their bonds. She needed to get it out! She needed to remove the storm and caves of ice from the bed of her eyes!

"I've got her arms! Now get that sh*t out of her eyes before-"

Her world was ice and snow. Ice that burned like fire and cut like knives, and snow that cooled.

Flashes of white and red were the last figments of sight, or imagination, before her mind slipped away. Back into the void where she could not follow.

She did not burn, nor did she freeze. Her body was still, but not bound, and all around her was quiet. Why did she rise from the deep when it was still dark, when her body ached and her mind felt weary? Why was she awake when it was clear she still needed rest?

A sharp, dry cough tore itself free of her throat just then in answer to her query, it's reply a rough and wretched thing. It shook her with such force that her tired body trembled with echoes of pain. Her throat felt like the Sahara desert in the middle of summer, or as if someone had stuffed a carton of those nasty saltines down her gullet while she slept. Whatever the case, the entirety of her esophagus was dry and her mouth was parched. No wonder she'd woken up— her body hadn't been able to ignore it any longer.

Distantly, as if trapped in molasses, Kagome twitched then flexed the fingers of her left hand, testing their dexterity. They were a little stiff from disuse, but overall functional and free of trappings and pain. In fact, there was a pleasant lack of pain, in that hand, as well as the rest of the arm attached to said hand. This was good. Now she needed to get water, her inability to swallow or generate saliva was growing more uncomfortable by the second, edging on a dry burn.

Still, Kagome took it bit by bit and put her other hand through the same motions, then her arms. Testing their strength, mobility, and any lingering tenderness. Next she tried her feet, then legs. The process was infinitely tiring, and served to increase her thirst near ten fold. But, she would not rush, she refused to risk further damage if her spine had been—

Wait.

Why was she doing this at all?

Kagome's eyes snapped open (or they would have), if the binding across them hadn't prevented such an action. Slowly. Slowly... she raised her hands up to her face. They trembled with the strain, or shook with fear, as she feathered the tips of her fingers up along the sides of her neck and jaw, cataloging all they touched.


Rough-hewn cotton. Tacky plaster (they must have broken into her first aid kit), raised skin with the hard, craggy feel of healing scabs. Smooth, if slightly dry skin... From what she could ascertain, the largest concentration of exposed scab and bandages was located high on her cheeks, above her nose, and below her forehead...

She'd taken the most damage to her eyes.

Eyes!

But why? What had happened? Why was every part of her so stiff and sore, as if she'd had a hard day at the gym, followed by a long intern shift at the hospital, and then had slept for a week? Her hands scratched against the linens, attempting to find an edge with which to unravel while she pondered the bizarre situation she'd found herself in. What mess has she gotten herself into, to warrant this—

Empty buildings.

Corroded huts.

Dead fields.

Silent woods.

Decayed corpses... A giant, no, a beast of a yokai. So wide, so large was the toad...


Etogoya.


A gasp wrenched itself loose as the memories came. All of them, flooding through her mind— the final rush of poison-blood as it sliced through the summer storm, steam roiling and hissing in its wake. How it struck her, full on. Kagome coughed violently from the recollection, horrified. She pitched forward, upending blankets and tearing bandages as she coughed and choked on the gush of warm, wet copper as it filled her mouth.

"Kagome! Hold on, here! You'll be alright!" She heard the small, rushed voice from somewhere behind her. Felt the delicate, weighted steps of a cat (no, cats don't talk— a child), around her bedding. Heard something clatter, a brush of fabrics, and the pouring, sloshing of liquid from one container into another.

She heard all of these things even as she felt near deafened by her hacking and wheezing. A short cough had a burst of fluid expel from her lips and splattered across her front. What a blood-covered sight she must have made right then— covered in fresh (and likely old), blood, and near mummified with bandages. Her throat ached from residual dryness while parts of it burned along new fissures and crevices from where fragile flesh had cracked and split from her bouts of coughing.

If it would not have triggered another round of disastrous, pain-filled hacking— Kagome would have laughed.

Small, cool-skinned hands touched her then, about her left wrist. She felt those child-sized hands tug lightly, and pull her hand from her lap. Felt a solid, warm, and smooth cup (or small bowl?), deposited into the appendage.

"Here. Sip this after I clean your face up a bit."

She heard a pop— like someone had taken a needle to a rubber balloon, and then a damp cloth being dabbed across her mouth, cheeks, and chin. She felt like a child as she sat there; throat bleeding sluggishly, blindfolded by bandages, and gripping a single bit of earthenware with two hands that shook. While being groomed by Shippou (it had to be), after having spit up all over herself.

Yes, it had been blood.

But still.

"I'm so sorry Kagome! We'd been doing so good at looking after you," the voice sounded wrong. Actually, the voice sounded a lot like hers. "But it was stupid 'Yasha's turn to make sure your bandages were good and that you didn't dry out." Her voice said, from her left.

She felt soft, feminine hands gently cup her jaw and angle her face just so.

"I told him I'd do it since it's his... y'know, 'New Moon'— what did ya' start calling it again? His 'man-period'? But he wouldn't listen— said he could do it."

Why was this so hard for her to follow? She was hearing her voice, she'd been in an accident— caught in the backlash of Inuyasha's final attack on the toad yokai... How long had she been out?

"So he fell asleep, and I heard you coughing so I came as fast as I could." Her voice said, sounding incredibly sad and desperately sincere. It was borderline heartbreaking. Did she sound like that? Kami, she could get away with murder if that was the case.

The cloth withdrew, and those delicate hands (hers, surgeons hands, she thought), steadied the ones attached to her body, the ones that held the cup. Her disembodied hands helped Kagome to raise it to her lips.

"Slowly, be sure to swish it around in your mouth before swallowing. It'll help the wounds to close." Her voice whispered in her ear, much closer than before.

A warm, full line of heat appeared along the left side of her body, her doppelgänger had drawn in close; yet she had not spared thought to wonder as to why that was. Not when Kagome felt something strike her shoulder... But it was light and had not passed whatever clothing they had draped her in. She dismissed it out of turn and instead followed her voices instructions.

The drink was warm, but when it touched her tongue and filled the red ruin of her mouth, it felt like a cool, syrupy breeze. It's scent was a curious mix of mint, honey, ginseng, and something sharp. Almost acrid. Like a peppery burn to her nose and its fragile scent receptors. The taste though, was something else altogether in contradiction to its smell. She swished it slowly around in her mouth for long seconds until she made the concerted effort to swallow. Definitely a co*cktail of medicinal herbs, ground into a fine powder, mixed with something that had steeped and brewed for a stretch of time. In much the same manner one made sweet tea in the sun, she'd wager. The tang of copper overlaid all.

She felt several more... drops? Hit her shoulder as she took another slow sip. Were her hands trembling again? Or was it the subtle quiver of the set supporting hers? Were they both not her own?

With a vast amount of trepidation (and several more sips), did Kagome dare to venture speech;

"How... long?" The effort of two, mono-syllabic words leaving her mouth was the height of exhaustion. Near dizzy and brain-addled, she noticed her hands shook with increasing intensity with her last few sips.

No sooner had she finished, was the cup taken from her by gentle, sweat-damp hands. She did not hear it being set down, nor could she, over the sound of another balloon being popped, and an accompanying rush of wind that felt like relief upon her heated skin. A small, living form plopped heavily beside her left hip. Fur brushed against the length of her forearm. A tail. Tails.

Shippou.

"Four," he sounded out of breath.

If the bindings across her face had not been so firmly wrapped in place, she would have frowned. Frowned with her mouth tilted down and her eyebrows drawn together.

"...weeks. It's been," he paused, drawing in great, gulping breaths of air and doing something that she could not see; yet could tell it was definitively, an action of some kind. "Four weeks, since you were last awake."

Well, she supposed four weeks wasn't all that bad in the gra—

"Last. Awake?" She choked a little, then feared that the reflex would set off another round of coughs that would leave her bloody.

There was some abrupt motion, fox-feet (sounded like cat paws), across the floor, earthenware being shuffled around, the clatter of something— several somethings, being knocked over. She heard a whine, and the clack of porcelain, or fired clay, ceramic? And a splash of liquid spilling out across a hard surface. The cat paws rushed across the floor, caught in... sheets? Then the owner of said feet pitched forward, judging by the sound.

She felt a wetness creep along her left side, felt this damp sensation in the same moment she heard Shippou's tearful, gut-wrenching apologies and rushed words as they tumbled from his lips. So many words, so many sentiments, and each and every one of them was in a rush to get themselves to her as swiftly as they were able. Words about doing better, of 'fixing it', and how he should've gotten help right away instead of thinking that he could be a big yokai and take care of her all by himself and—

Every word, every tear-filled cry, made her heart hurt, and Kagome already felt so full of things she felt and heard. She was so tired. She listened to Shippou extol his shame and pour forth his sincerest of apologies... And as he spoke, cautiously she turned her body to face the direction of his voice. Kagome braced herself on one hand, while the other made a slow, perilous journey across damp linen and rumpled bedding until her aching digits brushed the hem of Shippou's hakama. Haltingly (she did not wish to lose her balance, or hit the small kit by accident), Kagome looped an arm around his middle and hauled him up against her in the same moment she allowed herself to slide back down into recline. She adjusted him so that he lay cradled up in the crook of her right arm, then inch by infinite inch, drew the blanket up over them both.

Her left hand dragged itself across the expanse of her chest and stumbled upon fur-soft locks of hair. Nerveless fingers trailed through the mess of tangled tufts to alight upon tear-stained cheeks. She curled her fingers in to brush some of those glittering gems away.

"Sleep, Shippou." Was all she managed before succumbing to the notion herself.

When Kagome rose to consciousness once again, a significant amount of clarity, alertness, and lucidity came along too. She was awake and felt as such, sans the disorientation and partial, trauma-induced amnesia. This time, Shippou was not nestled against her in sleep, and her body felt quite stiff from a long rest, so she could not say with any certainty how long she'd been out— this time.

Kagome performed the same slow, steady movements she'd made the last time (that she recalled), she was last conscious. Starting with her feet and working up to her hips, and then her hands up to her shoulders.

Crickets, no— cicadas, were buzzing in the background of her auditory periphery. The air felt warm with an edge of a cool breeze (summer was at an end, it seemed that she'd slept through most of it), and the scent the wind carried in was the kind only afforded on sun-drenched days.

For once she was awake during the day, thankfully. After having assured herself that her limbs were in decent working order, Kagome pushed herself into an upright, sitting position. She couldn't say how long it took her to perform the simple action, but she knew it'd taken her a hot minute— an embarrassingly exhaustive one. So she sat, huffing and puffing (and sweating), for another indeterminate length of time until her breathing slowed.

Without having to check, Kagome knew the bandages were still plastered across her face (mildly worrying, but the eyes were delicate organs, so she understood their extra caution), everything was still dark— so go figure. Instead, she trailed hands across arms in search of bandages, scabs, or scars. She was met with smooth, if slightly dry, unblemished skin beneath the simple... sleeping yukata? That she wore.

Odd.

She investigated the span of her legs next (after a grueling effort was made to pull the blankets off of them), making sure to be thorough in her efforts. They too were as smooth and soft as her arms. Like, really smooth, in fact. Had... had someone been shaving her legs? While she'd been...?

A burst of heat surged up her body and suffused her face.

She gulped audibly.

Her throat didn't hurt! Hands flew to her neck and clutched at creamy flesh.

Come to think of it...

Kagome's hands made a mess of the yukata as she touched collarbones, shoulders, breasts, armpits, ribs, her belly, flanks, thighs, and then the delicate 'v' of her womanhood. She had given up the search for lingering wounds or fresh scars. Instead, her hands sought to confirm an oddity. One flew up to the back of her head, checking. It crawled to the front of her face next, she had to know if her eyebrows were still there. Only, in the preceding moments, Kagome forgot all about that as she sat there, hand frozen to the side of her face. Specifically, the pinky finger and how the tip of its nail brushed against the lashes of her right eye— intermittently.

She wore no bandages.

She had no wounds.

Her eyes were open. Had been. Since she'd woken up, perhaps longer— she couldn't tell.

Why then, was her world still black? It was daytime, wasn't it? Had she been mistaken? Was it still a new moon, were there clouds blocking the stars? Did no one light fires tonight?

"Kagome! You're awake! Thank the kamis!" Sango's voice came from somewhere far to the side, cutting through her thoughts much like the retired tajiya's boomerang once sliced into yokai.

Sandals click-clacking upon hard floors, then bare feet padding across old tatami mats. A gust of wind lifted strands of her hair and then a pair of arms were around her, squeezing and pulling her close up against a warm, feminine form. It all happened so fast, too fast— Kagome hadn't seen any of it. She startled and pushed at the other woman's shoulders, needing space. Needing air. Needing to see.

"Oh I'm so sorry, did I hurt you? Where does it hurt? Should I fetch Kaede?" Sango spoke, voice louder than drums against her sensitive ears.

Kagome flinched again, but managed to gather wits enough to speak.

"Sango," she spoke gently, needing her friend to understand the gravity of her next words; "I can't see."

3 Months Later; Early Winter

"Kagome..." Sango's voice was whisper-soft, as if speaking to her children at bedtime.

Sometimes, she has dreams of Sango's voice. Of that tone. Those words. When she has them, she wakes up sweating and frightened. But they're not nightmares. They're not.

"-there were... complications, when Inuyasha brought you back... . . . Etogoya..." that was Miroku's voice, the silken tenor of it laced with something weighty, and sad.

Even after the fact, after they'd explained to her again, and again— what happened. She, she still cannot recall the specifics of that first conversation.

"The burns... ... extensive and covered-"

Just snippets and disjointed words that at the time, felt like a broken puzzle that she was required to assemble— if only she's been given pieces that made sense. That matched. She thinks, perhaps that it's because of the shock. That she forgot, or refused to remember. But still, much later within the sporadic, quiet moments between sound, fragments of that conversation would flash across the recesses of her mind.

"-your eyes... ... mistake... scarring... ... irreparable damage..."

She wasn't sure how she felt about it. Of being bombarded by auditory flashbacks in the few, spare moments of peace she had been able to find since waking up coherent for the first time. Since the incident. Should she start referring to it as that? Or as Inuyasha's greatest f*ck-up-that-turned-Kagome-into-a-walking-poster-child-for-burnt-and-blind victims?

"...might come back... ... with time."

There was a bitter twist in her stomach, and Kagome frowned at the sensation. She would not feel guilty for thinking Inuyasha at fault. Because he was! He was little more than a reckless, overgrown man-child who swung the tessaiga around as if it were a baseball bat wielded by a blind—

"Damnit!" She snarled at the sting of unshed tears that pierced her ugly, unseeing, and useless— eyes. The rush of moisture hurt, and served as a painful reminder of one other, bit of lasting damage. From what she'd been able to tactilely observe and from what Kaede and Sango have told her, repeatedly; the scarring on her eyelids and around her eyes had not healed in the same, mystifying manner as the rest of her body had.

With a clothed forearm, she lay the appendage across her eyes, forcing them to stay closed. She braced the other on the wall next to her and stood up to make her way over to the side table with her things.

Because of the damage, and mistreatment of the initial injury, she retained heavy scarring over her eyes. Due to the scar tissue, the corrosive nature of the Shikou-yokai's blood, the wrong poultice being applied, and her miko powers taking her self-healing abilities above and beyond on every part of her body except for the one key sense... had left her with a heavily delayed, reflexive action. Meaning that her body had forgotten the need to blink, or for her eyelids to remain closed when asleep.

Her shin collided with something hard, she cursed again and bent down. Briefly, she took her arm away from her eyes so she could search out the culprit. Dexterous fingers made short work of determining what the object had been.

A small, wooden stool that someone had thoughtlessly left out in her designated walking path.

"Damnit!' Kagome snapped, gripping the fool thing by one of its legs, she threw it across the room. She didn't care if it broke! Just so long as she wouldn't trip over the blasted thing anymore!

They didn't get it! None of them did! They all stupidly thought that if they gave it enough time— that her blindness would magically heal itself the same way her body had. But it wasn't! It bloody well wasn't going to mystically heal itself, nor would it by modern means either! Her eyes had sustained too much damage during critical times. She wasn't about to play the dreamer and fool herself into believing otherwise. Even if she'd had access to a surgery (chock full of the best surgeons the world over), it would have been a slim chance at best, to regain even a fraction of her sight. The way things stood now, she'd be lucky if one day, her godamned eyes remembered how to blink on a consistent basis!

Kagome's bare feet got caught up in the folds of a blanket, a yukata, or a stray bolt of cloth for all she knew, and tripped. The one hand up against the wall scraped and clawed along the surface while the other snapped straight out in front of her. She managed a rough, semi-controlled landing. One that sent her down, hard, upon her knees and near doubled, over the side-table.

Books, pens, bottles, cups, plates, and assorted goods stacked upon the low table were sent sprawling in her wake. Her right hand was on fire, both knees pulsed in synchronized beats of pain, and some unknown liquid was being absorbed by the sleeve on her left arm. Bracingly, Kagome sought out the source of the spill with her right hand.

And regretted it once the unmistakable, bubbling burn of hydrogen peroxide seeped into the open wounds.

"Who left the cap off? No— why was the peroxide left out in the first place?!" Kagome shrieked, one part pain, and three parts aggravation.

Stupid. Kamis she'd been so stupid! After everything! All that time spent learning, reading, training— all of it, wasted! What good was she to anyone now? For pity's sake, she couldn't make it across the room without injury! What good were surgeon's hands without sight?! What bloody good was she?!

Kagome let loose a cry of frustration and banged clenched fists upon the table. Her left hand landed smack dab on something needle-sharp that prompted another enraged shriek.

"... So sorry... . . .child, ye'... . . .thought it was-"

She couldn't see anymore! She could have stopped Inuyasha from being so reckless in the battle! No, she should have made them turn back when they'd seen the size of that toad, that monster. They should have listened to Kaede and gotten backup, or better yet— they shouldn't have gone at all!

Hands, hands with delicate and nubile fingertips capable of wondrous, surgical feats befitting a true artist of the knife— trembled and shook from pain, from sorrow as they brought themselves up to hesitantly, helplessly, clutch at her face. With back bowed, Kagome sobbed openly into their palms.

Being blind in the Feudal Era? Kamis, why had they not just let her die? She was little more than a liability now. A crutch, a cripple, a wretched weakness of no use to anyone!

She shouldn't have come back.

She should have done anything, but come back here.

She was blind.

She would never see again.

The statement left her a carved, hollowed husk of a shell; collapsed into a useless heap over a a table full of things. Items from her past that were heralds of the future. Books she would never get to read, pictures of her family that she would never be able to look at...

"Useless..." she hiccuped, throat achy and cheeks wet; "Just... useless!"

She swept both arms across the table. The sounds of dishes breaking, and all the various items smashing to the floor satisfied something deep inside. But it was a brief, passing sensation that left her aching and hungry for more. A wealth of anger so tall, and so wide surged up into her then— filling her near to bursting. She had to let it out! This anger that choked her, this fury that caused her limbs to tremble in sheer effort to contain the wealth of it.

And so, she did.

Kagome screamed. She howled. And she raged. But her fury was no paltry, vocalized cry of despair; no, it was an entity of action. Trinkets were tossed, bedding was thrown, yukatas were torn, and tables were upended. Nothing her hands or feet touched, were spared the might of her wrath, the explosion of her fury. She was deaf to all but the screams of her ire and the noise of destruction that were the results of her madness.

"-possible... . . . sight may return... . . . time..."

By the time someone had come and yanked her away, Kagome had been clawing and beating at the walls. But the interruption only incited her further. She did not know who had grabbed her. Had not seen them do it. Because sight would forever be out of reach, beyond her grasp.

"What the hell?! Calm down Ka-"

She wouldn't hear it, refused to. Kagome was too far gone in her rage that she'd become insensate to naught all else but the mindless destruction of anything within reach. And whoever held her, was in reach.

Kagome writhed and twisted until she could lay hands on her unseen captor and beat them, clawed at them, and howled all the while.

"Oi! Stop it wench before I-"

"Inuyasha! What happened? What's wrong with Kagome?"

"How should I—" she felt the rush of something wet coat her nails and strike her face, and was enraptured; "Stop it!"

Hard, unyielding hands with sharp points dug into her arms and bruised the flesh found there. Not that she could tell as she was shaken bodily, back and forth, made near dizzy from the displaced vertigo of it. But her world was black, and the shaking didn't matter. Kagome screamed and kicked out like an angry child since she could no longer feel, nor move her hands.

"Damnit I said stop!"

A calloused hand struck her so hard across the side of her face that she saw stars. The hands on her arms were gone, and Kagome sunk to the floor in a mute, limp puddle.

The pain was nothing, the flash of light. That, that... was something.

Kagome laughed, but the sound was small and broken. It mirrored the way she felt; sitting there, in the middle of a destroyed room, holding her bruised face with wounded hands, and crying endless streams of tears from eyes that couldn't remember how to blink. It was absurd, all of this, and of everything that could have pulled her from the sea of madness and turmoil... She laughed again, but this time the humor tasted bitter, and sad.

"What's going on in here, what happened child?" Kaede's voice sounded distant, coming from the doorway to her room in the older woman's hut.

"I tripped over a stool." Kagome replied flatly. She couldn't see the face Inuyasha was making, but she assumed it wasn't a good one. But at least he was bleeding. For the moment at least, and that seemed fair. She didn't know who else was here though, she hadn't paid attention.

"Aye?" Kaede's replied. There was a lengthy pause, before she spoke again; "I'd wondered where I'd left it... my apologies, Kagome-child."

A flicker of irritation shot through her breast at the older woman's words. This had not been the first time Kaede had forgotten where she'd left things like stools, blankets, shoes, or any other item capable of causing a painful tripping hazard for her. Kagome understood that when one got older, they were a little more prone to forgetting things, but she was honestly starting to wonder if it wasn't intentional.

"I'd say you did more than just trip— the room is trashed!" Inuyasha barked, sounding exceptionally pissy; "And I'm bleeding! What the hell is your problem, Kagome!?"

"Oh gee..." she snarled, "Maybe my problem is that I can't see, Inuyasha!" the sounds she was making, the angry words that burst from her mouth, all of it was coated in her frustration, her helpless rage. "I won't ever be able to see again! All of that time I spent learning medicine, to heal? Wasted! Rendered null and void! Finito! Caput! After all, what good is a healer who can't see where the injury is?!" She fell silent after that, glaring in Inuyasha's general direction where she'd heard him last. For all the good it would do, not that she could manage even that anymore with her scarcely functioning eyelids. The muscles around her eyes had weakened and healed poorly beneath the mass of scar tissue, just getting her eyebrows to move took concerted effort.

"That's no reason to go crazy and trash everything, it's not that big of a-"

"Not a big deal? NOT A BIG DEAL?" Kagome was on her feet so fast that she felt dizzy and stumbled forward on clumsy, unsure feet, "You, You— I can't believe you!!"

Her aching, wounded hands pawed blindly along the front of a familiar, course material made of fire rat fur. But she did not seek the haori.

"Kagome, what are you-?" Inuyasha's voice wavered, notes of doubt and vulnerability creeping into his words for the first time since The Incident. His words faded into silence when her hands clung to the beads of his subjugation necklace.

She squeezed the beads hard enough to feel the bone-carved fangs dig into open cuts on her palms. The whisper-soft rustle of Inuyasha's sleeves told her he was lifting his arms. To do what, she didn't care. With speed born of endless, boundless rage, Kagome launched both hands up. Her right scraped up his forehead to tangle into the knotted silk of his fringe. She closed the fingers of that hand into a fist, and pulled. Forcing Inuyasha down to her level as her left traveled along the silken strands to firmly latch itself onto one poor, unlucky dog-ear. She gave this trapped appendage a vicious yank, dragging it towards her parted lips.

Inuyasha yelped and cried out like a freshly stepped on puppy at the unexpected attack, flinging clawed hands up to capture her wrists and dislodge her. The only problem was that if he wanted to be free, he'd lose a fistful of hair in the process. Reasons why it pays to groom.

"What the hell Kagome? Le'go!" He demanded, but Kagome heard the edge in it— the undertone of whiny, child-like begging.

"Inuyasha..." she whispered, lips brushing the furred edges of his puppy-dog ear. Kagome felt the heat of his blush against her skin; she took a single, great inhalation, then unleashed her thundering screams, directly into that poor puppy-dog ear she held hostage.

"Go die in a fire you unbelievable, insensitive jerk! Not that bad?! Try being blind on a new moon, Inuyasha! Try being unable to see for the rest of your life! You- you... you ass!" She screamed, releasing him from her grip to wipe at her face. Sweat and tears had coated her cheeks during her tirade, and she hadn't even known that she'd been crying! Again!

"SIT!" She barked, sucking in great gulps of air. Kagome waited until he crashed to the floor, and then allowed herself to hunch over, hands on knees as she tried to catch her breath. Kami, why was it so hard to breathe? She needed to get out more— hah. As if it mattered.

"Perhaps, we should give Kagome-san a moment alone?" Miroku's soothing timberdrifted in from the doorway.

"Aye." Kaede agreed, sounding distant, as if she'd already moved out of the room despite not taking a step.

There was a shuffling movement, and the noise of wooden furniture being moved. A low growl erupted by her feet.

"Come now Inuyasha," Miroku said, stepping further into the room and navigating the travesty of it with ease. She heard a distinctive dragging sound when he departed, and the snarling at her feet drew more distant with each of the monk's slow, measured steps. The scent of spice and violets followed.

When the footsteps faded, and the growls were silenced, Kagome sat. Ringed all around lay the mess of her rage, her madness. Her hands ached and the skin around her eyes felt tight and strained. Transparent indications of eye strain and dryness...

Kagome sniffed loudly and raised a hand up to shut her eyes, but stopped just shy of touching. They burned and throbbed with fresh hurts and felt wet, but with blood or other fluids, she couldn't readily determine.

"Here, I've got those— those, things you use to clean wounds?" Came Shippou's tentative, unsure words from behind.

She flinched, adrenaline surging through her at the unexpected presence. Kagome had believed herself to be alone.

"Kagome?" He sounded wary, almost afraid as Kagome kept her silence; head co*cked, hand frozen in front of her face. She heard his delicate steps, and the tinkling of fragile, broken things as he picked his way through her carnage to draw near.

"...Kagome?" His whisper came from her right, along with a light, barely-there brush of tiny, clawed fingertips upon her bare wrist.

Nothing.

She. Saw. Nothing.

Kagome's life had been narrowed down to a minuscule margin of limited senses, and utter darkness. She could hear, she could smell, touch, and taste— but never again would her eyes allow her the blessing of sight. She'd never gaze upon family photos, read a book, identify a wound, see Sango and Miroku's children grow... Never again would she be able to share a silent joke with Kaede at Inuyasha's expense, nor would she be able to help Shippou with his reading and writing. Sight was beyond her now, forever. She cried then, great, wrenching, horrible sobs of desolation and despair. Kagome cried until she screamed.

"Kagome?!" Came Shippou's startled yelp—

"It's okay, here let me help make it better, I promise!" He begged with his tiny hands clawing along the edges of her sleeve.

But Kagome wouldn't hear it, how could she when she screamed so long, so loud, and clutched at the sides of her head— as if to yank and gouge the miracle of sight back into her skull. Who could help her? Why? She was a blind crippled, no one could help— no promise otherwise would fix the mess made of her eyes! Everyone had seen fit to that!

On and on she wailed, and Shippou, the brave little soldier, tried to help, to console, to comfort... He tried to soothe her anguish, to quell her inner turmoil through any means. If his kitten-like claws tore holes into the sleeve of her yukata— Kagome wouldn't know.

All she heard were the screams, all she could feel was the pain in her face, her throat, her hands, her mind... and the edge of constriction. An unseen force attempting to hold her down. To contain her. And with it, snatches of memory tore open across the plains of her mind, assailing her more with sensation than recollection.

Burning.

Endless, unyielding fire.

Cast within the blackest, burning pit of hell— and she could not move!

No! Not again, never, ever again! She would fight, she would claw, she would- "No!!" Kagome screamed, flaring her arms out wide in panic as she scuttled backwards in fright. No one would drag her back there, not alive, not dead, not conscious, not aware, not ever!

A sharp noise and a high-pitched yelp filtered its way past her tapering shouts and into her ears. It was accompanied by a rustle of fabric and debris scraping across the floor. Something soft yet firm hit the surface with a meaty thump.

"I- I'm sorry Kagome, I was trying to- to make it better." His voice quavered and broke as Shippou struggled with the flood of tears he tried to keep at bay. She heard this, she knew what Shippou sounded like when he cried— knew what it looked like when those big, green eyes filled to the brim and spilled over, his pain and sorrow glistening sharply against the natural pallor of his cheeks. Kagome knew these things— but the words.

The words ruined her.

"Nothing will make it better!" Words bathed in hatred spewed forth from her mouth without control, "No one can! No one!" Because no one could. No one could magically heal her sight, no one could fix the damage done to the nerves and muscles surrounding her useless eyes. And pretending this was anything other than the worst possible—

A wounded animal keened. It's death wail was a lone note of raw sound, as if it'd been gutted and left to perish in slow, drawn out agony. It's tortured cry stoppered her tears and clawed through her abused heartstrings.

Before she could begin to find the poor creature responsible for the terrible cry— it began to rain soft feathers upon her hair, skin, and clothes. A menagerie of raucous noise accompanied it; cloth screamed as it tore apart, remaining debris were scattered as the hard click-clack of claws on wood and tatami mats flew across them in a dizzying frenzy, and the final note of wood splintering. Whatever made that cry— the one that would haunt her dreams for years to come, had broken out of her room, as if unable to contain itself within for a moment longer.

In the deafening silence that followed, Kagome spoke up, her voice shaky and broken, tentative and wary all at once.

"Sh-Shippou?"

A cool winter breeze found it's way into her room, lifted feathers from her hair and tickled her nose.

There was no answering reply.

"Inuyasha!"

With hands that stung and itched, Kagome crawled over ruined blankets and shoved various bits of detritus aside. If she could see, perhaps she'd feel mortified at the sloven mess of her hair and clothes. But she didn't care, not right now. Not how rumpled and torn her clothing was, nor the rats nest of her hair, and not even did she care at this moment, about her lack of sight.

"Inuyasha!"

All that really mattered right now was Shippou. She needed to find him and fix this. If Kagome's mother had born witness to her appalling display, and seen her treatment of Shippou? She would have slapped some godamn sense into her, is what. Something Kagome sorely wished had occurred. But life was not like that, there was rarely, if ever, someone standing patiently off to the side, waiting for her to make a mess of things, and then step in to smack sanity right back into her stupid, stupid self.

"Inuyasha!!" Kagome screamed a third time as she white-knuckled the doorway that led out of Kaede's hut. Her grip was hard and unforgiving as she pulled herself up onto shaky limbs. Like a sailor without sea legs.

"What? What do you want now, Kagome?" Came Inuyasha's waspish reply from somewhere above. Whether he was pouting in a tree or sulking on the roof, she couldn't pinpoint. Frankly, she had more pressing concerns to deal with than his nesting spots.

Shippou.

"Did you see Shippou? Where he went? I need to find him!" She replied, her worry ever-growing with each passing moment.

"Yeah, he ran off into the woods— like a whiny baby."

"Inuyasha!" After everything, he was still dismissive and surly! "Which way did he go? Show me! Take me to him!" She begged, "Shippou was very upset when he left and I need to speak with him immediately!" Just this once, great Kamis, just this once let Inuyasha be—

"Keh! He'll come back when he's done bawling." A rustle of fabric and the creak of wood followed Inuyasha's words. The jerk likely made himself scarce so she wouldn't sit him to within an inch of his miserable life.

Kagome took in a great big gulp of air, dug tender fingers further in the wood grain, and then pitched herself forward to project her voice up and out as far as she could force it. Her voice came out in a bellow worthy of one of those American military drill sergeants she'd seen on television once; full of power and righteous anger.

"SIT!!"

In the ringing silence following her one-word cry, Kagome heard the faint sounds of an idiot colliding with the forest floor from a great height. A small, bakers dozen of birds flew up and away, having been disturbed by the noise.

Grimly satisfied, Kagome released the door-frame and took clumsy, uneven steps forward out into the open. Her toes felt a little cold and the early, winter winds blew through her yukata as if she wasn't wearing it. She made an effort to readjust and tighten the bindings, but shoe-less she would remain. Being barefoot helped, a little.

"Miroku?" Kagome called out, stumbling forward with one hand held out and the other pressed up against her belly to stave off the wind chill. She knew that Kaede's hut was fairly displaced from the others, but still, everything was so quiet.

"Sango?" She tried, a little louder.

"Kagome-child? What are you doing here?" Kaede questioned by way of greeting. Her voice coming from off to Kagome's right, from the direction of the wood. Maybe she'd seen Shippou?

"I'm looking for Shippou, have you seen him? Or Miroku, or Sango?" she replied. Either of her friends would do to help track Shippou.

"Aye, he ran off behind me not too long ago— seemed rather upset, given the state of-"

"Can you take me to him? Please Kaede-san, it's important!" Kagome said, lurching forward to where the older woman stood. She tripped over a spindly plant, and felt a flutter of fear in her breast at another blind fall— only to catch herself at the last moment.

"Kagome-child? What's wrong with-"

"Please Kaede, take me to Shippou!" Kagome interrupted, desperate to find her little fox. She took another chance on her blind feet to where she'd heard Kaede, and drew close enough to feel the heat of her. Kagome stretched her hand out further until it bumped against the older miko's shoulder. Followed it down and gripped Kaede's forearm.

"But I-"

"You said he'd gone off just behind you, please!"

"I did?" Why did Kaede sound confused when she spoke? Now wasn't the time!

"Please, Kaede!"

"Alright child, this way." Kaede spoke, her words ringing of certainty; and Kagome, half-mad with worry, followed after her as she clung tightly to a wizened but sturdy forearm.

"Are we getting closer?" Kagome asked. Her mind was near consumed with worry, guilt, fear for Shippou, and a growing frustration at her inability to see! Kami if she could, she'd be able to track Shippou and see those tears she'd caused— and be able to wipe and kiss them away with a thousand apologies upon her lips.

The way things stood, Kagome was straining her ears and auric sense (a skill she really, really needed to practice more), to catch even the faintest suggestion of where he could be. But so far she'd heard nothing but the usual sounds of forest, and they'd been walking on foot for fifteen minutes, at least!

"Hmm?" Kaede replied, more noise than actual word. She must have pulled the older woman from her own search.

"Are we almost there?" Kagome said, repeating herself.

"Oh aye, child," Kaede answered mildly, patting the hand clutching at her forearm; "A little out of season, but the plants found-"

"Plants?" No, no no no! "Kaede, we're here to find Shippou, not gather herbs. Now where did you see him?" Kagome said, tracing her hand up and mirrored the other so she could grip Kaede's shoulders. She needed the other woman to focus right now— not have another lapse.

"Shippou? Why would he-"

"There's no time! He's out here and very upset, he could get himself into serious danger and not even notice!" Kagome cut the other woman off and gave her a firm shake to underscore the seriousness of her next words; "We're here to look for Shippou, help me find him!"

"A-Aye..." Kaede replied, her response belated yet sincere.

"Good, look over here and I'll check over there— give a shout when you find him, okay?" She gave Kaede's shoulders a quick squeeze before she released her and spun around. Kami's above and below— this was a horrible idea, but she needed to find Shippou.

That tortured cry she'd heard, moments before he'd fled? It shattered her, crushed her pitiful soulwithout remorse. Kami, the emotional strain he'd had to have endured— the stress of all he'd placed on those little shoulders? He was just a child, and he'd attempted to carry the burden of her godamned insanity, her newfound blindness— all by himself?

Kagome's face was wet and her eyes hurt from the dryness of the season. Useless as they were, she could still feel parts of them. Enough to know when they'd become dry from exposure. Soon, she would have to do something about them to alleviate the consistent problem that her eyes had become.

"Shippou!" She called out, feeling her way forward on bare feet, arms outstretched. Kagome pushed out her miko powers too, trying to use them in ways she'd previously neglected. All it gave her was a vague sense of woodland animals, trees, and the occasional shrubbery.

Unfortunately her otherworldly abilities did not stretch to warn her of the rocks that would bruise her feet, nor the dried brambles that would prick her flesh. But this was nothing, a minor inconvenience, in her search. Kagome had experienced hellfire, could still recall flashes of it in her darkest nightmares which made all else pale in comparison.

"Shippou!" Kagome cried out again, fingertips ghosting along the bark of a tree in passing. She felt its age in the pads of her fingers— but ignored it. The knowledge would not serve, would not lend aid in her search for Shippou.

With her senses stretched out, her ears wide open for the slightest noise, and even her dull, human nose taking in what scents it could parse from the air, Kagome searched. One naked foot placed ahead of the other, she walked farther and farther out into the forest. But without the aid of her sight, the once familiar woods of Inuyasha's Forest was a foreign, near alien entity to her. It left every step she took on the edge of a paranoid fear.

"Shippou?!" Kagome yelled, hands cupped around her mouth to project her voice, "Please answer me! Shippou!"

She waited for a sound, or a any sense of a response— anything that she could take as an affirmative. Anything to indicate where the little kit might be. But there was nothing! Just the faint scurrying of rabbits or mice underfoot, the brush of dry leaves in winter winds as they clung stubbornly to dormant tree limbs, and the whisper of feathers settling as birds nested for the evening.

And evening, it was fast becoming, she could feel the sun's rays growing fainter upon her skin. The gentle winds developing more bite as the air further cooled. It would be dark soon, and searching after nightfall would be—

A punched out laugh winded her, freezing her steps. Hah! The irony of that. Did it classify as irony? That Kagome would fret about sundown, that the darkness of night would somehow make her search more difficult? As if she hadn't been looking for Shippou in the dark, all along?

But Kaede...

"Kaede! Have you found Shippou yet?" she held an arm out to grasp a sturdy trunk and so she could shout out to the other woman she'd left somewhere behind.

There was no answering call, nowhisper of fabric.

"Kaede?" Kagome's voice rang out once more. Worry ate at her, but Kagome's fear for Shippou outstripped everything else by leaps and bounds. She could not bother to fret over the very real possibility of having traveled beyond the bounds of Inuyasha's Forest, in her mad, desperate quest.

Kagome turned to face out in the direction she'd not explored; she knew this, even if she couldn't figure out the how. Her feet began to tingle with cold and numbness, as well as increased stiffness in her gait and the bruising of her feet. A few too many missteps on pointed rocks and thorns... But she would not, could not, be deterred by such minor pains. Fear for small children had done that, she'd found. Or at least, fear for one small, kitsune yokai kit in particular.

"Shippou!" She projected her voice out in sync with the grasping, outstretched reach of her right hand.

Her steps were broken and fumbling, but she brought that same drive, the same need she called on for infusing her arrows— and applied it to expanding her senses. Out, out and out...

Praying, pleading, begging, Kagome did all of it in hopes that it would give her anything, the tiniest shred of a hint— of where Shippou might be. With each moment that passed without discovery, her worry, her fears of what could be happening to her little kit, multiplied.

Up ahead, nearly forty-five degrees off to the right of her— something. Her sense, the one that told her of shards, whispered about youki... it had hit upon something. A distortion, an interruption in the outward spread of her power; like ripples in a pond being broken up by a rock jutting out, a fixed point that effortlessly created imbalance.

Stumbling in her haste to draw near, brambles tore into the frayed edges of her yukata while unforgiving rocks bit into her feet. With every step, she hurried, compelled to rush, not out of worry for her shameful behavior of earlier— but out of sheer, unfiltered terror for Shippou's safety. Kagome fell to the forest floor in her haste to lay hands upon the disruption, to touch that which stood out in the rippling waves of her miko ability.

Fingers that had gone numb from the cold, sifted through dry leaves and stiff, spindly stalks. The flat of her palm touched the dry, frosted earth before withdrawing— empty handed. She held the chilled, twitching appendage before her blind, unseeing eyes, and paled. She felt nerve-sweat dot her forehead, bead along the back of her neck, and trickle down the length of her spine.

She rubbed her fingers together and as she did, noticed that her heart skipped several beats, and then threatened to implode within her breast. Her flesh pebbled and the hairs upon it prickled and stood up in warning.

Kagome took in the air, but could not breathe.

The distortion, the interruption upon her senses... it coated her fingers with a wetness that once bore heat, now lost to open exposure to the winter air. It had begun to dry, but wasn't sticky or tacky— it flaked, or thickened in places where parts of it had pooled and congealed. Even to her partially numbed and sniffling nose, Kagome scented faint traces of metal.

And as she had known, had felt, the infinite age of a tree in passing; she knew. The blood smeared across the span of her fingers was Shippou's.Fear choked the breath from her in the same way it drove her to her feet and propelled her onward. Kagome thrust her reiki out in time with her hands, one out straight and the other canted off to the side.Shippou's blood still coated her fingers, no matter how many times she swept aside dried leaves or scraped them upon the bark of trees she passed.

Her head ached from the sensations, from the thoughts, from the intensity of her feelings.

Shippou's blood was on her hands.

Kagome bit her lip and forced air into her mouth, raised one hand to try and force her eyes closed. The pain radiating from them was going straight to her brain.

Shippou's blood.

Oh kami, she couldn't afford to hyperventilate right now, migraine be damned.

Shippou.

"Shippou!!" Kagome screamed, voice ragged and body worn as she forced her way through dried brambles and frost-covered shrubs.

Oh, how her eyes ached and how stiff her face had become from the matte of tears frozen upon it. She was weak, weary, and wounded from the events of today— but fear kept it all at bay, stuffed up and held behind a great wall of terror. A horror beyond fathom that grew as she forced her miko power out, again and again; all so she could follow the intermittent trail of distortion. One she now knew to be a blood trail.

Shippou's blood.

Kagome broke into a panicked sprint then— her head pounding from the combined weight of emotion and strain of forcing the use of an ability she'd never learned. But she did not run to escape the intensity of her head ache, no, she ran toward the sound. A sensation married to sound that had her near flying through the wood— too afraid for what it could mean. So much so that she couldn't bother to care about colliding with trees that might be in the way.

A greater, pulsing distortion in her auric sense.

A piercing, yowling, dying wail of pain beyond compare.

"Shippou!" she called, bursting forth into a clearing— for what else could it have been? To the ground she fell when her feet tangled, and upon hands and knees she crawled to the flickering distortion, hands desperately seeking.

She cried out in dismay, in fright, when her hands dipped into a still-warm puddle, but came away empty.

The wail came again and Kagome followed after it, blind to all but vague sense and piercing sound. Her hands, her knees, her limbs all... Allcame up empty for what they sought. They found more warm, wet bursts of blood, brambles, and frozen earth. The blood was everywhere, the keening, pain-filled cries came from every direction and none— she couldn't pinpoint the source. She couldn't find him.

Shippou's blood was splashed all around her. His cries permeated the air— and still, still! She could not find him! Could. Not. Find. Him.

Her heart was a wild, fluttering, caged thing that cried out, desperate to escape. Her flesh was damp from the cold-sweat of fear and the frenzied exertions that coated her body in a thick layer of perspiration. She couldn't find him. Kagome's hands shook, so she clawed them into the dirt. He was hurt. There wasn't enough air for her to breathe, her lungs felt tight. His blood was all over the clearing. Her head felt like it would melt, or explode from the pain, the depth of her all-consuming fear, her guilt. His pain, his symphony of suffering drowned out all other sound. Her miko ability was not strong enough to register anything but vague impressions and a blood trail.

It wasn't good enough!

Kagome needed to see. The skin near her temples was tight and pulled, reminding her of the pain festering in and around her eyes.

Shippou was hurt, he could die, right in front of her— and she'd not know it until his mewling cries tapered off into silence of the grave.

She needed to see.

Shippou could die today if she didn't find him.

Her head pulsed, it ached, it hurt— it seemed to fill, fit to bursting.

Shippou could die.

Kagome clapped her filth-ridden and blood-stained hands to either side of her head and squeezed, attempting to relieve the growing pressure. A ragged moan wrested itself from between chapped lips. She near swooned beneath the enormous bulk trapped within her throbbing head.

Shippou's cries were growing fainter and fainter, whether from exhaustion, or expiration...

It burst.

Kagome's head snapped back and a wordless cry tore free from her core as the build-up of pressure in her mind let go. Released it all out, out, and out. Flooding in all directions, up, down, and all around beyond the reach of her limited, physical body. That which flew out in a tsunami, came speeding right back in, like the coming tide. And with it, came everything else. So much, too much, not enough, and yet it was as if the broken, jagged puzzle of her mind had finally, finally, fit itself back together. In her heart of hearts, Kagome had known that her eyes would never regain the ability to see; but she had not expected that sight by other means would be possible.If the situation had been different, had been anything other but the worst possible scenario— she would have taken a moment to wonder and succumb to the awe and beauty of her surroundings. Of her newfound sight. But she could not and therefore, did not.

So instead, she stood up on legs that did not shake, and looked around the clearing with eyes that could not see. Eyes that no longer perceived in the ways they had originally been fashioned to; they had somehow, adapted beyond that.

All was bright, and all glowed with the energy of life.

Shippou's blood stood out in the way his tears so often did— sparkling diamonds of amber where it was fresh, and muted like gold spun thin and stretched across firelight, as it dried and the youki faded from it. She scanned the clearing, following the brighter burn of the honey-colored smoke of Shippou's youki, his scent trail that was now visible to her sightless, all-seeing eyes. Kagome followed it by sight, up, and up, and up— until her eyes alighted upon the burnished, wounded glow of fire in the shape of a fox.

A fox kit. With two tails, hanging limp within the tangled confines of a hunter's snare. Suspended and dangling not a foot above her head.

Careful, gentle fingers crawled up through the haze of honey-smoke and golden motes that drifted lazily upon the currents of air that once held no color— and touched fur. The palms of her hands cradled the pointed face and stroked the baby-soft fur of a fox kit. This was Shippou, of that there was no question, and yet this was a form she had never known.

Gently, she untangled lines when possible and cut them in the places she could not. Kagome would not know how she had done such a thing when she had no bladed instrument, but it was not something she would pause to consider, to question, for a time. When she had freed her kit from the last bit of hunter's trap, Kagome sunk to the forest floor and cradled him in her lap. She moved limp paws and motionless tails aside (not lifeless, not dead, Shippou was neither of those things, and never would, not while she had breath in her body), to assess damage wrought by her selfishness.

Where her hands touched, the fire that was Shippou burned bright, the muted orange and yellows flashing in a high, near brilliant white glow. And just as she had known the age of a tree and the feel of Shippou's blood— his essence upon her fingertips; so too, did she know other things by touch. How, as the pads of her fingers sifted through matted, ruffled fur to points of injury, she knew he was healing. Her touch bled glowing, pulsing crystals of light that seeped into the unconscious fox kit that lay boneless upon her thighs. His aura, the demonic fire that fueled his life, had been dimmed; bruised by emotional exhaustion and physical pain. And where Kagome touched, she healed.

She stroked the sputtering, dulled energies and coaxed them into near-blinding fires with a silken touch. The quiet healing energy soothed strained muscles, mended torn veins, and knit broken flesh. Beneath the burning light of his youki, Shippou's canine body was visible to her newly born sight. She could see the rush of his blood as it traveled through delicate veins and primary arteries. The healthy pink of his lungs glistening, expanding and contracting with each breath he took while his heart drummed a heavy staccato that heralded a return to consciousness. She could see all of those things and more, if she focused. This too, was but one more thing she knew.

With Shippou whole and safe within her arms, and fast stirring to wakefulness, Kagome smiled in relief.

Or would have.

Instead, she watched his fiery aura flicker and flare; anxiety rising with her breast as sickly colors flooded Shippou's being. She had naught but a moment to grip the scruff of his neck with one hand before Kagome found herself besieged by a feral, terrified animal. The little fox barked and twisted, trying to rip itself free, riling further with each successive failure. Hind legs scratched thighs, forelegs cut across arms, and sharp, needle-point kitten's teeth snapped and bit at any part of Kagome (be it flesh or cloth), that he could reach.

"Shippou, please! It's me, Kagome!" She cried, trying to make herself heard over the fear-ridden kit's barking, yowling cries and violent struggles. It was taking everything she had to hold onto his scruff as her free hand tried to pin his squirming, panicky body flat against her own. She couldn't risk releasing him, fearing he'd flee and never return.

Her words appeared to incite Shippou into a wilder display, one of sheer, gut-wrenching terror as his cries rose in volume, and his thrashing turning more frantic. His fear served to fuel her own— her throat had thickened with tears and the heady weight of her guilt. She hunched over her little fox and curled her limbs and body over him in a desperate, fierce hug. Her face was wet with fresh tears again, and her throat was near gone, strangled beneath the gravity of feeling. And yet, Kagome forced words out as she clung to the struggling kit.

"Shippou, please! I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" She started to rock then, back and forth, "I'm sorry I hurt you— I didn't mean what I said, not to you. I didn't mean to hurt you, I'm so sorry Shippou," back and forth, she continued on; ignoring the sharp burn of a claw as it caught on the underside of her jaw.

"Shippou, I'm sorry. It's not your fault, none of it was! You were only trying to help me and I hurt you! I'm sorry-" kitten teeth caught on her left wrist and attempted to savage it between terrified yips.

"I'm sorry Shippou, I love you. I love you and I never wanted to hurt you. Please forgive me, I love you! I-" Kagome continued on and on, her words, her thoughts, her actions— all of them strung together in a broken record stuck on repeat as she cried and begged forgiveness.

Time did not seem to move, it was frozen to her with how her attentions were so resolutely fixed upon the kit. But soon, Shippou's struggles slowed as he exhaustedhis small, freshly healed body. His cries of panic grew infrequent as he took longer and longer moments of stalled quiet to catch his breath. The bite of his teeth and the cut of his claws became less fierce, and throughout it all, Kagome held on. Caught within the cage of her arms, she rocked them both and tried her best to soothe the savage little yokai with her words of apology and love.

When the fight fled his limbs and the brilliant fire dimmed to the warm glow of sleep, Kagome eased the pitch of her voice and softened her movements. Cautiously, she leaned back and relaxed her grip so that once more, she could look over Shippou's still form. The putrid colors of his fear, his pain, and all-consuming terror... those horrible colors that had overtaken his aura and twisted it into something that hurt to look upon, they had fallen away once exhaustion and sleep took him over.

Kagome did not know what she would do if they took him over when he woke next. All she could hope for was that when Shippou woke up once more, it would be with a calmer mind.

Chapter 7: The resiliency of children, and the duality of truth in a lie.

Notes:

Thank you all so much for your thoughtful reviews, kudos, and watchful eyes. I appreciate your viewership immensely.
The lullaby is the least offensive cradle song I could find, and it seemed to suit, in a way. And according to what I could find, the last word in this chapter translates into 'son'. Happy reading, and thank you for your patience. <3

Chapter Text

Torrianse, torrianse...

Once, a long, long time ago, her mother used to sing to her. Whenever Kagome was frightened or upset, her mother would tuck her into bed or wrap her arms around her and rock them both as she sang soft-spoken lullabies. And before Souta came into their lives, often, did her mother find a need to sing, to soothe. Songs to allay fears, lullabies to soothe unsettled nerves, and melodies hummed to remove the sting of scraped knees. Her childhood was marked by song in those early years. In recalling those moments of time before Souta, before learning that the world could be cruel... those memories are tinged with the notes of those long-forgotten lullabies.

koko wa doko no, hosomichi jya, tenjin-sama no, hosomichi jya...

Or so she'd originally believed.

Kagome had not been graced with opportunity or reason to sing cradle songs in the past, not until this night, of all nights. Before, Sango proved to be a truly wonderful mother to her children; she sang to them before bed, when the twins cried, or when their son had colic. There had been no need to sing to them herself, not when Sango had the job well in hand. All the other children in the village had mother's of their own who gladly sang to them. And as for the few that did not... those children she knew had seemingly grown too big to care for them, never mind have a need to be sung to.

chotto tosh*te, kudanshe goyo no nai mono, toshasenu...

But Kagome sang now, for Shippou. Her voice little more than a delicate whisper of a softly-sung tune, her notes hitting only so high as an alto in the middle of choir.

kono ko no nanatsu, no iwai ni, ofuda o osame ni, mairimasu...

Words she thought lost, arranged themselves into the lines of a lullaby she'd not heard in years. A song her father gave to her upon her seventh birthday. His voice had shaken and his tune a bit off-set, a little discordant as he sang alongside her mother. But even with the slight warbling and self-consciousness of singing before an audience, Kagome remembers the depth of his voice in sharp contrast to her mother's... She remembers how his tenor had filled her tender heart. How she'd fallen asleep to their mingled voices and feeling as if she floated upon a cloud, bathed within the strength of their love and affection.

iki wa yoi yoi, kaeri wa kowai kowainagara...

Kagome wanted to give that feeling to Shippou, she thought that maybe, just maybe— he'd feel the same. So when he woke up again, he'd know that things would be alright. That everything would be okay.

...torrianse, torrianse.

The air was cool tonight, a pleasant balm against her unexpectedly heated flesh. She cradled Shippou within the circle of her arms as she walked, as she sang. Her steps were confident and her gait smooth. She followed a winding deer trail back to Kaede's.

Logically, she knew it was dark out, that night had long since fallen. However, she found it difficult to believe with her newfound sight. Her ability to see, without physically seeing. As contradictory as that sounded.

And on that note, her eyes twinge with the a pain she was rapidly becoming more and more familiar with. Kagome tried to blink, to close her mutinous eyelids, to do something other than spill forth a multitude of salt-water tears. She needed her eyes (and by extension, her eyelids), to develop a measure of their old function to produce adequate moisture. If not, she feared that one day her eyes would dry up and rot themselves right out of her skull...

But.

The things she could see, now. While her touch would tell her some truths (how, she may never rightly know), what she saw, was open to a wide measure of interpretation. Kagome could make an educated guess at what some of it was— like scent trails, or traces of youki left behind. She based this upon how the whisps, the incandescent glow of color lingered over the ground, plants, trees, and even still air left undisturbed by passing winds. But to name that which gave the air currents their distinctive colors? Or give reason as to why all plant life glowed in soft, vibrant colors that brightened when she neared? Or dimmed when she left them behind? Or why she left glowing footprints of light, trailing in her wake as she made her way to Kaede's?

When it came right down to it, she could only guess at the answers to such strange visual oddities. Later, once things had settled, Kagome might look into making some inquiries. For the moment, she had a fox kit to look after.

As if he'd heard her thoughts, Shippou stirred fitfully. His restful dreams edging into the field of nightmares with his tiny paws twitching. Kagome drew him closer in the warm light of her body. She marveled at the tiny wonder, the amazing curiosity of burning fire she held. With one slender hand bathed in a pink-white glow (did she always look like that, beyond the physical?), Kagome carded her fingers through the fiery burn of Shippou's fur. To the touch, it was baby-soft and fine, if a bit shocking from excess static (as if he'd been rolling around in freshly laundered towels)... But to her eyes?

Magic.

The most exquisite light show that she'd ever seen! Kagome was trapped in awe at the display, how her power (or scent? Perhaps her aura, she didn't know which), rippled and sifted though the curls of youki. Watching in awed disbelief, how it soothed the unruly tufts of fur and seeped beneath the auburn-orange fire that was Shippou. A beautifully stunning, near-mesmerizing display.

Kagome smiled and continued on through the woods, following a series of converging scent (or aura, she really needed to figure out which), trails as she drew closer to the village.

When Shippou whimpered, Kagome hummed softly and carded fingers through his fur; from neck to tail. Switching tails with each stroke, and taking a moment to admire their mingled glow.

There were a few meters left between the pair and Kaede's village; she could tell from the crackling noise of burning logs and quiet murmurs of those still awake. It was around then, that her feet froze to the ground and almost dropped Shippou in her shock. She stood, still as a statue upon the fringes of the forest, with the chill night air nipping at her heels— gobsmacked.

Did yokai see things like this? The way she now saw the world? Was this why most yokai had no trouble navigating after dark? Why they could so easily spot a human village from on high?

Kaede's village... Glowed. It was a magnificent bonfire of light and astounding color that rivaled the modern day Tokyo! If anything, in Kagome's mind, it was better! As if humans of the past had heard stories of such light, such brilliance and then sought to duplicate it however they could as time passed and progress was made.

Each building was splattered or streaked with all manner of color, from various creatures and humans laying hands upon the many structures. Either from brushing it in passing, leaning against the solid walls in rest, performing repairs, or adding new additions. It left the walls and roofs of the buildings with a wondrous array of breathtaking murals that depicted the lives of everyday people in a uniquely abstract way. Beneath the endless rainbow-painted murals of graffiti, there was a muted glow of residual life from the plants, trees, and earth that had been used to make the supplies and materials that made up each hut, house, and communal building. In some cases, a particular home would pulse and ripple, as if their shells had been bathed in a protective light. Kagome dimly recalled that those homes in particular had been blessed by Kaede, or Miroku at some point, years prior.

But the buildings within the village only painted half of the visual splendor that stood before her.

The rest was a compilation of the chaos of life in all of its many forms. Fires from torches and pits burned brighter than Shippou, their orange-yellow-reds flashing so bold and bright that to look upon them was to stare into the heart of the sun. Kagome shied away from their almost white and near-blinding lights. Instead, she took in the spaces between the buildings and around the fires, and observed the strange beauty of it. The way the currents of air swirled and eddied with pearlescent hues and flares of color that reminded Kagome of the warping rainbows one found on the backs of cds. The many different scents, unique auras, the remains of magic, reiki, and youki left behind... all these traces overlapped one another as the many-colored winds drew them along in a lazy, drifting pattern around buildings and people, and mixed them all together in the process. Leaving the air around them saturated with all the colors of a rainbow, and then some.

Of all the beauty and splendor, it was the people that held Kagome in such a dazed fixation. She watched those still awake with an edge of disbelief. A lesson she'd not felt fully driven home until this point, lay before her. Kagome would never again see the world as she once knew it to be. She understood that now, even as she struggled to accept the concept of it. What it would mean for her, in the end.

Some people, she could see more clearly than others. And somehow, she knew this to be a reflection of their strength as a person. In some cases, she figured this to be in relation to how closely they stood to the miniature suns littered throughout the village. It was like seeing a ghost, or what she'd believed a ghost would look like, before she'd seen the glow of Kikyo's soul brought back and a piece of her own being torn from her, all those years ago. Back when she thought ghosts would be incandescent shades of the people they once were; translucent and yet solid, in a way.

How she saw people now, bore a passing similarity to her young, childish imaginations of deceased specters. Each person glowed with the energy of their own life, with the strength of their respective souls, and each appeared completely solid to her eyes. But only parts of them glowed, only parts of them left trails of aura and scent in their wake... The rest of them remained dark silhouettes of shadow that could not be seen through. They were the pieces that stood apart from the glowing brilliance of the village, easy to pick out and distinguish only due to their absence of light and color. It was a strange peculiarity that Kagome would puzzle over for some time, she was sure.

Pulling herself free of the mystifying daze, Kagome cradled her little fox closer and slowly made her way into the village. All the while, she continued to observe the few people still up and about.

She couldn't readily make out facial expressions or the details of their clothes. In fact, the only way Kagome was able to tell that the villagers wore clothes at all was how the currents of air and color drifted around them and tugged at the looser fabrics. It was the absence of light and color that painted a picture. As if she were glimpsing the negatives of a photograph— it also explained why from a distance, how parts of people were solid shadow. The material they wore was without life, and so it had nothing to illuminate.

It was like looking at shadow people, in a way. Silhouettes of mortal shape, clothed in shadow, their flesh a soft glow of color. Kagome would never know the color of someone's eyes, the cut of their hair, or what they looked like when they smiled. These small details were still beyond her capabilities, and forever would be.

But in exchange?

Kagome glanced down at the kit in her arms, took in the pulsing, fire-glow of steady, in-drawn breath that signaled a restful, peace-filled state— and smiled. She ran pink-white fingertips through the fur and watched it mingle and bleed into the banked, auburn glow. With ease, she navigated her way between buildings, around the scant few villagers still awake, and back to Kaede's hut on chilled but steady feet.

In exchange, Kagome now saw the world without it's mask. She could see life in all of its forms, and view the make of a person's heart. Kagome saw all the vibrant, brilliant truths that were so often kept hidden... even if she didn't know what it all meant. Even if she could not lay a name or a meaning to what a particular color or pulse of something, was.

Yet.

Softly, gently, within the remnants of a storm; Kagome lay Shippou's pliant, sleeping form upon the shredded mess of her bedding. After fussing to ensure he was comfortably positioned, Kagome drew torn bits of fabric and blanket and tucked them about Shippou. She made sure that the scraps selected bore the strongest traces of a pinkish-white glow that she had identified as her own unique signature (be it aura, scent, or power). Her scent had always comforted him before, and Kagome hoped it would do the same now. She allowed herself a moment to simply watch, quietly amazed at how the saturated scraps of fabric swirled around the auburn-orange, fire-bright glow— how the pink-white light was drawn from the fabric and pulled towards Shippou. How it blurred in a clash of color before sinking beyond the fire and into the small fox-shaped blur beneath.

"I could watch that all night and day, if I'm not careful." Kagome murmured to herself. She supposed the sharp twist of pain within her eyes was a good a distraction as any.

Kagome hummed aloud, stringing together the same, lilting tune she'd sang earlier. Finding a scrap of black shadow, a torn section of cloth (from a shirt or yukata, maybe), greeted her fingertips, and with it came an idea. Still humming that peculiar lullaby, Kagome folded the cloth to suit her purposes. Nimble fingers traced the black silhouette upon her lap, ensuring it was as she desired. Next she raised her hands up to draw back her riotous hair and then carefully dragged the pads of her fingertips down her face. Purposely, Kagome drew them down the smooth plains of her forehead, over the fine hairs of her (miraculously non-mutilated), eyebrows, and along the firm, mottled ridges of toughened scar tissue; with gentle but insistent fingertips, she pulled scarred eyelids down, closing them over painfully dry, unseeing eyes. She then lowered her hands to pick up the folded cloth and bring it up to eye-level (and after checking to make sure her eyelids were still closed), Kagome wrapped the cloth over them and tied it carefully at the back of her head.

It took a moment or two, of fussing. She adjusted the knot, loosening and tightening it several times before finding a happy medium of security without headache. She made sure the folds lay smooth and flat so as to not aggravate or irritate her skin. Then she fixed her hair and bangs, freeing some of it from the blindfold, and leaving the rest.

Satisfaction at the small solution came as the ache in her eyes slowly, but surely faded.

"It'll do." She said firmly, pleased.

Blindfolded or not, her new sense of sight remained unimpeded. With the pain swiftly fading pain, and Shippou soundly asleep within his nest, Kagome took in the state of her room.

Color was everywhere, from visitors and prior guests that had used this room before her. But that pink-white glow of hers coated everything. It dominated the room, causing Kagome to mentally squint in an attempt to lessen the glare. She wasn't quite successful, but she found that if she cast her head to the side and didn't 'look', at the room directly, it wasn't as obnoxious to view. The real tragedy of it however was the mess.

Kagome had lost her ever-loving-sh*t in this room, and it showed. Visibly. In that 'ooh that looks like it hurt', mixed with; 'wincing in sympathy at seeing someone scrape the hell out of their hands and knees on pavement', sort of feeling. The pinkish-white of her personal signature was smeared over everything, as if each and every object she'd touched had been gored, then subsequently bled everywhere.

And now, with a more sensible head upon her shoulders (even if she still felt a bit rattled), Kagome began to clean up her mess. She righted tables (as quietly as she could), and picked up broken dishes and assorted decorative pieces beyond repair, to deposit into a 'rubbish', pile. Next she sorted through tossed clothes, folding and putting away clean ones, setting aside those that had torn, and placing worn and dirtied ones in a basket for later washing. Between each task, Kagome would make a point to look over at Shippou, checking to see if he still slept, or showed signs of waking.

About halfway through her tidying, she noticed an odd gleam, a spark almost, in the far corner of the room. Kagome noticed it because it flashed sporadically from between the seems of her bag. The one her mother had packed most suspiciously, that Kagome had never thoroughly investigated once she'd returned to the past. Now curious at the sharp glimmer, she began to sift through its confines, abstractly wondering if the strange light was related to Souta and her mother's peculiar behavior over the shopping on their last day. She thought that perhaps it was, her intuition simply wouldn't let the plausible connection alone.

Her right hand found smooth, supple leather at the very bottom of the bag, beneath remaining school, art, and snack supplies. Curling fingers around the firm leather case, Kagome drew it out for inspection. It's sharp, silver-flash was unexpectedly muted, visible through the black, jagged seems of shadow along three edges. A zipper, she surmised on sight and confirmed by touch. A slim, expensive leather case that contained something bright and gleaming.

She glanced at Shippou when she unzipped the case, unreasonably terrified that its sound might wake him— and wanting to know the moment it may do so. When he did not stir, and the zip would go no further, Kagome turned back to her puzzle.

Carefully, she flipped the case open. Nearly blinded herself all over again, too. The light from seven slender sticks nestled within black shadow was hard to look upon, even with her head turned to the side. What she thought had been pure white, more closely resembled bright silver. A molten silver continually exposed to direct fluorescent lighting. The longer she studied the objects, the more she realized that it was not the seven sticks that blazed so brilliantly. No, they did not glow with the light of life, power, or scent, but instead they reflected it from that to which it was exposed.

Metal, of a kind?

Kagome studied one of the sticks with a finger, not yet drawing it from it's case. From the bottom she started, and found the textured material to be strangely familiar, traveling higher, the texture remained the same, with a slight indent here and there, as if meant for the grip of a hand. When she neared the top, it was flat and liquid-smooth, with a bite at one edge so soft that she hadn't realized it had cut her finger until she felt the liquid smear between them. She drew the digit into her mouth and sucked the heat of it away.

A bead of diamond-bright pink-white glistened along the edge of the third stick. A stick that she had belated realized was in fact, a scalpel. Her family had gifted her with a set of scalpels. Likely surgical-grade, top-of-the-line steel. Why had they flashed then, if they only reflected light? Her answer came in the form of a faintly glowing sheaf of paper that was tucked into the left side of the open case. A note, of some kind.

Written on an... ofuda?

"Seriously, grandpa?" Kagome bleated, feeling a bit... stupefied.

With her room back in some degree of order, and the scalpels (and that note), tucked away into the bottom of her bag for a later day; Kagome sat beside Shippou's sleeping form, idly petting one of his tails as she pondered. She thinks, that more than anything, she's still very, very surprised that her grandfather's ofuda had any measure of holy-power affixed to it. Even if it was the barest whisp of a thing. Her crazy old grandfather had reiki? Way back in her high school days she'd seen him slap paper spell after spell all over Inuyasha, and it had done nothing but stick (because of the double-sided tape he would put on them), to her mildly offended hanyo friend, before fluttering (cheap, double-sided tape), uselessly to the floor. She'd never sensed any reiki in him either, not even during the end of her jewel-shard hunting days (to which she equated to be the height of her miko abilities).

Was she inherently more sensitive to it now, since she lost one measure of sight and gained another?

But what of Shippou? More to the point, his true yokai form? She remembered the furs of his parents, from years ago. Knew what they had looked like when he'd cried into their skins (and kami, was that not a macabre thing to have witnessed in and of itself, especially if she drew comparisons). Was he not in his true form now, after having been pushed beyond the emotional breaking point, no thanks to her? Would he blame her for the loss of control? Was it a matter of control, or strength? Or a curse? Would he be able to return to a humanoid shape after this? Would he want to?

Would whatever shape he chose, matter?

Each new question only brought more along to the party, and none of which came with an answer. Not a one.

Twin tails of fire twitched and rose, brushing across her forearm as their owner rose out of its nest upon coltish legs; stretching like a cat and yawning big and wide, ending in a drawn out yip. A yip that was more of a squeaking note of alarm when her little kit realized where he was, who he was with, and the number of legs he required to stand upright in his present form. He stood frozen before her, like one of those statues of a frightened cat. His fire crackled and sparked along the length of his spine, signaling an oncoming attempt to flee. But the murky, ugly colors from before did not rise, did not consume. And for that, Kagome thanked all the Kami she could think of, and then several more that she could not.

Kagome did not want to risk a repeat of earlier, so she did the first thing that came to mind. Or more like her hands did, sans the application of legitimate thought.

She pulled one of his tails.

Shippou barked in embarrassed (and highly squeaky), alarm, but did not move. Like one of those pull-toys that made noise when you pulled their cord.

Kagome released the furry appendage.

And promptly booped him on the nose.

Her little fox remained frozen (except to sneeze and shake his muzzle), but she noticed a slight pulse, a tremor within the auburn flames. She didn't know what it meant, but it felt promising.

Slowly this time, Kagome stretched her hand out to brush across the top of Shippou's head, tweak a furry ear, and then trace beneath his elongated jaw to scratch his chin in that spot all four-legged animals adored. She saw the tremor increase as she continued to scratch, twin tails thrashed when she bent down and brought her face closer.

"You are adorable. Just. Adorable." She said, "So cute!" She took her other hand and drew it along the length of Shippou's spine, delighting as it fluffed up from the static, "And so fluffy!"

Shippou seemed to bristle at such compliments, he snorted and shook his head; as if to discard such girly sentiments. He did not, she noted with pleasure, bolt for the door.

"I bet you'd be much more agreeable to brushing now, too." She added with a slight rise of an eyebrow. The muscles were still weak, so she couldn't do a full waggle of the brows, but all the same she hoped that Shippou perceived the intended joke.

He snorted and swiped at his snout with a forepaw. His tails swished indecisively, even as he drew a few steps nearer beneath her affectionate hands.

"Don't believe me, do you, Shippou~?" Kagome spoke, her lips curling in a smile as she drew a small hairbrush from behind her back. She'd been prepared.

She couldn't see it, but she sensed his eyes widening in alarm, and saw how the fire of his youki flared with it.

Not giving him a moment to consider it, she placed the soft-bristled brush upon his head and then drew it in one, slow, solid stroke down the entire length of him. She held the brush a little off to the side when she finished and gave a little hum of haughty inquiry.

Shippou trembled as if someone had trod all over his grave. In the next moment he was a blur of motion as his tails whipped about and tiny paws kneaded her thigh in demand before a furry, wriggling body dove beneath the hand that held the brush. When she did not immediately begin with the brushing, Shippou barked. His cold, wet nose nudging insistently at her wrist.

Laughing (a little in shock, and a thousand times more in relief), Kagome nodded and wordlessly began to brush Shippou. She brushed him in long, slow strokes that stoked the fires of his youki. Turning the auburn fire into a red-orange that sparked and flashed. While she brushed him with one hand, the other cradled Shippou's head, providing support as her kit slowly, but surely turned boneless with every stroke.

"Should have done this ages ago," Kagome said, her words tinged with pleasure, "Works a lot better than chasing you around the campfire with a comb," she pressed the thumb of her hand into the corner of Shippou's jaw and rubbed slow circles into the muscle and tendon found there, "Significantly healthier than bribing you with candy to sit still, too."

Shippou sniffed at the last bit. Clearly someone disagreed with her assessment, if only so bribery would continue.

She'd unwittingly created a sugar fiend.

Not long after, she lapsed into silence and continued brushing his fur until it developed a smooth, silken sheen; Kagome felt a pang of loss that she would never see what Shippou looked like in his true form, or what the color of his coat looked like in the morning light. Or in any light. She worried her lip and tried to dismiss the gloomy turn of her thoughts. Allowing such a downward spiral was what had gotten her into this mess in the first place. If she hadn't been such a—

"Well that's..." she trailed off, her hands slowing. Because now that she considered it, Kagome wouldn't have gained this unique ability if she hadn't lost her wits in the first place and charged blindly (no insufferable pun intended), into the unknown to beg forgiveness and try to fix what she'd broken. Her mind had cracked itself wide open in answer to sheer f*cking terror and desperate need to see. If she hadn't done any of that, she might still be all sorts of blind and useless.

"...sh*tty." Kagome finished, lamely.

Shippou roused from his dazed stupor (the one all felines and canines fell into in the midst of a really good brushing, particularly when said brushing stopped), and lifted his muzzle to look at her. Kagome could only guess that those shining emeralds were glazed with a bit of sleep, and curious interest. Her cursing had that effect.

Twin growls broke the silence, from two separate stomachs. It brought to mind the vague pondering of when it was that either of them had last eaten, and Kagome couldn't rightly say. Clearly, food was in order.

"Well come on then, Shippou, let's get some grub." Kagome announced, tossing the brush over her shoulder and scooping the little furball up into her arms. Horrible way to have brought on this new ability, but boy was she real glad for it now; "Do you even eat cooked food when you're all adorably furry? And don't even think about trying to weasel your way into getting candy for breakfast— I bet it's twice as bad for baby foxes to eat."

Shippou whined piteously in her arms, no doubt attempting to convince her otherwise. Kagome was not going to buy it. Nope, nope.

Oh—! Good thing! With this whole different seeing business, Kagome was now no longer susceptible to, The Eyes. Those big and adorable, butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth little peepers that all cute, baby animals and small children seemed to possess and mastered, in spades. A trait that was particularly lethal and highly effective in yokai children, she'd noticed.

Shippou whined again, and this time he upped the ante by angling himself up high enough to lick at her jaw and chin.

"Nope~!" She drew the answer between giggles. Kagome carried the bratty little cheat out of her room and into Kaede's recievingquarterswhere the others wouldlikelybe about this time in the morning. And morning it was, judging by the traces of heat and dew in the crisp air. "Begging, even in cute baby-fox form, will not get you candy for breakfast, buster!"

"See? I told you he'd come back when he was done crying!" Inuyasha said, cutting into their private moment in the same manner he did all things. With great volume and little brains. "And what's with the blindfold? It makes you look stu-"

"Sit!"

Her vision whited-out in the close confines as Inuyasha slammed to the floor, mid-insult. Kagome shook her head a little, stroked Shippou's fur with an absent, settling hand while she gave Inuyasha her full attention.

"Sit."

This time, she saw it. The way the subjugation beads activated and enforced her will upon the hanyo growling upon the floor at her feet. How whorls of pink and white erupted from the beads and carved fangs, spiraling up and up in a seemingly infinite skywardarc. The higher it went, the brighter the light became, until it could go no further, could turn no more blinding. And then it snapped, like a rubber band that had been drawn too tight and slipped between careless fingers to strike back at the unwitting victim. But this was not a slow and tender display of old spell work at it's finest.

"Sit."

She watched the magic work a third time and found that this particular piece of miko spell-craft was a quick thing. Crude and blunt like a hammer in spite of the pretty spirals of light that drew up to the skies before being yanked back within the beads— which in turn introduced the subject to floor beneath the force of its impact. Whether the subject was standing or already prone didnt seem to matter, the force of the impact was the same, from the looks of it. Kagome wondered if the miko or monk who'd originally crafted the spell knew this. Or if they had cared.

"Damnit Kag," Inuyasha was forced to pause, grunting beneath the weight of subjugation, "What was that-"

Heat and light flared high and buffeted across the span of her chest and face as Shippou launched from her arms. Kagome watched with wide eyes (metaphorical wide eyes, at this point honestly), as the fire of Shippou's fox form twisted and shrank in the span of a few heartbeats it took for him to leave her arms and land atop Inuyasha's bowed head. She saw as it flashed like a dying star winking out of existence before the shadow-silhouette of Shippou's humanoid form took it's place.

"I'm not a baby, stupid-head!" Shippou snarled (adorably, which she doubted was his intention), as he ground his tiny fox foot onto the back of the hanyo's head; thereby shoving Inuyasha's face a little more firmly into the floor.

"-Soon asthis... 'et'sup m'gonna kill-" Inuyasha growled out from between clenched teeth.

While Shippou and Inuyasha bickered, Kagome stared. She took in both of their forms while comparing them to the humans she'd seen from last night (Kami, was it only last night?). Shippou's humanoid form differed greatly from a human's, the chief difference between them being that where a human glowed with the strength of their soul— her kit burned. His was not a paltry, flickering light that pulsed with the steady thrum of mortality; no, Shippou was one of those fires lit at night to see in the dark. His form was fire itself made flesh (or so it appeared to her new form of sight), and the creeping dullness, of light dimmed, of mortality and death, did not touch him. But where his flesh was bright, his clothes were dark, marred only with faint traces of youki and the pink-white dusting (of scent?) of Kagome. Although, the longer she stared at Shippou, the more juxtaposed he became; similar to how she'd been able to see his internal organs, she was able to see his true form. Could see the strange overlap of one form upon the other. Two tails sometimes looked like four, and the cherubic contours of a small child's face would look more like the pointed snout of curious little fox kit.

She supposed, now that she had seen the truth of him, she could no longer buy the lie. But... Kagome could see both forms, not just the one. Perhaps there was something genuine, something real, to a yokai's humanoid form, too.

But Inuyasha?

"Sit."

Kagome didn't wish to break up a squabble right now, and wanted an uninterrupted moment to study the peculiarities of a hanyo to her new sense of sight. That and she found it immensely satisfying to watch Inuyasha partially pull himself up from the weight of subjugation, only to be brought low by it when he'd nearly succeeded. His muffled cursing was only an added bonus.

Shippou was doing something to his hair, or dog ears, but she couldn't be sure about the specifics because both non humans were very, very hard on the metaphysical eyes. Seriously, she'd need some sort of sunglasses at the rate she was going. How that would be accomplished exactly, she didn't know— hell, she wasn't entirely sure how her sight worked to begin with. Because she wasn't taking anything in from her physical ocular organs. What with the blindfold and all.

She'd need to fashion herself a better coverat some point soon too, seeing as how the back of her head was starting to get a bit tender from the knot digging into it. It wasn't tight or anything, but still, leave a consistent pressure on long enough, it'll bruise or sensitize the area to some degree. In her case it was growing irritant, verging on a bruise.

But all of that was just background noise to what she was studying now. Where Shippou was a strange juxtaposition of two forms, Inuyasha was a chaotic mess of harsh, jagged angles that looked like static disruption in old televisions. His shape was humanoid and burned bright without the hint of frail, mortal glow. He had the look of a half-finished, modernist painting that had been quit in a hurry. Hard edges and sharper angles made up the length of his arms and curves of his legs; small, angry bursts of noise erupted off of his feral shape, as if in mirror of the thoughts hidden beneath the angry shell. All of which was just the body, for the robe of the fire-rat that his mother had given him— it too burned bright. Perhaps all clothing of demonic origin did, woven and spun as they were by inhuman hands. Or claws. Whichever.

Kagome wondered then if the angry, jagged and disjointed lines of her friend bespoke his mixed heritage, or if this mass of hard angles was the product of his boiling pit of childish trauma and hurts left to fester and grow in bouts of uncontrolled anger. She wondered if his shape was not because of both things.

Inuyasha burned silver-yellow and his clothing, a familiar red.

Shippou a vibrant, auburn-orange fire with two sparking emeralds where soul sparked through twin windows.

"I take it you're feeling much better this morning, Kagome-san?"

As if in a dream, Kagome turned to face Miroku where he sat before a small cook fire (she had to cast her head just off to the side of it's brightness), with Sango and Kaede on either side of him. She took in the faint glow of his humanity (was it humanity she saw, or strength of soul? She didn't know for sure anymore), and took notice of his spiritual power that had made him such a proficient and profitable, traveling monk. It flowed within and without his body in lazy, drifting patterns; like an aged river that had long since found it's path. His colors were much like his wardrobe, dark and bold, with the river of his holy power flowing in currents of violet. He was strong for a monk, stronger than most, she suspected. Kagome made a point to observe his hands, checking for concrete proof of his alleged curse of lechery.

The corners of her mouth twisted up at finding them to be perfectly normal.

"Much, thank you." She replied absently.

"Is everything okay? I heard that Shippou ran off and..." Sango started, words trailing off as she was hesitant to say more. She'd become more tactful when it came to sensitive matters after the birth of her son. Kagome wasn't entirely sure why, but she thought it might have something to do with her twin daughters, already so headstrong, and having to handle a lecherous husband with a bad habit of fleecing wealthy lords.

"Yes," she paused, taking in the healthy glow of Sango. Her friend, while healthy and having born three perfect children (and hardly breaking a sweat, in the process), possessed a unique aura. "I think, we're okay now." Kagome added, mouth on autopilot while her mind processed what she was seeing. Sango's entire body bore a multitude of colors, of burning bright youki taint, in addition to the blue and violet colors that marked Miroku. Because she had the comparison of Miroku's essence fresh upon her (and no, Kagome was not about to go down that line, she was not), she knew that the youki was old. Old and slowly fading. She attributed this to Sango's previous career choice, and the slayer's chosen weapon and armor.

Yokai slayers needed yokai-imbued weapons and armor to adequately fight and defend against their chosen prey. Kagome had yet to meet a monk or miko that had also been a tajiya. She didn't think they were a thing, actually, more of a 'one or the other' type, possibly.

Before anyone could make another inquiry, Kagome thrust her left arm out and caught Shippou around the middle— snatching him from the jagged, burning lines that made up Inuyasha's claws. With Shippou in hand, and without turning her body from the group, Kagome tilted her jaw a fraction to the left to address Inuyasha;

"I will make you clean the entire floor of Kaede's hut, with your tongue," Kagome said, tone clear and firm, "If you do not stop. Right now."

"But the brat—!"

"Inuyasha."

"Well he did-"

"Inuyasha."

"You always take his side!" Inuyasha snapped, tossing his hands up into the air and stomping out of the hut. He tread so hard upon the floor he cracked a few of the boards in his departure. "It's not fair!" He hollered back at them, either fleeing to the wood, or making a beeline for his tree.

Kagome inhaled once and held her breath, counting to ten. In the midst of her count, absurdly, she wondered if she'd be able to stop seeing all this light and noise when it was time to sleep, and how she'd go about that. A matter for another time, as it was, it seemed that she now had two children to contend with. Had Inuyasha always been like this, or had he regressed?

"Well that was-"

"Kagome-chan, how did you-"

"He was being a stupid-"

"Perhaps child, it'd be best to-"

Four separate voices, and each one with something to say. All at the same time. Kagome sat, with Shippou still held loosely in her arms. Idly she looked at the people around the fire, and the contents before her, but she was tired and much of it was too bright to pick out details and determine specifics.

"Is there tea? I could use some tea." Kagome replied, to all of them, heaving a great sigh as she did.

"And food! We're hungry!" Shippou added, kicking his feet out and leaning back into her ribs and belly. He nuzzled deeply into the circle of her arms and made no move to leave them.

"Aye, we've both." Kaede replied, humor coloring her voice, a telling signthat she smiled. She glanced over at the older woman, took in her shape across the bright burn of the fire. It was hard to make out, but Kagome saw enough to know, and enough to mourn.

"Here," Sango said, and Kagome knew from the tone, that she too was smiling. She heard the clink of plates and cups, felt Shippou lean forward to grab at some of them while the rest was set down beside her left knee. "Would you like me to help you, Kagome?"

Help?

To help her eat and drink.

Because she couldn't see.

Right.

"No, but thank you, Sango." Kagome tried on a smile, but it felt a little flimsy in the face of Kaede's mortality, Inuyasha's fit, and then everything else. But maybe, maybe this could be one less burden for all of them. One less worry for them to contend with, especially when Miroku and Sango had children to raise and a village to finish building.

"Are you sure? It would be-"

"I can see now." She said. Words as simple as dropping the mike and walking out. You could hear a pin drop, or a flea parade. Her lips twitched, but Kagome said nothing more, waiting for the silence to abate and for a question to fly. In the interim, she turned her attention to Shippou and noticed that he fussed with the glimmering bits of food on his plate, but his burning maw consumed none of it.

She'd bet anything that he'd been hoping for candy.

With a weighty sigh that only put-upon mothers have when dealing with fussy children who played with their food (instead of eating it), Kagome unclasped her hands. Her left gripped the plate and her rightselected the brightest morsel upon it's surface (a bit of fish, going by the texture and slight bit of warmth it still carried), and raised it to hover near Shippou's snout. Which may or may not be a few inches away from his human-shaped mouth. This dual-shape thing made it a bit difficult to judge.

"Eat." She bade him, soft and unyielding.

Shippou made a curious noise then, somewhere between a growl and yip. He then took the piece of fish into his mouth, tiny sharp teeth brushing the tips of her fingers and thumb, and then obediently chewed and swallowed.

"Not so hard, now was it?" Kagome replied, more than a little smug as she bent her head down to rub her chin on the top of his head, and then tilting her face to nose his hair and take in the unique scent of spice and roasted acorn that was Shippou. She was also pleased to notice that his wild mane was a lot softer and less tangled. Good to know.

She selected another bit of fish and held it up once more. Kagome did not have to tell him twice, and he ate what she fed him without complaint. She continued to select the brightest bits on the plate and feed them to Shippou (and making sure to eat some herself off of the second plate), while she waited.

"What do you mean you can see?" Sango said, the first to break the stunned silence.

"I'm not sure how it happened, exactly," Kagome paused, setting the plate down and wiping her greasy fingers on a corner of her torn yukata— Kami she must look a fright; "When I couldn't find Shippou, I was panicking. Frightened, terrified for his life. There was blood everywhere." She kept her voice level and clinical in tone. The voice she'd been taught to use on terminal patients or loved ones told awful news, she didn't want to upset Shippou further. Thankfully he seemed more interested in cuddling and... scent-marking? Her clothes and skin.

"Blood?" Sango prompted.

"Yes, when I was... upset, the other day, Shippou tried to help, but I hurt him instead." She paused, drawing the circle of her arms closer, enfolding him deeper within her embrace, "He became distraught, and ran into the woods. I couldn't find him, his blood was on my hands. The whole time there was this growing pressure in my head, like a dam attempting to hold back a tsunami."

"What happened then?" Sango seemed puzzled, but not alarmed.

"It burst." Kagome replied, "Everything seemed to rush out, and in the next moment it came rushing right back in. And then I could see— but not like I could before." She tried to come up with a way to paint the picture that would best allow them to understand.

"It's like this; I can't see the details, or the color of this plate, or what food you prepared upon it," She held the near empty plate aloft for the near silent group. A flicker of red and silver on her periphery told her that Inuyasha was near, listening. "I can't see if you're smiling or crying, and I can't tell what color your hair, skin, or eyes are. I can't even see the patterns stitched into your clothes or if you're wearing sandals or tabi socks." She went on, pausing to take a sip of tea and stroke one of Shippou's tails.

"But I can see the steady flow of Miroku's holy powers," she nodded to the monk as she spoke, "I can see that the youki from your armor and weapons still clings to your aura, even though you've not used either in over a year, Sango." Kagome fell quiet then, allowing the information to sink in before she spoke again.

"I can see a yokai's true form, even when it's hidden," She sipped her tea and kept a careful eye on Shippou's fire, "I can see the glow of life and it's burn, I can see so much more than I ever could before last night." She did not mention what she'd seen in Inuyasha, nor in Kaede. Kagome wasn't ready to talk about Kaede, didn't think she ever would be.

"Y-You mean, you see me?" Shippou squeaked, twin orbs of emerald fire staring up at her. She wondered if his tears would burn away within those green flames before they fell upon his cheeks. Kagome twined her fingers in the downy fur, tugging lightly.

"Of course I can. It's how I found you," Kagome replied.

He gulped audibly and tried to stifle his tears, a valiant effort, she could tell from the strangled sniffles and mad trembling that racked his tiny body. But Shippou was young, and he'd suffered so much in such a short time, before they'd found him, and after. Shippou let loose a near-howling cry as a prelude to the tears and harsh sobs that racked his tiny body.

Kagome was a bit lost on what to do, but still, she did something. She drew his tiny body within the folds of her rumpled yukata (she still wore modern underthings so she had a measure of modesty before her friends), she wanted to hold him closer, let the heat and scent of her fill him. Kagome held him close and tried to ease his upset.

Honestly, she was amazed Shippou had any tears left to cry.

Shippou hiccup-snorted, caught between unexpected laughter and a crying jag. Apparently she'd shared that last bit with the class.

"Well, it's true." She murmured into a small, pointed ear, and then all-but squeezed the life from him in a hug.

A quick glance around the room told her that the others had quietly made themselves scarce so that she could deal with Shippou. Kagome had mixed feelings about that, but ultimately it made sense. Out of the group, Shippou had attached himself to her more than any other. A sentiment she'd returned more and more as she matured and outgrew her childish first-love with Inuyasha.

"You're crushing me!" Shippou whined from beneath the folds of her garment and arms. His squeak was pretty muffled, she might actually be doing just that. But only his tails thrashed about, and his tiny hands clung ineffectually to her body.

"Really?" Kagome put all of the confusion and sincere bafflement into the one word, that she could muster up. "I didn't think that was possible for simple human girl to do, especially when up against a big strong yokai..." She trailed off, relaxing her arms and releasing Shippou— to better attack him from the sides until he shrieked with laughter.

Kagome didn't let up on her attack until Shippou was breathless and worn from laughter. He lay half off her lap in limp defeat as he open-mouth panted to cool himself down and catch his breath. Kagome felt a smile creeping across her face as she rubbed Shippou's back in small circles, hoping to pass on the good feelings.

"I am sorry Shippou, it was never your fault. It was mine." Kagome spoke once Shippou felt calm beneath her hand. He tensed again, and she felt tiny claws dig into the fabric at her knees. His fire flickered and wavered.

"I mean it, I am sorry." She emphasized, pressing her fingers into the tense muscle on either side of his spine before sweeping down his side to curl beneath his belly and haul him up into the circle of her arms once more.

"I love you, Shippou." Kagome kissed the crown of his head, and felt him tremble beneath her lips.

He was crying again, but these tears were not the big, weighty sobs of a moment ago. These ones were tremulous and gave out before they began. They were the tears of exhaustion, of relief.

"Where do all of these tears keep coming from?" She wondered aloud, nuzzling his temple and nosing the feather-soft hair; "We could bottle this stuff and make a fortune off of it, I bet." She added, "Although we'd have to consult Miroku for the appropriate angle, and of course he'd want a cut of the profits-"

"That's dumb." Shippou chuckled between sniffles.

"Is it?" Kagome didn't sound convinced. At all.

"Yeah. Because I don't cry that much." Shippou replied, "No where near as much as Miroku cries at night when Sango-"

"—Okay and we're not going to see where that sentence is going." Kagome smoothly cut in, nipping gently at a pointed ear, admonishing.

Shippou laughed and gave a retaliatory nip to the line of her jaw.

"Are we okay, Shippou?" Kagome asked, serious this time as she angled her face down to his. Giving the impression of giving him her full attention, the full of her gaze. Which strangely, she found was not needed. Kagome didn't have to turn her face any which way to look at something, not anymore; but the direction of her face did appear to give it more distinction and focus.

He returned the same measure of seriousness and solemnity that she'd given him. Kagome was being studied and measured, even if she could no longer see the details to verify. Slowly, he reached up with a hand and placed it upon her cheek, then did the same with the other. He brought them together and apart several times, until he giggled at the silly faces he had made of her face. She maturely blew a raspberry at him in response.

"Yeah," he laughed, swiping a hand across his face and causing one of the green orbs of fire to wink out, "Yeah, we're good mama-" Shippou broke off, all stiff limbs and upon the precipice of flight and tears once more.

Kagome leaned in close and pressed her lips to the crown of his head amidst the downy hair, upon his forehead, his cheeks, and lastly a brief kiss to the seem of his mouth where he held his lips between clenched teeth. Finished with her kisses, she pressed her forehead to his and simply said;

"I'd be honored, musuko."

Chapter 8: Continuing ones' studies while trouble brews...

Notes:

Medical stuff is half research, a dash of personal experience, and a whole lot of creative bullsh*t (as a general FYI). Also, because this story is Kagome-centric (in that it's from her perspective), a lot of subtle mannerisms and assorted things will go unexplained since I'm not the type to add in a character who conveniently explains everything. Just as a sort of forewarning, beloved readers...

Beyond that, things previously covered have a habit of cropping up in later chapters, as some of you may have begun to notice. Sort of reminds me of Dickens, but nowhere near that eloquent or crafty.

Happy reading, and thank you for your time!

Chapter Text

Winter was drawing near with the passing hour of each new day. Showing the edge of its teeth in the colder winds, and in each kiss of frost the next morning; poignant, glittering shards that took longer to dissipate by midday. These things have made themselves more apparent in how the winds carry diluted shades of blue within their currents. When she walks, she feels the bite of ice more often than morning dew beneath her feet.

There would be snow soon, she knew. And only then, when the first few meters of snow blanketed the ground, would she deign to put on shoes.

"-theory is that the ap-appendix acts as a storehouse for-"

Kagome was freshly bathed, sufficiently dressed, had her wild black hair (somewhat), tamed, and to preserve the lack of pain in her ocular organs— wore a thin scrap of fabric across them that she tied at the back of her head with a bit of string. Of course she'd had help with most of it, her son (she still felt a thrill of joy whenever she referred to him as such, especially since she could do so openly), had picked out her clothes and helped with her hair. Today's outfit was jeans and one of her thick, woolen sweaters from home.

"-unclear reasons, the a-appendix often becomes inflamed, infected, and can rupture."

She'd foregone shoes.

"-a simple examination of the belly remains important in making the d-diagnosis. Changes in the ab-abdominal exam help doctors tell if the appendicitis-"

Or socks.

"-Surgery is the only treatment for a-appendicitis."

Couldn't begin to figure out the why (and good kami there was an ever-growing pile of things she couldn't figure out these days), but she liked having a more direct connection with the land. Something about having the soles of her bare feet to naked earth seemed to... ground her. Sharpen her senses. Which only meant that her feet had gotten a little tougher and a lot more bruised since her metaphysical eye-opener. Although her feet were not thrilled about the lack of warm layers between them and the frosty ground.

"-may use the traditional technique of one large cut, or l-laparo...scopy?"

"That's great Shippou! You've gotten so good at reading to me, I'm impressed!" Kagome said. She combed a hand through the topknot of his hair, pleased at the way their colors meshed and blurred— how the fire of his dual forms brightened as the pink-white color sank beneath his auburn flames. The sight was still mesmerizing.

"You really think so... Mama?" Shippou asked, still shy about addressing her so. He bent forward a little, almost hunched over the textbook she had asked him to read aloud.

Kagome was able to discern most of his physical actions, but the book was a sleek black silhouette of absence in a world full of light and life. She'd noticed that pretty quickly, in the scant week since she'd gained her new sight. All of her things from the future (excluding any cloth-based item, and the reflective scalpels), could retain no residue of life, nor reflect it. However, because they couldn't carry or reflect life, they proved useful 'training tools', for her newfound sight. They had helped her to discern what was aura (or youki), and what was scent (a fine glitter of powdered mist that lingered in the air or upon an object); because anything can be scent-marked if the individual makes use of an item for prolonged periods of time.

"I do, it's why I asked you to read to me from one of my medical textbooks. I needed to do some learning too," Kagome said, ruffling his bangs; "So thank you for helping me out, my little fox."

Which sort of figured, really. She hadn't been able to visually discern scent from youki (or aura, reiki, and so on), on the whole because everything all at once is in essence, a melting pot. Everything was layered on top of each other and mixed up, making it hard to discern a single thread amongst a woven tapestry. Kagome was still figuring out the many different things that she was seeing, but for now she was taking it one step at a time.

Twin tails flickered in a muted display of bashfulness, she felt his head duck down beneath her hand. She imagined his face was quite red. He mumbled something in reply, his words impossible to make out but the tone was heartfelt.

"Why not go fetch us some lunch while you go put that stuffy ol' textbook away, alright? I think we could both use some hot food and drink." Kagome suggested, giving her embarrassed kit a clean escape; "I'll wait here, the village is still a bit much on the eyes." She added, giving one of his tails a brief tug.

"Sure! That sounds good, I'll be right back!" Shippou's voice sounded a little thick, as if he might be holding back tears. The sound of a large medical textbook snapping shut played background to the small yokai kit that was carefully (but quickly), sliding off her lap and making a run for it. A week was hardly a blink of time for yokai, which meant Shippou was prone to more emotional displays than usual.

She watched him flee down the hill with mixed feelings. Elation, because she could see such a thing at all (and how strangely beautiful this new form of sight was!). And guilt, for having been the source, the cause, the problem— for his current emotional rollercoaster of feeling. However, it did little good to keep worrying an old bone, to drag around a dead horse, to cry over spilt milk, or any of those other allegories in a similar vein.

Instead, she turned her minds eye to the present and her surroundings. On the crest of a hill, with her back to a sturdy old tree, and seated upon one of her leftover picnic blankets (from earlier shard-hunting travels that she never did bring back to the other side of the well), that kept her from getting damp. She was a small distance away from the village. Kagome had not been kidding when she told Shippou that it was hard on the eyes.

Kaede's village was a beautiful light show at night, but good lord, was it blinding during daylight. That first day with her new sight? The moment she'd stepped from the hut, Shippou hot on her heels— she'd hissed and cried out, reflexively bringing her arms up to cover her eyes. For all the good that did. The warm light of the sun had magnified colors and amped up the brightness to an unholy degree that made it almost impossible to look at. She'd twisted around on the floor and all but ate dirt the way Inuyasha so often did, in attempts to shield her minds eye from the brilliant onslaught.

It was then that she learned her sight was not limited by the direction of her face, nor eyes. Kagome was capable of seeing in all direction at once! A most pain-filled yet miraculous feat, given how bright the morning sun could be when the lively activity of the village populous was added to it. Not wanting to be trapped inside the hut, Kagome had begged to be taken from the village before the pain in her head became too great. And Shippou, her forever brave little yokai kit, changed shapes (a distractingly unexpected display of hot pink in the wobbly shape of a balloon— the scent of roasting acorns prickling at her nose), and carried her up and away from the hustle and bustle of Kaede's village. A little unorthodox, but the pair had managed well enough on such short notice. He'd taken her as far as the well (it no longer bore the magic of time travel, and faced with the concrete evidence of it had led to tears later that night), and once there, Kagome had gotten her wits together and properly thanked him for his aid.

Since then, she'd been camping out by the old well, and only coming into the village after nightfall to have dinner and varied talks with her friends. Each day, Kagome ventured a little closer to the village during sun-up, attempting to adapt to the brightness. A few days later, Sango and Miroku (after having satisfied themselves with her health, safety, and run themselves ragged with questions and hypothesis' on her new sight), had departed, children in tow.

Kagome did not think she would be setting foot in the village (or any village), during broad daylight anytime soon. She'd not been able to make herself come any closer than this particular tree on the hill, just scarcely out of sight of the first few huts. The light was almost too much, even from this distance. She felt the threat of another headache coming on if she was not careful. And Kami, the headaches that came from having one's brain exposed to direct sunlight! It was nothing short of a colossal migraine.

Although, when Kagome thought about it, and considered the matter rationally— it left her with a somewhat dismal conclusion. She might never be able to set foot in a human village again. For even after the sun had slipped beneath the horizon, the collection of huts and buildings were bright and made a thousand times brighter when they had fires lit. Kagome knew, that while technological advancement was decades off, the use of fire to light up the dark was prevalent and its application would persist and grow in a multitude of ways. All of which spelled her eventual banishment from human establishments.

All because her weird yet beautiful means of sight had turned her into some sort of vampire. Or just someone who was incredibly sensitive to light being shined directly into their brain. From all directions. The morose thoughts were almost enough to distract her from the treeline.

Almost.

"What is that?" Kagome said, pulled from her ruminations, head tilted to the side.

A giant, rolling bank of liquid amber youki filtered through the woods of Inuyasha's forest, almost directly behind of where she sat. It's color was spread thin, a pearlescent opaque sheen that blanketed all else; the screen of it did not stay low to the ground even though it moved like fog, but carried the shape of rolling storm clouds that came down from the heavens to kiss the lands below.

Kagome twisted around, falling back onto her elbows as she stared up and through the shining light of a healthy tree— trying to see how far up this unknown youki climbed. It blotted out the sky, dimming its light as if it were a giant sunglass of blended, gold-orange hues. Kagome did not think to fear it, or what it might do if it rolled over her (and surely it would, for the indomitable billow of youki was making its way through the woods and across the hillside), too caught up in its impossibly huge size. She could see no end to its height from where it rose up to the skies beyond, and no finite edges to the width of it either, from where it emerged in Inuyasha's forest in an endlessly-widening span.

What creature had this amount of power?

She felt the lids of her eyes spasm (a f*ckless attempt to open and widen in shock), for the youki swept over her in the next breath, before she could respond to the possible threat. Kagome expected to feel a damp fog across her flesh, or even the vague feeling of asphyxiation when the youki enveloped her small form. She thought it might even burn a little. Or at the very least, make her skin pebble with goose flesh and fill her with a wealth of unease. But it did not. Kagome looked away from the haze of molten amber and glanced down the length of her body, expecting to see the amber glow mute the brightness of her own aura and banked reiki. She held up one of her own hands, feeling bemused; it was a little brighter, and significantly more vibrant than she was used to seeing— but the slender silhouette of pink-white was there, molded into the shape of a delicate wrist and a hand that bore fine, nimble fingers. When she looked at it hard enough, Kagome could see a fine, blurry line of where the youki attempted to blanket her person, only to witness its bold, swirling waves be casually rebuffed. And for those whorls of uncontrolled youki that behaved too boldly in their attempt to coat her flesh? Her reiki burnt it away with about as much fanfare as one would swat a particularly annoying fly.

Curious.

"What is?" Shippou asked, prompting her attention.

"Nothing at all, sweet-kit, what's for lunch?" Kagome grinned, sitting up. She took a look at Shippou and the thing he carried. The basket had the same opaque film of unknown youki blanketing it, but Shippou was just like her. And when she looked closely at the lines of his human-shape, she saw the spark of her power alternately rebuffing and neutralizing the foreign youki while protecting the fire of Shippou's.

Odd.

The light she had slipped through Shippou's fur, his hair, his skin over the last few days... it had not been just her scent, had it? Kagome didn't know what to make of this (perhaps she should dictate one to Shippou so he could start making it for her), but it did not appear to be adversely harming him. So far.

"Stew and barley tea, Kaede says it's good during fall! Even though it is winter already, I think she's been acting funny lately." Shippou replied. He set the basket down, sat on the blanket, and then began fussing with his foxfeet; if she had to guess, he was cleaning them before walking all over the cloath.

Kagome couldn't help but be charmed by this, even with the foreign youki rolling out across the land, and through the town. Besides, from what she could see, it did not look to be affecting any of the flora or fauna within the immediate area, so it stood to reason it wouldn't affect others in any adverse or noticeable way. She couldn't in good conscious sound the alarm over every single thing that looked weird (or even potentially threatening), to her— not when she didn't understand all the things she was seeing. Not yet.

"It's good in winter too," Kagome said, running a hand through Shippou's untidy mane. She was glad to see her power stoke the flames of his youki, watched the pink-white color sink beneath his fire; "Yes, she has. It just means we'll have to keep a better watch over her, she's not as young as she used to be anymore." She added.

Shippou continued talking as he unpacked their lunch (that Kagome made sure to touch so she could burn away the mysterious youki), setting up their respective meals. Kagome listened to it with half an ear while the rest of her kept relatively alert to the demonic residue that now covered everything within her sphere of sight. More accurately, she kept a cautious 'eye', on the point where it first originated from, assuming that the owner of such massive amounts of youki would emerge from aforementioned direction.

"Eat." Kagome said, unable to prevent the note of mild reproach mixed with humor. Shippou was still such a fussy child when it came to eating; ever since the clearing where she found him in his true form. He was awfully set on having her hand-feed him the first bite of each (and by each she meant every single one, including snacks), meal, before he'd raise a bite to his own mouth. Otherwise, he'd just push the food around on his plate until she did. Kagome knew this, because she'd watched and waited one morning under the guise of some menial task during breakfast. It'd been a solid fifteen minutes before she caved.

She saw a flicker of a jackal's grin somewhere between his two shapes, the mien of the fox-kit's snout gaping wide, blurring across the delicate burning cut of his humanoid boy-child face. He took the proffered spoonful from her hands into his mouth and heard the clack of fangs on the bamboo utensil.

"Imp." She admonished, tugging briefly on the nearest foxtail

Shippou had the audacity to laugh, and Kagome could do nothing but stifle her own behind a slow sip of tea. And when no yokai proved forthcoming within the roiling clouds, Kagome shrugged the worry off and returned her attentions to her son. Abstractly wondering if somehow all little boys channeled that same, 'precocious brat' vibes that annoyed all older sisters and frustrated mothers to no end, no matter the time period.


"Alright— where are ya? Come on out you sonofabi-!"

"Sit."

Inuyasha had come bounding up to their hill, foolishly waving an unsheathed tessaiga about (and wasn't that a bright, piercing glow of swirling energy, all in its own right), and raving loudly— heralding the end to a peaceful afternoon lunch. She needed to pack up all the breakable items and then have Shippou take them back to the village while she made her way to her tent. Her son could meet her there for another lesson, perhaps maths this time. Let Inuyasha and his brother duke it out all day and night, for all the f*cks she—

No.

No.

Sesshoumaru?

That... that monstrous wave of youki was his?

Good kami, he'd really been the mercifully kind older brother that no one had ever suspected him of being— if that was the case. With that enormous amount of power beneath his icy control, it was a wonder that he'd allowed Inuyasha to lop his arm off in the first place. Or (and now that Kagome thought about it), Sesshoumaru had gone through one hell of a growth spurt. The notion came more swiftly to the forefront of her mind when she recalled her canine studies and the work she put in at the kennels. More so when she took into account her earlier summations about Sesshoumaru's true form and how similar it was to that of juvenile dog... When was that, exactly? Six months ago? Longer? Did inuyokai go through odd growth spurts when they reached a certain age? Kami, time was starting to be a bit tricky to keep track of these days.

"Damnit Kagome! It's that bas-" Inuyasha shouted as soon as he'd pulled his face from the ground, he started climbing to his feet.

"Inuyasha, young children are present," Kagome cut in, already seeing Sesshoumaru and his entourage emerge on the periphery of her vision, "You will mind your language or that imprint on the ground will be your bed. For days." She warned him, on her feet with her hands on hips and one eyebrow co*cked. Kagome had been working on more than just light adaptation in the last week. She'd deemed the use of her eyebrows to be a very critical aspect of communication. Suffice to say she'd had more success with her eyebrows than the light issue.

"But-" He waved tessaiga in his brother's direction, intent on the argument even though his heart was no longer in it. She could tell from the way his jagged lines cut his puppy-ears down to blend seamlessly into the flickering silver-glow of his wild mane. Perhaps it was the principle of the matter for Inuyasha, to continue to argue at this point.

Kagome wondered when it was that she began to see the similarities between her brother Souta and Inuyasha, and when exactly, she'd begun to treat him as such.

"Days." She enunciated.

His answering silence was filled with the volumes of moody, sullen compliance.

"Shippou, take the dishes and things back to the hut, alright?" Kagome said, tilting her head to the side so Shippou's dual silhouette sharpened in her minds eye.

Shippou mumbled an assent and quickly did as he was told, even if he wasn't thrilled about it. He usually enjoyed it when Rin visited, but Kagome had a hunch that this wasn't a social call. In fact, she was damnably sure that it was the farthest thing from; because whenever Rin visited, she was dropped off. Not hand delivered.

"If he makes one wrong move though..." Inuyasha let the threat trail off into a growl and sheathed tessaiga.

"Inuyasha, just..." Kagome trailed off, turning around to face their visitors, bringing into sharp focus that which had completely distracted her in the first place.

Kagome stared.

Sesshoumaru was at the head of the group, which meant Jaken was handling the reins to Ah-Un while Rin sat atop the two-headed dragon. She knew this without having to fully see it in the scope of their youki and human energies. It was a common (if not standard), mode of travel for the group when they were on foot and Rin had tired her legs out for the day. Kagome knew this, and distantly absorbed the glowing picture that the odd group formed. But...

Kagome stared.

Sesshoumaru's dual form was...

It was...

"Jesus f*cking Christ." Kagome breathed, the American epithet falling from between numb lips. Her metaphysical eyeballs split wide open in stupefied, gawping amazement. One hand clutched at the fabric of her sweater along her belly while the other one rose higher to cover her stupid mouth which was as slack-jawed as her brain— except a bit more on the literal side.

"What do you want y'jacka-" Inuyasha began once Sesshoumaru drew within gutting range of the pair.

"Days." Kagome hissed between clenched teeth, forcing herself to focus on Sesshoumaru's humanoid form. Bringing it to the fore so that his true self was no more than a vague ghostly apparition, instead of the diamond-hard light demanding her attention.

Where Shippou was playful fire and Inuyasha was chaos and noise— Sesshoumaru was ice. Of all the people, demons, and creatures she had seen with her new sight in the last week since it had burst open; Sesshoumaru was the most defined, the most detailed. While his youki was a giant, rolling mass of cloud that spread up and out, blanketing everything in his path— his physical shape was clear-cut and finite. She could see individual strands of his silver-white hair, the pallor of his pearlescent flesh, the faint glow of his markings... even the bold cut of his clothes and armor! It was as if he had contained the fires of life within the bounds of his humanoid body. Carved its bright glowing fury into a crystalline exterior carved from ice, or diamond. Couldn't make heads or tails of the patterns on his clothes, or texture of his armor (except for the bountiful fluff of his boa? Tail? Armor haute couture?), but Kagome could clearly see the shape and cut of it all. Was the armor he donned, and the clothes that he wore... were they but an extension of his youki, molded into such shapes?

"What brings you here today, Sesshoumaru-sama?" Kagome spoke up before Inuyasha marshalled enough dead-man's courage to defy her, and get into a potentially suicidal encounter with his brother. That and throwing in a polite honorific couldn't hurt, if only to cull some of the bullsh*t bickering and male posturing.

Kami, he'd grown. Kagome caught herself more than once, with her head slowly, but surely craning back so that she could look up. So that his true form would gain more visibility, allowing her to pick out the hauntingly austere details...

Kami.

"Miko." Sesshoumaru spoke simply, a passing obligatory greeting; "You will tend to my ward."

Before, Kagome would have thought that Jaken responded simply because he'd known when and what his lord required at a given moment due to years of loyal service. Or that he'd been given some signal too fast for her eyes to catch, to tell Jaken without words to bring Ah-Un forward so that Rin would be given their attention. But now, Kagome saw the small, calculated burst of youki emerge from Sesshoumaru. She watched as it rippled across the floor behind him until the edges of it cracked and broke apart at the small toad-yokai's feet, like a stone protruding from a pond that interrupted a perfect ripple.

And like before, Kagome would have balked at the haughty yokai's demand, the way he simply informed her as to what she would be doing— as if she were one of his subjects beneath notice. She would have made demands of her own to mollify her abused, feminine pride and the ingrained notions of equal rights that were more commonplace, five hundred years from now. But Kagome was not a child anymore, and she had been given time, experience, and new eyes with which to see. And as distracting as Sesshoumaru's form was, and as much as his feudal-lord upbringing chafed her capable and independent sensibilities (he was purely a product of his time, she reminded herself firmly), the sight of Rin stole the whole of her attention.

"Oh Rin-chan, sweetheart." Kagome said, physically pained as she boldly strode forward. She ignored Jaken's startled squawk when he dove to the side, narrowly avoiding her bare feet from trampling him in her haste. Kagome seized one small wrist to take Rin's pulse while her other hand cupped the younger girl's cheek in sympathy before sliding up to her forehead.

Her glow was a shabby, battered thing coated in a heavy layer of Sesshoumaru's amber youki. It was a sunglass lens covering and transforming the colors beneath it's weight. And the hues she could see? They were muted and murky, swirling in a sluggish and uneven pattern that indicated poor health. Very, poor health.

"What. Happened." Kagome spoke, jaw clenched while she used both hands to wipe sweat-soaked strands of hair out of the young girls face as her fingers came upon them. Her pink-white glow burned away Sesshoumaru's youki wherever she touched; "How long has she been like this? What are her symptoms?"

Rin whined at her touch, but otherwise remained slumped and unresponsive.

"Inuyasha, help me take her down from here and lay her out on the picnic blanket; then fetch more blankets, my medicine bag, and wood to start a fire." Kagome instructed before either yokai could unhinge their stubborn jaws to answer her questions. From her periphery she could see the rising flash of Sesshoumaru's prismatic figure amidst the thickening of yellow-orange youki— someone clearly didn't approve of a certain hanyo handling their ward.

Kagome didn't care.

"Now, Inuyasha!" Kagome barked. Momentarily startled to see her own aura flare out and strike her friend (a display that went unseen to all save her, she surmised). As Sesshoumaru had moved Jaken to action, so too did she galvanize Inuyasha.

She saw his jagged shape brighten and the red of his fire-rat robes smolder as he made a dash for them. He pulled Rin's limp body from the high saddle with care, then deposited her onto the picnic blanket (that she could see only because it bore her scent and traces of aura), before he turned tail and bounded for the village. All performed in the span of a few breaths, and in unexpectedly mute silence. Without having need to threaten him either.

A mystery for another time.

"How long has she been like this? What are her symptoms?" Kagome demanded, hating that she had to repeat herself, but finding it easy to slip into the carefully crafted doctor persona. The one she had cultivated over her time in college whenever she had served, shadowed, or interned as the classes demanded.

Jaken had followed safely behind her when she left Ah-Un to return to Rin's side on the blanket. A small, grass-green little fire lost within the depths of a molten, orange-gold sea that was Sesshoumaru's youki. His staff was a thing of red and black lights that alternately caressed and cut into itself. Kagome set him from her mind as she turned her head (and thereby her focus), to Rin.

"Three weeks at the most severe, two more before then that were lesser." Sesshoumaru answered. He had drawn closer to the blanket, but remained outside of throttling reach. She saw him send the same pulse of youki to Jaken again, and wondered what the little imp would do.

Kagome knelt beside the smaller girl and trailed her hands across the entire length of Rin's body. She made sure to straighten folds, loosen collars or restrictive bindings, and rearrange limbs— for both the sake of appearance and simple health reasons. Rin-chan was much too feverish, the cool, open air would help until Inuyasha arrived with blankets and supplies (before she sent him out to fetch her tent next, she would be relocating for the time being). But mostly, she did it to burn away Seshoumaru's youki so that she could see beneath its opaque sheen.

"Many highly acclaimed physicians, both yokai and human, have seen to the great Sesshoumaru-sama's ward," Jaken warbled from behind while she studied Rin, and refrained from interrupting; "Before, she would have bouts of weakness, clumsiness and feinting spells every so often. She's a small human child. We— I-I, did not think anything of it." Jaken paused, a strange, sniffling honk temporarily forestalling his words; "Then there were periods when she would grow sick and vomit any food eaten or liquids she drank. Her food and drink were checked, and the cooks questioned. But it would pass, it would always pass." He fell silent then.

"And?" Kagome prompted, not thinking on the strangeness of Jaken's surprisingly verbose and polite behavior, too focused was she on making sense of the internal organs she was seeing, and trying to figure out what their tortured colors could mean.

"H-Her condition has steadily deteriorated, since. She sleeps much of the time now, and when awake, can keep no food or drink down for long. Sesshoumaru-sama's ward is frequently feverish, sweating in heat or cold, and has bouts of incontinence and delerium." Jaken replied, this time much closer and off to her right. She knew he was speaking to her, but she got the sense he was watching Rin.

"Please, Miko-sama, heal her." Jaken said finally, with his beak-billed face pressed to the blanket as he bowed before her, begging in the only manner he knew.

That, of all things tore her attention from Rin, however briefly. Miko-sama? Full on begging, and the polite attitude? Did Jaken have a twin? Kagome looked him over briefly, and confirmed that no, it was the same old Jaken, his grass-green youki held the familiar shape she knew him to have, and no other.

Not a powerful enough yokai to hold more than one body.

"I'll do everything I can." Kagome promised as she placed one of her hands across Rin's forehead. She felt the feverish heat and sought to cool it with her own chilled palm, hoping to ease some of it's ferocity.

Kagome observed Rin's sickly aura and the murky haze that had entrenched itself within. It's disruptiveness was concentrated about the young girl's head, looking like angry, distorted noise caught between frames in film. This was what fever looked like in a person. This is what sickness and ill health looked like in a child. Even as ill as she was, Kagome was unaccountably thankful that her aura looked nothing like Kaede's.

Rin would recover.

Kaede would not.

Having loosened Rin's kimono earlier, Kagome was banking on the winter air to cool her heated flesh; she counted on the frost-blue winds to break the girl-child's fever. Kagome prayed that it would not take too long, for a human child's brain (hell, even an adult's), could not withstand high temperatures without suffering considerable damage.

From the fluctuating bursts of Rin's living essence (rich brown with hints of sunny yellow along the edges— like the fireflies she chased at night, or like the flowers she wove into Shippou's hair last spring), Kagome got the sense that she would wake soon. And in the moments precluding Rin's rise to consciousness, Kagome used the time to focus and peer beyond the surface of Rin, as she had once done for Shippou. To see the warm, happy red flow of life's blood course through a healthy circulatory system, so she could follow the rush of it up to the heart and observe it's sluggish beats gain speed with each pump of the mighty muscle. Kagome traced the wholesome pink glow of the young organ with a critical minds eye, moved to the lungs, and found them to be in a similar state, if a little mired in Sesshoumaru's youki.

His power was a heavy weight, and it coated all.

Kagome had no reason to think his youki was the cause of Rin's current state— and the exterior of her lungs looked healthy and untainted, so she let the lack of clear sight go. Other organs still needed to be checked. Overall, circulation was good, heartbeat was slow but picking up, and her lungs were strong. Her airway looked a bit raw, an acrid, angry red burn that had her wincing in sympathy. The irritated esophagus was likely due to Rin's trouble with keeping food down, stomach bile was as fierce as it was corrosive. Speaking of— Rin's stomach (in addition to the other organs that were directly involved with digestion and nutrient distribution), was a pale, flickering shape of warped distortions to her eyes. It was difficult to make out details, but the weakness with the lack of healthy glow, coupled with intermittent appearances of the same, angry red burn of a fresh wound... all of it combined with the symptoms Jaken had described?

All of it pointed to the same thing.

"She's been poisoned."

Routinely, her mind whispered.

Jaken croaked loud and high, in alarm.

The amber fog of Sesshoumaru's youki grew dense and oppressive, blotting out the entirely of her vision save for the immediate area surrounding Rin and herself. Rin, who still carried traces of her pink-white glow that rebuffed Sesshoumaru's youki when possible, and burnt it away when not.

"Here—" Inuyasha spat, dropping the pile of wood. Directly on Jaken (judging by the abrupt squawk), and then setting the other requested items beside her left hip. For once, Kagome was grateful for his typically bad timing and brash way of cutting into a serious conversation.

"Thank you, Inuyasha." she replied, completely sincere in her thanks, before issuing an order in the next breath; "Can you fetch my things, and my tent, next?" Kagome thought it was better to have Inuyasha kept busy. And away. He would be less inclined to irritate and goad his older brother into a fight otherwise. Besides, Kagome had a feeling that Sesshoumaru would be less tolerant and more obliged to commit fraternal homicide.

This time, she tried to mimic the same feeling— that same sense of urgency and the need to be obeyed. She then pushed it out toward Inuyasha, grateful to see the same burst of white-pink energy rush towards him with all the immediacy of an arrow. The same energy that prompted him to do as bid. An unknown, but useful tool within her arsenal for the moment.

"Keh!"

But off, he went.

"Jaken, could you please prepare a fire for Rin? Thank you." Kagome spoke over her shoulder as she dug into her bag. She cleared it of youki to better see the scent marks. Ones she had left in precise patterns upon her medical supplies from the future. There was still a fair bit left because the contents had been relegated for emergency use only. Saving a child, definitely qualified.

Kagome heard logs being arranged and stones moved around from behind— clear signs that Jaken was doing as asked. She hadn't wanted to try doing the same thing to Jaken that she'd done to Inuyasha... not when she wasn't entirely sure what it was, or how it would effect someone she didn't know well enough.

A bright, crystalline hand tipped with diamond claws flashed along the edge of her sight. Seemingly cutting through the solid clouds of youki; she perceived the direction of the appendage's descent and it's owner's endgame in snippets of time that were cut-up and hastily reassembled.

"No." Her own hand arced out in a blaze of white that crackled with neon pink along its edges.

Like all yokai she'd ever lain hands on— his flesh was smooth and ran several degrees hotter than her own (It just figured that in winter they ran hot, and in summer they ran cold, lucky yokai). Her hand halfon top of Sesshoumaru's— both hovering directly over the pile of blankets. She could see the wall of surrounding youki take on a brighter glow, ratcheting up from the liquified amber to the acidic yellow of his notorious poison whips. Saw the way her power hissed and crackled in proximity to the prismatic cut of Sesshoumaru's bare hand. Kagome made sure to concentrate hard upon his humanoid form lest she succumb to distraction.

"Rin trembles from the chill air," his voice is a flat and toneless thing, but Kagome can hear the echoes of a growl in it; "Do you intend to finish what the poisoner started?" The sharp light of golden eyes rimmed with ruby and crystal pierced her with all the efficiency of a backhanded slap. When she studied them for too long, the red, near oblong eyes of his inuyokai form superimposed themselves into a lethal glare.

Without taking her attention from Sesshoumaru, she assessed Rin's flickering aura— clear and free from the cover of the daiyokai's all-consuming presence. It was brighter than a few moments ago, but the fine tremble along her lines, the ones that conveyed the shape of Rin's young body...

Good. The winter air was doing as she'd hoped.

"Rin has a fever and is suffering from consistently imbibing an unknown poison for a minimum of five weeks. The fever must break before she can be warmed— and the clean air has already done her a world of good." Kagome explained. She kept her voice calm and clear as she laid out the facts in a concise manner free of personal bias. Sesshoumaru had all but insulted her, but in this moment, he was no different than a family member lashing out when told bad news from the attending physician.

With care, she withdrew her small hand from his. She could sense his indecision from within the wealth of his youki, even as he remained motionless— weighing her words and taking her measure.

The fire Jaken made crackled merrily in the background to their silent standoff.

"You brought her to me for a reason Sesshoumaru," Kagome said, relaxing her doctor visage so that he might glean the sincerity from her words, if not her tone; "Please trust in my methods."

A heavier silence followed along the heels of her words, then summarily broken.

"Sesss... shhh... ...mmruu— s'ma...?" Rin warbled; the daiyokai's name a broken, incoherent lisp of a thing. Her head lolled to the side and her thin shoulders twitched in a failed attempt to curl up.

"I am here."

A rapid flare of youki, and Kagome saw that indeed, he suddenly was. Sesshoumaru was kneeling beside Rin's head across from where she sat, so that Rincould see him for herself. He did not make any move to touch her, and had left the pile of blankets where they lay.

For now, she had his trust and Kagome was determined to prove that it was not misplaced. But more importantly, she wanted Rin to get better— the girl was adorable and just about the only one on the planet that could give Shippou a run for his money.

Kagome let the unique pair have a moment of privacy while she finished sorting through her bag. She withdrew a bottle its measuring cup to pour the liquid medicine into. It was a blended chemical co*cktail of cold and flu, fever reducer, throat coat, and upset stomach medicine. While it wasn't the cure-all, it would alleviate the majority of her symptoms while she prepared and steeped a tea blend that would flush the toxins from her body. Kagome couldn't identify the poison and treat it, not when Rin had been consuming whatever the hell it was for the last month (if not longer). All she could do was help flush the rest of it out and help the girl get stronger again so that she could build up a natural immunity. Especially if whoever was doing the poisoning kept at it.

Kami it was a terrifying thought. Why would anyone want to poison Rin? And why slowly?

She uncapped the bottle and then held the cup on one hand, with the tip of her finger inside it as she began to pour. Once the liquid touched the sensitive pad, Kagome tilted the bottle back, settled it between her thighs and capped it with her free hand then set it aside. To her sight, the medicine was black, lit only by the mercurial swirl of pink-white light that had seeped into it from her faint touch. Considering her power had yet to have a negative effect on Shippou (a full yokai), Kagome didn't believe it would have an adverse affect on Rin...

By the time Kagome was ready to give Rin the medicine, Sesshoumaru had retreated from the blanket and had disappeared into the solid, rolling clouds of his youki. Which was good, it meant he would not interrupt.

"Alright Rin-chan, I need you to be a very strong girl for me right now, okay?" Kagome said, voice soft as she eased a free hand around the back of Rin's sweat-soaked neck to cradle her head. Slowly, she eased Rin's head up so that she'd be able to consume the small dose of medicine. Later, she'd get pillows set up for a more upright position for the vast quantities of tea (and pedialyte), she would have the girl drink.

Rin whined piteously in response.

"I know sweetie, but I only need you to swallow a small amount of medicine, it'll make you feel better. I promise." Kagome crooned into the girls ear as she held her head up with a hand, and supported her neck with a forearm. Kagome brought the small cup to the trembling blur of parted lips that she could see.

Rin groaned and tried to turn away from it. She remembered what happened every time she tried to eat or drink something.

"Rin, this will help." Kagome said, keeping her voice soft as it grew firm along the edges. She persisted in keeping the cup pressed upon chapped lips, no matter which way Rin turned.

With only so much energy to spare, Rin eventually gave in, too weak to protest as Kagome tipped the cup upwards as the swirling contents flowed into Rin's mouth. She swallowed with some difficulty and coughed, but Kagome expected as much. Rin fell asleep not long after.

"Stubborn little thing," Kagome murmured fondly, unable to stop a smile from curving her lips in spite of the situation, "You'll start feeling better soon Rin, and then you'll be up and harassing Shippou before you know it." She added, stroking Rin's hair with gentle fingers as she watched and waited for the fever to abate.

With modern medicine (combined with her own reiki? Kami she needed to find someone to talk to about this), at work, Kagome didn't have to wait long before she noticed the first signs of the fever giving ground. The aggravated noise surrounding Rin's head grew less pronounced, less erratic, until the remaining dregs of friction broke apart and gave way to the earthy brown and buttercup yellow.

"See? You're doing better already." Kagome said. She pulled the thinnest blanket from the pile, shook it out, then laid it out over Rin's shivering body; making sure to tuck the blanket under the girl's bare feet (why was she still wandering around without shoes? It's almost full-on winter!), and along her sides. Next came a slightly heavier blanket that she draped over the top, all the way up to the girl's chin, and this time only tucked it under her feet. Then she took the last blanket (and the thickest), and laid it over Rin, folding it back down to her shoulders.

"Jaken, can you please start boiling some water from the supplies that Inuyasha has just brought?" Kagome called out as soon as Inuyasha's red and silver figure broke through the wall of amber.

"The stuff's in here." Inuyasha said, uncharacteristically subdued as he set another of her bags down by Jaken with one hand. The other still held the disjointed form of her camping tent, dimly aglow with the residue of her scent and aura.

"Thank you Inuyasha, can you please set the tent up above Rin's head? I want to move her as little as possible, when it's time to put her in it." Kagome said, explaining her reasoning to Inuyasha so as to prevent an argument. Although she doubted he'd give her one right now, with his current, almost-sullen attitude.

A gruff affirmation was his only reply. Kagome was just thankful for his obedience, and Jaken's unquestioning swiftness in carrying out her every request.

While those two worked, she sifted through her medical bag once more. She withdrew a previously opened bottle of pedialyte (still a good two thirds full, and should be more than enough to get Rin's electrolytes back up), several packets of powdered vitamins, immunity boosters, and three packets of pre-bagged detox tea in addition to several herbs she'd stored in Tupperware a few weeks back. Next she pulled out a worn mortar and pestle (that had long-since been imbued with a faint but permanent, pink-purple glow of reiki), and her largest tea-strainer.

She'd alternate the different combinations, but Kagome made no guarantees about the taste. But so long as Rin got better, she supposed the palatability mattered little.

Kagome separated things into two piles, hydration, vitamins, and boosters in one, detox and assorted herbs in the other. With rapid efficiency she began to cut open tea bags and grind fresh herbs to mix and blend into one giant blend of questionably tasting tea. She'd have to make larger batches of the detox and smaller, concentrated ones of the other. Whatever her body couldn't take in and process for the vitamins boosters, would just be discarded when Rin relieved herself, so she'd need to feed her those blends with less frequency. One cup every two, maybe three hours at most.

"What now?" Inuyasha prompted, smooth cuts of fire-red crossed against the jagged lines of silver.

"Tie back the door, sweep out the interior, and place my bedding to the far right. Once I've finished with this, and cleared off all the excess, the picnic blanket, Rin, and the rest the blankets will be brought in and situated on the left. Okay?" Kagome replied, co*cking her head to the side to indicate that she was giving her attention to Inuyasha while her hands continued their work.

Once all of that was done, they'd be able to move the fire a little closer so that some of the heat would seep into the tent at night and she wouldn't have to go far to get hot water. Miniature blinding sun and all.

When she was scooping large quantities of the mixture into the tea strainer, Kagome took notice of Inuyasha's angry shape moving about within the confines of her tent, doing as she requested. She noticed the way remnants of her pink-white light broke off from the interior walls of her temporary abode and drifted lazily onto the rough, uneven lines of Inuyasha's wild, hanyo energies. She watched as the bits of her light attempted to smooth and settle that coarse aura, only to be rebuffed at every attempt.

Kagome wondered what that said about them.

She wondered about some of the things she might have done differently if she'd seen this much earlier on in her travels, specifically during her teenage adventures when she pined after the hanyo.

"The water is ready, Miko-sama." Jaken spoke, for the first time in what seemed like weeks, but could only have been minutes (or an hour), at most.

Now was not the time for such idle thoughts.

"Thank you Jaken, you've been incredibly helpful," Kagome said, "As have you Inuyasha, I appreciate your efforts!" she added, not wanting Inuyasha to feel left out.

A muted growl came from the direction of her tent, and she heard something tear from careless claws.

"Please put this in the kettle, Jaken." Kagome asked, holding the jam-packed tea-strainer out in the palm of her hand towards the sharp outline of Jaken's small, bright green form. She couldn't see anything clear enough the closer it was to the fire.

There was a curious silence that followed her request. One that felt as if she were being studied; but all the same, a small, careful hand with fewer fingers and deceptively sharp claws plucked the item from her hand and once more performed as asked.

Jaken's reptilian flesh was not several degrees warmer. His hand had felt just as chilled as her own. Kagome was curious if it had to do with the type of yokai he was, or if it was due to his lack of a second form.

"Y'ready to move her now?" Inuyasha said, breaking into her thoughts with his grumpiness.

"Almost," she replied, "Help me pour these powders into three water bottles?" Kagome held up three bags that each held an equal portion of the vitamins and boosters she'd mixed together.

"Fine." He said, snatching the bags from her outstretched hand and stomping over to the bag she kept the water bottles in. While he did that, she proceeded to put everything else away, back into her medicine bag (except the pedialyte), picked both bag and bottle up and deposited them into her tent on the right side, then stepped back out again to wait for the Inuyasha's assistance.

And as she waited, Kagome also tried to think of as many tasks as possible to keep him engaged and out of trouble, too.

Chapter 9: Civility in dogs and a grass-green curiosity

Notes:

Thank you for your comments and kudos! I thank you for your time and hope this story entertains <3

Chapter Text

"No."

"Rin-chan..."

"Nooo! It tastes bad!" Rin whined, folding scrawny arms of warm brown and bright yellow across her thin body, the epitome of stubborn refusal, "I feel much better already Kagome-sama, I don't need to drink anymore smelly, gross tea!"

Kagome tried not to get frustrated at Rin's refusal, but it was difficult. The girl was awake and alert since just this morning; Sesshoumaru had brought her to Kagome the previous afternoon. So just because she felt a little better than her previous, sickly and semi-conscious state— didn't mean thatshe was magically healed. Sickness just didn't work like that, in her experience. That wasn't to say that Rin's bright aura and non-delirious chatter weren't wonderful improvements since yesterday (remarkably so, given the speed of her recovery). But she was beginning to prefer the girl's weak, unconscious compliance when it came time to feed her the strongly brewed detox tea. Kagome had been able to get Rin to drink the majority of the kettle-full last evening, and throughout the night. But when the girl had regained her coherency and presence of mind (and after bravely downing the first cup without complaint, and choking down the second amidst a barrage of previously withheld ones), shortly after lunch she'd staunchly refused another sip.

Not so strangely, however, Rin had no such resistance to consuming the syrupy sweet concoction of vitamins, or drinking the fruit-punch flavored pedialyte.

"You still need to drink this, Rin, until the kettle is empty." Kagome explained (for what must have been the fifth time), "Just because you feel better now, does not mean you are fully recovered."

"No!"

Kagome couldn't see it, but she had a strong feeling that there was a pout there. A very definitive and sulky one.

"Rin, honey, please drink it," Kagome said, trying a different angle, "I need you to drink so that you can get better, for Sesshoumaru. You do want to go home soon, don't you? He can't take you homeuntil you're fully, one-hundred percent better."

She felt the smoldering glare of twelve year old who knew she was getting hustled.

"How much more?" Rin whined, aggrieved as she accepted the proffered cup of lukewarm brew and glared pathetically into its depths.

"Two cups after that one, and then you're done with the nasty stuff." Kagome replied after giving the kettle a brief shake to measure it's remaining contents. "And about four more of the vitamins, and one for that red fruity number you like." She added, hoping the promise of many sweet beverages to follow would be an adequate incentive.

"Fine." Rin said. She was pouty and sullen, but Kagome saw Rin's silhouette dance between bursts of yellow and rolling tides of fresh earth as she raised the cup to her lips and downed the swirling, murky green and pink-white contents like a college freshman doing their first keg-stand. Rin didn't stop to draw breath, she just kept downing the vile tasting brew until her cup emptied— then smacked her lips together and gasped out loud, taking in much needed air.Kagome imagined that if there had been a suitable surface, Rin would have slammed the cup down on it.

While Rin recovered from the foul taste by taking deep droughts from a bottle of clean water, Kagome sharpened her gaze— piercing the auric veil and inspecting Rin's organs. With her power (reiki, she was fairly sure), coursing throughout the girl's body, it helped Kagome to better see and assess the remaining damage as well as any lingering sickness. Besides the mild red burn on her esophagus, stomach, and the ruddy red of inflammation on her kidneys... the rest of Rin's internal organs seemed to be in perfect health.

"Thank you Rin-chan, for being such a good patient!" Kagome praised, raising a brilliant white hand to glide across Rin's cheek and tuck loose strands of hair behind a dainty ear. Seems they'd both need a bath soon, Rin's hair and flesh were greasy from fever sweat, and Kagome was likely in no better shape since she'd not slept or changed clothes since yesterday. It would be too cold for the river, so she'd have to get Inuyasha to take them to a hot spring.

"Can I have the other drink now? I can still taste the tea." Rin said, scrubbing her arm across her mouth.

"No, not yet." Kagome smiled, "But you and Shippou can suck on these while you both color for a while." She held out two lollipops that she'd withdrawn from her one of the hidden pockets on a backpack (she had to get good at hiding sweets otherwise her kit would sniff them out and whine relentlessly), at the same time Shippou had skipped up the hill to their camp, coloring book and crayons in hand.

"Yes! Thank you, Mama!" Shippou crowed as he bounced into the tent and sidled right up next to Rin. He splayed the sleek, black silhouette of a book between their glowing forms (Rin a steady bloom and Shippou a brilliant roar), and spilled out the assorted crayons on either side of them.

Kagome thought Rin's silence was a little unusual, but dismissed it for the moment as she handed them each a sucker. She needed to go have a talk with a certain daiyokai before Inuyasha got it in his head to start a fight prior to dinner.

"Be good, and don't get the blankets sticky. I'll be back soon." Kagome said, making sure that bottles of water and a damp washcloth were within reach of the children.

"We will!" They chorused at her back as she strode out of the tent and into the amber haze.


She thinks, that if it were any other yokai with such a massive aura of youki, it might have been more difficult to find them within such a swirling haze. But this was Sesshoumaru, almighty Lord of the West, great fancy-britches daiyokai with a set of killer arms. Well, for a while there, just the one. But he grew it back, so that was good, wasn't it? She imagined that had happened about the time he got that ginormous f*cking growth spurt. Even his humanoid form was a full head taller, and broader— something she hadn't expected to notice, but did.

And good kami had she noticed, after the fact.

"You're just distracting yourself, on purpose." Kagome muttered to herself.

Kagome paused her steps, surrounded in a sea of mercurial amber that ebbed and flowed like a lazy ocean. Nothing but the amber youki was visible to her minds eye, save for the dim earth floor beneath the white silhouette of her bare feet. She craned her head back to take in the sky of rolling amber waves, and waited.

Through the yellow-orange world, twin, ghostly apparitions cut from starlight gems drifted high overhead. They floated from left to right, disappearing into clouds of gold like two great sea-serpents without a care in all the world.

She tilted her head back down and continued on, correcting her path incrementally as she went, keeping half an eye on the giant, twin-tails drifting lazily in the clouds above.

The fact of the matter was that she didn't want to believe that someone could be poisoning Rin. It just seemed so senseless, to purposely make a young girl ill. To slowly kill an innocent child. Where was the motive in such an act? Or could she be wrong about this entirely? What if it was just something she'd been eating, that yokai didn't know was harmful to humans? Children were always more sensitive to dietary or environmental changes, and like the elderly, are the first to fall ill when sickness sweeps through a town. Their immune systems were not strong enough to combat viruses or germs the way a fully grown adult's could.

A canine hind leg broke into her vision then, it's crystalline form warping and reflecting the amber youki back into it's own waves, casting beams of yellow gold onto the clouds in curious, fractal patterns. The one leg was roughly the size and circumference of one of Tokyo's slimmer, skyscrapers. Each artfully carved gem of a clawed toe on that hind-paw was the size of a family car. She didn't even come up to the limbs' ankle.

"Jesusf*ckberries." Kagome hissed beneath clenched teeth, not wanting to look up and see what else she might find to be as horrendously beautiful and larger than life. She took the extra few moments required to walk around the glittering apparition instead of through it. Kagome didn't want to know if it was the same feeling as having walked over your owngrave.

Kagome couldn't readily think of a motive that would have a house (or castle?), full of yokai to slip Rin some poison on a consistent basis— what would be the point when she would grow old and die before they even got a gray hair? Which just meant that something she was ingesting was poisonous to her, but might not be to a yokai.

Dimly, very dimly, (she made sure to focus extra hard on the floor), she got the impression of a glass-cut shape of a giant underbelly and torso high above; with a thick ruff of wild fur whose points looked more like giant, glittering stalagmites than inviting fluff. Kagome walked on, heading for the front of this giant, ridiculously fantastical dog demon. Seriously, if people could see this, they'd fall over themselves to worship the sheer beauty of this creature that was born of flesh and blood instead of carved from crystal or diamond.

Maybe, she'd dictate a list to Shippou to give to Sesshoumaru (who would likely give it to Jaken to put into action, he seemed to be the... nursemaid, of the group), about what human's could safely consume? That would end up being a pretty long list, actually. Perhaps one with just the basics and then instructions on what to do when introducing foods you're unsure of. Plus hygiene. It wasn't that big of a thing yet, but the sooner it caught on, the better. And then what to do the next time she got sick. Because she would, children often got sick growing up, it's how they got stronger. She could probably put together a little something for them too in case Rin came down with this strange amalgam of flu and food poisoning again. Although she dearly hoped that in the future, they'd bring Rin to her, or follow the instructions she'd be sure to give them before they left. If they did, then Rin wouldn't fall into such bad shape like she was yesterday.

Which brought another thought to mind— the terrifying realization that the medicine of today was as horrific as it was archaic. She sincerely hoped that none of the physicians they'd brought to treat Rin hadn't stuck the poor girl with leeches, bled her, or done even half of the other crazy things they'd invented to try and combat an illness they didn't understand. They hadn't drugged her with opium, had they?

The left foreleg was coming into view, and to the right of it— directly beneath the barrel-chest that housed the strong-beating heart, stood Sesshoumaru. A blaze of multi-faceted lights molded into a human's shape with armor, wide open sleeves, dual swords, and a large pelt of fur over one broad shoulder. He faced away from her, but he was aware of her presence in the same way she knew of his.

As she drew closer, Kagome wondered if he could see even half the things that she did (if anyone could). She waited until she drew level with him to speak, standing at his left side, between the translucent foreleg and his impossibly brilliant, glittering form.

"Rin's doing better, and balking at the taste of her medicine already." Kagome said, hands clasped loosely behind her back as she faced forward. She found it was better to deal with the reflective, crystalline glare of Sesshoumaru's figure if she didn't look right at it.

Thank kami it was nothing like fire, otherwise she wouldn't be able to get within a hundred meters of him without getting a migraine.

"The poison?" Sesshoumaru replied, his tone of voice and its pitch giving her nothing. But his youki would— and to her eyes, the rolling mass remained lazy and undisturbed. A creature content with the status quo of the moment, or tolerant of it, at least.

"I couldn't identify it," she answered simply, "I just helped flush whatever it was from her system. Hopefully her body will have built up some immunity to it if she's exposed to it again."

"You said she was poisoned." He clarified.

Kagome noticed that he too did not look at her, and wondered if he still viewed all humans (save Rin), beneath his notice. Boy, he'd sure fit in swell with the crowd five hundred years from now, she thought sardonically. She had to admit the thought was more than a little petty.

"I did, but I can't think of why anyone would care to poison Rin, she's just a child," Kagome said, "Given the nature of her sickness and the particular organs affected... it all points to something she's been consistently eating or drinking." She paused to take a breath, and then stuff her hands into the front pockets of her jeans, "And from what Jaken told me about her history of illness, she's been eating something that's bad for her. Human children are very sensitive when it comes to diet."

She waited, half expecting the larger inuyokai to interrupt her with some sort of offended comment. Like how dare she imply that he, or anyone under his command, would be unable to determine what is and is not safe for a human to consume. Expected the lazy, drifting patterns of youki to flare up, to thicken from foggy, pervasive mists into the solid, shapeless walls of yesterday.

None of that happened. Sesshoumaru remained silent, his youki casually adrift, and the giant, ghostly forepaw sliding and adjusting it's stance upon the earth— as if settling in for a while. Kagome thought, that maybe Sesshoumaru had done some growing up too, and distantly, wished she'd been there to see it happen. And that maybe, just maybe, he could rub some of that off on Inuyasha. Or beat it into him. Whichever proved to be the more successful venture, honestly.

"Tell me about her diet? What are the primary staples that she's been eating and drinking for meals?" Kagome inquired, not turning to face him, but canting her head a sparse few degrees in his direction.

The absence of words was marked only by the distant notes of birdsong and the creak of trees beyond the hazy mist of demonic energy. But Kagome remained quiet, for she had learned patience over the years, and knew when someone would talk, if given enough time.

"Fish and rice at breakfast," he began without preamble, not a yokai to mince words, or waste them; "-boar, chicken, duck, venison, or steer for midday and evening meal. Liquids are water, tea, and mulled wine." Sesshoumaru finished. His voice was a bit softer than before, as if he'd taken care with his recollections and in formulating his response.

Besides the startling lack of vegetables in the girl's diet (well she had specified primary staples), and the alcohol consumption there wasn't anything that immediately jumped out at her. Tea could be varied depending on the blend and the season. But if they were from yokai vendors (did they have those?), they could have herbs or plants that were toxic for human consumption. Did they boil the drinking water that wasn't used for tea? If they simply collected it from a fresh spring, well, or rainwater... What aboutthe meat?

"How is the meat cooked and seasoned?" She asked, pushing a tangled lock of hair behind her ear. Kami, she needed a bath soon, she must look a mess.

"Over fire, boiled, and raw." A considering pause, "Rarely seasoned, with salts and other herbs humans have been known to safely consume."

"You've sometimes allowed her to consume raw meat?" Could it have been that simple?

"Humans consume raw meat, This One, has born witness to such." Sesshoumaru said. If Kagome didn't know better, she would have believed that his words were defensive. Almost.

"I think that might be the answer to Rin's problem then; children at her age can't consume raw meat without getting sick. Make sure any meat you give her is fully cooked from now on," Kagome replied with a smile, "-add in more fruits and vegetables to her diet, cut out the wine, and a few other things and she'll be her healthy, happy self." She pulled her hands together in a single, decisive clap, "I'll have Shippou write down my instructions and I'll prepare some tea and powders for you in the event Rin shows signs of this illness again. It'll save you both a world of trouble, and you won't have to deal with ignorantdoctors, either." She felt a bit of a grin creeping up along the edges of her mouth, overtaking the smile. Thankful that the reasons for Rin's mystery illness were not as sinister as she'd originally believed.

The daiyokai's head turned to regard her then, the cut of his jaw a thing of sinuous, prismatic beauty that caught and reflected ribbons of multi-hued light. His entire form brightened and grew sharp with his attention, as if he stood upon an alternate plane, separate from all else... Until a passing deity happened upon his godly figure, took a pair of scissors, cut along his outline, and then plucked his shining shaleand pasted him onto theirs. It was jarring, this level of attention placed upon her— that somehow magnified his unearthly form within her minds eye.

"You find the greatest physicians in all of Japan... to be incompetent?" He spoke, a question more than a statement, if only because the pitch varied (just enough for her mortal, human ears to pick up), at the end.

"Yes, I do. None of them know what they're doing." Kagome replied with bare-knuckled honesty. While she didn't have the accreditation in this time that was required to claim the miko or physician title in full, Kagome was centuries ahead of the game in terms of medical knowledge and in some cases, experience. Even without all of the appropriate tools and medicine from the future, she could still perform a hundred times better than anyone alive today. She'd even go so far as to put money down on her future patients (because there would be, she couldn't not help if was within her power to do so), having a higher rate of successful recovery. Something that had nothing to do with ego, and everything to do with the time and effort she'd put into her education.

"A remarkable boast, for a human." Sesshoumaru blinked. The burning gold disappearing from view behind crystal and ruby before winking back into existence once more.

"Perhaps," Kagome agreed for proprieties sake, not particularly desirous for the debate a rebuttal may incite; "But if Rin gets sick like this again, or worse... please bring her to me, directly. Don't wait or call on others to try and heal her." She refrained from saying more, of telling him that if he did, Rin's chances of survival decreased with every second of delay; she feared it would be taken as a threat, instead of a mere statement of fact. Kagome turned to face him in full, even though it hurt to bring him into such acute definition, but she needed her words to be taken seriously. To heart, even.

He tilted his head to the side a fraction, bright yellow-gold orbs studied her figure (bringing to mind her less than impeccable state of dress, kamis she probably looked frumpy), and a portion of silver-white hair slid out and over his armor, dimming the glow of it in contrast. In her periphery, giant paws moved out of sight, and a snout with gem-cut fangs, wet with molten glass moved into her line of sight. The enormous head of Sesshoumaru's inuyokai form was looking at her from up high, above his humanoid form's own body. She knew this, because she could just make out the burning red glow of the beast's eyes from within the drifting currents of amber youki. The thick clouds alternately hid and revealed different aspects of his great, canine face. It's lips were not pealed back in a snarl, it's muzzle was not wrinkled in the beginnings of a growl... and for that alone, she was grateful.

But good f*cking kami, he had grown.

"Ensure that your instructions cover small illnesses easily dealt with," Sesshoumaru spoke, "This One, will not bring Rin to you for every cough or cold." He did not explain or give reason as to why, and Kagome did not ask. Sesshoumaru was a lord, and she reasoned that as such, he would have all sorts of lordly duties to perform. It only made sense that he couldn't drop everything to take Rin halfway across Japan every time she sneezed.

"Of course," Kagome agreed easily with a single nod of her head, "It'll take half a day, a full one, at most." She said, thinking about how much she'd have to bribe and cajole Shippou into sitting still and writing in his best handwritting, or maybe she'd have to get Jaken to do it. He could write, couldn't he? "In the meantime I can make sure Rin's back at full health, and finishing all of her medicines." She added, watching as huge jaws full of lethally sharp teeth parted, and a shining, dark, rose-quartz tongue drifted out to lick at the cage of its mouth.

"Miko," Sesshoumaru said as the giant snout wrinkled and drew back, snorting at some unknown quantity in the air, "This Sesshoumaru understands you're given to... peculiarities." His words were selected with precision, but his execution seemed less. The giant muzzle lifted up, and up, until it disappeared into the amber clouds outside of her ability to perceive, "However, This One, is unaware of any custom in which one looks above, the one whom they address."

Kagome's cheeks flamed hot as she jerked her head back down to Sesshoumaru's humanoid form. She hadn't even realized!

"Right! Right." Kagome's hands fluttered uselessly in her embarrassment before she clasped them behind her back, "Sorry! You're just..." She rocked back onto her heels and tried to think of words. Any words. Good words. Words she could use. One's she could spit out. Soon, preferably.

"This One, admits to a curiosity," he spoke slow this time, gentler than before. It filled Kagome to the brim with the insatiable need to know the cause, and she desperately hoped he would continue speaking.

Abstractly, she thinks that this is perhaps the longest, most civil and uninterrupted conversation she's ever had with him. It's mystifying in a way. She was afraid to speak, to ruin this fragile phenomenon, so Kagome only nodded her head in silent encouragement.

"Why are your eyes shielded?" Sesshoumaru inquired, "A type of training?" He postulated, sounding genuinely intrigued.

One of her hands flew up to her face in automatic response, fingertips tracing the makeshift blindfold. It felt a little greasy to touch, another reminder of her growing need to bathe. Rin too. Which in turn reminded her that it was likely about time for her next dose of vitamins.

"A while back, Inuyasha and I battled a giant toad demon," Kagome said, feeling a smile on her lips and knowing it was grim, "I got hit with some of it's blood," She hooked her thumb up under the material covering her left eye and pulled it up. Allowing him to see the crude scars and the strangely opaque, ocular sightlessness. "turns out there were lasting effects."

"You are blind." He sounded stunned; having been met with an unknown quantity he had not foreseen, hadn't anticipated. In any other instance, Kagome would have prided in such a feat. But his statement felt damning, and her smile grewbrittleas she slid the cover back down.

"In the conventional way, yes." Kagome replied, brushing bits of amber youki off of her jeans, "But I can't say the tradeoff hasn't made up for it, in its own way. I see infinitely more than I was able to, before." She thought of how much closer Shippou and her had grown, and how swiftly she had begun to decipher the subtle, unspoken cues of those around her.

Sesshoumaru did not reply or ask her to elaborate. Even though Kagome could see the interest in the infinitesimal cant of his head (so much like any other curious dog she'd studied and treated at the kennels), in the way his enormous, canine snout dipped back down to ground level beneath the gold-orange clouds to regard her with wide, burning eyes. Could see the pique of his inquisitive desire in the waves of his youki as they drifted closer, like the tide coming in. In spite of all these signs, he remained silent. She had a feeling Sesshoumaru wouldn't ask her about it further, nor bring up the matter again. He was, if nothing else, a daiyokai of impeccable self-discipline.

"I've got to get back and give Rin her next round of medicine, followed by a bath, and then get started on those instructions. Have a good afternoon, Sesshoumaru-sama." Kagome spoke into the silence that was full of boundless curiosity, yet lacked the weight of demand. She gave him a perfunctory nod of her head then turned and began the walk back from whence she came.

If the time or opportunity ever presented itself... Maybe she'd bring up the topic herself, and tell him more about it, some day.


"-and lastly, ensure that Rin bathes at least once a day, twice if she's particularly wild and makes a mess." She waited several moments for the dutiful scratching of a quill to slow, "And that she washes her hands before every meal, and every time after she relieves herself. And that she cleans her teeth after each meal, and once more before bed." Kagome fell quiet as she tried to think of anything else to add, she ran a fingertip across the seem of her mouth in thought.

She'd covered basic dietary needs and requirements, and included some rough portions (such as no, do not let Rin eat an entire tray of tarts, or sweet buns, or a whole jar of honey, or a huge slab of meat bigger than her forearm, and ensure that she has at least one full scoop of fruits and vegetables per meal, and good luck getting her to eat half of them). Specified that all foods that had once been alive, needed to be fully cooked, and all plants to be consumed needed to be washed with clean (and already boiled), water. And even more on preparation, care, and the general gist of expected reactions when introducing new foods into her diet (slowly, and with care). All of which she'd brain-dumped into one scroll.

Just one.

In another, Kagome had detailed clear and to-the-point instructions on what to do and how to treat basic illnesses, irritations, and other assorted things easily treated at home. As well as the specific, corresponding signs and symptoms displayed so that the person in charge (ideally Jaken or Sesshoumaru, since she trusted both of them to believe and follow her written instructions without discounting them at face value), could make the diagnosis with as little error as possible. She also added in descriptions of the powders and teas she would be giving to them and what they were to be used for; listing what ingredients (and how much of), each one had... and in others she gave the best herbal substitutes she could name that were readily available in this time period.

On the third scroll, which was hopefully the last, Kagome had gone on to describe proper care and hygiene of a young human female. She made sure to be extra thorough in this case, because she knew that a goodly percentage of all sickness was due to all around sh*tty hygiene and the careless spread of germs and infection. It was a miracle that people even survived long enough to procreate and live on into modern times, she thought.

"Is that all, Kagome-sama?" Jaken asked, a polite croak from her left. He sat beside her, studiously bent over the final scroll. She watched his grass-green figure blow on the parchment, to help the ink dry faster. Sawthe delicate motes of his scent glitter and eddy in the air as it flowed across the faintly green-hued paper scroll.

No matter how hard she focused upon the paper, she could see no characters. Could read nothing from it beyond imprinted scent.

She was not sure how she felt about that.

Jaken had written down every word she'd spoken without complaint, for the last two days after she'd initially approached him concerning the task. Kagome had half-expected some squawking insults and mock-offense about being drafted into doing some sort of clerk duties for a disgusting human. Surprise, surprise! She'dreceived the complete opposite response. The tiny toad (or imp?), yokai had bowed low to the ground and had readily, (graciously even), acquiesced to her request. Kagome figured it had to do with Rin's continued good health, and a healthy dose of fear (and violent reprisal), from Sesshoumaru... and little else.

Except he called her Miko-sama. Well, Kagome-sama now, at least. She'd talked him down no farther than that, for all the sense she could make of it.

"No, one more," Kagome said, "Ensure that anyone who has contact with an ill person, then bathes and changes their clothes before going near Rin, or before handling her food, clothes, or anything else that comes into contact with her. It's very important that sickness does not spread."

It was perhaps one of the stranger things she'd seen, since coming back to the feudal era for good. Jaken's complete one-eighty in terms of behavior. Since they brought Rin to her a few days ago, the little yokai had been the epitome of polite respect whenever he addressed her. He was quick to carry out her every request, and freely answered any question she posed.

The absolute, damnedest thing.

"That's it, thank you for your time and patience Jaken," Kagome added, "This task would have taken much longer if I'd had to rely on Shippou to do all the writing. He still gets much too impatient at having to sit still for long periods of time."

"It was an honor, Kagome-sama." Jaken replied, turning to face Kagome as he bowed, "Many thanks for all you have done, and for the knowledge you have imparted on how best to care for the great Sesshoumaru-sama's ward."

If it were any other time, she would tell him no thanks were needed, that she would gladly offer her service to anyone in need... if she thought for one moment that he wouldn't take offense. But Kagome was not an ignorant little girl anymore and words held more weight (more meaning), today than they would five hundred years from now. So instead, she took a few seconds to think and formulate a suitable reply.

"Aid and knowledge are freely given, Jaken-san. So that Rin may continue to grow and thrive." Kagome said once she too had turned to face the small yokai, his bright green form coming into sharper focus, "You are most welcome, and I wish you and yours continued good health." She added, on impulse.

A rippling wash of white reiki flared out at her words, and struck Jaken's bowed figure the way a ponds' edge licks over smooth stones upon its bank. The pure-white energy washed over his form and blanketed his youki, sinking beneath the surface and causing the grass-green hues to flare brighter in response.

Mentally, Kagome blinked. She had not anticipated that. Nor did she know exactly what it was that she'd even done. It hadn't been the thing that she'd done to make Inuyasha obey, she knew that much. But that was the extent of her knowledge. Was it a bad thing, that pulse of reiki? Jaken did not look to be suffering any ill effects...

She bit her lip and hoped no one noticed the slip.

Jaken visibly twitched, in that absent-minded way most people do when they remember something vaguely important that they'd previously forgotten. A burst of cherry-blossom pink dust fluttered throughout his youki with the abrupt flash and flare of adolescent embarrassment. It sort of reminded her of a running stampede of teenage cheerleaders madly waving their pom-pom's about, weirdly.

He warbled something quick and unintelligible as his grass and blossom-colored figure snatched up the three scrolls, pot, quill, and ink tray— and then ran pell-mell out of the tent and into the swirling amber clouds beyond.

"Well," Kagome said, lamely, hands clasped loosely in her lap. "I hope that doesn't come back to bite me in the ass later."


The next morning, Sesshoumaru and his entourage departed, headed back to the western lands with a significantly healthier and happier Rin. Shippou was of course, sad to see his friend go so soon (she was the only one capable of giving her kit a run for his money in terms of buoyant exuberance and insane, childish stamina), and Inuyasha was glad to see his half-brother leave (of course), and Kagome...

Well, she didn't know what to feel about the odd group's departure.

Ambivalent, possibly.

She was glad that Rin had recovered and was once more perfectly healthy and happy. She was thrilled that Shippou had a good, childhood companion in Rin. Kagome was also pleased that Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha had more or less behaved, and overall given each other a wide berth (even if she'd had to keep Inuyasha needlessly busy for most of their stay).

But she wondered about Jaken and his weirdly polite and respectful attitude. Followed by the way he summarily dodged her for the rest of the evening before their departure. Then when she managed to catch glimpses of him through the storm of Sesshoumaru's abnormally abundant youki— his green figure brightened and flushed with a flurry of cherry-blossom pink. Like she'd embarrassed him in some fashion she couldn't figure out.

And then there was Sesshoumaru, and their sparse, yet pleasantly civil conversations. Followed by the obscene distance of his person (in that she couldn't catch hide nor hair of him through those obnoxiously thick clouds), following the revelation of her physical blindness. Even though she knew, knew— that he was still dreadfully curious about it. Especially when his youki ebbed and flowed ever closer to her person in spite of it's inability to coat her figure. Kagome believes that the pair of them might have had a decently civil and perfectly genial, adult conversation, if only the mighty (read, insufferable), daiyokai had allowed it.

Kagome missed adult conversations.

It'd been such a long time since she'd had one.

Another part of her couldn't help but be glad when he left, though. Because his departure meant that his mobile, rolling mass of youki storm clouds went with him. It was not as if he'd rendered her entirely blind, but it had been a near thing. And to be perfectly frank, it had begun to make her feel claustrophobic. It had startedto remind her of the time before. When her world was black and everything was an echo of chaotic unpredictability and abrasive sound.

While color had been abundant (even in it's sameness), Kagome did not want to be reminded of that dark blemish. Of those hellish, sight-less months.

Although even with his departure, it had taken a good four hours (at least), before Sesshoumaru's amber youki cleared the village, her hilltop, and Inuyasha's forest in its entirety. Leaving behind only the faint, glittering traces of Sesshoumaru's scent upon everything, like a dog that had marked its territory.

Which would explain Inuyasha's current, long-lasting sulk. His form was brighter and more jagged, and his head jerked like a track being skipped. This was often accompanied by him sniffing the air and loudly proclaiming that everything stank to high heaven.

She'd told him that if that was the case, then perhaps he should take another bath and get rid of the smell. He naturally, had not approved, and flounced off after calling her a few names unfit for public ears (under his breath, he had learned, albeit minutely not to insult her within her hearing), and she, most graciously refrained from sitting him. Because she had heard those names as clearly as if he'd whispered them directly into her ear.

But at the moment, Kagome was more interested in the puzzle of Shippou's speeding form as he dashed up the hill towards her little camp, than her sudden bout of heightened hearing.

"What's got you in such a hurry, my little fox?" Kagome spoke as she tugged her hood up and shifted her weight from one booted foot to the other. It seems when Sesshoumaru's entourage left, the first bout of snow had come in. Fantastic.

"Mama! Mama!" Shippou gasped as he crested the hill, and summarily launched himself up and into her arms.

Kagome was unsure if she'd get fox or boy in this impromptu air missile, so kept her arms open a little wider to compensate for either bundle. This double vision thing was a bit challenging, at times. But if Shippou got another growth spurt in her lifetime, then perhaps his demon form would get larger, and easier to distinguish as it had been with Sesshoumaru.

A girl could hope.

"What is it? Oh you're so cold!" She replied, wrinkling her nose as she cuddled her son closer. His hands and dainty paws were like ice even though the rest of him ran so hot!

"Mama, Kaede 'baa-san is missing!" He replied, breathless as his hands pressed to her cheeks, "Everyone said she hasn't been seen since early this morning! Before Rin-chan and the others left!"


The helpless smile slipped from her face as Shippou's words registered.


Oh no...

Chapter 10: Like one of those mermaid pillows, with the sequins

Notes:

I do apologize for the delay, it's reaching near the end of my deployment so scheduling has been a little... lackluster, when it comes to my having time to write. There may be some exposition to answer dimes'worth of questions in later chapters, presuming certain, height-challenged flea demons make an appearance or two. We'll see. Other than that, I do not do requests, it's not really my area.

Happy reading. <3

Chapter Text

"Kaede-san! It's me, Kagome! Can you hear me?" She called out, one voice among half a dozen. All calling out to the same woman in different directions and in variations, hoping she could be found.

They were well and truly into the winter season, so precious few had dared to travel out of their huts for fear of the harsh chill, and potential sickness that such weather could bring. Those that did were the stronger, older men of the village. But even they had ulterior motives, to check snares and hunt for stray animals while looking for the older miko.

"Kaede-baa-san!" Shippou called, some fifty paces off to her right. His bright form hopping and plodding through blankets and drifts of soft, baby blue snow.

Kagome thought it miserly of them, when Kaede had given so much of herself to these people; from blessings to healing, as well as sage advice while warding off all manner of yokai that coldhave destroyed them, in years past. But at the same time she couldn't rightly fault them for it. She understood that they lived in harsh times, and that something as simple as the weather could bring unexpected death. The people Kaede had looked after for the entirety of her life (if only because she had the mixed fortune of being born with miko powers), were not strong. Not like the way Kaede, Sango, Mirkou, or Kagome, herself were. The villagers bordering Inuyasha's forest needed protection, she understood this.

"I'll check further ahead, up north. Might be able to smell something." Inuyasha grunted, harsh silver and clashing red flaring bright as he cut through the downy blue in a few leaps. He faded from the edge of her sight in a matter of moments.

But it didn't stop Kagome from thinking that it was downright sh*tty of them to leave the older woman to her own devices in the middle of winter— all because Kaede had become less and less useful to them. It had not passed her notice, that people sought Kaede's help with less frequency in the past few weeks (likely even further back, but that period of time was fraught with gaps and... inconsistency). She had seen from her spot on the hill, how they'd sent messengers out in all directions, had heard the gossip behind closed doors. Kagome knew that those who fashioned themselves the village leaders, had sent out requests for a new miko. Nothing had been said outright, but they knew that Kaede-san was old, and showing signs of a deteriorated mind and fumbled skills.

Kagome grit her teeth and pulled her coat tighter around her slender body. When she stopped her aimless walk, she adjusted the straps on her backpack (the smaller one that carried basic medical supplies and her scalpels. She felt compelled to carry them on her person as of late). She inhaled, and exhaled— pushing her senses out in the same manner she'd done when searching for Shippou. Something like echolocation, but not quite a bat. Didn't have the wings. Or cute hair, like Shiori did.

"Stop being silly." She mumbled, teeth chattering. Kagome pulled the hood up on her coat and puffed warm air into her cupped hands.

They hadn't asked her.

She felt something on the fringes of her senses. Kagome decided to follow it, hoping for the best. The snow was beautiful, but it blanketed everything in a bright, powder-blue that glittered white. Almost like actual snow, but it was translucent, and made everything in her minds-eye seem muffled, as if some entity had decreed it to be too loud, and turned the volume down. She could look at the village without flinching now (couldn't go near it, though), for all the good it was. Fire was still too bright, and the several meters of fresh snow made tracking rather difficult. It made youki trails faint, and scent trails near impossible to discern amidst the glittering snowscape.

"Scent anything Shippou?" Kagome called out, "I can't see much of a trail, so we're relying mostly on your nose... so don't let it freeze off, okay?" She warned, trying to keep things light.

The village that she'd always come back to, during her travels while shard-hunting. The people that she'd helped with her modern medicines and knowledge of the future... the children she had given sweets to and taught them silly games. The same ones who looked upon Inuyasha with respect and a measure of fond pride; that had once treated Kaede with esteem and reverence.

They had not asked her, to be their miko.

"No Mama, but... maybe up ahead? I'm not sure. I smell something different from all the snow, but it's hard to tell." Shippou replied with a wet sniffle. He trotted closer, coming up along her side. He clutched at her long skirts (she'd worn two of them, layered over tights, leggings, and her baggiest pair of jeans), with one hand as he kept pace with her. Twin tails wagging casually as the shadow of his fox-form took awkward steps across the snow, paws alternately staying atop the layer of blue-white, and sinking deep beneath.

No one from the village had been sent to speak with her. Kagome had always been the odd duck amongst her friends, and the odd one out when meeting those born of the feudal era... But even she knew the lack of query was a bad sign. She had withdrawn from the village because her new form of sight had made it impossible to be near it during sun-up. And while she'd been distracted with her own problems and looking after her son, the people of Kaede's village had done the same.

"I felt something that way too, let's go check it out, yeah?" Kagome said, bending down enough to curl glowing white fingers through the blaze of fur-soft fringe. She trailed her fingers back through the unruly mane until they brushed the faux-fur collar of his coat's hood. Kagome tugged it up and over in a single, fluid motion.

"Hey!" Shippou squeaked, all mock outrage and pout.

"Hey yourself, kit," Kagome grinned, patting the top of the poly-blend hood, "Big tough yokai or not, I don't want you to catch cold."

Shippou chuffed in reply.

Kagome was all smiles for the small victory as the unlikely pair headed on into the woods, their steps taking them closer to the 'something'. And for the time being, she set aside her worries and concerns for things outside of her control. They needed to find Kaede before sunset, before the temperature dropped dangerously low. She shouldn't have ignored Kaede's condition, just as she should not have assumed that the towns' people would care for the ailing woman.

She worried her lip as the two of them plodded on through the snow.

"Mama, you think Kaede baa-san will be alright?" Shippou asked. His foot sunk into a particularly deep patch of snow, he clutched at her skirts, tugging them down a few inches as he pulled himself out and righted his steps. He angled his head down now, watching his footing more carefully while the ghostly, pointed snout of his fox form snuffled through snow drifts.

Kagome pulled her skirts back up while she considered her next words carefully. In her studies, she had learned that foxes had a more superior sense of smell than the majority ofcanines. A fact that most people and yokai, were either unaware of, or was something they often overlooked. When she first stumbled across that fact in her books, Kagome found it to make a curious bit of sense. For Shippou had always been the one to point out subtle (or shyly hidden), connections between individuals with startling accuracy. Whether it was Inuyasha's obsessive devotion towards Kikyo's revived clay form, or Sango's growing affection for Miroku... Shippou had always been on point.

He was able to scent things that most creatures could not readily discern. Now, Kagome didn't know how far along his parents had been in their scent-teachings, before their unfortunate demise— but she had to guess he had learned a little. Enough to survive.

"Shippou, what have you been smelling," Kagome began, her words measured, "When you were around Kaede-san, before she went missing?"

She could feel his confusion at the seemingly out of place question put to his own inquiry. Kagome wondered if he would ask, or simply answer, trusting in where the conversation would lead.

"She smells like, like wilted flowers," he replied, sounding so terribly young to her ears, "Like she's sometimes there, and mostly not. Even when she's just sitting right by the fire! And..." he trails off, tiny fingers curling into the fabric of her skirts and tearing them with his claws. Shippou didn't notice, and Kagome didn't mind.

He wasn't finished, so she waited.

"And she smells like Rin did, but worse." the tears were thick and cloying in his throat, "Smells like it won't get better."

Kagome bent down and scooped Shippou up into the cradle of her arms when he stopped, shoulders hunched and the tiny fox kit had pulled his snout from the snow to curl up and tremble with repressed sorrow. She cupped the back of his head through the plush material of his hood, holding him close.

"You've got a very sharp nose, little kit," Kagome praised. The words were soft-spoken in her pride, mixed as it was with heartbreak, "Kaede-san is old, and you are right, she will not get better." She paused, squeezing him tight against her chest as she pressed her cheek to the faux-furred trim of his hood, "She is human, and humans eventually grow old and their bodies give out, allowing their souls to be free to move onto the next life. Kaede's body has started to do this, so we need to find her and take her safely back home so that she is surrounded by those who love and care for her. So that when her body dies, and her soul leaves, she will not worry about those she leaves behind."

Shippou said nothing in reply, but she felt the hot slide of his tears as they soaked through the layers of her many shirts as he shook from the force of his emotions. Kagome only hugged him tighter, and wished that she had not needed to try and explain death to a child, no matter that he had already been painfully acquainted with it.

Shippou stared out ahead of them, from within the circle of her arms and displayingall the solemnity of a child that had resurfaced from a rough bout of tears. His cheeks were stiff from tears that had long since dried, leaving behind only the occasional sniffle. They had walked (well, she had done the walking, that is), for a good while in silence after their weighty conversation, and the walk had taken them significantly closer to the 'something' that both of them had sensed and scented, respectively.

It was now within the circle of her vision (and sometimes Kagome swore it was just like one of those monitors that you saw in those old military movies on submarines— where it showed a big circle with all these shapes on it after the line had swept over it. Only with more color and a hell of a lot more definition), and she now knew that what they had found was not Kaede. She was almost tempted to turn away from it, and search anew, because Kaede needed to be found, and soon. And yet, she kept moving forward. She placed more of her attention (and thereby her focus), upon the single yokai that remained fixed in place.

Since The Incident, Kagome had not traveled far from the village, or gone too far beyond Inuyasha's Forest; which meant she had not encountered many wild yokai. But before, when she had perfectly functioning eyes, Kagome had seen enough lesser and humanoid yokai flee from those perceived to be a stronger threat. She had often seen them flee, specifically, from those gifted with holy power.

This one did not. And this alone made her curious, but there was something else, something muddied in their aura, a blurred, fracture so strong and filled with such... pain. So much so that Kagome felt the pin-prickle of tears at the backs of her eyes. This yokai hurt, and she didn't know why. Kagome couldn't ignore it, couldn't let it alone— so she pressed on.

So when they broke through a thicket of trees and shrubs to the small patch of blue-brown clearing, Kagome stopped. She watched and waited as Shippou slipped from between her limp arms.

The ground was a collusion of glittered scents and sultry trails of youki, and the thick pillows of snow were minimal, unable to settle and layer the ground between the dense roof of intermingled branches. But even with the glitter and sparkle, the floor was dark brown and swirled with a dulled blue. Mud, she guessed. In that, she caught lines of liquid ruby that bled out from between taught eddies of black-brown twine that had twisted itself around the legs of a rabbit yokai.

A small one, scarcely bigger than Shippou.

She was a lesser yokai, yet still had a somewhat humanoid shape— but no second form. This tiny thing bore only the one body, and no other. A slender athlete's build that suited her type, with strong rabbit's hind legs corded with muscle, a petite body, a fluff of a tail, long ears, and an anthropomorphic face that was more rabbit than human in proportion. Kagome saw these distinctions with such clarity because the tiny yokai had the whole of her attentions, and because their species on the whole burned brighter. So while one part of her took in the small body, the other part of her saw the lines of mutely glowing ruby— blood, a stray thought whispered. She saw the huge, burning brown orbs that all-but usurped the rabbit's face. Saw the slump of her ears, and the diluted, dying glow of her clear-water blue youki that attempted to stave off the sluggish flow of blood and heal the wounds caused by a hunter's snare.

Throughout her assessment, the yokai had not moved, had remained motionless as she sat in the mud, legs caught up.

"Just..." Kagome started, not knowing what to say, "Stay still, I'll get you out of there."

Before Kagome could take a single step, the rabbit jerked violently, head swiveling between where she and Shippou stood, a little apart from one another.

"No!" She shrieked, voice cracked with grief as she shouted at them, forearms splattered with brown-blue mud; "No!! Let me die!"

Shippou turned to her, confused and still full of his own hurts as he faced new ones. Kagome took a few steps forward, wondered if being caught in a snare induced temporary insanity in all yokai. Internally she winced, the supposition was an unfair one.

"Let the fox eat me! Or purify me!" The rabbit went on, desperation a thing given feralform as she pled her case; "Don't help unless it's to my end! I deserve no better! I am without worth— Worthless!" She raged, the fire of her youki flashing bright from her passionate despair.

Caught in the rictus of a snare, bleeding ruby, and covered in the glittering of earth brown and the dark blue of fresh mud— Kagome was transfixed at the otherworldly picture the rabbit had made in her torment. Which only served to animate her steps, until she fell to her knees in the mud, an arms reach from the painfully beautiful yokai.

"Shippou, work on untying the snare while I talk with...?" Kagome instructed her kit while ending her words in a pointed question. The weeping rabbit would get her help, just not the kind she wanted.

The rabbit yokai in question wailed in reply and thrashed, attempting to kick out at and deter Shippou from getting close.

"Stop that!" Kagome snapped, voice sharp.

When the yokai showed no signs of listening, nor any of coherent reason— Kagome summoned upthat feeling. The one she drew upon when she'd gotten Inuyasha to do as she'd said, to avoid unnecessary bloodshed between siblings. That sensation of need, of obedience; as if naught all else mattered besides the absolute compliance of the one before her. She grabbed onto that feeling and foisted it out, out, and out... until a burst of white flew across the mud from where she sat and struck the clear-water blue of the yokai with all the force of a slap to the cheek.

"I said stop that! You're hurting yourself." Kagome commanded in one breath and explaining reasonably in the next.

The rabbit rocked back from the sheer power of the unseen blow and fell still; her figure disrupted by the hard shaking that had taken up residence in place of herprior upset.

"Now, tell me your name, please." Kagome said peaceably once she felt the small yokai had calmed enough, "And explain to me why you think it's good idea to kill yourself." She could not have stopped the edge of anger if she'd actually tried. Suicide, was not okay, not here, and especially not like this.

"It's- m-my name is Ai." She spoke up, voice broken and rough from her cries, "I c-cannot bare kits, I must sacrifice myself so that my- so that Hiei,can receive my last blessing and find a mate who can." She replied, her words gaining passion as she detailed the logic of her reasoning; "Don't you see? With my death, I can give him my blessing so that he will find a mate to continue his line! We are nothing if we cannot bring new life to the land."

While Kagome was trying to parse the convoluted logic of a distressed rabbit, peripherally, she noticed that Shippou's hands had slowed their work, and altogether stopped when Ai had finished her impassioned speech. She saw Ai's burning brown orbs meet across the divide with Shippou's green, and share a look that she did not understand. So, where Kagome would have gone on to give a heartfelt speech about how this small, beautiful rabbit was worth more than the children she could or could not bring into the world... she waited.

"Mama... Ai-san," Shippou said, breaking the silence. He did not look at her, because those burning emeralds were facing the floor, staring at the coils of twine he held clenched in his hands. The translucent fox nosed at them distractedly, alternately eyeing the rabbit and Kagome, herself.

"It's okay, tell me." She murmured, trying to comfort even if she didn't yet understand.

"She's right." He spoke, a punched out word. She could see the fluctuations in his fire, in the fox and the boy as he struggled with indecision. Of how much to tell, how far he could go.

Once more, Kagome waited, feeling the breadth of silence and promise it held, if she was patient.

Her son looked from the rabbit to her, and back again. Ai, in her desolation, nodded encouragingly— as if granting permission. To her eyes, Kagome began to wonder about Shippou, and what it meant to be a yokai... and the secrets they kept. Kami, please, just this once, let Shippou have enough faith and trust in her to explain. Because she didn't think that she could just walk away from Ai, to let her die for something beyond her control.

Shippou gulped loudly, and stood up straight, hands clasped tightly around the twine he still held.

"Mama, if yokai can't... can't make kits," he paused, trying to find words that Kagome could understand, "Then they're no good, they're not strong enough. They can't give back, and they go mad. But if... if they die before they go crazy, then their youki can be gifted to another so that they can find a mate that will give them kits."

"But Shippou, that's-"

"No Mama," Shippou interrupted her, twin emerald fires hard and unyielding in spite of his youth, "Yokai aren't like humans." The burn lessened and grew soft as he tried again, to make her understand; "If a yokai can't make new life, if they can't give back and pass on their gifts, then the land won't thrive. It'll cut itself from those yokai, driving them mad." Shippou took a breath then, and when he spoke next, it was through fresh tears; "If Ai-san can't have kits, she must die before she goes mad, Mama."

"No." Kagome said, voice ringing hollow. Wetness upon her cheeks, a frosty sting from her blindfold, having grown damp with tears during this horrible speech.

Shippou and Ai looked from one another, to her and back again, their expressions mirrored in pain, in anguish. Shippou cracked the auburnfires of his face to speak, to try again. Kagome didn't let him.

"No. You know what? No. This is... This is beyond— Just, no." Kagome babbled, scrabbling with words and the force of her conviction. She knew that there was honest truth to their words, and that there was a heavy, hidden secret about yokai as a whole, that had just been brutally unveiled and explained by a child no older than seven (mentally, if not physically)... but it was something she'd do everything in her power to fight, to fix.

Kagome drew herself up until she was sitting with precise, straight-backed posture reserved for situations requiring utmost formality and the gravest measure of solemnity. With the slightest inclination of her head, she cut her attention to Shippou;

"Shippou, what is it, that I do?" She demanded, hands poised demurely in her lap while her spine felt a thing of steel and unbreakable determination.

Shippou startledback, as if she'd doused him with a sharp wave of her reiki. But he was her son, and she knew that he would not fail her in this.

"Y-You help and heal anyone who needs it." he replied, sounding small and desolate, then abruptly fierce.

"Exactly." She returned, then affixed her attention to the shaking rabbit yokai before her; "I help and I heal, which is precisely what I will do, Ai. You need to get pregnant, and have kits? Fine. I'll make sure you're fat with a bakers dozen and complaining about swollen ankles and a sore back before summer." Her aura flared out, near blinding to her sight as her power matched the hard, underlying oath woven withinher words.

Ai collapsed into the mud then, a veritable mess of tortured beauty at her knees. A riot of effusive, messy tears, a flicker of burgeoning hope, and a near endless stream of gratitude. Kagome took in none of it, her brain was too busy trying to figure out a way to make her words come true. By hook or by crook, she was determined to follow through, because the alternative was unacceptable.

"Shippou, help Ai get free of the snare," Kagome said, thoughts racing, "Once done, Ai will take us to her home, where she will then get cleaned up. After that, I will need to check both Ai and Hiei over to determine the diagnosis, and go about fixing it."

"Yes Mama." Shippou replied, quick to comply, his auburn fire lighter now, unburdened for the moment, "Hold still Ai-san."

Once freed, Kagome eased forward and helped Ai to her feet, ghosting white fingertips down the ruby abrasions littering the small yokai's legs. She watched as the white-pink of her reiki bled from her hands and seeped into the cuts, pleased when the clear blue of Ai's youki brightened and burned, consuming Kagome's energies like wood tossed into a fire.

"Lead on, Ai." Kagome nodded, climbing to shaky feet. She flexed her thighs and calves to get the blood flowing once more as Kagome started to walk. Perhaps her priorities were skewed, but Kagome knew she could help Ai.

Just as she knew that she couldn't help Kaede.


"Ai! Ai, where did you go? I was so worried and-" a male rabbit cried, his spring-green youki roiling in turbulent waters as he broke himself off to leap forward and pull Ai into his arms.

Ai in turn, was mute to his stream of words, but her watery blue figure was bright, fluctuating between bittersweet pleasure and tentative hope. The reunion cut short when the male rabbit (must be Hiei), noticed Kagome and Shippou, a few feet away. He was quick to shove Ai behind him, as if goading her to run while he remained behind to deal with the threat.

"Who are you? Be gone, or else!" Hiei snarled. His ears were perked straight up as he puffed his chest out and thumped one foot down on the ground in warning. She noticed the thump sent a ripple of green glitter out, scent dispersal, of a kind.

Kagome couldn't help but notice that these rabbit yokai were quite small, but still. Hiei used every bit of himself to be as large and threatening as possible.

"I am Kagome, this is my son, Shippou." Kagome replied, leaving off the miko title since she wasn't technically a real one... at least by human standards.

Shippou ducked behind the flare of her skirts at his introduction, she thought it a little odd that a kitsune would be shy around a pair of rabbits.

"And I won't leave," She said in the face of Hiei's warning, "I'm here to help Ai."

Hiei's long, long ears flickered, the green of them growing bright, then dim until one of them flopped to half-mast. His figure sunk back a little, no longer stretched to the fullest of his possible height.

"She's going to help, Hiei, come." Ai spoke from behind, the blue of her paw-like hand clasping onto the green of his shoulder, a blur of sea-grass and sky, "Come." She said, pulling him back.

The green wavered and gave way, Hiei turned to Ai and followed her towards their snow-covered den that shimmered with their mixed scents and youki. It looked a lot like the scales of a mermaid, or at least what Kagome thought they would look like— a shimmery blur of blue and green.

"Come in, Kagome-sama," Ai spoke softly, "The shared room in the den is large enough for you." She disappeared down the rabbit hole then, leaving Hiei to trail awkwardly after, caught in wary indecision. A warmth of pastel green firmed along the edges of where Kagome knew his jaw to be, she saw him nod once to her (or himself), before turning tail and following Ai.

Kagome looked to Shippou and then the burrowed hole in the small hill that rested along the border of a copse of fresh trees and supported by a fringe of canvassing thicket that sparkled with a blanket of ghostly blue and white snow.

"Well, my skirts are already muddied." Kagome shrugged, hiking them up as she stepped forward and crouched down, proceeding to crawl through the tight opening, Shippou trailing cautiously behind.

Kagome had to agree, Ai had been right when she'd said that Kagome would be able to fit in the living room, or 'shared room' as she'd called it. She could stand in the middle, and not have to worry about scraping her head, and walk a handful of paces in any direction before it would. But overall it was a bit cramped, or would be if another average-sized person were in here with her. She thought maybe this room had such a high ceiling to keep it cool in the summer months, but wasn't sure if it worked in reverse during the winter ones.

The walls and ceiling glowed with the traces of Ai and Hiei's combined energies and scents, painting a beautiful, near-oceanic mural from floor to ceiling. It bordered on a starscape if she tilted her head one way, then looked more like the gentle waves of a playful ocean if she turned another.

Careful of the odd collection of dimly-illuminated furniture (to her eyes and hands, it felt hand-made and quite worn), Kagome had maneuvered herself into a spot that had her back to a wall. The position allowed for all three of the passageways to be in the fore of her vision while simultaneously providing her with enough space to work with whatever she might be facing.

Shippou sat in one of the hand-carved chairs off to her left, with her bag open and ready at his fox-feet.

They did not have to wait long before Ai and Hiei returned, paw-shaped hands clasped as they stood before her, freshly cleaned and trembling with murky fear and fever-bright hope.

She was more familiar with Ai and her mindset, than Hiei's, so she turned to her first.

"Please step forward Ai, I need to have a clear look." Kagome said, indicating for the female rabbit to step closer, within an arms length from where Kagome knelt on the warm, earthen floor, "How long have you been trying to get pregnant? Do you... ovulate? Bleed every so often, from your woman's place?" She scraped for words and terms that the yokai might know, suddenly unsure.

"Decades." She whispered, stepping closer to Kagome, and making a motion. As if she were stepping out of clothes, or pants. Very faintly, she could see a dull outline of some garment, not man-made, but not quite yokai, either. Her youki brightened more when the peculiar cloth was removed and dropped to the floor. "I've... bled from, from there, a few days every pawful of years."

"May I touch you? I'll need to be thorough." Kagome asked, thoughts racing through every scrap of knowledge she had about reproduction, female organs, cycles, and rabbits. Already she knew something was off, rabbits bred like... rabbits. Which meant a lot, more than was— wise? Kagome didn't know how to finish the thought, but the fact that Ai only menstruated once every what... five years? If that, Ai hadn't sounded too sure in her answer, so chances were that sometimes she didn't get a period at all. That alone was mystifying; Ai should be up to her eyeballs in baby bunnies by now.

"Y-Yes." Ai said, "Yes to anything that will help." Her words were strong with conviction despite the lack of breath behind them, as if the weight of her hopes had robbed the wind from her lungs.

Kagome nodded, saying nothing as she raised both hands, palms out. She placed them gently upon Ai's stomach (it was like Shippou's fur, baby-soft and invitingly pleasant to touch), then spread them apart the way a scholar would unfurl a scroll across the table. The action sent a wash of white reiki across the watery-blue of Ai's belly, making it flare eggshell-blue, then dim and clear away; like parting seas or altering solid color to a paper-thin sheen with which to gaze beyond.

While similar, this was not the same as when she checked Shippou's yokai form for internal bleeding, or peered through Rin's flesh to check the state of her insides. Ai was not in immediate danger the way the children had been, Kagome had to try harder to see beyond the small rabbit yokai's essence. She had to convince herself of the danger, to force the absolute 'do or die' need— because even if Ai would not die this very minute, or even in the next day, Kagome knew that if she did not succeed, or find a problem and fix it within Ai or Hiei... the tiny rabbit would sacrifice herself.

Would die.

It hurt. Like the onset of a migraine from light exposure. Or the start of period cramps (only in her brain, instead of that spot below her belly and above her mons pubis where it would burn itself through the back of her spine like lava). Kagome trapped a bit of flesh between her clenched jaws and and felt the sharp burn as warm copper flooded her mouth. She did her best to use the physical pain to negate the other she felt growing in her mind— a sensible correlation, even if a grossly inaccurate one. It left her with dual sensations as opposed to a singular neutralized numbness. Her reiki may have 'parted the veil', but Kagome was still trying to see and make sense of beyond it— to see inside of Ai.

Why was this so much harder than when she'd peered into Shippou? Or Rin? Was this an ability she would have to actively work on, as she had with purification arrows? Or was it harder to see into others because she didn't know them? Or did certain, dire needs have to be met to use in-depth abilities of perception? Could it be that pain was the measure of payment required in exchange for the gifts? Wasn't there often more than just the one way, to skin the proverbial cat? Kami, why did she have more questions and even fewer answers the more she explored this new sense of sight?

"Mama?" Shippou spoke up, a soft, hesitant question from where he sat.

He must have scented the blood.

Kagome hummed noncommittal in reply, her attention on the subject between her spread palms of white.

"Oh." She whispered, passingly amazed. Kagome inhaled and hummed again, but slower this time, drawing the singular note out for as long as she could before another breath was needed.

Something about the vibrations, or the pitch combined with the breadth of her upheld palms— allowed a startling measure of clarity. As if Kagome held a living x-ray within her hands that allowed her to see more than just the skeletal structure of the subject she held it against. However, the singular hum proved to be a distraction to maintain with any consistency; so Kagome picked out a random song from the back of her mind and hummed it's tune, and was grateful to find that the result was the same. One of those ridiculous American pop songs. A lot of those cluttered up the far corners of her mind... Strangely, the pain had begun to ease (but the wound in her mouth still throbbed, an angry reminder), finally— she'd figured something out, sans having to go through a monumental meltdown first.


Focus.


You're all over the place—


Ka.


Go.


Me.


Kagome hummed the crooning-style song again, absorbing what she was seeing and filtering through the medical knowledge she had rattling all throughout her head. She dismissed the sight of musculature, nerves, veins, tendons, and bone. Kagome ignored the diminutive digestive system and the majority of Ai's internal organs— she wanted the full extent of her knife-edged focus upon the yokai's reproductive system, everything else was just background noise for the moment.

Like a hologram, a three-dimensional display of a human female's reproductive system. What she had to presume, it was. Kagome could see the rough similarities— the uterus, womb, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.

"f*ck." Kagome breathed, shattering her concentration. Grainy white noise broke across the subject of her focus, as if she dialed in the wrong channel.

"What's wrong? What do you see?" Hiei demanded, a blur of angry, worried green in her peripheral. Distraction she didn't pay any mind to.

"Just a moment, I need to..." Kagome stalled, fading off into a more vibrant, buoyant song to hum. It brought Ai's internal organs into abrupt definition, strong and bold as she analyzed the specifics of what she was seeing. She took several moments, confirming the evidence before slowly withdrawing her hands and laying them, one atop the other, in her lap. Kagome wasn't sure where to start.

It was little wonder that Ai had been unable to conceive.

"Shippou? When I..." Kagome started, words trailing away as different tracts of thought raced through her mind. Each section competing for space at the forefront of her attentions as well as the tip of her tongue. "When you were in your fox-form," she paused again, head tipping to the side as she took in her immediate surroundings and the array of colors. Her brain tangling and tripping itself over the quandary of Ai's reproductive organs.

The start of the vagin* and cervix, led to a perfectly normal and healthy uterus.

The lining.

The fallopian tubes curving gracefully to clasp ovaries...

It ended in deformity.

"Hiei, I need to look at you, now." Kagome said, bidding the taller rabbit to step forward. She noticed Ai had drifted off to the side, the sparkle of her blue, bunny-child shape stepping away, nearly beside the burning fire of Shippou's dual forms. Twin tails flickered behind, a lasting after-image of motion.

Ovaries were small, smaller than they should have been. One shriveled and dim, the other black and without life.

Kagome didn't ask Hiei anything when he stepped forward, performing the same motion's as Ai— discarding some sort of garment before he stood tall and proud before her. She could see the tremble along the length of his youki, his fear. The anxiety and edge of grief threatening to consume while nipping at his heels. She raised her hands and spread them in the same manner (doctor's hands lightly brushing against the mound of fur that concealed male genitalia), as she hummed another tune. Another foreigner's song, popular even across the seas. Or perhaps Kagome herself had just developed a taste for the crass, blunt manner of lyrical stylings that the Americans were so well known for. She did not study Hiei as long as she had Ai, at this point, Kagome understood what she was seeing and was thinking six steps ahead.

"Shippou, when I—" pulled you from the snare and healed your wounds. She didn't finish the line of unsaid question, having recalled the answer. Shippou had been unconscious when she had thoughtlessly healed the cuts and abrasions from the hunter's trap. He wouldn't know the specifics, never mind be able to recall it.

She'd done similar for Ai, earlier. Hadn't she? No, the wounds hadn't healed, not fully. Somehow, she'd encouraged the rabbit's own youki to strengthen. Encouraged it to heal where she had indicated with... reiki? The pink had been missing, that first time, but not the second time, with Ai. Right?

What did that mean?


Focus.


Male reproductive organs, objectively functional. Slight distortions and disfigurement that indicate difficulty achieving full and complete functionality. Testis in similar state as the ovaries, both nearly black. Nearly dead.

"Yes Mama?" Shippou replied, tiny claws of auburn flame digging into the blue-green glitter-dusted chair he perched upon. His voice came from far away, was he hesitant to interrupt her thought process, in spite of her half-inquiries?

He was such a polite kit, Kagome loved him for it.

How to go about this? What was the best way? Should she be concerned for transmitted disease between species? Was it even a concern at this point?

Modesty?

Pointless.

Would it even work, this half-formed thought, and half-baked idea?


Yes.


A soul-deep, further than bones, thicker than blood... unyielding surety.

It would work.


Something.


"Hand me the leather case, the one at the bottom of my bag." Kagome heard herself say. Heard the shifting noises of her kit rifling through the backpack, the scrape of claws on leather.

Why did she feel this way? Was it from the humming and use of a strange ability outside of a stressful situation?

"Hiei, I'll need to make a small cut, here." She gestured with one brilliantly glowing hand, the white so pure, the pink so soft that her silhouette blurred fuzzy around the edges. She knew without fully comprehending that he understood where she intended to cut. Below the mound containing his length, above the heavy weight of his sac. The skin, the fur, the ideal space between.

Kagome wanted to take several long, slow blinks. But her eyes (and eye lids), did not work, did not function as they once did. She couldn't do what she wanted, and could not figure out why she felt this, peculiar...

"Ai, I will not have to cut you, but I will need to touch, inside." Kagome spoke, dreamlike. Was she dreaming, at this point? She couldn't be sure.

This lazy, consulate sense— the discordance of thought and intimately lethargic feeling.

"Hand me smallest blade in the case, Shippou," she said, "Careful, they're very sharp." Kagome felt light, bubbly. Was this what being drunk felt like? She had not felt the creeping sensation, or even the abrupt departure of rationality. Only a slow, slow build of incoherent coherency within her minds' eye.

"Here, Mama." Shippou whispered from her side, sounding ever-so-close, yet not daring to touch, not daring to speak louder than a moth's wing, threading in the dark.

"Thank you, Shippou." Kagome smiled, feeling exultant. So clearly, abruptly happy. This would work, she just knew that it would and that soon the couple before her would be happily bickering beneath a mound of kits, about whose turn it was to go deal with the latest fallout of teen-aged drama with their eldest offspring; concerning boys, fur-pulling, or pilfered clothes.

"Come closer, both of you," paws, not hands, paaaaws. Internally, Kagome giggled helplessly, "clasp paws. Hold still. Hiei, you'll feel a small amount of pain; that'll be from the incision I'll make. You'll both feel a little strange, probably overly warm." Something sharp and insistent gave a twinge across her temples.

"Whatever it is, even if it hurts, don't fight it. Alright? It won't take if there is resistance." Kagome added, tasting the rightness of her words. She watched the blue and green bunny-child shapes as they drew closer, paws clasped. They shimmered so brightly, their hues frothing in near tandem. It was like looking at one of those pillows, the ones with all the sequins that changed colors when you ran your fingers through it one way, and then another.

Kami it was beautiful.

"We're ready." Hiei spoke up, the brave leader in their matched set.

"I— We'll, gladly suffer a thousand cuts, if it means..." Ai said, speaking through her wash of jumbled emotion.

The fear tasted bitter on her tongue, but hope. Their combined hope, a rich bite of warm, honeyed apple that slid full and heated down her throat, sitting heavy in her stomach and radiating warmth all throughout.

With a steady hand, Kagome used nimble fingers to part fur just beneath Hiei's pubic mound, and brought the scalpel forward with the opposite hand. She did not spare a breath to warn or announce her intentions, no, Kagome took the shining, reflective blade of molten silver and slid it (quick and neat), across the small section. Parting the roiling sea of green smoother than a knife through warmed butter.

Hiei inhaled sharply, startled by the swift motion of her hand, more than the bite of the blade.

Scalpels made smooth, near-painless cuts when applied. The heat of a burn came after.

Kagome thinks she might have laughed, or smiled. It was hard to tell, distracted as she was by the white of her hand blocking out the sunny green of Hiei's youki. Like the opposite of an eclipse, with a brighter light usurping a dimmer one.

The incision was small, a minuscule line of ruby all-but lost amidst the sea of green.

She withdrew her hands from Hiei, twirling the liquid silver between deft fingers and drawing it's glistening edge of ruby and emerald across the pad of a fingertip. The hot burn of a fresh wound took three full breaths to register along her nerves. It took another two for the puff of chemical endorphins to filter through her bloodstream, dulling the pain to a manageable, warm ache. Where had that been when she'd bit her cheek near-through, earlier?

The pain in her mouth from the torn flesh of her cheek no longer hurt now, or felt raw.

Kagome expected to see rubies, thick, fat drops of those red, glittering gems. But she saw only diamond light. Hard and somehow, more blinding than fire, yet it did not hurt to gaze upon.

"Such mystery..." she murmured softly, smearing the viscous glaze of diamond across her glowing, paper-white index fingers. The scalpel had been retrieved and cleaned by Shippou, placed back within its home in the leather case. Kagome hadn't said anything, and could not recall seeing the fox-boy-child-son (my son, she whispered to herself), seeing him move.

Focus.

The joy of it, the thrill of life, and the future children that Hiei and Ai would have...

Only when both fingertips were thoroughly coated with the brilliant fires of a thousand burning colors, did she move. Kagomeseparated her glowing hands, her glittering fingers, and reached for Ai and Hiei. The journey differed, the end-game of placement varied, but the results would be the same, she knew.

Her wrists twisted themselves, halfway across the sparkleof shining scent-motes that hung lazily in the air— so that her palms were up, as if she were beseeching the tiny pair of yokai for aid. But the closer she drew, the lower her hands dropped, and the brighter the crystal-colored diamond grew. Her left and right hands hovered a scant breath away from cores of Hiei and Ai's respective sexes. She twisted her left hand and curved her right.

The left index finger dipped into the fresh incision at the very moment that it's partner on her right hand slid up between delicate, moist folds.

Twin blazes of blue water and sea green flashed. A burst of color and light, like gunpowder tossed into a roaring fire. Dual cries of pain, or pleasure, cracked across the air like lightening and loud as thunder in their deafening, display of auditorial synchronicity.

Chapter 11: the passing of worlds within beseeching starlight paws...

Notes:

Uh, I apologize if this chapter seems a little weird (and short). But things needed to be covered. Also, this tale is a lot larger than I'd originally foreseen. Especially since certain things have only been hinted at so far. I'm not yet decided if this will be broken down into 'books' or not. We'll see.

Other than that, I sincerely thank each and every one of you lovely readers for your thoughtful comments and kudos. I adore your time and efforts spent in responding to my work. <3

And... per the next few chapter outlines. INTERESTING THINGS ARE COMING. Happy reading!

Chapter Text

The world was quiet in the evenings, blankets of winter that covered the lands and dampened her vision. A different kind of relief, she was finding, in a world that was swiftly becoming too bright and burning for her to take in without some measure of pain. Or at least, all was quiet now. All colors were muted, dimmed by the dark of night, each hue washed out and faded like an old pair of jeans.

She felt just like a pair of them, too.

Wrung out and worn.

"Mama?" Shippou asked, breaking the blessed silence of the night.

Kagome didn't remember much of what came after the volcanic explosion (figuratively speaking, not literally— otherwise she'd be dead). She could not piece together more than a few, fuzzy scraps of distorted images. All she knew was that something happened after her blood-covered fingertips slipped inside...

"Let's just, head back and see if anyone has found Kaede-san. Okay, baby?" Kagome offered, inordinately tired from the crazed events of the day.

Something big.

"Not a baby." Her son grumbled, his protest lacking heat or fuss; not when she could see the pleased flush of pink snaking through the auburn fires of his boy-child and fox-kit forms.

She'd 'come around' some time later, after they'd been walking back to the village. About halfway between it and the den, she'd guessed. When she'd gained back some lucidity (or sobriety, as she'd begun to think of it), Kagome had taken note of Shippou's youki— how it had been suffused with bright, cherry-blossom pink. While she'd been mentally checked out, he had steadfastly been herding her along the mud and snow-frosted path. Alternately tugging on her skirts and pushing at the backs of her calves in a smooth, unbroken pattern that spoke of repetition and ease. He'd apparently been doing it for some time, and had grown comfortable with the motions that were disrupted only by her conscious return from 'la-la land'.

Shippou had said nothing about what happened, After, beyond that they had needed to leave. Immediately. Whatever it was that she had done, had somehow equated to their prompt vacating the premises. Otherwise Shippou's nose would never get rid of the scent.

Wisely, she'd done the math, and left it at that.

There were some things Kagome didn't think she could 'unsee' with her new sight, and was not about to find out what that particular light-show would look like.


When they drew near to the village outskirts, Kagome discovered that Inuyasha had found Kaede— and had subsequently placed the woman inside of her tent, then started a small fire just outside of it's zippered entrance, presumably to make tea... Or ramen (although she didn't think there was any left). Or maybe just so that he could poke at the flames and burn things.

It was sometimes hard to tell with Inuyasha.

What she had noticed, was that in the last year or so, he'd developed what she considered to be an unhealthy (and alarming), interest in fire. Most boys seemed to go through some sort of pyromania phase in their teen years, and Kagome dreaded the foreseeable future if it proved true for growing hanyo, as well.

Kagome dismissed the unhelpful thoughts from her mind for the moment, and took in Kaede's form as she approached. With little more than a passing hand gesture, Shippou settled beside the fire with Inuyasha as Kagome slipped inside the tent. To her eyes, the immutable glow of her aura and the sparkle of her scent, painted a picture of Kaede's prone figure through a study of contrasts.

The glitter of a prism and the firefly light of pink-white looked brighter, so much more vibrant and dazzling when it lay side-by-side with the sickly, muted copper tones of fresh injury and pending death. Failing organs and raw lesions, intermittent sparks of light flashed and fizzled, signaling synapse disruption in the brain... and the external glow of life. It's shape molded into that of a frail, mortal woman. The aura was so faded, so muted— so nearly gone that to see beyond its surface took no effort, no conscious thought.

Kaede was dying and the mortal secrets of her body had never lain so bare as they did now.

Kagome once believed that cancer, in all of it's many forms, was as ugly and devastating to learn of, as it would be to see. This was a belief that had held true when she had seen different types of it being cut away and removed from various patients on the days and nights she'd shadowed accomplished surgeons. But when faced with it again, in the body of her oldest mentor, with her new sense of sight...

It was worse.

"Oh Kaede..." Kagome whispered, devastated.

She dropped to the floor beside the old woman, her knees taking the worst of it. Kagome had overlooked Kaede before, when she was still recovering from The Incident, and wallowing in the pit of darkness and self-pity. She'd set aside her worries once more and distracted herself with other things when color flooded into her life. Something she had continued to do whenever she looked at Kaede's dim and dying energies, and averted her gaze.

Like a child who hid under the bed to avoid punishment or an unpleasant truth.

"K-Kikyo?" Kaede spoke. Her breath a choppy and laborious affair as Kaede struggled to breathe, to speak, and to raise war-torn arms beseechingly. "Big sister! I-I'm glad ye've returned! The villagers have missed you— but I've missed you the most."

Outside the tent, Kagome heard a tree branch snap in half.

"As I have missed you, Little Sister." Kagome replied softly, catching both wounded hands in her own chilled ones. She laid them back down gently as she leaned over Kaede's flickering body to press a featherlight kiss to the woman's wizened brow. "Rest now, I'll look after things. Just rest."

"Aye," Kaede exhaled, a hint of a smile lingering in it. "Just for a bit," she added, consciousness fading, "Then we can go gather herbs, and you can tell me all about your..."

When Kaede's words tapered off, and her breathing slowed, Kagome tended to the assorted cuts and abrasions that littered the older woman's arms and legs. Methodically cleaning the wounds with bottled water (previously boiled), and then applying small amounts of healing paste onto the scrapes. She did this wordlessly, even though there was little point in doing so. No point to the work beyond ensuring comfort.

Kagome carefully pulled the blankets up and over Kaede, tucking them just above the woman's shoulders. She raised slender fingertips bathed in liquid light and brushed them across Kaede's brow, smoothing aside limp strands of hair she knew to be gray.

The glow of her reiki broke itself apart and fell to either side of Kaede's head like sands in an hourglass. It did not sink beneath the faint light of Kaede's mauve aura despite the lack of resistance.

Her eyes burned like fire and yet, tears did not come.

Useless.

"Mama? Is Kaede Oba-san going to be...?" Shippou whispered, hovering from his spot just outside the tent. The kit nosing and nibbling at the zip while the child's hands fisted the doorflap between small digits lined with vestigial baby fat.

"Come inside Shippou," Kagome beckoned, holding one hand out to her son, "Tell Kaede-san one of your stories? One that will give her good dreams."

"Okay, Mama."

Shippou sat in Kagome's lap while he told Kaede about a great white fox who saved all of Japan with the cleverest of tricks, that was greatly rewarded with all manner of treasure and wealth. But most especially, as many sweets and candies as he could eat.

Kaede woke three more times in the next two days. Each time, she mistook Kagome for Kikyo, and conversed happily with her beloved elder sister. Kagome tended to the older woman with great affection and care; bathed her, fed her when able, held her when she wished, comforted her when needed, and gladly spoke words of love and adoration on Kikyo's behalf.

Inuyasha made no appearances, but the fire never died out, and fresh water from the kettle never ran dry.

Shippou was a welcome assistant to Kagome in her care, and often ensured that she too ate and drank when possible.

Two days, and Kaede did not wake again. Instead, she fell into a deep, heavy sleep and could not be roused. Kagome ensured her stagnant wounds did not get infected, and made sure to shift Kaede into varied positions to prevent bedsores. Kaede did little more than groan and expel breath when forced to move on the bedding, her long sleep otherwise undisturbed.

Four days after, Kaede's aura dissipated, allowing the faint glow of her internal organs to be clearly seen.

Kagome sent Shippou to the village the following night.

In the morning on the seventh day after Kaede had been found, several women from the village came to collect the body from within her tent. One of them shining bright with holy energy— Kaede's replacement.

The young, nameless miko oversaw and directed the funeral rights.

They held the funeral in the center of town three days later.

Kagome hadn't been able to attend.


She'd tried anyway.


Shippou and Inuyasha had found her, and draggedher back to thetent. All but gone with pain from the burning lights, wretched grief, and sensory overload— Kagome sobbed and clutched at the glaring red of Inuyasha's haori and let herself grieve. Shippou had been caught between them, and wept as she had, his sorrow a quieter affair, but no less pain-filled.

Inuyasha said nothing, but held them both as they cried themselves into exhaustion.


Not-technically-a-miko and a fox-boy-baby-kit-yokai dragged their respective feet to a hotspring several days later to wash off the dirt, grime, and the dregs of dried grief. They emerged cleaner and pink-cheeked, if a little somber.

Feeling more like a person and less like a vague designation, Kagome instructed Inuyasha to bathe too. She drew Shippou into the circle of her arms and left her silent companion with a warning about consequences, then headed back in the direction of the village.

Kagome would know if he bathed, she had learned (amidst the sorrow and grief, in the last few days), that a bit of grubbiness permeating around the edges of someone's form indicated poor hygiene.

Along with the smell, of course.


It was a full moon, the first she had seen with her newfound sight. It was wide, it was big, it was vast... It's pale blue-white incandescence shining bright across the sky, dimming the stars themselves in comparison. The light bathed the land and painted the fresh, snow-capped shapes in alien color that mirrored the sky. A thick blanket of night sky and glittering shards like stars, all painted in hues of pale blue and pearlescent white. The full moon, and the mirror it had made of the land— it was moment, a vision, that she would remember, decades from now.

One of those moments in life that changed the world.

Beneath the sky, and within the sea of snow that looked like stars— Kagome spotted a single, burning comet of hailey's green. She rose from her bedding (a restless night, one of many), and left Shippou behind, tucked in and warm beneath the covers.

The moon was a bright, beacon of light that swirled endlessly, full of ethereal drifts that warped and reflected energy from the sun. Sending it far across the vacuum of space to bathe the shaded half of the globe in tenuous, lunar rays. It all looked closer than it was, Kagome knew, from the highly educated frame of her mind, that the moon, and its energy was billions of miles away from earth (possibly even farther, the specifics escaped her since space travel and distances had not factored into her studies), but in that moment? She felt that she could throw her reiki up and out, and have it strike the bright sphere high above, to make a dazzling array of ripples span out. Like tossing a rock into a pond.

With that childish fancy in hand, Kagome walked out across the snow (with hastily tied boots and a spare blanket about her shoulders), she went out to greet Hailey's Comet.

Such a tiny blaze stood tall before her— the size of Shippou, maybe a little bigger, on a good day. His spring-green figure was fever-bright and buoyant, a frenetic skein of energy mere moments away from being let loose. When she drew within a handful of paces, mere meters before him, the rabbit yokai bowed low, face pressed into the fresh powder. He trembled.

A series of high-pitched noises shook themselves out of his diminutive frame. Words in his native language, possibly, but Kagome would never know for sure.

"Great Kagome-sama, thank you," Hiei said, once he'd finished speaking the language of rabbits, "Thank you. My mate and I owe you a debt that can never, never, be repaid," he shook with such force, such depth of emotion that had him bleeding green starlight across the snow from where he still bowed.

The weight of his emotion did not make sense, so it did not touch her— but she could appreciate the wealth of his efforts, and the beauty of his gratitude. Kagome was not made of stone.

"Even though our debt is insurmountable to you, that we can offer so little in return... we thank you," his voice broke and hitched, he did not move, "-and with your permission, we would name our firstborn after you in honor. So that all will know of your great deed, and our eternal gratitude."

Flippancy had no place here.

Kagome let her legs fold beneath her until she felt the chill of wetness bite at her knees and shins. Perhaps not the most graceful of movements, but she wanted to be level with Hiei— as much as she could manage, given his smaller stature and her more significant height.

"Lift your head with pride, Hiei-san, for I would be honored to have your firstborn carry my name," Kagome spoke softly, spine straight, "My aid was freely given to ensure continued health and happiness, You and yours are most welcome," she paused using the end of the statement to highlight the sincerity of her speech— while also using it to frantically wrack her brain for more formal and polite sounding words, "-and please, consider the debt paid by continuing to lead a good life with your mate and growing family, and to render aid of your own to those in need, when able."

Kagome watched Hiei's spring-green form flush with a wind of pink pleasure as he lifted his head from the snow, straightening his own spine in a mirror of her own kneeling position.

"I wish you and your family continued good health and happiness." She added, half-bowing in kind. Kagome was gladdened to see a pulse of white reiki ripple out from where she sat to wash over Hiei. And in the next moment (internally), started to panic.

She still wasn't sure what that did. Kagome only hoped that he wouldn't turn tail and bolt for the hills in embarrassment, the way Jaken had a few weeks back.

Hiei sat up even straighter (if that was physically possible on his part), those impossibly long, fiery green rabbit ears pointed to the heavens and angled towards her.

"You bestow untold blessings and honor upon my family, O' Great Kagome-sama." Hiei spoke, voice soft and unmistakeable reverent.

Oh dear, Kagome had the abrupt feeling she'd somehow made things worse— but wasn't sure in what way, exactly.

Hiei bowed low. Again.

"I must beg of your favor, and request aid once more, O' Great Kagome-sama," Hiei said, raising his voice to carry, "You have given us so much already, but I must ask for fear that I will carry the burden of guilt eternally, if I do not."

"Hiei," Kagome replied— unable to help herself from breaking the formality of the moment to reach out, to comfort. She stretched a hand out, tentatively placing fingertips upon the fisted paw that lay clenched upon Hiei's thigh, "Please, whatever it is— I'll help however I can. It's what I do."

The white blaze of her aura seeped out from her hand and curled around the spring-green of Hiei's paw, cajoling the youki fires into a joyful dance. In a bold gesture, Hiei's other paw raised to clasp the fingers and squeeze them firmly. The dancing flames brightened and the youkai's paws felt simultaneously pleasantly soft as downy fur and calloused like worn-in velvet.

"Then please, I beg of you once more," he said, words twisting into something higher, edging into that alien language of before, "Help us."

Kagome tracked the twitch of Hiei's ears, allowing her focus to fall away from his small form (even as the fingers of her right hand lay clasped between his paws), and looked past him with her minds eye.

A veritable rainbow of mismatched stars stood nervously in a line, several feet behind where Hiei still knelt. Their respective colors were bright and trembled with hopeful energy and their shapes varied, but Kagome could see the similarity.

Each blazing star stood beside another, hues and glittering scents intermingled. Every single yokai that stood behind Hiei, awaiting her final verdict— was a mated pair.

The realization, the enormity of it and what Hiei was asking of her... it came slowly. But it did not stop once it reached her, it continued on, rolling through her mind and carrying her along with it on a journey without end.


Kagome felt the edges of sobriety, the tethers of conscious lucidity, begin to slip away. Grains of sand and flakes of snow, slipping and melting away from betwixther fingers and spilling out from the palms of her hands.


Why did she feel like this?

Why did it...


Distantly, Kagome heard herself giggle.


Idly, and with an abnormally large bout of mirth bubbling up from the confines of her ribs— Kagome wondered if she'd get paid overtime for working so late in the evening.

And later.


Much later, when Kagome's mind was blank, her mouth distastefully dry, and her fingertips numb from the juxtapositional burn of fresh cuts and cold snow, and on the verge of pure, dreamless unconsciousness... Kagome made one mental note.

One drawn up in mental crayon.

On mental paper.


That she then tacked on the mental refrigerator, with a big, smiley-faced mental magnet.

And this is what it said;

Find. Myoga.

Chapter 12: Amidst the swirling winds, a storm is here

Notes:

I did some small aging up of Kagome (and tweaked the info in prior chapters to maintain consistency, if I missed anything, do tell!), due to research on education concerning surgeon career path/progression. Also, did some vague math and research on dates on the far side of the well. There was a bit of conflicting information from the Inu wiki, so I went with Myoga's comments about their adventures taking place and ending by the yr of 1481 (Kagome being 15/16 by the end of that journey). Additionally, time periods will start making an appearance here and there...

Severe medical research coupled with crazy fictional bruhaha, DO NOT TRY IT AT HOME. OR IN THE GARAGE.
I do apologize for the severe delay in update, I'm stateside now and things have been... weird.

EDIT// 25OCT17 combined ch12&13, also; created a tumblr (beneathewords.tumblr.com)

Chapter Text

End of Winter, the year of 1491

Water from the nearby hot springs was always soothing and delightfully heated. A pleasant contrast to the chilled earth. Winter was fading fast these days and spring was just around the corner. Everything bore a fresh, underlying hue of green to it within her vision; and even the winds carried waves of periwinkle blue and butter-yellow. All around her, the land was preparing for spring.

Would she still be here, in Edo, to see it in full?

Kagome slapped a palm flat across the water's surface and watched the show it made. An eruption of diamonds and liquefied gems shimmered; a tiny explosive volcano. The waters held remnants of her reiki, the meager bleed of holy energy that she could never figure out how to control or reign in. Like a faucet with a perpetual leak. Which only served to make the waters in this particular hotspring vastly more distracting with every splash, fractalized lights of endless color. The light from a prism trapped in liquid.

She'd been splashing around like a child in the bath, unable to refrain. The warm waters were a wonder— with mesmerizing white-pinks and vague hues of opal and jade, the hint of spring.

Myoga was hibernating.

Or somewhere to the South.

Or dead.

Okay, so that particular posit was unlikely. Kagome just knew that the old flea would outlive them all— if only due to his size and sheer cowardice when it came to being near anything remotely dangerous. But she couldn't help the mildly petty thought because of the frustration. The old flea refused to be found. Or come when appropriately 'summoned', whatever...

The point was, she believed that unbelievably ancient little bloodsucker had some answers. Or knew persons or creatures that had them. And frankly, she desperately needed some right about now.

Kagome made a miniature tidal wave of sparkling light. She dragged a hand across the surface to create another one as the other faded. She watched the shimmer of it twist and bend, rolling into itself with an effortless blend of white and green with flecks of blue. The vision proved a suitable distraction for her thoughts, however temporary.

Was that a real thing? Shippou and Ai's staunch, ironclad belief about yokai needing to produce offspring? That if they didn't breed after a certain point— they went mad and died? Or was it just the ones with fertility issues? Did they have to be fertile by default— to avoid insanity? Was the alleged madness the sort that resulted in a creature like Naraku (although he was a strange hybrid, in his own right), or was it a deterioration of the mind, like with Kaede? Was this caused by an ancient curse or spell? Was it really all yokai?

Myoga would know.

She slapped the digits on both hands against the water's surface like a terrible pianist. The choppy whorls and frothing droplets of spring water looked like amorphous diamonds with indecisive shapes. Pretty.

What about the bizarre, drunken fugue state she slipped into every time a pair of tiny (so cute!), mated yokai asked for help? Shippou hadn't always been present to manhandleescort her away once she'd finished a session (as she'd taken to thinking of them as). And in the weeks since she'd first helped Ai and Hiei out... Kagome had learned what came next. Some aspect of the healing appeared to trigger an urge.

Kagome's cheeks flushed hot, and it was not due to the heat of the water.

Being privy to an orgy had not been on her bucket list, no thank you. Although, it had been a very beautiful and... artistic, display of multi-hued youki in a state of exchange. Which she could very well go the rest of her life without ever, ever, having to bare witness to, again. That was just... too many limbs and...

"Nope— not going there. No—" she squeezed, raising both arms up and bringing her fists slamming down. The up splash made it rain diamonds and glowing crystals; Kagome held her palms up to it and adored the beautiful distraction as she mentally switched gears. It was proving to be a very useful tactic.

Youkai beliefs. (Who'd a thunk? It certainly neededfurther investigation.)

A fugue-like-drunk state.

Orgies.

No, no need to ponder the orgy aspect, not really. Not when there were other issues that required more consideration and future planning. Besides, it wasn't like brain bleach was a thing here, or in the future, sadly.

Besides that, Kagome had not yet officially met with the new village miko, but she felt like that was only a matter of time. Like seeing dark clouds on the horizon and knowing that she needed to batten down the hatches— because the mother of all storms was headed her way. Honestly, there was precious little she could do on that front, not until the new miko chose to engage her. And that's what Kagome was waiting on, for the other girl to finish girding her loins and taking Kagome's measure. To decide when and how she would confront this odd stranger who camped on the edge of town, consorted with demons, and who had been a dear friend and companion to Kaede.

Kagome dunked her head beneath the surface, feeling some sensation against her eyes (they must have opened at some point), and watched the warped mire of color bend and twirl, eddying around outstretched limbs of white. She watched pearls of glimmering reiki break away from her body and get lost within the small, dancing currents. When she focused and pushed the energy from her fingertips, it was like oil, not quite blending, but still sliding along the same waves. Interesting, how water conducted energy without truly absorbing it; as well as it's ability to restrict her sight to within its confines.

She broke the surface on a gasp and slicked her hair back in an absent gesture.

The current (or pending), historical events had taken their own portion of her mind to worry and fret over.

Hojo Soun and his battle (and eventual victory), to lay claim over the Izu Province in a few short years. Not that it would largely effect Edo, per se, especially since his aims would take him a little further south in the coming years. From what she'd read, all the skirmishes and violence had more or less been kept on a smaller scale, 'in house', as it were. Then a couple of low-scale earthquakes (she was unsure how damaging they would be, historical records were not conclusive and she'd been unable to dig up anything in the various mythology texts, either), which would be followed by a rainy season unlike any other previously recorded. It would last for several months and the resultant increase of water saturation would cause crop failure and devastating mudslides.

Whether or not she should (or could, to any wide scale, history-changing degree), attempt to take part in and effect change, was another matter. Yes, Kagome had knowledge beyond her years, and yes she was from the future... but was she? Really? She could very well wind her thoughts around and around that bit of yarn and turn it into a massively confusing headache. Like, was this point in time an alternate version that differed from the past of her own timeline? Were the parallels and interconnections that occurred during her shard-hunting days mere coincidence, or a strange time and space mutation because of the divided power of the Shikon, during the time it had shattered? With the Shikon no Tama removed from the equation— in her time, there had been no sign of demons or magic. Not until the very end, that is. With the strange woman. Or was magic not restricted by the bonds of time and space? Were there just enough similarities between two, linked, alternate realities to get them mixed up? Even if one was a whole five hundred years ahead of the other? If that was the case, then who's to say that her knowledge of events to come is even likely to occur? Or that she could make a damned bit of difference?

Nothing.

Philosophers from this time and her own could toy with these questions for the rest of their lives and get no further than heated debates and well-reasoned theories. There would be no way to know or determine the facts beyond a doubt.

So, all in all, Kagome's courting disaster and flirting shamelessly with a headache if she were to keep spinning those hamster wheels.

Kagome splashed again to dismiss the confusion, or at least distract herself from it. Water really was far too pretty when imbued with so much life and energy.

But the bigger distraction (the biggest), was Sesshoumaru's youki rolling over the immediate area with all the laze of a runaway freight train. This time, the massive clouds flooded over the land (and the small clearing surrounding this particular hot-spring), with more force and haste. In fact, it was in much the same manner and speed employed when an arm sweeps over a table and knocks all the contents clean off, to then shatter and break all over the floor. The comparison seemed so fitting, that the overall effect was startling in and of itself. Especially when she caught cracks of goldenrod lightening flash and streak among the thick, amber storm clouds.

Something was very, very wrong.

Kagome scrambled out of the spring with all the dexterity and grace of a crab avoiding a seagull. Hastily, she yanked her hair up into a bun, struggled with the bra (more like battled with the damn thing— she was not looking forward to the day her last bra died), and then stuffed herself into a shirt so fast that it tore along the hem.

Lightening flashed high and bright— so close it had nearly taken her nose off.

Scarcely dressed, Kagome dropped everything and bolted. Cutting through dense amber-gold clouds and dodging streaks of lightening, Kagome pushed her aura out far enough to see more than just the thunderous yellow-gold storm clouds in front of her feet. Heart in her throat, she leapt over glittering shrubs and terrified lesser yokai that had done nomore than cower low to the forest floor when faced with the fury of Sesshoumaru's youki gone wild.

There was a joke in there, somewhere, Kagome thought.

Dodging trees and avoiding rocks, she pushed her shaky, adrenaline-fueled limbs of blazing white, harder. They sliced through liquid amber with every swing, with each pounding strike of her bare heels to the muddy earth and damp grass.

So much for that bath.

She broke the treeline with sweat beading her brow and a growing, dull strain in her sightless eyes. The roiling youki was thicker here, so much so that she couldn't see the town, even though it could be no further than a few hundred meters. She brought the heel of her left foot down. Mud splattered her calves, but it was a distant sensation. The action's intended effect had her attentions.

The strike, a reflection of memory when she'd first encountered Hiei— sent out a ripple of her scent (and by default, her reiki), it nullified the clouds of youki nearest. It gave her more room to see. And what she could see through the storm was the faint glow of her camp. She'd spent so much time in that one little spot that a significant amount of her scent and aura now saturated the grounds.

Kagome quickened her pace, and then all-out sprinted when a giant fore-paw of dazzling crystal nearly crushed her as it came crashing down through the swirling maelstrom. Only once she saw it phase through the remaining pockets of dull-blue snow did she realize that the daiyokai was not currently in his four-legged form. Kami, what the hell was going on?

"Miko!" A snarl rang out, causing Kagome to startle and nearly trip— terrified beyond belief. She couldn't see Sesshoumaru, the clouds were too thick, the lightening flashed too bright, too frequent. She didn't know if that made her feel safer, or simply more scared.

"Oi! Show some respect y'—" Inuyasha's own angry cry snapped out. Dimly, she managed to catch a blur of red between rolling banks of youki.

Something was deeply, terribly wrong, and Kagome needed to see to figure it out, because her gut was twisting in that weird, intuitive feeling that didn't bode well. Thinking quickly, she stopped in her tracks and raised her knee as far up as she could while inhaling deep.

Kagome slammed her foot down in the same moment she screamed out on the exhale;

"SIT!"

Like two stones thrown from a great height into a shallow pond at opposite ends— twin ripples of pink-white reiki flared out from where Inuyasha crashed face-first and from where she stood. Giant clouds of amber disintegrated before her, like shards of honeyed glass subjected to the cruel reality of gravity. Her path, and the immediate vicinity had been temporarily cleared of Sesshoumaru's youki.

A kitsune curled fearfully beneath a nest of blankets while a boy-child's face with burning emeralds stared out.

A jagged mess of angry red and burning silver trembled from the floor, wreathed in holy fire round the neck.

An impossibly tall daiyokai carved of ice stood immobile by her camp.

A child of warm, earthy browns and buttercup-yellows burned bright beneath amber youki, and lay limply within her lords' arms.

A giant dog of living crystal snapped and snarled, high above them all.

Kagome was walking towards the group before she was aware ofit, her metaphysical eyes arrested solely on Rin. Taking in more data, more facts, with every step she took. They spilled into her mind and filed themselves into a list that grew more specific, and more detailed the further it went.

Aura burns too bright.

Fever, sickness.

Docile, non responsive.

Asleep?

Unconscious.

No visible lacerations or signs of external injury.

Internal.

Respiration is good, but fast. Choppy.

Not getting enough air.

Distended stomach.

Mild sweating.

Symptoms of shock.

"How long has she been like this?" Kagome demanded of Sesshoumaru. She didn't wait for his reply before she turned to Shippou; "Shippou, clear everything out of the tent except for the medical supplies, towels, bottles of water, and the Standard Surgeon's Encyclopedia. Do it now, hurry."

Inuyasha was just beginning to shake loose from the subjugation when she gave him his orders along with a burst of her aura that struck him with the force of an arrow;

"Inuyasha, start boiling water, and bring me more towels and soaps!"

Inuyasha scrabbled with pots and sloshed water in his effort to do as bid before he darted off without a word. In her peripheral, she could see a variety of glittering items being tossed out of her tent at great speed.

Sesshoumaru had seemingly been rendered mute when she'd shown herself and presently demanded answers, and then continued on in that vein while she'd ordered the other two about. In fact, he looked damn near content to glower wordlessly while his canine form continued to throw a bitchfit above him. Grand. Where was Jaken? Time could not be wasted now, and she wasn't about to give a damn about propriety or politeness.

Rin's life was on the line.

"How long has she been like this Sesshoumaru?!" Kagome yelled, turning to face the crystal-cut figure as she shoved a burst of angry white holy energy at him.

The moment her power struck him, his face jerked to the side, the prismatic colors of his cheekflaring bright as if she'd physically slapped him. A set of giant teeth and a snarling, drooling maw of broken glass and raw diamond threatened to tear her in half at the strike. Twin eyes of burning red glared at her in abject fury, but that arrogant and wretchedly beautiful mouth cracked open and spit out words that cut her to pieces.

"Two. Days."

She wanted to stamp her feet, she wanted to clench her fists and beat him, she wanted to tear Rin from his claws and heal her before she expired— but she couldn't. Kagome reigned in her temper and bitter vitriol and stuffed it down deep as she drew upon every single ounce of medical training she'd undergone in the last six and half years. She took it all in, then stuffed the worst of it down. She succeeded, but her hands still shook, her arms trembled, and her movements were jerky as she turned away from him.

She needed to prep for surgery.

A tarp and some thatch mats had been laid down in front of her tent a month or so back, it allowed her to avoid the constant fuss of mud and dirt and would come in handy now. She grabbed one of the gallon containers of boiled water and a bottle of soap (one of her last bottles of antimicrobial, damn-it), briskly poured the water down her arms and legs, then scrubbed with the soap.

She'd forgotten to put on pants.

Kagome ignored the negligent fact and toweled herself off.

"Shippou, lay the writing boards in the middle of the tent, pushed together, and lay the long towel over it. Tuck in the ends tight. Rin will be laid on top of it, so the boards cannot slide apart." Kagome instructed as she ducked into the tent and began to pull out the items she would need for the surgery. "Lay out all the belts and straps, run them underneath the boards."

Kami, this was not going to be easy, the risk of infection was everywhere, and there was no chance of getting anything as sterilized as she'd like.

"What next Mama?" Shippou asked, darling boy that he was, so quick and efficient.

Peroxide, scalpels, antibiotic ointment, thread for stitching, tweezers, a few forceps and clamps, nothing for suction, nothing for the pain beyond some goddamn paracetamol and whatever herbs and tea concoctions she had on hand. sh*t, where were one of those crackpot physicians with the opium when you needed them?

"Open the book and find the section on appendix removal." Kagome replied absently, heading back outside once she'd laid all the instruments out in a neat and orderly fashion upon a small towel. The tools were reflective steel against the faintly glittering towel of white and pale green, but at least she would be able to identify them by touch if not by shape. "Get the towels, washcloths, and sponges then lay them out by the operating table."

The pot of water began to boil.

Everything that remained inside of the tent was clean— it all glittered and shone with her reiki, looking like so much starlight. All the same, Kagome retrieved and set all of her tools (including the spool of surgical thread), within the pot of liquid silver, just in case.

Significantly cleaner, calmer, and the tools of her craft being sterilized; Kagome turned back around and strode over to Sesshoumaru. He stood silent and immobile beneath the blazing gold maelstrom of his own fury.

The memory was sudden and vivid.

The similarities between then and now were vastly different except for the feeling.

She remembers the sterile white-washed walls adorned with carefully selected, bland art that would evoke no more than a passing interest. Remembers the mixture of plush and hard-plastic chairs interspersed throughout the waiting room. The low coffee tables with a smattering of glossy magazines with the mailing addresses torn off their covers. She recalls the hardy plants, strategically positioned in each corner, their leaves so glossy and their pots covered with so much dried moss— all to provide another distraction, but not an offensive one. Never a diversion that could evoke emotion.

What set of golf clubs goes best with my personality?

What are the three, simple, everyday exercises I can do to tone my butt?

Is that a picture of a landscape, or a seascape?

Is that potted plant real, or fake?

A clock on the wall to measure time and vending machines just around the corner.

But this memory isn't about the waiting room and its carefully poised distractions, its not about the faint hand-sanitizer and antiseptic smell that permeates the entire building— it's not about any of that. It's about being an assistant to the head surgeon on an emergency cesarean because the expectant mother at nine months and two weeks thought it was fine to carry a few bins of laundry up the stairs— only to trip and fall down them. It's about Kagome, in a set of brand new pink scrubs, splattered with blood that she'd damnably been trying to staunch when they'd wheeled the woman in on the crash cart. It's about how it'd been left to her to deal with the dependents before she scrubbed in— how she'd damned well better f*cking hurry to placate them before both mother and unborn child died on the table because she hadn't been there to do her job.

She remembers the flyaway clinging to her sweat damp brow— and how she didn't dare wipe them away for fear of smearing blood across it. She remembers standing there, three feet from the doors to surgery, facing the husband and mother-in-law, blocking their entry.

Remembers the horrible struggle of pain and anguish smeared across the husbands face, his twisted expression, and the lines of tension running throughout his body. A clear sign of his desire to follow, to help his wife. The mother-in-law is a vague shape in her minds' eye, just wet eyes and clasped hands. Kagome had dismissed her to face the husband because of the two, he was the threat. He might try to rush in and make things worse. Kagome remembers telling the husband in a calm, firm manner that yes, the incident your wife went through was serious— that we were going to do everything in our power to save your wife and child. Please wait out here until we have more information to give you on their status. She remembers saying those things, no promises, no sureties beyond that they would all try their best. But all she could think of at the time was that she might need to tackle him to the floor if he so much as twitched at her wrong. Remembers thinking that if she called for security while wrestling the bigger man onto the floor— it'd take her twice as long to scrub in.

Back then, the husband had collapsed into a chair at her words, willing to leave the fate of his new family in their hands. But that had been a mortal man of human make. One who knew that any show of temper would see him subdued and removed to a new location— farther from his wife and child than a lone set of doors leading to the surgery.

The man she dealt with now was a powerful inuyokai without equal. One that was suddenly faced with a situation beyond his capabilities. A being who made the impossible happen with a single stroke of a sword.

And like the time that seemed so long ago— Kagome could only think that she might have to tackle him to the ground, and how that would delay her scrubbing in. However, there were problems with this thought, key among them being that Kagome was the primary surgeon now. She would be taking point on this operation and enlist Shippou as her aid. Inuyasha had proved unreliable in delicate matters, so could not be trusted. Sesshoumaru himself was too close to the situation and looked ready to lose his homicidal sh*t on everyone in the immediate vicinity. Jaken was nowhere to be seen, Kaede was dead (Kami rest her sweet soul), and the village miko hadn't even made the roster.

"My apologies, Sesshoumaru-sama, but there isn't time to deal with you right now," Kagome spoke simply, plucking Rin's limp figure from betwixt frozen limbs, "Please wait outside."

With the turn of her heel, Kagome heard a crisp snap— like shoji doors closing with sharp finality. Her sight brightened and cleared. The area surrounding her tent (a good twenty meters, all around), had been purified of youki. It left the space with a clear definition of color that allowed her to see unimpeded.

"Remove this barrier at once, miko!" Sesshoumaru demanded, a crystal blur of humanoid and dog forms looming high at her back.

The rice-paper doors rattled and shook beneath of the weight of the rising storm outside. The barrier against the daiyokai would hold— and with such a surety held deep within her bones, Kagome dismissed the dog demon.

She took a breath, held it, then exhaled.

Kagome had work to do.


Swiftly, Kagome laid Rin down upon the operating table inside the tent and stripped her of the mortal garments that clouded her vision. She pulled them down until the many layers of delicate cloth lay in a rumpled pile just above her mons pubis. To prevent chill, she draped and tucked a towel across Rin's chest and then a spare blanket which she tucked across the girl's lower extremities.

"Shippou, help me belt her down— there is no anesthesia and she needs to stay still. Pull tight, but don't constrict blood flow." Kagome instructed. She knew how she sounded, cool, clipped, and terribly detached. But that was what was needed. Tears and sympathy had no place here.

Kagome had already tied down Rin's arms and chest before she had noticed Shippou's inactivity.

"Now kit!" She barked, her words cracking like a whip— spurring the small child to action.

Later, she would allow herself the luxury to self-loathe for the stress and pressure she was putting upon her son. Species or not, having a child assist with an unorthodox surgery was in no way acceptable. But right now, she needed to finish securing the patient and then have the both of them scrub in.

Rin's flesh had been hot and fevered to the touch, she'd be lucky if peritonitis hadn't set in yet. The way things stood now, the bright, angry burn of her life energy was worrisome. Humans were not meant to burn so bright, not like this.

The shoji doors rattled.

Kagome noted Inuyasha's jagged, piercing shape land easily by the fire, the barrier of no concern to him. Wordlessly, he set to coaxing the flames higher and set water to boiling.

She'd washed away most of the mess from her run through the trees— but now she pulled her shirt off, upended a gallon of water over her head, and toweled off the excess. With slender hands that blazed like fire, Kagome removed her lone set of scrubs from one of her bags and pulled them on swiftly.

"Shippou," Kagome beckoned, and in the next breath, her tiny fox came running, "Strip off your vest, tie back your sleeves, and put this on to keep those bangs back. Okay?" She handed him a worn hairband that glittered faintly.

The instruments had boiled for long enough, she decided, fetching a tray of molten metal (a serving tray she'd never returned to her mother). With a set of tongs she plucked each item out of the bubbling white waters and lay each of them out upon it. If there was pain from the blaze of the fire, or the reflective nature of modern steel, Kagome felt none. Now was not the time for personal comfort.

"You're doing very well, kit— I need you to stay strong, alright?" She added when her brave boy performed the task quickly, without further prompting on her part.

"Yes, Mama." Shippou replied, voice warbling only a little.

Once she'd walked Shippou through the very meticulous process of washing and scrubbing their hands all the way up past their respective elbows— did Kagome then allow her attention to widen past Rin's vitals (elevated pulse, thready respiration, growing pain and hardness in the lower abdomen and faltering blood pressure from what she could hear of the red riversrushing through veins), and her son's responses.

"...-gome, what's um... what's going on?" Came Inuyasha's voice, muted and unsure as his words drifted to her ears. His chaotic form was a blurred mess of worry and indecision.

Shoji doors rattled. Why the barrier sounded like them, she didn't know, but it seemed apt. She set the idle thought aside, it would not serve.

"Rin's appendix burst, it needs to be removed before infection and peritonitis set in, infecting neighboring organs." Is what she almost said. But only Shippou would have an inkling as to what that meant. What it could lead to, in the end.

"A small organ inside of Rin has burst open, it needs to be removed before it makes her fatally ill." She explains instead, bending towards Shippou's form to sharpen her senses upon his proffered human-shaped, arms. They were a series of clean contours that shimmered ina healthy, auburn glow. Clean of scent and foreign youki, or earthly debris.

"But can't you just...?" the hanyo trailed off, small and awkward. His red and silver shapes tried to curl into themselves in effort to be anywhere but right here, in this moment.

He must have looked into the tent, seen Rin half-dressed and restrained.

She knew the picture must be crude as well as cruel, but they did not have the luxury of a fully equipped surgery.

"Because she will die, Inuyasha." Kagome replied, helping Shippou put on one of the latex gloves from his pair. She imbued the rubber fingertips with reiki that glowed like starlight— it would prevent his claws from piercing them. She then helps him with the ear-loop surgical mask.

The rice-paper tore and blew apart in the wind. But as powerfully as the gale storm raged outside, the doors remained firmly shut, and were quickly re-papered and enforced.

Inuyasha shuffled closer to the fire.

"Shippou, go inside— sit on Rin's left side and open up the textbook with your un-gloved hand to the page detailing an open appendectomy. Then put on your other glove and wash her whole stomach, face, and throat with the soap we used. Be very thorough." Kagome said, pulling on her own mask and a pair of latex gloves and holding them up and away from both her face and body.

"Inuyasha, keep water boiling and zip up the door behind me." She turned to Inuyasha's jarring figure, "When Jaken gets here— if he is going to assist me," she pauses to emphasize those two points, ensuring her friend well and truly listened, "He must do as we did— tie back his sleeves and wash thoroughly. If not, he remains out here with you. Understood?"

Considering the speed at which Sesshoumaru had arrived, Kagome doubted that Jaken would make it in time to make that decision.

"I—"

"No matter what you hear, or smell, there can be nointerruptions. Stay. Out. Of. The. Tent." Kagome intoned with the full measure of gravitas and severity that their situation merited. She secured the warning with a lone, solid pulse of pure reiki. Kagome did not remain outside long enough to watch it break over Inuyasha's form, merely ducked into the tent and listened for the zip.

Silently, Inuyasha complied.

"Shippou," Kagome began, folding into a loose kneel on Rin's right side, closest to the surgical site. There would be no lines drawn in marker upon flesh, not when she could see beyond it. "Your job is to read out loud the steps to perform this surgery. Once you reach the end, you're to read it aloud, all over again, starting from the beginning. I need you to keep doing that until I tell you to stop. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Mama."

If she allowed herself, she'd cry from the sound of his voice alone.

"While you're doing that, I'm going to be calling out things. Like 'scalpel', or 'forceps'," she thanked the gods that Shippou knew what all of these things were. He'd learned about them from whenever she had him read her textbooks aloud; "When I say those things— you must pick up the tool and hand it to me right away, understand?"

"Y-Yes, Mama." His voice is a whisper now.

"When I say 'sponge', or 'suction', it means I need you to use the towels— the smooth, absorbent ones. What you'll need to do is grab a small corner or section of the towel and gently dab around the area to clean up excess blood. Do you understand?"

"...Mama, is Rin-?"

"Do you understand?" She said, raising her voice to usurp Shippou's nebulous query. They didn't have time for questions. Sesshoumaru had made sure of that.

"Y-Yes..."

"Good." Kagome praised, then took a breath then told him the worst part; "Shippou, I'm going to feed Rin some medicine for the pain— but it won't be enough. She will wake up, she will scream, she will cry, beg, and plead for it to stop. She will do everything in her power to make the pain stop. But I cannot stop, nor will I, until the procedure is finished."

The fox ducked beneath the operating table while the boy's fiery shape grew weak and pale at her words. Kagome continued, distraction could not be afforded and this whole production had burned more time than she could spare.

"You will ignore Rin. You will continue reading, you will listen to me, and assist as needed. Do you understand, Shippou?"

It was a long, long minute before Shippou replied, but it was necessary— this was one task that she could not rush him on accepting. Not without suffering significant risk later on.

Rin moaned piteously in the silence and Kagome knew that it was her, who prompted his reply more than the demanding pressure of his mother.

"Yes Mama, I-I understand."

"Good. Start reading." Kagome bade, turning from him as she grabbed one of the half-size water bottles (shimmers like twilight, even after she mixes in a pre-made packet of crushed paracetamol and powdered herbs— only adding to the distorted reflection as emergent stars in the dawning sky).

"Antibiotics are given if signs of sepsis are present, otherwise a dose of prophy-lactic i-intravenous antibiotics are given prior to surgery..."

She tilts Rin's head back and begins to pour the concoction into the crack splitting open across the molten earth that's carved into the shape of a young girl's face. Kagome massages the burning field of buttercups that twist and snake into a delicate throat. She sees bottled twilight and tiny stars filter in through the cracks of burnt earth and yellow fire.

Sees how little it helps.

"-anesthesia is induced with e-endotracheal intubation to full muscle relaxation and the patient is fully supine..." the warbling voice of her kit is slowly gaining strength. She knows the repetition of it will help him. Help them both.

"Scalpel." She smoothly interjects, left hand held over the burning body of her patient.

There is a pause in the straps as Shippou breaks away from reading to find and identify the proper tool. He strains and reaches, hands her the shining, liquid metal tool carefully— handle first. When she grasps it in a firm hand, Shippou dutifully returns to the text.

"-abdomen is prepared and draped, then examined while under..."

Kagome transfers the scalpel to her dominant hand and adjusts her grip. She places her left down upon the patient's low abdomen, spreads her thumb and forefinger apart. Draws the fevered flesh tight, and breathes deep.

"-mass is present, an incision will be made directly over it. Otherwise the incision is made of McBurney's Point, one-third of the way over..."

Burnt earth and ruined fields of yellow fade away. She sees fresh organs that have grown aggravated as foreign bacteria sidles too close, she follows the winding curvature of the large intestine to it's angry-red, hot-coal footed end. Where the patient's appendix makes a torn, burst-open mess of a picture. Burning white-hot in its pain, glowing fiercely in its anger.

"-layers of the abdominal wall are opened..."

Kagome exhales, adjusts the placement of her left hand, then brings the scalpel down.

"-effort is always made to... to..."

"Keep. Reading!" Kagome snaps, reiki flaring out as lava red wells up and over. Heady copper fills the air and floods her nose through the mask. She shoves the white glow down through her hands as she completes the incision. The power keeps the brown and yellow at bay, definitions is more clear, more precise.

"Retractor. Suction." Kagome says. She holds the scalpel out and expects it to be replaced. She is not disappointed.

The reading stops as the tiny auburn fire with emerald will' o' the' wisps' exchanges the designated tools, then picks up a smooth cloth of woven glitter that dances when touched. Small gloves of opal stifle the fire burning at Shippou's claw-tips as he leans forward, arching his flickering shape up and over the patient to prevent contact.

As Kagome splits the incision wide, tiny hands that shake with nerves and fear, press a corner of dancing cloth to the red well of ruby. They do this several times— like a butterfly unsure of its perch. One press is too hard, too much, and the patient whimpers— their hues of life flaring brighter.

Shippou retracts as if bitten, takes up reading with a stutter and a careful sniff of barely-there tears.

Kagome shunts a bolt of glowing, feather-white down into the incision site. It's like looking down into someone's pocket and finding a whole other dimension. A glittering cavern— a split-open geode of warm-colored crystals in bright, war-torn colors of agony. The walls wept at a steady pace, heavily scented copper mired into their tears while they grew slow, then sluggish from the burst of clarifying reiki.

An unintended side-effect, less excessive bleeding— but at what cost?

"-on entering the peritoneum, the appendix is identified, mobilized, and then ligated and..."

"Scalpel."

The instructions pause.

One aquiline tool of silver is exchanged for another.

The reading continues.

If shoji doors rattle and shake, if Inuyasha murmurs anything and hunches closer to the fire, claw-tips digging into burning logs of wood— Kagome takes in none of it.

"-of the appendix by inverting it so it points into the cecum..."

She works with an efficiency and swiftness, the very same that had placed her at the top of her class. She'd worked past the epidermis, the muscle, and now makes a thin cut into the peritoneum to reveal the cecum. Working carefully beyond it, she navigates around inflamed organs within the small opening— all the while, pumping a steady supply of holy energy down her arms and out of her hands after passing through the latex barrier. Whenever she stopped, the angry geode grew blurry and unstable— the last thing she needed.

"-each layer of the abdominal wall is closed and then..."

Her latex-covered fingertips brushed the remains of the burst organ. It feels like touching a hot stove— a lone, burning coal among many. Kagome grits her teeth as sweat begins to dot her brow.

Soft terry-cloth dusts along the length of her forehead when the reading paused, then resumed.

"-skin may be closed with either staples or stitches-"

The patient's aura surged up, a geyser of heat and flame— it tore into consciousness on a blood-curdling scream. There were words shouted and bled, vowels and syllables that wept and broke beneath the weight of their agony— their suffering. The patient tried to wrench themselves free, only to discover the multitude of restraints that held them, trapped them. The patient begins to sob and beg, pleading for them to stop, crying for their savior or god.

Kagome thrusts more blazing white energy down into the incision site and worked the slender fingers of her left hand back in (the patients' movements had jostled it free, had nearly loosened the detractor), she kept digging until a fingertip touched the hot coal, the source of the pain and infection.

"Forceps."

The patient cries out in distress, burnt earth and fields ablaze, flashing ever-brighter. Burning themselves up to the point of near-lethality.

BP is dropping, chance of shock and respiratory arrest, a voice whispered from somewhere at the back. She agreed with the assessment— needed to hurry.

Her arm was beginning to tire, and it was then she registered the distinctive lack of forceps. Noticed how they had not been placed within the gloved palm she held out. Kagome spared all of a half-second to feel a burst of irritation at the delay. Unacceptable.

"Forceps. NOW."

The wails of agony, the cries for mercy, the jarring, half-aborted attempts to flee— all of it was little more than an unpleasant excess to her ears. An assault on her senses that were delaying the completion of this operation. Kagome took no pleasure in this, and she would appropriately mourn and castigate herself for this necessary cruelty— later. When it was safe to do so.

"B-But M-Mama— Rin, she's... she's..." Shippou stuttered, tears, sorrow, and shared empathy all tangled up in his throat. Enough to cause his forms to shake and his emerald fires to well and wobble.

Spurts of ruby arc across the space between them. She feels the warm splash of it strike her arms, hit the front of her scrubs. Thinks it might have clipped her throat, but she can't tell if it's merely sweat trickling, or the patient's blood.

"Shippou—" Kagome broke off when the patient bucked, shrieking long and loud. She'd nearly dislodged her grip. If it persisted, the patient— Rin, she thought allowing— if, realizing that in this moment the necessity. She shook her head once, briefly, sent a bolt of reiki down into Rin, and then addressed her son.

"Shippou, if you do not help me, if I do not finish this surgery, quickly— Rin could go into shock and die on this table. If I stop now and patch her back up— the burst appendix will infect the rest of her organs and she will die slow, and in pain. We need to finish this now. Do you understand?" she was breathing hard and the whole half of her lower face had grown damp with sweat through the mask— all from the force of her words. The intense need to get them out and heard before Rin— the patient, grew worse.

There was still one blessing, one aspect, that could help them all right now. If the patient's reflex reaction triggered, causing a parasympathetic nervous system response, they would render themselves unconscious. It would give them all the reprieve they needed.

Her patient jolted, cutting themselves off mid-scream, their diminutive body morphing into a tumult of convulsions upon the table. Seizure... her mind supplied; cardiac arrest is imminent, and there is no crash cart or shots of adrenaline. She needed to break the pattern and force stabilization, even if a temporary one.

Kagome inhaled, bit her cheek until a flood of copper spilled down her throat and breached the seem of her mouth— then shoved a bright, burning comet down the length of her arms and into the quaking geode and throughout the rolling earth and fields afire. Her vision whites out as the two different types of energy collide, forcing an amalgamation of tenuous balance. A twisted distortion of sound followed, a half-strangled, bodily whine as her patient jolted up against the restraints; as if they'd just received a shock from a defibrillator. They sink weakly back against the table, a pitiable moan slithering out from a worn crevice, dotted with wilted buttercups.

Pulse slightly elevated, BP low, but not yet problematic. Respiration is still thready, but otherwise stable... For now.

"Shippou!" She snarled, half a mind to dismiss him from the operating room. If only she didn't need another set of hands so desperately...

Her arms shake, her head feels light, and the copper in her mouth makes bile rise up the back of her throat— but her hands are steady and so she ignores everything but the patient on her table. Nothing else matters.

"I-I understand Mama, I'm sorry." Shippou replied. His shape blurred, a smear of fox-kit and boy-child— both wavering flames of heightened emotion. Copper bonfires that flashed with green and familiar auburn.

"Forceps."

The patient keened deafeningly high, raising weakly up off the table as far as the belts allowed. The scream peters out as the patient falls limp and motionless back onto the table.

"Sponge."

The instructions resume, and Kagome gets back to work. She has a finite amount of time before her patient regains consciousness, and Kagome needed to be done with the surgery by then. For all of their sake's.

"Antibiotics are given immediately if signs of sepsis..."

She's unveiled the impossibly hot coal of an organ to her sights; it's a torn, fiery little thing capable of greater damage and destruction than most would ordinarily attribute to it. Kagome thinks its time to cut the lethal thing out and clean up the mess it'd left behind— a glowingly noxious field of poison that clung to ends of nearby organs in a putrid, sickly green film.

"-and full muscle relaxation, and the patient fully supine..."

Carefully, she snips and cuts the elastic, slippery membranes and tissue (a russet gray, dulled glow with the onset of infection due to proximity and time elapsed), until the bloated and torn remains of her patient's appendix is free. She pulls it up and out of the surgical site with the forceps and sets the organ (it's angry, hurt glow fading in each passing second it was exposed to the open air), upon a faintly glittering square by her hip. The rich, red glimmer of the geode weeps at the loss.

"Sponge." She calls again, waits just long enough for the shimmering cloth and opalescent gloves to flutter around the crystal cavern, drying its tears, and then resumes her work.

"-and draped, and then is examined under anesthesia..."

"Rasp."

Tools are exchanged, instructions continue, and Kagome shunts more reiki down through her limbs and into the geode. She's quick to position the tied off stump up into the cecum. She has no fluid with antibiotics to flush the site with. The best she can do is use the rasp to scrape off the worst areas showing signs of infection, then flush it with boiled water before cleaning and closing.So that's what she does— employs the small, rough-edged sanding tool against tender, inflamed organs and scrapes the worst of it off with small, sharp strokes.

"Water-filled syringe." Kagome says, letting Shippou's instructions wash up and over her, a steady beat in the background as she does everything she can to perform fast while being thorough.

Slow is smooth.

Smooth is fast.

She places the nozzle of the fat syringe close to the abraded areas and pushes the injector down in a slow, steady motion. Allows the stream of glowing white to swirl and slosh, pulling the loose scraps and bits of fibrous tissue into it's purified waters.

"Sponge."

Opal gloves and dancing swathes of cloth are quick to fill the crystal pocket, soaking up the brilliant white and its swirling bits of angry red and toxic green. She has him do this several times in quick succession after she flushes the area twice more. There are minimal dregs of poison green, still clinging stubbornly to the inflamed organs, but their light is withering away beneath the tide of reiki that floods into the surgical site with every breath she takes.

"Suture."

Another tool, and the instructions wash over her anew, Kagome begins the last leg of the operation. She reconnects severed veins by touch of needle to paper-thin sheath, and does not take the time to wonder at how it is possible without a stitch. Doesn't take a moment to be puzzled that the strangeness does not apply to every cut open tissue, muscle, or organ, as she ties the fine cecum closed with the needle and length of thread that the body will safely absorb as it heals. Kagome does not spare time for thought as she instead focuses on the job, pulling young chords of muscle back together, removes the forceps, and then pinches the epidermis closed and begins to stitch the parted seems together.

A snake of silver light twisting in barren hills of freshly turned earth.

"Herbal paste."

Pulse stable, BP in acceptable range, respiration is steady...

A small pot of black is placed in her open palm, a small eclipse in the wake of so much light. She twists it open and sticks two fingers in the jar, withdrawing a large dollop of silver, white, and spring green paste. She smears the concoction upon the incision site, thankful to see it's healing properties seep beneath earth and assuage large portions of the pulsing, throbbing red.

"Gauze. Tape."

She takes the square clouds first, lays them out across the earth, usurping the snake— blocking it's twinkling visage from sight. Kagome accepts the tape and lays thick bands of twinkling motes across the edges of banked cloud, sealing the healing paste and incision site into it's own, small world of purified containment.

"-each layer of the abdo-"

"You may stop reading now, Shippou." She hears herself saying while she takes another hall-bottle of water and mixes a packet of pain-killers and herbs into it before she pours it's glittering contents into the open maw of raw earth. She uses one hand to massage the column of withered buttercups— feels nothing but a quiet surety as she watches the tails of a comet bleed through her fingertips and into the liquid concoction.

The words taper off into nothing.

When the bottle is empty and discarded, her hands reach for the straps and respectively unbuckle and untie each of them. She selects an unused towel (faint stars, twinkling their last good-nights before sunrise), and gently mops perspiration from her patient. Even as close as this, Kagome cannot see the beads of sweat, or dampness upon her flesh— but knows it's there.

Vibrating hands of fire opal enter the field of her focus, they make a concerted effort to set right the clothes of the patient. She reaches across and enfolds them within her own steady, larger ones.

Shippou's gloves are clean while hers are stained.

"You've done enough, Shippou." Kagome speaks quietly, drawing the blurry shapes of her son up and over their patient. He seemed to weigh so little. It reminds her of how young he is and what she has made him do— the stark reality of it pains her.

"You did a good job, rest now." She says, pulling her mask down, and Shippou's off. Kagome kisses a sweat-slick, clammy cheek, and watches the wash of soothing white waters pour into her son, filling up his distorted shapes. Watches long enough for his exhaustion to rise and the push to sleep overtakes him. When he is a limp bundle in her arms, she turns within the small confines and sets him down in the far corner amidst a stockpile of unused towels.

It occurs to her in stages. When she is rounding up the used tools, she feels something. A finger on that which she cannot name. As she wraps and prepares the hazardous materials for disposal, she finds it to be a reprieve— and yet off-setting. But not the why of it. By the time she has removed the belts and carefully slid the black slabs (lightweight plastic boards, meant for desktops), out from beneath her patient— she has figured out what has her on edge in spite of the success of the surgery and cathartic post-operation cleanup. She knows what has kept her mind sharp, her senses on edge despite her fatigue.

The reason she had not allowed Shippou to right her patient's clothing.

When Shippou's reading had quieted.

As she had allowed her focus to gradually relax, to widen.

She gathers up her tray of tools in one hand, and a small plastic bag of the hazardous waste in the other. Kagome stands (as much as she is able, with the sloping roof of dully flickering starlight, overhead), and moves to the door that unzips without her having to speak a word.

Her main priority has been accomplished, the patient is alive and well on the road to recovery. She has cleaned up the operating area and made her patient as comfortable as possible. Kagome is steps away from disposing of the hazardous materials and the sterilization of her tools. And next.

Next, she must inform the patient's immediate family on the results of the emergency operation and detail the appropriate methods of aftercare required.

Kagome tips the tray of tools into bubbling blue and sparkling white, wrapped in molten silver atop a miniature sun that crackles and burns. She instructs the complicated lump of fractured red and silver-white to make a second fire to burn and destroy the small bag she hands him.

She takes another breath and turns. For a moment, she allows the weariness to be felt; lets herself acknowledge the way her low back aches, how her arms tremble, the rigid stiffness in her fingers (sweat and powder trapped in rubber, making her flesh itch and crawl), the tightness in her jaw from clenching her teeth, the way her shoulders are drawn and taught, and how her eyes are an endless source of dull, prickling pain. Kagome lets herself feel all of these things within the span of a breath. In the next, she puts it aside (locks it away), and breathes out.

It was time.


The shoji doors unlock.

The doors slide open.

The barrier falls.


Before Kagome draws a breath.


Before Inuyasha could think to react.


Before Shippou snuffles in his sleep.


Before.


All she sees is sunlight. An endless, all-encompassing, eye-watering brilliance of the sun with no direction nor border. Kagome can see nothing outside or within it, only the impossible burn of white, fractured with lethal yellows and edged in manic gold. It is hard to focus and impossible to see.

But, Kagome is more than her sight (no matter that she lost the original and gained anew), and she can feel, can sense.

Her skin is damp from sweat, she feels it prickle from the sharp winds. Can feel the tackiness of drying blood on her arms by the way it has begun to flake and peel in the bends of her arms. She can feel the powder clump and break away as the latex barrier crackles, peeling back and away. It falls away from her damp hands in plastic fruit-peals and play-dough pieces.

She can taste the acrid, bitter notes in the air from things that have burned, trees that have corroded. Smells the fresh scent of turned earth and grave soil that permeates, floating beneath the acidic undertones hanging heavy in the air.

Trees that have broken crack limbs and snap too-heavy branches in their last moments. She hears the sharp lash of wind as it breaks through the leaves like shards of glass flung across the pavement in a tidal wave of knife-edged agony.

The sense she has no name for, the one that speaks to her of magic, of subtlety... of other. It whispers in her ears, laughing as it tells her of reiki, of fledgling holy power that rings around the outer perimeter of the campsite, fluttering softly around its edges. Weak in its strength, and fading fast beneath the onslaught of demonic power that has saturated the earth and air. A candle left out to shine in a gale storm, a lit match in the face of a black hole. The foreign reiki is a child's first wind chime that fell off it's hook and clattered to the floor— that's all it is to her senses. No more than a child mock-playing the work of an adult.

She wonders abstractly, when she'd begun to feel so old.

Wonders when it was, that she could ignore a child's cries as she cut into them.

The thought burns and curdles in the back of her mind. Eats into some dusty corner littered with shame that reeked of self-flagellation.

Kagome allows herself to wonder as she feels, tastes, hears, and senses all of these things, and more. An yet, shespares no thought as she twists her body, stepping to the side, naked hands raised up, and up as the force of acid-tinged wind comes barreling down. Time is a slow, syrupy thing in her minds eye as she looks upon the hard white glow of her hands as they lift higher still.

Watches the flare of a sleeve billow and whip as an arm of crystal, striped in sapphire-ruby jut downward to strike at where she'd stood a breath before. She sees the arc of the fingers and their bright, acidic claws aimed to cut, maim, and rend.

Her right hand glides through the brazen currents of spring air and poison-tainted youki, and fits itself over the multi-hued wrist. Grips it firm. Feels the power surging beneath heated, boiling-hot flesh.

She follows the folds of glowing white up, sees the layers and drapes in the material (albeit with blurred difficulty beneath cracked armor that bled golden fairy lights as the amorphous fur clung stubbornly to one broad shoulder), up to the strained neck. Follows the glittering cosmos of clenched jawline up the flashing crimson ruby-stripes to the sharp cut of his cheek. She places the palm of her left hand against it's diamond edge— feels the scalding blaze of it in the cradle of her palm. Thinks the edge of it might slice her open.

The hold she has on him is sure, even though she feels the silken edge of a sleeve brush against her arm incrementally through the slow stream of time. Notices how its glow is dimmed with a dark stain that glitters dimly of earth and flower. Sesshoumaru is a figure in motion, angled down towards where she'd been, bent to strike. She could not have reached both wrist and cheek otherwise.

The passage of moments, the breath of seconds— she feels it itching along the back of her neck and between her toes. Feels how the winds grow harsh, how it pushes against her slender frame as acid nips at the tips of her ears and the curve of her neck. The whistle of it is louder, coming back to her ears faster and faster; like a train barreling down the tracks and gaining speed.

Time waits for no one, she knows this.

She has begun to learn that there are many things she knows, when the moment is right. Like with two small rabbits standing boldly before her blood-slick fingers.

And so.

Not like before.

Not like with Inuyasha.

Nor with Jaken.

Or Hiei.

No, this was how she was when with Shippou. How she'd been with Rin, when it had been the most crucial.

She feels the warmth and light build inside the hollow of her ribs (how they ache already, but she ignores the weariness and presses on), she grasps the familiar burn of a comet, and pushes it down the length of her arm to go up and out through the cup of her left palm. The wash of energy, the brilliant white of it, does not bludgeon, nor slap. It's a warm flood of rain on a cool summer day, a familiar blanket on a cold winter night, it is a beloved toy clasped to the breast in comfort— it is all of these things and yet none.

Time speeds up, resuming a passing semblance of normalcy whenthe white glow pours into the fractal-cut figure of ademon lord and fans the fire of his life. And for just a moment, a single flash of a second before the light and sound became too much— she saw him. The roaring fire of his youki and the hues it claimed. She saw what lay beneath his icy, crystalline forms.

Rin, she reminded herself softly.

Sesshoumaru remains frozen beneath her twin points of contact, claws extended and half-crouched, half-hunched from his landing. His true form is a wrinkle in time, a giant inu of improbable proportions as it is caught between the blur of an attack, and other. Muddled and torn as the twin figures are, when confronted with something soft, something foreign. An energy not yet encountered. Not one expected... anticipated.

They are ringed by scorched earth that glittered and sparked to her sight. Beyond them lay a broken storm of amber youki, and farther still, the weak tatters of unfamiliar reiki.

"The operation was successful," Kagome speaks, voice cracking from the dry parch of her throat. Wordlessly, she withdraws her hands from his person and settles them at her sides; "Rin is stable and the majority of infected tissue and the ruptured organ has been removed." She pauses, takes one step back and further to the side while she gestures with one hand to precede her into the tent beyond the campfire. Of all things, she still has her duty to perform, the job to finish.

Sesshoumaru straightens, stands upright in inches like a puppet on clumsy strings. The armor further cracks, then breaks apart until it falls from him in heavy pieces. Something about his jaw twinges and tightens, clenches or relaxes. The reflective prism between the corded muscle of his neck and the sharpness of his facial features made it difficult to determine which motion it had been. His movements are slow and easily telegraphed, as if he were rediscovering something long forgot.

The human shape of him stands tall and strides past her, dips down, and moves into the tent. And high above, twin, glowing red orbs watch Kagome with an intensity she dared not consider.

After a beat, she follows.

Inuyasha is by the second fire, clenching a hauntingly brilliant fang between claws that skip and jerk. The red of the fire-rat robe all-but eclipses his fractured figure. He remains hunched over where she'd originally left him, hands clasped tightly over his father's fang, half-buried into glittering earth.

He remains mute when she passes, and makes not a sound when she joins his older brother in the tent.

It's cramped, so she kneels.

Sesshoumaru mimics the movement, leans over Rin with one hand held up, stretched out over her limp form. He does not touch her and she doesn't think he'd dare— if only to prevent further pain to the one he'd taken into his protection.

I'd warned you about this, she can't help but think. A large portion of her wants to speak those very words. But she won't. Kagome swallows them down instead and waits for the daiyokai to finish his own inspection. She makes herself wait beside him, silent.

"Explain why This One, should not slit your throat where you kneel, for what you have done." He speaks, voice soft so as to not disturb Rin. Sesshoumaru holds one crystal-carved hand across his middle, lethal claws holding back the muted glow of a white sleeve. The other appendage is bared up to the elbow so the unencumbered hand can slip cautious claws beneath tape and bandage, prying the materials up high enough to catch sight and scent, before smoothing them gently back into place. He does not turn to face her, merely continues his inspection.

She can think of nothing to say to that, not without instigating a fight which would be detrimental given the setting. So instead, she falls back into her training, lets the physician— the healer, take the fore.

"As I said previously, Rin's condition is stable," Kagome says quietly, unwilling to disturb the young girl's rest either (no matter thatit had been obtained under traumatizing conditions), "The appendix was removed in addition to infected tissue. She has been given two doses of anti-pain medication, one pre-surgery, and one post. She'll need another dose— preferably one mixed with diluted opium, when she wakes, and then again every four-to-six hours for the next seven days. Until the pain is manageable enough for her to take less-addictive herbal remedies."

Here, Kagome pauses long enough to swallow dregs of blood from the tear in her mouth. Uses the tangy copper to wet her throat so she does not feel on the constant edge of a coughing fit. She takes a moment to make her own assessment of Rin's current status from where she sits.

"The incision site has been coated with anti-inflammatory and anti-infection healing paste, it will take care of any lingering threat of infection. The stitches were made with soluble thread, she has them both internally and externally. As her body heals, the sutures will dissolve and be absorbed into the body and discarded over time. Do not remove them. Keep the site and stitches clean," She pauses long enough to gesture to the small black pot sitting between them, "Have the paste applied liberally between cleanings. The bandages should be changed every four hours, earlier if there are signs of seepage or contamination. After forty-eight to seventy-two hours, the bandages can come off, and remain so unless seepage or tearing occurs."

She watches as Sesshoumaru leans back from Rin's prone shape, righting her yukata as he goes (the healthy, healing glow of fresh earth and budding yellow flowers is muted, shielded from sight by a layer of lightly-scented cloth). Notices his inspection of the aforementioned pot that contains the potent healing paste.

"Rin will make a full recovery in six months, sooner if she is careful not to stretch her abdominal muscles or over-exert herself for the next two months. There will be lingering tenderness in the area for up to three, and scarring will be minimal." She says finally, resting a little more firmly upon her heels once she finishes detailing Rin's steps to recovery.

Sesshoumaru says nothing in reply and the sharp cut of golden iris tells her not a word. After a time, he sets the small black pot (she does not know what color it really is, likely never will), back upon the floor between them. His attentions seem caught between two fixed points; the one beside and the one before. The composite of colored light from his divergent fixations was not dissimilar from that of a crystal charm dangling in a sunny window. It cast light and color all around.

"You have given This One, instructions in place of excuses, miko." He murmurs, ever mindful of Rin.

"Excuses are shoddy attempts at justification or apology," She replies softly, clenching her jaw at the words that follow; "Neither of which I owe to you, Demon Lord."

She hears the leather of tessaiga's hilt creak as Inuyasha tightens his grip— hears the feint start of a warning snarl curl from beneath Sesshoumaru's lip. Kagome does not regret what she'd said and has no intention of apologizing for it, either.

"Such insolence, froma human." He warns.

Kagome twists in her seated position just enough to face him and tilt her head up to focus upon the taller demon's. It's just one more hurt to add to her growing pile. Her useless eyes are open, she can feel it, but she doesn't care about that, not really— she just hopes he can see how little fear she has of him in this moment. How she has no f*cks left to give in the face of his hostility.

"The only apologies I owe, are to Rin, for the unnecessary amount of pain I forced her to endure," She did not say why that was; she hadn't felt the need to point out just why it was that she'd been so grievously unprepared for the surgery. She refrained from pointing fingers, because in the end, it didn't matter, what's done is done. "And to Shippou, for making him assist me in cutting open his dearest friend." Kagome finished, firming her jaw in a silent snarl of her own.

Heaven help her if there was a 'next time', because at the rate she was going, if she had to make Shippou help her again— she'd truly deserve no better than eternal hellfire. Something she once had a taste of. A taste that still haunted her dreams, on occasion.

"The kit, participated in this savagery?" Sesshoumaru turned his head to the side, sought out the tiny kitsune's sleeping form. A tiny, blurred flame that lay curled up in a bed of linens and towels in the far corner.

Do you not remember? Did you not hear anything beyond Rin's cries as you fought to tear down the barrier that kept you away? Kagome thinks these things, but doesn't say them no matter how puzzling. She wonders if he'd been so lost within the depths of his emotions, so much so that they'd rendered him deaf while he decimated his surroundings in attempts to shatter the barrier. She keeps these things to herself, unwilling to disturb the lingering silence that followed his rhetorical query. Not when he appeared so deep in contemplation of the bevy of evidence that lay all around him. Evidence previously neglected during his initial assessment of Rin's health.

"I did not have the luxury of choice under the time constraints, and Shippou knew enough of my methods to assist as I required." Kagome replied, after a fashion. It was about time to have her tools removed from the water, to have them dried and put away.

She rose up out of her kneel and departed the tent, leaving Sesshoumaru to his thoughts. Rin would wake soon and she needed to get her hands on some opium to mix in with the painkillers she had in stock. She didn't feel a need to fear for Shippou's safety, just her own. But even that was a minimal concern, at best.

"You have not been dismissed, miko."

"I haven't had my throat slit, either." She bites, leaving it all behind as she steps out.

She pays no mind to the watchful, glowing eyes high above.


Inuyasha removed her surgical implements from the boiling water and set them aside on a towel. She's inspected, dried, and put more than half of the collection away in their respective casings (buttermilk soft folds of pocketed leather that glow faintly from long use, and nitrile plastic cases which remain black shadows save for a soft sparkle of scent), before her friend utters a single word.

"Kagome?" A soft-spoken question. She hears the slightest of tremors beneath the tone, an underlying worry, or fear.

"Inuyasha, I need you to go to the next town over, find one of their doctors and purchase a tincture of opium. I'll need it for-" She doesn't get to finish.

The hanyo has moved closer, sidled himself up and near brushing shoulders. She remembers, once upon a time how such proximity would have had her blushing, had her hoping for something more. What she cannot recall, is the moment when it stopped. Knows it happened sometime after Naraku, during her early years in college. Lost the desire for more, between studying the anatomy of fresh corpses and learning the rudiments of animal behavior.

His calloused sword-hand gripped her forearm, stilling its movements, and her words. It's a cut of angry silver with white-gold claws— it is the clearest image she has seen of him since her new sight. From the tips of his claws up to the knobby-wrist, before it's swallowed in a banked swath of fire-engine red. She tries to follow it up, to bring the rest of him into focus. But the whole of his shape (save the hand that touches), is a jittery mess of misshapen pieces. All hard angles that are sharp enough to cut, two flat orbs of yellow-gold within it, and a slashed open maw of pink and red.

"Kagome, are y-"

"Remain here, This One, will collect the medicine." Sesshoumaru decrees, emerging from her small tent in a halo of his own multi-colored light. His figure is soft along the sides, bleeds a prism of color at its seems— like a teddy bear that had been over-stuffed and sewed with weak thread, or a snow globe that'd cracked and begun to leak.

Kagome didn't know what it meant, but she holds her tongue in the face of his casual dismissal when he takes to the air a moment later, atop a smoldering cloud of downy white that flashed with bolts of electric green.

"That co*cky sonuva-!"

"Inuyasha, keep it down." She interrupts, "Rin and Shippou are asleep. I'd like to keep it that way until I have something stronger for Rin to take." She shakes off his hand and continues putting the last of her tools away.

"Kago-"

"What? What is it?" Kagome hisses, angry, "Can I not have five godamn minutes of uninterrupted quiet? Can I? What's so bloody impor-"

"I just wanted to know if you were alright! Okay? That's all!" Inuyasha snaps back, a rush of frantic silver and red usurping the whole of her sight.

The wind is gone from her sails. She's at a loss and can't figure it out— why would he ask that? If she was alright? Kagome wasn't the one that had to be cut open without anesthesia, without explanation. She hadn't been the one strong-armed into the position of assistant surgeon. And she sure as hell had not been the one on the wrong side of the barrier, cut off from the one she swore to protect— who'd screamed for aid. Why did—

Warm, warm arms wrap themselves around her shaking body. She sees nothing but red and silver all around. The heat of him is soothing, and warm. Kagome hadn't been aware of the chill.

"You're... You've," he stops, then starts, only to stop again as Inuyasha struggled with his words; "You haven't stopped shaking... or crying. Since you came out of the tent with Rin's blood a-" mercifully, he cuts himself off.

Had she been trembling, this whole time?

Crying?

She touches a hand to her cheek and finds it wet.

Kagome laughs wetly, hiccoughs halfway through it, and then sobs into the bright red of Inuyasha's haori. Kami, she's such a mess. And all throughout her crying jag, her friend holds her quietly.

Later, Rin sleeps the deep, restful sleep of opium-mixed painkillers. While Shippou's rest has grown less fitful and more heavy. After Inuyasha cleaned up the remaining mess around the campfire then left to take up his spot in goshinboku's branches. And once she's mopped up her tears, bound her eyes, cleaned... all of herself, and changed into new clothes (while she debated the merits of burning everything she wore, bloodstained or not, just because).

After all of that, she sits on her ass with her legs crossed, in front of the fire. A simple campfire that's consistently bright enough to maintain a low-level headache, even if she isn't readily focused upon it. She holds a cooling cup of tea in her chilled hands, thinking nothing and doing less. Kagome is doing little more than quietly existing, seated before a fire that makes her head hurt, and trying very carefully to avoid excess movement.

Everything aches, and exhaustion is all-consuming.

She's trying to avoid noticing that, too.

Jaken sits in front of the campfire too, just off to her left. His froggy-green energy is banked like an old creek bed experiencing a minor drought, perhaps he is as tired as she is. He hasn't said a word since his arrival on Ah-Un (whom grazed somewhere by the treeline, furthest from the village), doing no more than climbing up the small hill to her camp, looked in on Rin before plopping down by the fire. The entire venture appeared to have aged him a good fifty years, if not more.

Sesshoumaru was little more than the lashing, phantom tails of his inuyokai form. Drifting overhead through the amber clouds and golden haze of his youki. She had not seen more of him since his abrupt departure from the tent.

It had been Inuyasha who'd brought the opium.

An unwilling intermediary in a non-fight that a demon lord and human miko were not having.

As tired as Kagome was, and as hard as she was trying to deliberately refrain from thought— she couldn't. One thing kept dragging her brain back online, no matter how she fought or evaded. It was not something that would allow for casual dismissal, for it would not lay down or fade away.

The foreign reiki.

Kagome chewed on her lip, thoughts a whirl.

Kaede's village and their new miko. She'd obviously come out to try and ward off (or combat, but the notion alone makes her want to laugh hysterically), Sesshoumaru, when he'd attacked her campsite. Mighty blows that had failed to break her barrier, had instead torn up the earth all around and alerted the other miko. Kagome hadn't a clue how it went down, but from what little she'd gathered from the nearby remains, the daiyokai had paid no mind to the other priestess— his sole focus had been to bring down the barrier and save Rin.

She imagines the miko must have retreated at some point.

Kagome doesn't know when she'll return, but she knows that when the other girl does... it won't be with glad tidings.

The rattle of a kettle and the pouring of tea brings her back to the present.

Jaken had refilled his own cup, but otherwise remained still and silent.

In the distance, between the village and where Ah-Un grazed, and the farthest from Sesshoumaru— is something familiar. A request. Small, earthbound star-clusters with intertwined auras and clasped paws.

A plea.

Her bones ache, her cheek throbs, and the entirety of her body still trembles. But all the same, she sets her neglected teacup down, and stands. She feels a smile tug at the seems of her mouth as she goes, feels a lightness in her steps as the weariness fades. Kagome smiles absently at Jaken as she passes him on her way down the hill.

She's headed for the treeline, where the tiny stars have gathered.


If she sees a blur of grass-green on her periphery, she thinks nothing of it.


There is still work to do.

Chapter 13: Childish fights and an inquiry from the Soburin of the West

Notes:

I thank each of you for the time you've given to me to read my works, and efforts employed when writing a comment. I apologize if the last two chapters were not up to some standards, and how certain things did not make sense. All I can say for now is that there are reasons for everything, and I hope that you've the patience. <3

Beyond that, check the tumblr (https://beneathewords.tumblr.com/), for strange tidbits and questions, and happy reading!

Chapter Text

In the midst of Spring…

Riiiiiiiiiin…?” Shippou drawls, lilting his voice on the end to mark it a question.

Whaaaaaaat?” she replies, mimicking the kitsune in kind from where she sits, propped on a tree-stump.

“When did your hair turn black?” the little kit flops himself down on his back, three tails twitching. He makes sure that at least one of them, hits the other girl’s legs on every pass.

“I don’t know, when did yours start going gray?” Rin shoots back. Girls are always sensitive to commentary on their appearance— especially if it’s unknown to be positive or negative feedback.

“It’s not gray!” Shippou barks, launching to his feet so he can stamp one of those little fox-paws to emphasize his point.

Fiiiine— white then. Same thing.” she shrugs one thin shoulder, a smirk curling up the sides of her mouth.

“Well at least I’m not white like a ghost!” he decrees, chest thrust out as he points one clawed finger in Rin’s face.

“What did you say, oji-san?” Rin shot back, rising to her feet with clenched fists.

“I said- " Shippou starts, then cuts off in an undignified squeak when Rin point-blank shoves him.

From there, words devolve into shrieks of outrage and and cries of undignified mortification. Shippou and Rin both embark on a mighty scuffle— a true battle of wills, a wild clash of tempers. If one pulls hair, the other yanks on a tail; when one shoves, the other pushes. When the fight inevitably brings them to the earthen floor, garments are torn; the seats, knees, and elbows of respective fabrics are quick to stain with dirt and grass.

Kagome considers butting in, of taking bold strides over where their clashing auras flash and flare at each other— to break up the fight. But at the last minute, refrains. She remains seated on the tree stump, hands clasped firmly around the cooling mug of tea. There’s a few reasons why she’s elected to stay out of their childish squabble (a small part of it is simply because the childish spat reminds her so dearly of when she was little and fought with Souta, like a couple of wet cats), but mostly, it’s because she doesn’t want to draw Rin’s attention.

Once the younger woman had regained enough coherency post-surgery, Kagome had bowed low and apologized to the girl for what she’d done. A bit later, when Rin had asked why, she’d done her best to explain in the simplest terms possible. About how she’d needed to… cut, into her and remove something that would have killed her. And, brave, sweet girl that she was, Rin appeared to understand and accept the necessary cruelty of her actions. Even seemed to perk up and return more and more to her usual cheery self as her healing and recovery progressed. But Kagome noticed the signs, the small, nonverbal cues that a child displayed when they didn’t feel wholly safe, nor fully trusting.

The realization of it hurt, deeply. It was Rin’s right to feel and act that way, Kagome understood that she did, even if a part of her wanted to scream and cry at the unfairness.

The world isn’t fair though is it, Kagome?

“That’s about the rub of it.” she muses, propping her chin up on a hand.

She’d saved a treasured life and then been painted the bad guy because she’d done what needed to be done. Kagome had all but flat out told Sesshoumaru what would happen if he didn’t bring Rin to her immediately if anything out of the norm happened concerning the girl’s health. Kami she hoped he wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. Why was Rin getting so deathly sick all the time in the first place? Granted the incidents were spaced out over the seasons, but still, it’s not been a full year since the first incident. And that was only taking into account the times Kagome knew of. What was going on over in the West? Were all humans in the yokai lord’s lands getting ill too, or was it just Rin?

Kagome nibbled on the edge of a fingernail, thinking.

Honestly, she had been surprised to see Rin at all; once the child had been well enough to transport, Sesshoumaru had swept into the tent without a word, collected Rin, then left. He hadn’t so much as glared in her general direction, but the maelstrom of his rampant youki had been a clear enough sign of his anger. Kagome had for sure believed she wouldn’t see the entourage again after that, least of all be left unsupervised with Rin. But nearly a month and change later, she’d come riding in on Ah-Un’s back with Jaken, exclaiming her cheer. Without so much as a passing comment of explanation... and Kagome had been too much of a coward to ask.

Shippou squeals indignantly when one of his tails is yanked and his face is smooshed into a pillow of wildflowers.

What of Jaken, though? He’d been behaving oddly since the wave of reiki she’d unintentionally unleashed upon him, back when he’d written the scrolls she’d dictated. Behavior that had grown steadily more odd in the visits that followed; he still remained unusually polite and well-spoken and nothing like his previous haughty, demeaning talk from the shard-hunting days. No, at this point Kagome was confident in her assessment of his strange actions now to lay name to the weirdness. Jaken, was following her. Not all the time, though, which is why she’d initially dismissed the idea, thinking it silly. But twice was indicative, and three times meant a pattern; Jaken only followed her when yokai couples requested her assistance.

Rin cried out shrilly when the obi of her yukata tore beneath tiny claws. Suddenly terrified, Shippou decided a tactical retreat was in order— Rin was quick to give chase.

Kagome noticed that the small imp of a yokai kept a sizable distance between them in these instances, either to stay out of sensing range of the yokai pair, or perhaps her own (if it was the former, his spy craft needed serious work). Once she’d done her job and departed, Jaken was equally quick to split off and disappear into the trees, his destination unknown (while Kagome was left to wander back to camp, coming down from the queer ‘high’ she seemed to get from each session). She hadn’t given any thought to following him, Kagome wasn’t at that stage yet where she was curious enough to confront the issue. A lot of that reticence stemmed from the fallout of the surgery— Kagome didn’t want to push the envelope or stare the gift horse (dog, in this case), in the mouth. She just didn’t want to risk further estrangement, not when Shippou and Rin were on such good terms.

“Ack! Why are you so heavy!?” Shippou cried out in despair, flailing helplessly and clawing at the grass, tails lashing wildly.

“Say you’re sorry, oji-san!” Rin had him pinned to the floor as she sat on the middle of his back, holding his tiny fox feet by the ankles as she yanked them up and against her chest. She leaned back threateningly as tendrils of hair blurred with the fiery auburn of Shippou’s.

Best friends, those two. Kagome snorted and covered her mouth with her fingertips.

“Come girl, we must depart!” Jaken called, entering the campsite. His moss-green figure was a blur, a malleable smear of putty or watered down paint in her eyes.

“Bye Shippou-chan! Bye Kagome-sama! See you next time!” Rin chirps sweetly, ruffling Shippou’s hair once she releases him and stands. She waves to Kagome and trots over to Jaken’s side, chattering a mile a minute as they depart.

“Not even a chance to say goodbye.” Kagome mutters beneath the splay of her fingers, still distracted by so many things, the new, giant chasm between her and Rin, near chief among them.

“Mama?” Her wonderfully loving and supportive son inquires. He fits a small hand of warm orange-red upon her knee, and she smiles. Shippou is covered in glittering bits of green and brown, and she can smell the fresh grass and dirt all over him. Such a little scrapper, her beloved boy.

You, need a bath.” She declares in place of an answer. For the moment, she is content to focus on Shippou, and allow thoughts of the village miko, Rin, Sesshoumaru, Jaken, Inuyasha, and everything else cluttering up her big brain— to fall to the wayside. Some things could wait, just as others could not.

To the West, drawing near the mighty Shiro of the Gin-Inu

The weather had warmed significantly since the start of spring— but the winds still retained enough bite, making him huddle further into the depths of his traveling clothes. Night flights have always proven to be far too cold for his preferences. Usually Jaken had an additional fur cloak packed away in the dragon’s saddlebags; however, he’d been more distracted than usual, prior to their departure for the hanyo’s forest and had subsequently forgotten to pack his.

Sniffling miserably against the harsh winds, Jaken forced one bulbous eye to open. He shut it quickly after he’d confirmed that Rin still clung to the saddle, wrapped within the confines of her own furs. She slept remarkably well at such elevation— without slipping off the great beast, either. If only he had been graced with such a knack.

He spared a glance at one, three-clawed hand; stretching the digits out and drawing them into loose fist several times. At the very least, the girl’s larger form blocked the worst of the wind speeds. But as Jaken straightened out his hand to affix it to the reins once more, he couldn’t help but wonder at how much longer he’d be able to use the little human as a personal wind buffer.

They touched down in the courtyard of the Shiro no Gin-Inu, before midnight. Rin is collected from the saddle and taken to her quarters before Jaken has fully dismounted.

He leaves the great beast to the stable hands, deposits the Staff of Two Heads in the care of a servant, and quickly makes his way to the receiving chamber. Jaken needed to make his report to the ruler of the Western lands, without delay.

Each step takes him farther into the inner sanctum of the shiro, and he is grateful for it. The collective heat from the fortress’ amenities and its people ensured its interior was kept comfortably warm, year round. As he passes through guided halls, spacious anterooms, and strides beneath pillared archways with high-domed ceilings of colored glass— Jaken keeps a keen eye out for general cleanliness and good order. Servants could be spotted along his path, each one performing their duties in a satisfactory and overall admirable fashion. Most of the employ makes a point to give him a brief, perfunctory nod of acknowledgement, the spare few that do not, were excused given the nature of respective tasks.

Serving staff of the Shiro no Gin-Inu, were well aware that Jaken took no offense should they elect to forgo social niceties in favor of securing six-century-old tapestries (made from the collective furs and hides of previous conquests), or twelve-stone statues of carved marble and jade. Some things were simply more important than silly head nods to higher-ranked servants.

As the great double-doors grew to ever-larger proportions the nearer he drew, two inuyokai guards turned and grasped the mirrored crescent handles. The doors were opened in one fluid motion, allowing Jaken to continue his onward trek without a break in stride. The doors shut behind him on silent, well-oiled hinges.

His clawed feet click-clacked on smooth, polished stone floor until they’re rendered mute beneath the long, dulled-red rug. An ancient cut of skin, worn from constant wear (the remains of yet another predecessors' conquest). He follows the long hide to its end, several feet shy of the great throne itself. When he reaches its frayed edge, Jaken dips into an appropriate kneel, and waits.

“Rise, Jaken.” the Soburin of the West murmurs, “There is little need to stand on ceremony at the moment. Tell me what news you bring.”

“As you wish, Inukimi-sama.” Jaken sits upright, but remains kneeling with his clawed hands clasped in his lap. His bones ache more in these last few moons and he’d rather rest them as often as he’s able until it passes.

A demurely pointed smile flits across the Soburin’s painted lips, she otherwise remains silent. Inukimi-sama crosses one leg over the other, and adjusts the layers of her kimono accordingly. She has adopted the dress of human royalty in recent decades, but dons them according to her singular tastes and preferences alone.

“This humble servant followed up with the yokai couple who’d sought treatment from the hanyo’s miko— "

“The indecent one, yes?” Inukimi-sama interrupts, “I recall their being a rather dubious mention of an unusually short skirt, worn by one of the bastard’s traveling companions… so much so that This One’s own son felt need to remark upon it.”

Jaken flushes at the offhanded comment— one that he knows Sesshoumaru-sama had not made. Least of all, not within the great Inukimi-sama’s presence… he knew better.

“Ah. Yes, my lady… That one.” Jaken warbles, coughing politely into his hand; “She— She dresses much more modestly now, though.” he felt the need to add. The older girl still dressed strangely, but at least she covered her legs these days.

“Go on.” she bids, amused.

“When this most humble servant spoke with the couple— they most graciously explained that they had sought aid for their infertility. That they had been told by other mated pairs that the miko who resides on the edge of the human’s village will heal them, if asked.”

“Curious. No payment or offerings given? How is the healing performed? Any successes, or is it all merely unsubstantiated rumor among the small ones?” Inukimi-sama questions, neatly cutting into Jaken’s report.

“None, my lady— this lowly servant spoke with several mated pairs and each told the same tale. They heard about the miko’s healing, then traveled to the tree-line of the hanyo’s forest and waited. Within moments, the miko appears with a smile. She waits for the pair to ask, and then she freely heals them.” Jaken explains, still stricken by the tales and by what he’s seen.

“You mentioned witnessing one of these sessions previously— what does she do, again? How does this human miko heal these small yokai?” She uncrosses her legs now, braces delicate claws upon jade and stone armrests as she leans forward.

“F-first she… she hums a song— I-this mere servant knows not what one. It seems to differ each time, from what this servant saw and was later told. Next she uses a needle-thin blade to cut beneath the male’s genitalia, and then the tip of her own finger. She smears the blood from her own wound onto the same digit of her other hand. Then she inserts one into the male, and the other into the female at the same time. Then some-”

“The indecent miko then inserts her fingers into the respective sexes of a mated pair?” Inukimi-sama sounds mutually horrified and upon the edge of scandalous laughter.

“Yes, my lady. It seems that the ability requires a measure of crude… blood-sharing, to employ.”

“And then?” she prompts the moment Jaken falls quiet.

“Then?” Jaken’s lost the thread of his tale with Inukimi-sama’s many interruptions, coupled with his own abashed recollections.

“After the indecent miko has finished placing her hands in inappropriate places.” she states, impatient for details. More knowledge.

“A surge of energy wells up and encompasses the mated pair-”

“Reiki?”

Jaken shakes his head in the negative.

“Strange,” she murmurs thoughtfully, “Go on.”

“Once it fades, the miko departs immediately thereafter.”

“That’s it?”

“The mated pair are then… compelled, to consummate.” Jaken says, trying valiantly not to flush a deeper shade of purple. He’d thought it strange at first— how the miko practically ran from the pair of tiny yokai once she’d finished her part. Jaken still regrets not doing the same.

“Compelled, you say?” the Soburin speaks, as if she’s scented blood, or wicked gossip. Most days it seems to be one in the same in her eyes.

“Y-yes my lady. The pair act as if drunk on some sort of aphrodisiac and mate with abandon.” A traumatizing level of abandon, he believed.

“Hn.” she hums, sitting back against the monstrous throne carved for bigger creatures. Inukimi-sama crosses a leg and taps a clawed fingertip against her bottom lip in thought. She takes her time, digesting the information and formulates the next pertinent question; “Tell me, Jaken. Of all the couples this miko has… ‘healed’, how many have been pupped?”

Jaken swallows heavily and grips his clawed hands firmly as he tips his head up to see the Soburin of the West’s cool gaze.

“All of them.”

More words are exchanged after that, but the large Attacus Atlas moth does not remain behind long enough to hear. She has a great journey ahead of her, and such news cannot wait a single moment longer than was absolutely necessary. The moth squeezes through a fractured segment in a high-pane window, and takes flight.

Chapter 14: Through Sumi Baba's Eyes

Notes:

Uh... there might be some format chapter number changes down the pipeline here in a bit so that some broken up chapters can be combined. Like they were originally intended.

Also, because it seemed unclear (and hopefully is more clear with this chapter), when Sesshoumaru was losing his sh*t during the surgery, Inuyasha didn't leave his spot at the campfire. He didn't step out to try and combat the other... at all. BOY KNOWS WHATS UP.

And uh... some more things should be able to be gleaned/hypothesized from this chapter.

Happy reading, and thank you for your time! <3

Chapter Text

Complete training of the mind, body, and spirit, required time and dedicated effort. It took the years offered, and the whole of ones’ sincerest efforts. To become a miko was no easy task, a feat not swiftly accomplished by any ordinary woman with even a spit of holy power. She could have undergone the sacred rites and learned the proper methods to then gain person-hood of a miko— a respected and revered calling for any woman who kept the kamis faith.

However, at the tender age of twelve, mere days after she’d bled— Sumi Baba was delivered to the elder shaman. For she had shown promise since the beginning, had oft displayed shamanistic sickness through her foundling years. She would be no ordinary, common shrine maiden, Sumi’s calling was greater, she would undergo the rigorous training of the kuchiyose miko.

When she was taken beneath the revered shaman’s wing, Sumi underwent training; she learned the ancient techniques to control her trance states, learned the sacred purifying capabilities of cold water and abstinence. Sumi familiarized herself with the mortality of man, of death and loss, of blood and toil, sickness and health… she watched it all. She practiced continual bouts of self-purification with cold, running waters as she learned holy chants and secret dances. Sumi learned to communicate with spirits of the deceased and the almighty kami through intonations and magical formulas.

She learned many important and sacred lessons over the years, until the time of culmination. Of proof. Of the calling

Sumi had donned the white shroud. Had allowed for the drumbeats to dictate the strength of her heart as the chanting of her elders caused goose-flesh to rise along the length of her body. She had stood in the middle of the room, ringed by her elders and the flickering light of candles as the heady perfume of incense thickened the air.

She remembers swaying, at first, which grew to a wild dance of flowing white and whirling wisps of cloying smoke. How the light from the candles seemed so bright, and the chanting so distant.

Remembers that like so many times before, she was not alone in the body that housed her soul. But this time, it was no paltry spirit, but the greater, burning brilliance of a higher being.

“O’ great kami whom has possessed this vessel before us, speak thy name! Speak thy name so that all will know whom she serves!”

A burgeoning swell of energy, a desperate need to release— crawls up the well of her belly and travels the length of her throat. Hangs thick and heavy on her tongue when her head tips back through the heady swell of power. Scarcely is their breath in her lungs despite how she labors and gasps; her lips crack open wide and the cry comes out when air should go in.

“Kuebiko!” Shouts the foreign entity from betwixt her parted lips.

The swell of energy leaves her once the kami had spoken, and with it, Sumi fades.

After the rite, the traditions followed. The wedding dress had been beyond compare and softer than anything she had ever touched. The sake for the toast had tasted of sweet honey cakes, its warmth had spread out from her belly and reached the very tips of her fingers and toes. She was a girl child no longer, had been made a bride to a god.

The great kami Kuebiko had claimed her, but had not decreed that she follow to his shrine.

A curious puzzle to many at the shrine, an unexpected quandary for a kami who cannot walk.

But Sumi knew better.

For a mere seven days after she had successfully completed her training and bound to the kami to whom she served, a summons came. Before she knew its contents and prior to words of inquiry reaching her ears— she knew.

She had already been dressed and packed for traveling by the time one of the acolytes had come to request her audience on behalf of the head shaman. Sumi had left the shrine on foot, headed south, before the sun had reached its zenith that very day.

South… Kami Kuebiko had whispered in her dreams.

To the south, in a small village named Edo, is where she was needed. Where the great kami wanted her to go. She knew not why, and was not yet ready to ask, she’d not earned the privilege to inquire so soon. But what she did know, was enough to go on, for now; the village had an old and infirm miko and had requested aid of a new one to see to last rites and protection from savage yokai.

Sumi traveled at a good pace, resting at night and alighting on foot before sunrise each morning. After several days of light eating, few breaks, and swift travel; she was unable to make it in time. She’d received word from the village head that their miko had passed some time in the night, on the hilltop just outside of their perimeter.

After depositing her things into the hands of a welcoming villager (she was informed that they would be placed within her new lodgings), Sumi enlistment several of the women that had known the elder miko best, and then made the short trek across the small town and up the hillside.

The tremors began the moment she left the safety of the huts and houses.

Not halfway up the hill, a foreign structure of some kind availed itself to her sights. And with it, her flesh prickled and the back of her neck grew chilled— as if bucket of winter water had been upended over it without warning.

Every step she took, the sensations increased.

In the distant echoes of her memory, she could hear the beat of the drums and the distant chant of her elders.

Once more, she was not alone.

Quickly, Sumi spared the members of her party a cursory glance, desiring to know if they too were affected by the currents of power that saturated the air, the very earth and soil they trod upon. She saw nothing of its influence upon their solemn faces as they continued up the hill.

With the bevy of ignorant women surrounding her, Sumi kept her own counsel as they crested the hilltop.

Again, she took notice of the alien structure, a mockery of a hut made of thin material she’d never seen before. It was colored brightly in woodland greens and pale, earthen hues. It’s door had been tied back somehow, and allowed her to gaze within its depths.

In silence, she motioned for the village women to precede her in collecting the departed miko’s body. They would wrap and carry the older woman’s remains back with them and down into the heart of their town where her last rites would be performed after the body had been prepared. And while the women moved ahead and began to wrap the deceased— Sumi observed.

Her body shook from the weight of exposure.

She could hear the chants and feel the phantom drums.

The kami were here.

Sumi had difficulty drawing breath, yet her eyes remained open.

Having only just arrived in the village, Sumi had been given precious little time, or information concerning the oddities unique to it. She had not been made aware of the inuhanyo who lurked in the boughs of a tall tree, nor had she been told that the small kitsune had been sent to inform the others of the miko’s passing. The same small yokai child that now sat by the small campfire, sobbing into a bound sheaf of papers. However, it was not the peculiar collection of demons that held her spellbound, at the edge of the makeshift campsite.

It was the woman. The one who knelt, un-moving as the women folded sheets of rough-hewn cotton over and around the body. She was dressed shabbily and looked as if she’d not slept, but beneath the wrinkled garments and unwashed grease lay a slender, fine-boned, dark-haired beauty. It was not the stranger’s comeliness that arrested Sumi, she was not so faint of heart as to be swayed by mortal beauty. Nor was it the shocking abundance of reiki that so freely ebbed and flowed from the other woman like the tide. No, it was something else.

It hung in the air like ozone.

Whispered like a chime in the wind.

A kami was here.

The women had finished their task and came out of the strange hut, carrying their burden with little effort. Sumi followed behind them at a sedate and measured pace. In the recesses of her thoughts, she told herself that she was not fleeing.

A trained kuchiyose miko fled from no one.


No one.

With the funeral rites performed, Sumi removed her person from the activity of the villagers so that she could purify her mind and body. Later, ensconced within the confines of the previous miko’s quarters, she lit a stick of incense then raised twin bells.

The incantation was familiar, and the melody came with practiced ease. It was invigorating, to know the forms and rites that allowed her to control the flow of energy into her body. To guide her limbs in the correct motions, to have the presence of mind so she can understand that which the spirits and kamis were trying to tell her.

To no longer fear the presence when it came into her body, filled her mind, and spilled out from parted lips.

Tonight, Sumi called no spirit, nor nearby kami— nay, for the first time, Sumi calls upon the deity whom she will serve for the rest of her natural life. She rings bells, she sings the incantations, and she moves her body through the dance in ever more complicated twists and arcs that gain speed with each turn of the heel. Sumi does not tire when sweat dampens the fabric bindings across her breasts, nor when it trickles down the length of her back. She does not grow faint nor stumble as her breaths grow shorter and specks dot her vision. Sumi drives on, pushes forward as her turns grow sharper, and the melody higher. The private ceremony grows more frantic with each invocation, the reiki builds and pulses, spiraling higher and higher without end.

Just as she fears the edge of a misstep, of failure… her kami descends.

Bells drop from nerveless fingers and the last verse is torn off as her head is tossed to the side and her back bows to the point of cracking. Every inch of her body feels full to the brim with power beyond her reckoning, and her bones creak and crack when they are forced to move in unfamiliar ways.

Kuebiko is a kami incapable of self-movement.

When he fills the shell of his worshipers, his inquisitive nature supersedes all else.

Her legs spread wide and one foot steps in front of the other. Ungainly, coltish steps are taken, she feels the roll of a joint at a misstep, and her body falls to the floor in a scattered heap. Her head lolls back (the pockmarked thatching greets her dazed eyes), straight arms shove down onto the mat and push until her body is in a semblance of uprightness. Guttural, chittering laughter erupts from her parted mouth as her head rolls on its perch to face forward.

Balance is precarious, hunched over as her body is, with legs akimbo.

There is a tang in the air.

Her lungs expand as Kuebiko takes in a large amount of it through her nostrils and open mouth.

Mortal bodies… a distorted voice bellows across the planes of her mind. More of that strange, chittering laughter comes out of her mouth.

On stiff arms and bent legs, she crawls across the length of her room until the back of Sumi’s head bumps the wall. Once there, the puppet of her body upon slackened strings braces both arms upon the wall while her legs fight to push her up, and up, until she stands upon shaking legs. Her hands prove difficult and require too much fine precision of energy and thought. One arm catches in the closed matting of the window, yanks it free while the other dips through the unimpeded divide and clips down; acting as a hold to keep her body in place while her head is lifted up and propped on a shoulder.

Eyes roll in their sockets then settle to the front, facing the hilltop she had climbed days ago. What she sees and what she knows to be, are a conflict, a warring contradiction of double-vision. The great kami Kuebiko has used her eyes to see through his, and because of it— she can see what he sees.

What they see is enough to make her legs give out, falling to the floor of her mind in supplication— she is a mortal not meant to see beyond the veil. But she is not in control of her body, Sumi is the willing vessel to her kami.

Curious, very curious…” the guttural voice speaks through her, trailing off into more of that alien laughter that unsettles Sumi the more she hears it.

She knows the hilltop is there, and at its peak, a strange little campsite with a curious group of outsiders. But what she sees is burning star— a miniature sun of brilliant white. And spreading out from such splendor, like the tails of falling spirits and the broken threads of a spiders web in the wind, were hundreds upon thousands of tendrils of free-flowing reiki.

This wasn’t natural.

It was not normal.

Neither shaman, miko, or demon could have such power.

It simply wasn’t possible.

Wait and see.” Kami Kuebiko decreed.

In the shadow of her mind, her spirit shook, but bowed her compliance all the same. Kuebiko was her kami, and in all things, she would obey.

He left her body more swiftly than he’d taken it, and the echo of his laughter haunted her dreams for many nights to come.

Many days and nights went by as Sumi began to acclimate herself to the peculiarities of the village and its people. Watching with sharp eyes how the men interact with women, how children are treated by their elders. Sumi learns that these people, the ones she will aid for years to come, are goodly persons with honest, forthright intentions. They bare no apparent ill will towards one another, their neighbors, nor the occasional demon.

A strangeness, in its own right. To hold no particular hatred for demons on the whole, merely a casual irritation, a passing fear, for those lesser yokai that attack with little provocation. A surprise in a way, since so much about the true nature of yokai has been lost and forsaken with each new generation of mortal man in power.

Sumi has born witness to several instances of when the inuhanyo had passed through the village on one errand or another. With broad shoulders and head held aloft, the half-breed strode boldly through the collection of people and huts. There was something... charming, about the swath of arrogance he wrapped himself in, aided by the cut of twin dog-ears that swiveled to and fro. She kept her distance, observing the shape of his mouth as it evicted one crudely spoken word after the other.

The townspeople took no offense at his gruff language and course manner, seeming inured to it. Some of the older men would even clap the half-breed heartily on one shoulder after a smattering of conversation, amidst laughter. Whenever this occurred, the hanyo would bluster angrily, twin spots of rouge coloring otherwise pale cheeks; but she never once saw him deny the proffered camaraderie.

Whenever the small kitsune yokai came down from the hilltop and into the village, Sumi would bare witness to a miniature mob of children that were quick to ensconce the little fox demon within their swelled numbers as they went about their play. They would begin at one end of the village and seemingly tire upon reaching the other end— boisterously playing their games and shouting their glee all the while. If the small trickster (a mere two-tails, at that), was not immediately swarmed by the children, he was nothing if not polite and well-mannered when addressing the village men, and oft displayed a bit more flirtatious cheek when addressing the women, be they old or young.

While the half-demon and kitsune were the only notable creatures that routinely entered the village, Sumi was peripherally aware of the slow, but steady increase of yokai. Small, harmless ones (for now, she could not help but think), all along the edges of the wood. They brushed against the very fringes of her senses like dry leaves upon river stones— negligible sensations at best, and easily dismissed. Or would have been, if Sumi had been a traditional miko, the way things stood, she could not help but notice that all of these lesser yokai all flocked towards the northern end of the village… where the hilltop stood. Where she saw the earth-bound star and its myriad of glowing reiki strands.

Her dreams were haunted by Kuebiko’s alien laughter and his cryptic words.

Sumi waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And then the Shikou-yokai came.

The village was unknowingly besieged— a roiling onslaught of sickly-sweet poison youki that blanketed every blade of grass upon the floor and every single strand of hair upon the head of over eight dozen village people she was solely responsible for. Well-water was tainted, food was spoiled, the clothes upon their backs were soiled, and even the very air everyone breathed was awash with its toxins. And not a single person took notice.

Not that they could.

It took years of meditation and rigorous training of not just the mind and body, but ones own reiki— to see a demon’s youki in action. A feat she had mastered within the first six moons of her holy training.

Sumi thanked the kami that the poisonous youki was a slow-acting pollutant, for it would give her the time she required to cleanse the village of its taint and erect temporary reiki barriers to prevent re-contamination when she faced the unseen threat. One that lashed and raged against its immediate surroundings, but it’s true focus lay elsewhere. The sheer anger and true depths of boundless fury were arrested solely upon the lone hilltop.

On the periphery of her senses, Sumi heard the crackled, chittering laughter of her deity. Felt the subtle push, the urge to investigate…

“Miko-sama! Please hurry, there’s a crazed demon attacking at the edge of the village!” Kaoru, the eldest son of the village leader cried, his voice cracking high on the cusp of manhood.

“This demon carries great power beyond most of its kind, Kaoru-san,” Sumi informed the young man, “Ensure the villagers at the northern end evacuate to the southern half and wait until my return.” she withdrew a sheaf of imbued ofudas and handed them to Kaoru. They would function sufficiently enough for her purposes so that she could more swiftly ascend the hilltop that loomed high before her, enshrouded by demon-made thunderstorms and freshly gored earth.

“Wha— “

“Place one above each and every doorway of the houses, it will protect them and the surrounding area from further impurities.” She interrupts, of little mind to care for the slight inflicted. The male, soon-to-be village leader or no, had nothing to say that she needed to hear at present— being miko did have the occasional perk, however small.

She left the gaping man-child behind, striding boldly down the center-line of the village while men and women of all ages fled in the opposite direction. Her steps are sure and steady, she does not waver or break pace as she is drawn closer to the hilltop and the swathe of destruction that is taking place at its peak. Sumi does not flinch at the sounds of trees snapping nor the strike of steel on stone as the land is split apart by blade and claw. She does not jump when inhuman, bestial snarls and howls fill up her ears to the point where she thinks she might go deaf— for she is not the cause of this monstrous yokai’s wrath.

The sharp, burning winds tug at her clothes as she nears. This shikou-yokai’s poison is stronger now, has more immediacy in it’s bite. Her eyes water and she feels pin-pricks of sickness tickle her nose, ears, and fingertips. Sumi sees the wilted clumps of flowers and pock-marked blades of grass that huddle together betwixt the miniature canyons. She feels the sturdy, practical stitching of her priestess garb grow thin and worn as it begins to erode and break apart at the hems and seems.

Sumi bolsters her reiki and pushes it out far enough to encompass her garments, she sees the faint edge of a glow about her person as she crests the hill. She takes a moment to work through what she’s seeing. What she’s hearing.

From the back, she hears the chittering laughter of her kami, Kuebiko, and feels a tremor crawl up the length of her spine. Her kami craves knowledge in all things, no matter the cost…

The strange, cloth-like structure still stands, as does the makeshift campsite around it. Both the structure and the space remain undisturbed amidst the raging turmoil going on around it. Sumi easily picks out the red-clad inuhanyo that sits crouched by the small campfire. She sees how he keeps his head tucked down, how he white-knuckle grips the hilt of a demon’s sword— a giant fang, that is planted deep into the earth. Watches in curious fascination how his dog-ears twitch and flick with each new howling blow against the barrier.

A barrier. The, barrier. Sumi knows of many, and has seen more than her fair share in spite of her minimal life experience in dealing with them. She has not seen one of this particular make, before. It has no glow, no color, and gives off no discernible energy that she can feel in spite of how receptive her otherworldly senses are to such things. No matter the lack, Sumi can see the barrier that prevents the enraged shikou-yokai entry; can make out it’s simple dome-shape by watching the way whips of acid-yellow youki slide off and away, in how sharp claws glance and spark off its impervious shape. She sees the barrier in the curve of how everything around it is rebuffed with little to no fanfare.

A natural law far above the wailing, disconsolate grief of paltry mortals that lay below.

She starts and takes a half-step back when a child’s scream rents the air.

The hanyo cringes and clings to the yokai blade more fiercely.

The shikou-yokai howls a guttural demand.

A single word that Sumi cannot decipher, it’s meaning lost between the vocal chords of beast and the mocking puppet-shape of a man.

Sumi stands on the far side of this foreign campsite and it’s barrier, the mad yokai continues to attack and bay on the opposite side. For all intents and purposes, both demons take no notice of her, not when a child is screaming for mercy within the closed confines of the cloth-like hut.

She finds herself unsure, torn between the need to simply walk away, and the desire to know. Sumi wants to know how this barrier was made. She wants to know why the hanyo was allowed inside, and why he remains crouched and hiding behind a powerful demon’s blade. She feels a curious desire to know why an unknown child is screaming in pain, wonders how such great suffering is possible when reiki is being released in huge waves from within— giant waves that pour up and out like the tides against a beach. An endless wash of pure power that Sumi can feel from where she stands, several feet from the barrier, and twice the distance from the structure itself. She wants to know all of these things, and more; yet feels curiously removed from all of it.

Only then, does Sumi realize—

Kuebiko.

He is riding her, draped comfortably about her shoulders like a mantle and spread thin and wide across the scape of her mind as if he were the morning fog. Her kami had come to her without ceremony, without incantation, or invitation— and rode her the way a man would a horse, simply, and without conscious effort.

The eery laughter rises up inside of her mind and drowns out the sounds of destruction.

Most interesting… Kami Kuebiko whispers, but it is not Sumi he addresses. His attentions are not on the pithy measure of shock and fear that Sumi Baba admits when faced with her patron deity. No, his sights are set upon the scene unfolding before her, and nothing else.

A sheer, palpable force of energy assails her body and sends her stumbling back several meters. She chokes on a series of coughs, spends several moments dry-heaving from the unseen blow. Sumi had not been the target, nay, she’d merely been a victim of the residual power from the primary force. Not unlike a child’s paper-craft caught in the wake of passing naval ship. The comparison is most apt, and leaves a cold sweat upon her brow and beads of liquid unease to trickle down the curve of her spine; Sumi was not strong enough to face off with yokai of such caliber.

She’d never dreamed of encountering one; it was rare to hear passing rumor of such, and rarer still to truly come across one of their kind in the flesh. Few yokai attained Shikou status, they were a dying breed when faced with this new and ever-modernizing world shaped by humans.

What can be done? I am not strong enough, Sumi thinks bitterly as she wipes spittle from her lips and straightens. Once more she faces the barrier, the huddled hanyo, the peculiar abode where a child’s screams and waves of reiki erupt, and the wild, fervent blows from a powerful yokai on the warpath.

Kuebiko is with her, above, around, and deep within— a presence she had forgotten in the face of such immense strength and devastation. But Kuebiko does not care, only takes more from her, seizes more of her. Her vision splits and becomes a smear of brilliant, blinding colors. It’s too much, too soon, and beyond what she can handle; her eyes snap closed and she reels away, arms raised to shield herself and block out the light.

Mortals, too delicate by half… Kuebiko hisses in her ear. A sharp tug on her shoulder and Sumi’s right arm snaps out in a jerky, half-aborted movement. Her eyelids work themselves open and her dark brown eyes roll in their sockets. They aim and fix themselves to the quandary, half-formed thoughts and idle theories fly across her mindscape before she has time to realize that they are not hers.

At the same time, she realizes that she is not in control of her body, not anymore— Sumi is little more than a discarded specter in the farthest corner while kami Kuebiko uses her eyes to see through his. It is in this manner, that she can see what he can without pain; however, it does nothing to stave off the fear that grips her.

The barrier is a blaze of pure white and everything surrounding it is covered in a dense smog of acid-gold storm-clouds that crackle and flash with lightening.

So much youki… too much poison.

How did they all not lay down and die the moment this monstrous creature of nature made flesh touched down on the edge of their village? How had she been so… so arrogant— to think her handful of ofudas would cleanse the houses that had been touched by this golden storm of poison?

You are young yet, mortal, but your intuition is keen— this demon’s poison is slow. Kuebiko laughs in the wake of her turmoil, even as he assuages her terror with his offhanded comments; when he departs, your reiki and the energy of the lands will neutralize the poisons’ ill effects.

He’ll leave? Of his own accord? She begs of her patron, unable to stop herself. Sumi feared the possibility of having to draw the dangerous shikou-yokai’s attention; she was well aware of her duties, of her responsibility to the safety and well-being of the villagers and yet… Sumi feared. She knew that if she were to face off against the furious yokai, full of reiki and youthful bluster— she would be unable to inflict so much as a scratch on the demon before he cut her in half.

Aye aye… Kuebiko mutters, waving off her words in a wash of sensation, as if she were brushed off to the side and no longer of concern.

What had her kami’s curiosity so thoroughly entrenched? Surely he has seen all manner of yokai throughout the ages? Sumi tries to gather her wits about herself and peer through the windows of her eyes, trying in vain to see and comprehend that which has piqued kami Kuebiko’s interest so completely. She remains as quiet as she knows how, hopes to be forgotten so that more of her patrons thoughts would flow through her mind. Sumi hopes to catch a snippet or two for her efforts.

Curiously, she no longer feels afraid, nor the sensation of reiki or poison buffeting her mortal frame. Kuebiko truly has usurped control of her in this moment, so close to the eye of a demon’s storm.

I wonder what prompted this most peculiar development… Kuebiko mumbles, his words muffled as if he were speaking into a clasped palm, fingers splayed and carding through bristled locks in thought.

A long, low hum drifts out and around her, a resonant buzz that rings all throughout until it tapers off into unsolicited words. Utterances that Sumi can scarcely grasp onto and comprehend.

One for the children of the land, after all of this time…? her kami laughs abruptly, and her body twists around as if it were a child’s spinning toy. Kuebiko forces her legs into stilted motion as he takes his leave with her mortal coil in tow. She feels a teeth-clacking grin pull at her lips, yanking up and down across the smooth planes of her face, a parody of a smile. The mechanics of which escape Kuebiko, his interests have never lain with the basic facsimile of mortal expression.

The fledglings’ growth will only be stifled here. Banish it. Kuebiko decrees with a needle-sharp hiss. His presence begins to fade as her steps develop more grace. Sumi begins to feel the raw, frazzled edges of skin that aches as if it’d been scrubbed and abraded too thoroughly with a sandstone. Before he leaves her entirely, she begs a clarification.

“Banish what, great Kuebiko-sama?” she speaks through chapped lips and around a dry, cotton-tongue.

The girl. Banish the girl on the hill. Kuebiko snaps, a barbed reply born of impatience at her inability to understand. Swiftly, he leaves her, alone and worn in her own body— his absence so abrupt that she stumbles and trips.

Sumi finds herself within the arms of several worried village elders, they brace her fall, and help her find sure footing. Unexpectedly, she is touched by the gesture and feels a swell of something warm beneath her breast. It is no specter, no kami, no spirit… just a simple warmth, and wholly her own.

“Miko-sama, are you alright?” one asks.

“What happened, Miko-sama? Why does the demon still rage?” another inquires.

“Are we safe, m’lady?” the eldest of the group questions softly, his grip firm and warm upon her arm in spite of his advanced years.

Sumi finds herself smiling a little, the gesture feeling odd and out of place upon her lips. She clasps hands with those around her and returns their firm and comforting grasps with her own, no matter how frazzled and sensitized her skin feels. Wordlessly she nods and gestures for the group to turn and head back into the village. It is only once they have begun to pass by emptied huts that she finds courage to speak; “We are safe, the shikou-yokai will leave soon and the village will remain unharmed.”

The old men nod thankfully and vociferously commend her noble efforts of protecting the village and fighting off the wild demon. They spoke not a word to the sounds of destruction going on behind them on the hilltop. Not even when bits of earth rained down behind them.

She says nothing in response to their heartfelt words— feels little more than a hollowed out sham. Sumi had done nothing. She had stood safely apart from the crazed and all-powerful yokai and watched. Was this all that she would do with her servitude? Do little more than observe, then relay his words? Life after completion of her training was fresh and new in ways she had not expected, Sumi found herself at a loss, and for the first time... she doubted.

It is some weeks later that Sumi dares to make the trek through the village and up the hilltop. She keeps her pace sedate and measured, allowing herself the time to gather her thoughts and quell restless nerves. Her patron is not a subtle presence at the back of her mind this morn, his curiosity seemingly satisfied. In this moment, she finds herself more alone in her own mind and body than she has been in years; it would seem the trial ahead is one she must face alone.

Sumi firms her jaw and straightens her spine as she draws to a halt, a scant few meters away from the campsite. The whisper, the music of wind chimes, and the tang of ozone from a summer storm— all of it surrounds her now. She knows that this spit of land has absorbed more than a goodly share of this potent energy of a nearby kami. It is a matter of time before the villagers propose to build a shrine atop this hill, she suspects.

She feels the bevy of wild reiki nip at her heels and playfully tug at her sleeves, before Sumi sees the would-be-miko break through the tree-line. To have such abundant power, and allow it such careless free reign… Sumi wonders what kami has claimed this untrained girl, speculates on which kami would hold Kuebiko-sama’s attentions so thoroughly.

The girl must see her (she knows not how, she wears a cover across her eyes; Sumi snidely thinks that perhaps the girl is attempting to self-train her wild miko powers by eliminating the use of her sight), for in the next moment, she is crouching down and setting the kitsune on his own two legs and sending him away. Sumi watches with fascination as the now three-tailed fox demon trots dutifully down the hillside and into the village. She notices how the hair upon his head and the fur of his tails and fox-paws have lost significant amounts of color. Does the girl know that her untamed power has been leaving its mark upon the young demon child?

Sumi has many questions but will not allow herself to voice them; she is here for a purpose, not for idle gossip. She reigns her curiosity in and waits patiently for the girl to approach her.

“H-Hello, it’s nice to finally meet you!” the girl greets with a smile, as if they were two small children that had been told about each other by their mothers, and finally introduced after several weeks. The girl’s hair is damp (likely from the nearby springs), and yet still wild and unruly (like her power, which bleeds freely from her person and still tugs playfully at Sumi’s garments). She must be quite dedicated to the sensory deprivation training, for she is dressed in many, strange layers that have contradictory colors and patterns. They are doubtlessly of fine quality, but poorly matched.

“I am Sumi Baba,” she says, breaking the silence and her compulsory study of the strange and unsettling girl; “I am the new miko, my responsibility is to the safety and prosperity of this village. Do you contest this?”

The girl reels back as if she’d been slapped, her hands clasp each other tightly— Sumi cannot help but notice the multitude of fine cuts that decorate their pale tips. Strange. But then, so much about this one is.

“I-I would never, they asked for you, and you’re…” she trails off, struggling with her words. Sumi had purposely neglected the polite manner of introduction and obligatory idle chatter for just such a response; she’s found a person’s tongue wags more honestly when they’ve been offset by the unexpected. She is not disappointed when the girl speaks again in a rush of words; “-and you’re the person they need right now anyway so how— no, why— why would I contest it? You’re a trained miko even though you’re not that strong, but then again most yokai around here aren’t really the trouble-making sort unless— Oh! I didn’t mean it like that, I’m so sorry, that was rude!” she cuts herself off on a squeak, raising one pale, cut-riddled hand to her lips. Her head bobbles from nerves and embarrassment as she makes a hasty, uncoordinated bow.

Sumi holds her tongue, allows the ignorant insults to slide off her back the way water falls from a duck’s glossy feathers.

“Since you do not contest my position, then you should find no cause to oppose my decision,” Sumi informs the shabbily dressed girl-child; “Your presence here invites danger,” she makes a point to cast her head to the side, indicating the torn and decimated land surrounding them— blindfold or no, Sumi knows that the girl understood the gesture and it’s implications; “You will pack up your things and leave before the next full moon.” Sumi does not say what will happen if the girl does not.

The girl’s hand drops away from her mouth and falls to her side, both hands fist and clench with emotion that Sumi does not care to name. She waits for the girl to process her words and go through whatever physical actions required before she can garner enough spine to speak.

Where is your kami now, girl? Sumi thinks with no small measure of contempt; she does not care to be surrounded by unruly miko power, nor entrenched within the residual aura of an unknown kami. Too much is unknown to her, which means she will be sorely unprepared in the event of an attack.

“What about Shippou, and Inuyasha?” she speaks no louder than a whisper, on the verge of tears; “The kitsune and the hanyo?” she clarifies.

Sumi tucks her hands within her sleeves so that she may grip her forearms, nails biting into silken flesh out of frustration; “They present no threat and the villagers find their presence acceptable.” she answers succinctly; “However the kitsune will need to find a caretaker to look after him, there are too many young mouthes to feed in the village to consider adding another.” Sumi adds.

The girl swallows loudly and sniffles audibly as she gathers the tatters of whatever emotional upheaval ails her. Sumi is only grateful that the swirling eddy of reiki has stopped tugging at her clothes. It’d been unseemly and impertinent— not that anyone untrained in the spiritual arts would know better.

“I understand,” the girl manages between hiccups, “Thank you for allowing me time t-to get my affairs in order.”

Sumi is moderately surprised at the polite and docile consent. The reiki has not retreated, but Sumi notices how it has made a concerted effort to move around and away from her person. The lack of holy power poking at her person has only served to make her senses more aware of the energy of the unknown kami. It is heavier and more concentrated than moments prior. The weight of it is oppressive and makes her feel on edge, Sumi feels tears prick at the backs of her eyes, and foreign tightness clamps around her throat.

“Good,” Sumi says, the word is constricted and it hurt to speak. Was the unknown kami here now? Were they punishing her for upsetting their patron? Why did her heart feel as if it were in her throat? She turns from the girl and takes several strides away, she needed to leave before things got out of hand.

On the edge of the hill, before she descends, Sumi pauses to look over her shoulder and speak once more; “The next full moon, and no longer, girl.” She sees the girl collapse like a puppet out of the corner of her eye. Sumi hears her diminutive cries of upset as she takes quick steps down the hill.

Sumi’s vision blurs as tears spill down her flushed cheeks.

She does not return to the village, detours instead to a stream; she needs to purify herself of this foreign kami’s taint. It is the only thing that explains her tears or the way harsh sobs escape from parted lips.

Chapter 15: Just get in the bunny pile, Shippou, they aren't that grabby...

Notes:

Thank you all so much for your reviews and the time you take to give me feedback and/or read my work at all. Some of you may have noticed fewer chapters, and that's due to my combining previous ones that weren't meant to be broken. I end up breaking things in half because most of the time I start looking at the wordcount and sort of think; 'uh... this is kind of long, I should probably post this'. But I'm trying to break that habit.

Anyway, I do apologize for those comments that got deleted when I removed old chapters that no longer existed! Unfortunately AO3 doesn't just slide them over when you remove chapters, they go away too. And that really saddens me because quite a few of you fantastic readers left excellent comments and crits. So for those of you who wrote comments and no longer see them... I'M VERY, VERY SORRY! I value all comments and feedback, positive or negative. So still, thank you very much for yout time and effort!

Happy reading all!

Chapter Text

Summer, and it’s beautiful out…

Kagome spat out bits of fluff and fur from a stray paw. It kept trying to go right back in every time she gasped for air. To avoid the furry appendage, she turned her head to the right. Then got smacked in the face by wayward floppy ears that hadn’t yet mastered full motor-control. To be perfectly frank, she thinks while trying to free an arm; I should have maybe, seen this coming. She tried a foot, next. A series of giggly, chirping squeaks of amusem*nt met her feeble attempts at freedom. There were too many and she was gravely outnumbered.

“You know, Shippou,” Kagome tries, her voice muffled by the many, many squirming bodies of fluff; “You could help me out.”

It was hard to see past the dome of bright, bubbly rainbow shapes that held her hostage— but the last she’d seen, Shippou was seated by their campfire, ‘reading’. Looked more like pouting, but Kagome couldn’t be fully confident about that.

“No. I’m reading, like I told you hours ago.” he replies, sounding mulish and put out.

Kagome’s response was interrupted by another furry appendage getting stuffed in her mouth. A foot this time. She coughs and turns her face down into the dirt. She makes another bid for freedom and was summarily laughed at for her efforts. The multi-limbed prison of giggles and fur tightened.

“That. Is. It!” Kagome cries, “You’re all going to get it now!” She vows. Whatever poor and unfortunate, fluffy little souls that were near her hands got tickled to within an inch of their short little lives. And when they dropped away from exhaustion, her hands moved onto the next target.

Shrieks of terrified laughter rang out all around as Kagome steadily gained ground. Ripples of white poured from her and brushed across the rainbow sea she sat in the middle of. She kept up the barrage of tickle-attacks until she was ringed by a breathless pile of weakly-giggling baby bunnies. And while they tried to catch their breath, she took the opportunity to straighten the kink out of her back.

Shippou still sat resolutely by the fire, a slim black volume open in his lap. She’d give him more attention once the parents came back to pick up their kits. Until then he’d just have to deal with sharing.

A few of the earliest pairs that she’d… helped, over the winter months had already given birth (who knew rabbit yokai had such a short gestation period— for a litter?), and then got pregnant all over again; seemingly making up for lost time. And between requests from other mated yokai that sought her out, the ones she had already assisted would also… drop by. With gifts. Thankfully nothing large, but suffice to say she had more than enough herbs, wood, and home-made specialty food-dishes to last through the next winter. But not only had they brought gifts— they would also bring their offspring (only the ones old enough to travel outside the den, thank kami), which somehow, by means fully unknown to her, is how she wound up as a pseudo-babysitter. Okay, if she were honest, it was because the first time Ai and Hiei brought their litter out, they’d promptly been called out to help with a difficult birth (Ai was a midwife, apparently), and Kagome being, well, Kagome; she told them to hurry, take these herbs just in case and leave the bunnies here, she’d look after them. Naturally, from that rough-shod evening onward, if parents needed to go run an errand and couldn’t afford to leave their rambunctious litter at home… drop them off with that nice Miko-sama.

She’d gotten some looks from the villagers when they came back from herb-gathering or hunting (which had unsettled the kits), so Kagome had moved her campsite closer to the treeline and further from town. A temporary solution at best, she is intimately aware that the clock is running down and her time here is running out.

“The next new moon, and no longer, girl.” Sumi Baba warns.

Inuyasha was out on some yokai-hunt errand that he’d heard about secondhand. He didn’t like to be around when the baby bunnies were visiting, he kept well out of inquisitive, grabby-paw range, too. Smart puppy, that one.

A small, but determined furry body with long hind-legs has leapt onto her back. Tiny paws twist themselves into the longer sections of her unbound hair. The little scamp thinks to climb to the top, now does he? Another rascal has latched herself onto the left arm. Reinforcements are rising, slowly but surely… and as Kagome mounts her counter attack— the battle is stalled by a gust of wind that kicks up. Several kits cry out in fright, hopping over one another as they scurry for cover behind her back (and a few, truly frightened bunnies hide beneath the splay of her skirts).

She’s more focused on calming the children down than on the unexpected gale of wind and the visitor who had wrought it.

“Who are you, a girl scout? Go away, we don’t want any!” Shippou orders brazenly, having planted himself between the children and foreign stranger. Forever, her brave kitsune son.

Sitting on the ground, covered by a bevy of terrified baby bunnies— Kagome dips her head down and laughs. What has Shippou been reading? She wonders helplessly, clapping one hand across her mouth in effort to stifle her humor. Her son is continually surprising her.

“S-Shippou, that’s terribly rude.” she admonishes.

“Well he’s the one that flew in and upset all the baby kits!” her own little kit defends, stamping one fiery fox-foot onto the ground— a ripple of his youki and scent floods out from the action. Did he pick that up from Hiei, too? Or only after she had employed it?

Kagome pats the fluffy cotton tails of pink and soothes twitching ears of scale-green and sunny-yellow as she turns her sights to the newcomer. A rough, humanoid shape with long sticks for legs; a long slender neck, wings in place of arms… why, now that she took in the bright shape of the stranger in his entirety, she was looking at a-

“Crane…?” she mutters absently. One of the bunnies (pink peonies with blue-button eyes of curious fire), has resumed their perilous trek of climbing Mt. Kagome.

There was a distinctive clicking sound— a long beak snapping shut.

“Most perceptive, O’ Great Miko-sama.” the crane yokai inclines his head once at her words, and remains content to ignore the stubborn little sass-master kitsune at his feet.

Before Kagome could think of a reasonable reply, the long-limbed bird demon is raising one incandescent leg and steps over Shippou’s small but co*cksure figure. Completely ignoring the blustering and sputtering of her kit (he was beginning to get as foul-mouthed as Inuyasha, she needed to curb that), and bowed low with one great wing spread out in flourish. The motion sent a mercurial breeze of yellow-green motes a whirl behind him.

“I, Kazensuo, have traveled far and wide, from the East in search of you, O’ benevolent Miko-sama— I’ve come on swiftest wing to deliver a message from the great and venerable Lord Fujin.” he proclaims, kneeling down to proffer a sealed scroll, held aloft between the tips of softly glowing feathers of powder blue.

One of the mischievous little devils makes a bold swipe at the missive with their paw. It slips from beneath feathertips (amidst a sharply terminated half-squawk of dismay), and falls into the many curious paws in her lap.

Ah.” Kagome pauses, torn between answering the flustered yokai and fishing the dimly-lit scroll from within the furry sea of fluff that is jostling about atop her skirts. Several adorably cute baby bunnies squeak in abject alarm at having their new toy taken away so suddenly; “Hush now, no need to fuss over some silly old scroll.” she chides, blanket-soothing the rioting lot of crying kits with a broad sweep of her free hand. A ripple of white erupts from her spread palm and buffets against the mass of tiny bodies. They settled down with little fuss after that.

Thank kami.

There was that audible click of a beak snapping shut again, accompanied by a rustle of feathers.

“Just a moment, Kazensuo-san,” she begs before holding the scroll out to her right; “Shippou? Could you read this for me and tell me what it says? Perhaps what the good Lord Fujin might want with little ol’ me?”

A distinctive choking noise follows her questions. Kagome, peaceably opts to not inquire as to why the messenger may or may not be choking on his tongue.

“Kay.” her kitsune replies, taking the offered scroll and snapping the wax seal off in the next moment.

She hears the parchment crinkle as Shippou unrolls it— but all she sees is a swath of vague blue-black that partially obscures her son’s auburn fire. A mesh of a little boy holding an open scroll and a three-tailed fox playfully teething along the edges of the spread missive.

Ugh— " he whines, smashing the paper against his face until it threatened to tear; “This is sooo archaic mom, the fudgy old characters take forever to read.”

Kagome snorts, then coughs to cover up the fit. The last thing she needs was a bird with ruffled feathers.

“Fujin-sama’s just going on and on about all the things he’s heard about you and how he wants you to visit…” Shippou trails off, seemingly reading the letter again; “But he doesn’t say why— “ he reports, rolling the scroll back up and trotting closer. He’s careful of where he puts his paws as he nears the pile of slumbering bunnies.

She reaches across the small divide and ruffles the wild fringe upon his head. Kagome glimpses the grinning maw of fire split across both faces and finds herself smiling in response.

“Thank you, dear-heart,” she says, petting the crown of his head a while longer before turning her attentions upon the crane; “So, why does the great and venerable Lord Fujin, want me to visit?”

The tall bird scrambles back up to his feet in record time, the elusive frost-blue of his youki was not solid in the way most yokai's were. In fact, it was a lot like watching a windstorm through a windowpane— you saw some of it, if only by how everything bent to its will around and through the gale. The hapless messenger appeared to have been thrown off his game. She isn’t sure if its due to a three-tailed fox-kit reading a private, royal missive with such alacrity, the literal pile of docile and dozing baby kits (one of which was still damnably determined to climb her), or Kagome’s complete lack of decorum concerning all of it… she honestly couldn’t say. It was difficult to figure when it came to yokai and their expectations of human behavior. Maybe it was just the oddity of a fox being near a bunch of baby rabbits. Or that she was a miko that had either stolen a litter of kits or, had been left to watch them because a pair of truly mad yokai parents decided that she made a damn fine babysitter for their brood. Who knew?

“The Lord of the East wants help too.” Shippou shrugs, wading into the sea of rainbow fur and fluff. He picks one of the smaller ones up to sit down, he snuggles up beneath the many squirming bodies until he’s leaning heavily against her hip. The kits take it as an open invitation to crawl over her son too, a few clutching his tails as if the furry appendages were pseudo teddy-bears.

“Would that be a reasonable assumption to make, Kazensuo-san?” Kagome puts the question to the messenger, for if he could admit the likelihood… well, it wasn’t as if she were opposed to the idea of temporary relocation. At least until she figured out what her next move was.

The tall crane yokai draws his wings in tight, the swirling blue of his feather fluff up in response to his emotions. She distantly recalls that the fluffing of feathers and their meaning does vary on the species and can’t readily summon the specifics for cranes— but she feels safe enough in her assumption that in this case, it is not the start of a mating display. If anything, Kagome thinks she must be throwing him for quite the loop, for the guy to so clearly display his innermost thoughts, or turmoil, in this case.

“I could never be so bold as to presume the intentions of my lord, I have— “

“Do you need help, Kazensuo-san?” Kagome cuts in, wanting to get past the bullsh*t that far too often came between honesty and social politics.

His feathers do that fluffing up thing some more, and she doubts its because of a sudden chill in temperature. Especially when that choked off noise, the one that sounds as if he’s swallowed his tongue— strikes up, glaringly loud in the shared silence following her question. Not that the children were paying the bird any mind, just Kagome; and she was patient enough to wait him out if it would beget an honest answer.

“N-Not I, Miko-sama…” he replies softly, “But… my nest-mate— sister, to your kind. She would gladly accept any assistance you would deign to offer.” Kazensuo admits.

“Then I accept Lord Fujin’s most gracious invitation to visit him in the East.” Kagome acquiesces as her fingers twinge painfully at the pending possibilities. She hopes to have an alternative method figured out before then, because as it stands, Kagome is unsure how much more abuse her hands can take.

Shippou jolts upright at her words— he causes several baby bunnies to squeak in distress.

What?” he demands, a blazing fire of disbelief at her hip. She thinks there was even a bit of growl at the end there, too.

“My lord will be most pleased to hear of your decision, O’ Miko-sama.” The crane makes another sweeping bow, back on familiar territory; “The palanquin will be sent forthwith to transport-“

“No thank you, I prefer to walk.” Kagome smiles sweetly, “We’ll arrive all in good time. What’s the saying? Patience is a virtue? Good things come to those who wait?” She waves an idle hand and laughs pleasantly. Devious plot or no, Kagome wouldn’t just toss herself into a pretty cage— she’d rather stroll towards it in a perfectly long-winded manner, thank you kindly. She is no stranger to kidnapping, not after the adventures she’s had.

Ah… of course, Miko-sama. As you wish, I shall convey your message to my lord and an appropriate guide will be sent, post-haste.” He agrees, swiftly taking wing before she can get a contrary word out.

“I think he knew what I was going to say next.” she remarks aloud, reaching out to soothe Shippou’s raised hackle. The bunnies peep and chitter around them, gaining more energy after their brief lull.

“What were you gonna say? Since it obviously wasn’t going to be you taking it back and telling them no!” Shippou demands, pushing her hand off his head. He wades out from the bunny pile to stand apart and glare; going by the aggressive flare of emerald orbs and the bared teeth of a riled fox.

Where was this anger coming from? Kagome couldn’t figure it out. He didn’t have an issue with her helping yokai, or at least he hadn’t before. Maybe he suspected that there would be another surgery and he’d have to assist? Kagome wished that she could say that she’d never again ask it of him— but she’d be lying. For if it came down to it, Kagome would use every resource available to her if it meant saving a life.

“What’s the matter, Shippou? Why are you upset?” she finally asks, confused and unable to determine the true cause.

“Why wouldn’t I?” he hisses, voice wet and hiccup-y, “You just told them you would go to the East! You promised!!” Shippou snaps, a rush of youki spills out of him then; the heat and spice of it buffets her face and nearly makes her sneeze.

Oh.

Oh! Sweetheart,” she croons when the answer slots into place.

N-No! You don’t get to just-“ he snaps, sniffling helplessly as he tries to hold onto the flames of his anger.

“Of course you’re coming too.” she tells him, stealing the wind from his sails.

“I… I am?” he sniffs, plaintive.

“Who else is going to tell me what the other yokai are really asking, when they speak all flowery?” Kagome points out blithely, which was quite true at this point. Between Shippou’s keen nose and childish eye for detail, he was shockingly astute for one so young.

“I guess…” Shippou agrees slowly, doubtful.

“Besides, who else is going to read to me? Inuyasha?” she adds, her grin more than a little lop-sided.

Shippou gets caught between a chuckle and a snort.

“Don’t be silly Mama, you know Inu-baka can’t read.” he chides, one emerald ball of fire winking out as a child-sized fist rubs across it.

“Don’t call him names, Shippou,” she corrects, still smiling; “Now that that’s settled, help me with this lazy lot, their parents should be coming to pick them up soon.”

“Kay.” Shippou nods, crouching down to start rousing the few bunnies still napping.

“ ‘Gome, what are you doing?” Inuyasha demands the moment he steps into camp.

It’s in a state of rampant disarray, she knows. Half-packed and half a mess while Shippou kneels beside her as they both work on flattening and rolling up the tent. She pauses in her task to sit back on her heels and take a breath.

That’s right, she hums thoughtfully; he doesn’t know… Neither of them do.

Kagome had a feeling that the new miko would show soon, sometime in the afternoon, most likely (she’d been able to notice more reiki fluctuations in the village than was usual), so she’d taken Shippou to the hot springs with her for a quick bath. She wanted to make sure they were both freshly scrubbed and dressed in clean clothes for the occasion. Although Shippou had actually seen the new miko around in the village already, but he’d said she always kept her distance and didn’t talk to him at all. Just watched.

When they come back from the springs and Shippou is a happy kit babbling excitedly in her ear, Kagome is brought up short. She nearly trips over glittering root of earthen brown and copper orange. The new miko is here, and her reiki and aura are a contained force of severity. There is no ebb and flow amidst the wild energies of nature that swirl and drift. She sees no harmony, no give and take, from this foreign miko. No, this other female stands apart from it all, wrapped within the surety of her own forging. Kagome has not seen another miko or monk (excusing Miroku, and she’s not entirely sure he counts, officially, and Kaede had been in a state of aggravated decline…), since her new sight broke open— so she can’t say if all trained holy men and women are supposed to be like that. If she ever learns that they are, then Kagome will forever be glad to have never gone through the formal training. She didn’t want to be apart or isolated in such a way, it seemed so cold. And lonely.

Shippou’s chatter trails off into a burbling question she doesn’t quite catch, but it drags her back from errant thoughts. She smiles and sets him down, giving the seat of his pants a firm swat as she bids the mischievous little scamp to go harangue the village parents by riling up their children. He only manages a moments hesitation before the blanket permission to go play tricks urges him to all but flee down the hill and into the bright bonfire that is the village.

The smile on her face feels rather fixed when she sees her son disappear within the roaring collage of lights. That feeling that told her the new miko was coming, was also giving her the sense that this meeting was best dealt with privately. So, she straightens her spine, tilts her chin up, and goes to face the new miko head on.

The sharp sense of scrutiny, of judgement, grows more pressing (and dare she say, condescending), as she draws near. In spite of everything, Kagome can’t help but feel slightly flustered; she is freshly bathed and dressed in clean clothes… but is starkly reminded that she has no idea what she’s wearing. Most days she can determine materials by touch and on others she’ll bother to ask Shippou when she remembers. But truthfully, she didn’t remember all that often— it never seemed to matter. No one ever said anything and Kagome was long-used to being the odd one out; but now, she can’t help but think that perhaps she should start. Or should have, going off the silent, oppressive weight of feminine judgement that emanated from the younger girl. But what’s done is done and it did no good to fret about things she couldn’t change. Besides, she could still be her pleasant, friendly self, no matter how this tragedy would play out.

“H-Hello, it’s nice to finally meet you!” It’s the f*ckless, Freudian slip of her thoughts that causes her to fumble her greeting. Damnit. She keeps the smile on anyway and hopes for the least worst case scenario of a conversation she’d been dreading for weeks.

“I am Sumi Baba,” she says with a voice full of iron and not a drop of humor even though her name reminds Kagome of Miyazaki films; “I am the new miko, my responsibility is to the safety and prosperity of this village. Do you contest this?”

Good kami, she’d offended the girl already? How? Kagome racked her brains trying to figure out her error. Was she supposed to have bowed? Kami, she’d fallen out of that ingrained habit somehow. How? Her mother would have had her hide, how could she have forgotten the most basic semblance of rudimentary manners? She slaps her hands together and clasps them tightly, the array of cuts littering them sting and make her bite her own tongue to refrain from hissing aloud. Torn between the pain of her hands, the cutting words from miko Sumi Baba, and throw in her complete lack of godforsaken manners… and Kagome is a stumbling mess of idiot words that just eject themselves from her mouth without any semblance of a filter. Or thought. Or even tact. Damnit!

The miko Sumi Baba looks even more offended (or is it feels? Kagome can’t see facial expressions that well on humans, but the miko’s reiki draws in tighter, taking on the appearance of immovable steel bands of purple light that somehow give off the impression of angry glaring). Kagome stumbles through an apology when her words register in her own hearing— because that’s just great Kagome, tell the other girl that she’s not a powerful miko right off the bat. That’s smart!

“Since you do not contest my position, then you should find no cause to oppose my decision,” The miko goes on to say, ignoring Kagome’s inner turmoil; “Your presence here invites danger. You will pack up your things and leave before the next full moon.”

Now wait just a damned minute there missy— is the half-formed phrase that gets stuck in her throat. Because… really. Kagome is many things, often conflicting things, nearly all the time; occasionally one of these things is that she feels like a complete idiot. But deep down, she knows that she is not, in fact, an idiot. She is physically blind, but that does not mean that she doesn’t see what the area around her campsite looks like. It doesn’t mean that she makes a point to avoid seeing the damage, or pretend that the destruction of it isn’t there. Whenever she sees the deep chasms in the earth and the broken stumps of old trees and their splintered branches… Kagome can’t help but think that she was lucky. Lucky that Sesshoumaru’s ire had been focused entirely on her on that horrible day, a scant few weeks ago. Fortunate that the dregs of his primary attacks had gone no farther than the edge of the clearing and the upper third of the hilltop. She’d been downright blessed that the village hadn’t been f*cking decimated, that day.

“What about Shippou, and Inuyasha? The kitsune and the hanyo?” she hears herself speak, even though her mind is ensnared by the surrounding destruction and how she’d only been lucky, that day. She was thinking about the village, and the people. About how she couldn’t stroll down the hill and into the heart of it. How the people never visited her. She thought of Kaede who has moved onto the next life, and how the well no longer worked.

“They present no threat and the villagers find their presence acceptable.” Miko Sumi Baba tells her imperiously, “However the kitsune will need to find a caretaker to look after him, there are too many young mouths to feed in the village to consider adding another.”

Utterly distracted, Kagome chokes on a wet giggle at the thought— like she’d allow her son to stay behind while she was effectively exiled. Ridiculous. But she feels a rough, crying jag building up, anyway. Less about what the other miko was telling her, and more concerning the turn of her thoughts. Nothing tied her to this village, not even sentiment. The only sentiment she had was for the things outside it— a tree and a musty old well that would never work for her again. This place was more Inuyasha’s territory (dare she say, home?), and not hers. Not really, probably not ever. Maybe he’d stay while she left, maybe he wouldn’t, she couldn’t readily think of which was more likely at the moment.

Where would she go?

Where could she go?

Certainly not to Sango’s village, it would be just like this one. Too bright for her senses and she’d be relegated to the outskirts of it, if she did. Maybe she’d take up wandering like Sesshoumaru and his entourage did. But that idea was terrifying in a way, to have no roots, no place to call home, and to open not only herself, but Shippou up for attack from all sides, at any moment of the day or night. Was this what it was, to grow up? To find less fun and adventure in the thought of being a wandering nomad? To see all the dangers and potential for misery? Kagome sniffled and swallowed around the lump in her throat, suddenly desperate to stop growing up. To reverse the years a little so she didn’t feel so frightened at the prospect.

“I understand. Thank you for allowing me time t-to get my affairs in order.” Kagome makes herself say, fighting around the well of tangled emotion in her threat as her eyes sting and the scar tissue lining the flesh of those useless organs prickles and grows damp.

The miko Sumi Baba departs thereafter, pausing long enough to reiterate to Kagome that she has until the next full moon to make herself scarce. Her legs give out as she half sobs, half giggles into her stinging hands upon receiving her first official eviction notice. At least the younger girl gave her a little over a month and half to get out of town. That’s nicer than most people.

Kagome smiles, a small twist of the lips and not much else. She lets her good mood hold her aloft and wipes her brow; she turns to face her friend’s bright red-silver shape and thinks that today he looks less like a complicated Picasso portrait and more like a proud, arrogant dog-boy wrapped in cherry-red fires.

“Just packing up this stuff so we can drop it off at Sango and Miroku’s house before heading to Lord Fujin’s.” she answers, still smiling that patently cheery, borderline empty-headed smile. Kagome wonders if she should do a mental count, to time how long it’ll take the hanyo to puzzle his way through her words and then arrive at the end.

The words in combination with her smile only served to throw Inuyasha off— left him sputtering just long enough for Shippou to tie off the rolled up tent. Maybe he knows who Lord Fujin is, even though Kagome’s never heard of him, or read of him. Unless you counted the kami of wind, one of the Shinto gods, but Kagome was a little torn when it came to mythology, because the kami in the tales were just exaggerations of powerful demons in the feudal era. Or even further back, so it was a bit confusing to parse through than standard history books.

What?!” Inuyasha demands, sounding a bit shrilly to her ears.

“Yes! I thought it was about time to see if any other yokai were in need of my assistance— and it turns out, they do!” Kagome replies cheerfully. She’s packing the last of her medical supplies and relevant textbooks into her go-bag while Shippou packs their clothes into the other. They’d already sorted things into specific traveling packs, the ones they’d leave at Sango’s, and then the two they’d bring on their journey.

“But Kagome… why East? You know the mutt is over that way, right?” he says, more puzzled than outright against the idea. It makes Kagome curious as to just how aware of her predicament he is, or isn’t. Past experience has always been spotty, given his oft unpredictable nature when it come to literally anything not directly related to tessaiga, Sesshoumaru, or Kikyo. Or the things that got him ‘sat’.

“Kouga?” Kami, she’d not given much thought to him in ages— last she’d heard, Ayame had finally nailed his ass to the wall. Figuratively speaking. “We’ll just sort of… skirt, around his territory. It should be fine.” She decides, and spies her kit nodding in agreement off to the side.

Keh. Like that’ll do much good.” he snorts, twin golden fires flicker within the softened planes of silver. Twin triangles dither back and forth, they tell Kagome that he is looking over the bags they’ve packed so far; “Who’s this Fujin guy anyway?”

“No idea,” she answers, “But a nice crane yokai delivered a message and let slip that his sister, er- nest-mate could use some help. So East it is,” she shrugs, tucking her head down to make sure she has the last few items packed, and also so Inuyasha won’t see her grin.

What? Some demon bird drops a note from some guy who claims to be a lord and you’re all like sure! Lets go get kidnapped?” Kagome swears Inuyasha’s voice got a little squeaky there at the end. So impassioned was his abject disbelief at her perceived level of ignorance.

Kagome takes a moment, allows her head to co*ck to the side and rest her chin atop the light fist of her hand in a mockery of thought. A twinge of pain reminds her of the state of her hands.

“Pretty much.” she agrees with a careless smile that feels far too much like a snarky grin. Kagome tells herself it’s a smile, a nice, perfectly innocent and well-meaning smile… and not the sort she gets whenever she played pranks on Souta or recalled her last-minute caper before her final departure. There are nights when she can swear she almost hears his shrill cry of outrage.

Shippou of course, isn’t so kind and starts laughing.

Shippou.” she rebukes, giving the kitsune a smart tweak of a pointed ear. Or was it the soft fur of his fox form? Sometimes she can’t rightly tell the difference with him. Kagome swears that nowadays Shippou blurs seamlessly between both forms whenever he’s with her, tugging on her skirts with his small clawed hands, or nibbling at her fingertips with needle-sharp milk teeth and a wet nose when she feeds him in the evenings.

It reminds her of the nearly over-stuffed bag of home-made goods that all the small yokai gifted her with, and of the sizable stack of firewood she’d inevitably have to leave behind.

“What about the other brat, Rin?” Inuyasha grouses, settling on sullen instead of continuing to choke on the wealth of disbelief and appall.

“Shippou wrote a letter for me,” she explains, “I’ll leave it on Goshinboku for when they next stop by.” Which reminds her to do just that since they’re about ready to hit the road. Even though it’s well into the afternoon, Kagome doesn’t want to linger any longer than necessary now that everything is packed. Besides, it wasn’t like the lack of sunlight would hinder her ability to see.

“Fine.” he grumbles, cuts of silver disappearing into dual waves of red fire as he tucks his hands into his sleeves; “Might be something worth fighting over there anyhow.” he sniffs.

Kagome’s bizarrely pleased (and a little touched), that her friend so thoughtlessly counts himself in. As if his not coming along wasn't even a minor consideration. She laughs and cards a hand through the wild mess of her hair as she stands, letter in hand. Shippou mumbles something she doesn’t catch while she walks towards the great old tree, and Inuyasha returns with something snide. The two bicker and squabble as she places the sealed letter against the base of the tree and imbues a sticky, protective coat of white reiki over it, fixing it in place until Rin or Jaken reach out to retrieve it.

Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad, or so scary; she thinks, turning around and going back to her son and her best friend. With fading giggles and feeling warm from good feeling and cheer, Kagome breaks up the fight so that everyone can grab a bag and get moving towards Sango and Miroku’s village. It shouldn’t take them too long to reach it, and then start out towards Lord Fujin’s (wherever that was, but she figures their ‘guide’ will find them at some point in their wanderings and direct them further).

She feels light, like she could fly— even though the weight of her pack is a heavy, beast of thing on her shoulders and back. Kagome smiles and walks forward as Inuyasha brazenly leads them from the front, and Shippou trots enthusiastically at her side, tugging at her pant-legs to point out something or other along the trail.


To the East, she thinks to herself as wry twist takes over the curve of her mouth.

Chapter 16: To the East; questionable actions, and where the hell is—

Notes:

It's been an age, hasn't it? This story has not ceased haunting my thoughts since the publication of the last chapter. I often struggle with my craft in one form or another, so I apologize for the wait, and hope that this chapter does not disappoint, and that future chapters are not so long in coming.

Thank you all, and happy reading.

Chapter Text

Kagome was a simple, plain-spoken woman, she liked to think. She also knew that like any normal, young and educated woman, she typically had certain expectations about things. Nothing crazy or complicated, oh no— just simple things. Like how it’s polite to give up your seat for an elder, to have patience when dealing with small children, and to expect a basic exchange of polite greetings and small-talk when reuniting with ones’ friends. It was a perfectly normal expectation to have; the initial, affectionate greeting, cursory small-talk to later delve into more heartfelt topics, and general strengthening of familial bonds. Given her situation (read; inability to enter a village without incurring defcon-level migraines), Kagome had wisely assumed that a measure of the aforementioned beliefs on normal interactions would suffer somewhat since her friends would need to come to her. She even went so far as to predict a near-immediate interrogation (and perfunctory grope-slap exchange), upon Sango and Miroku getting within hugging-range of her person.

Clearly, Kagome should have (of course), accounted for some unknown, mysteriously invisible factor. The same sort of inconceivable variable that had most of her close friends attempt to murder, kidnap, or steal from her upon first glance. The very same unknowable quantity that had her naturally be targeted for any and all foreign kidnapping efforts despite her obvious miko status and looking far-too-much-like a certain deceased (and highly capable), miko that had suffered from a most dire case of Resting Bitch Face.

Because instead of a greeting, an interrogation, or even a grope— Kagome gets this;

“Kagome! What in kamis’ name are you wearing?!”

Feeling more than a little affronted, she responds glibly; “Couldn’t even begin to tell you, Sango-chan.” She stresses the childish ‘chan’, and is filled with a satisfying sense of pettiness; “But at least it covers all the important bits.”

“I’d have to say that’s about all it does.” Sango has the audacity to laugh. Miroku does too, but he at least has the decency to feign a coughing fit into his hands. Absolutely wretched people, the both of them. She hoped Miroku got saddled with more daughters.

All in all, their things were dropped off and everyone made happy conversation (sprinkled with more pot-shots at her appalling newfound dress sense, or lack thereof these days), within their impromptu campsite just outside the boundary of the tajiya village. Kagome conveyed the gist of her pending journey while leaving out the details concerning her abrupt departure, to the East— for a change of scenery, and just a little bit of the ol’ adventure. As the final goodbyes, safe travels, and well-wishes were exchanged, Kagome bid her friends to put the word out—

She was looking for Myoga.

Still.

“Inuyasha.”


“It wasn’t—”


“Inuyasha…”


“But I didn’t—”


“Inuyasha!”


He started it!” he snaps, adamant about not being at fault. Even had the gall to stomp his foot.

Oddly, Kagome cannot help but notice the lack of scent/youki dispersal, with the action. Did it have to be an intentional, conscious effort? Had Inuyasha ever learned how, or was it something he never cared to bother with?

“That’s funny,” Kagome says, dismissing the idle thought (for now), and returning back to the matter at hand. She makes a point to pick at her nails and give the impression that she’s inspecting them through the slim covering across her eyes (she thinks it’s a scrap from an old flannel); “Because that’s what you said the last time.” She keeps her voice flat and bone dry, gives nothing away.

Inuyasha trips over his words, trying to deny her statement with several differing excuses— all at the same time. Each and every one of them casting him as the faultless hero, being unjustly persecuted for doing his sworn duty. He had the habit of making the same justifications every time huts or nearby fields accidentally caught on fire too (in the midst of battle, of course). Which was another cause for worry at the moment since the summer so far has been on the rather dry side of things this year… the last thing Kagome needed to deal with was a brushfire gone wild.

“Yeah, and the time before that, too!” Shippou chips in, all snark from where he stands beside Kagome with one tiny hand clutching at the denim bunched around her knees. He was a smidgeon taller these days— she thinks the growth spurt came shortly after his third tail.

Yet another thing Kagome needs to look into… Kami why hadn’t she gotten a list started yet? She could only remember so much at a time, and at this rate she was starting to become real familiar with deja vu every time she had a ponderous thought.

“I was protecting you ungrateful brats!” Inuyasha barks, feet spread wide and hands tucked within the wide bells of blazing red that dominated his shape more often than not.

“And I appreciate that, really I do, Inuyasha.” Kagome started, reaching out to pat her friend on the shoulder in a show of heartfelt support. Once more she sees her colors bleed and break over the burning red and silver; watches it tumble off the hanyo’s jagged shape like dwindling starlight. “But the last three fights could have been avoided, entirely.” she adds, trying to be reasonable. And to not allow her temper to flare, because it would not help any. They’d only end up arguing senselessly, Inuyasha would say something crass, she would point out how it was his fault, and then he would say something that she would then make him regret… and then there would be another ‘mysterious’ fire a few hours later.

Fine! Next time I’ll just let you both get killed, that sound good to you?” He growls, one bright silver-red leg lashing out to send a rock (or a small animal, Kagome wasn’t entirely sure), flying off into the distance.

Inuyasha then took to storming off up ahead before she could even come up with a reasonable reply. Kami have mercy— she didn’t know how her Mama had ever put up with Souta. Because Kami knows she hadn’t been able to put up with her little brother at the best of times without disappearing into the feudal era, or (although lets be honest, it was usually both), pranking the poor teenage boy to de—

Well.

There was an idea, wasn’t it? The next time he became too ornery, she’d prank him. Maybe. Kagome had the vague feeling that doing so may only serve to make his attitude even worse.

“Mama?”

“Yes, Shippou?” Kagome replied, twining brilliant white fingers through the wild flames of her son’s unruly fringe.

“Do you think that maybe Inuyasha needs another bath…? Like, a really long one?” his voice was perfectly sincere, utterly guileless. But Kagome could see the jackal-like grin of his fox-form dominate that of the human shape he wore. The cheeky little imp, he was taking after her far too much.

It was adorable.

And mildly horrifying.

“Shippou.” She chided, lips curled with infinite mirth, “You’re terrible.”

The little devil chuffed in reply, his diminutive claws cutting new holes into the sides of her jeans as they withdrew. His shape smeared and his fires brightened and bled with sparks of dazzling white, he barked fiendishly before bounding several feet ahead— on four legs instead of two.

“I’ve created a monster.” Kagome mutters to herself, unable to deny the wealth of affection that coated her words. She shook her head and smoothed her shirt down (a cotton button-up, maybe a green one), and proceeded onward.


It was unclear just how far into the eastern lands they’d traveled, and Kagome wasn’t overly concerned about their progress since she wasn’t exactly in a hurry. Mostly, she was just glad that she hadn’t run into any of Kouga’s wolves, because that always meant an inevitable run-in (and subsequent scuffle), with Kouga himself. However, if the rumors were true and Ayame had gotten the stubborn wolf to settle down… she may not have to worry about him at all.

Kagome kept her metaphysical eyes out for any glimmer or hue that could indicate wolf youki, and surreptitiously kept their little group well away from it. Better safe than sorry, right?

Well, it was a moot point any—

What’s this now? She tips her head to the side and tries to parse what exactly it is, she’s seeing.

“Oi! Wench, what’d you stop for? We got more ground to cover before makin’ camp!” Inuyasha says, stomping back towards her (with an unreasonable amount of temper, she couldn’t help but notice).

“Do you see that?” Kagome asks instead, drifting closer to the curious… apparition? A wall, perhaps? It had both length and width to it, more like a barrier then, since it curved all around. Kagome almost hadn’t noticed it at all, if she hadn’t been walking at a (deliberately), sedate pace.

“There’s nothing there, now come on!” jagged edges of silver make a grab for her arm.

She ‘sits’ him before those claws could dare ruin another garment— Shippou was bad enough with his diminutive little razor-blades (allegedly, they were claws), and Kagome was getting just that little bit closer to wearing nothing but ribbons. Besides, Inuyasha was being awfully tetchy about them moving on all of the sudden, wasn’t he?

“…R-Really?” Inuyasha barks, spitting out a mouthful of glittering, earthen debris as he struggles against the lingering press of reiki subjugation, “Can we just f*cking go already?”

He hadn’t growled.

Didn’t even swear (at her).

Nothing could have possibly been more suspicious.

“Shippou, why is Inuyasha in such a hurry?” Kagome asks as she steps over her adorably puppy-dog-eared friend and closer to the wall that wasn’t.

Now, it wasn’t exactly like any barrier she’d seen so far (both pre and post The Incident). The surface did not magnify the light and color of its surroundings, nor did it glow with a brilliant hue all its own. No, it was more like a… like an oil slick. Which made it all the more fascinating, truthfully. Kagome had yet to encounter anything that was so colorful, yet muted, it was similar to the prismatic effect of water, but nowhere near as bright!

She lifted one glowing white hand to tap the surface. Watched as the intangible oil slick swirled and flickered with muted prisms of color. It was damnably fascinating. Her hand would go right through it, but the surface would still react. Kagome didn’t get any sort of negative impression from this unknown barrier (although she began to fret a little when she saw bits of her reiki bleed into its surface, giving it the appearance of a diamond mine with it’s newly acquired, glittering hairline-fracture of dazzling white).

Distantly, she thought she must look incredibly stupid, standing in the middle of the woods with her hand outstretched, wiggling it about for seemingly no reason. But this was not a new feeling to Kagome, if anything it was becoming increasingly common— so she didn’t pay it much mind. Besides, she figured the miss-matched outfit she wore made her look silly enough as is.

“It’s ‘cause he doesn’t like being near yokai towns.” Shippou replied, voice glib as he trotted up to her side. She watched as her tiny fox sidled up right next to the barrier, the pale glow of the boy had his hands tossed behind his head while the burning brilliance of the kit nosed idly at the barrier.

“A town?” Kagome echoed. Her hands dropped (she’d raised both of them at some point), to her sides as she tipped her head towards Shippou. The ephemeral figure of her son’s humanoid shape brightened and solidified beneath her focus. An indication of which form he wore, presently. She was getting better at picking out the difference with each passing day, to which she grew increasingly thankful (it made knowing which ear to tweak, or tail to tug when he was being too precocious, all the easier).

“Yeah! There aren’t too many of them though, ‘cause most yokai like their own space.” Shippou said, his tiny shoulders pulled up into a careless shrug.

What the f*ck.

“Alright,” she bobbed her head, “We need to see this.”

“Oi!”

“Come along Inuyasha!” Kagome called over her shoulder as she boldly strode through the curious barrier. She felt the slightest whisper-touch of pressure as she passed, a token’s protest for the sake of it, than any true intention.

A thrill of anticipation curled in her gut.

Would she be able to go into the village itself? Kagome honestly hoped so, the thought of being so close to her first legitimate yokai village— and then not being able to experience it firsthand? That’d suck an awful lot. So she crossed her fingers (on both hands she’d hidden in her pockets), and hoped for the best as they walked.

Oh my kami. Oh my kami, oh my kami, ohmykami! Her first time in a yokai village! Hells, it was the first time she’d been in a village in months! Kagome was so ridiculously happy with these simple facts that she couldn’t stop smiling and she knew it because her cheeks were beginning to hurt. All the while, her little group walked down the main thoroughfare of the town, with Kagome grinning like an idiot.

And it had to be the main road since it was littered with well-over a dozen different market stalls selling and trading wares to either side— with the tell-tale oil-slick shimmer of the barrier (but in the shape of buildings! Buildings!), a little beyond. Yokai of all shape and size populated the road and wide array of stalls; their humanoid shells of modest solidity and lively color standing out in sharp contrast to the dim outlines of their overlapping true forms that walked, lounged (or floated), lazily throughout.

But it was the wares within those little pop-up shops that excited her so!

Kagome was able to see everything, with such startling clarity and detail that she nearly believed her physical eyesight had returned! Presuming such yokai villages were comprised of no more than glitter and perpetual low-level ambient light— but still! The degree of visual discernment was nothing short of astonishing! From the intricate carving of a maple leaf upon a single block of soap (amidst the gorgeous plethora of them on display) in a three-tailed kitsune artisan’s stall, to the graceful pattern of wisteria blossoms upon a bolt of fine fabric in another— Kagome could see it all. So much so that her mouth began to water at the scent (and sight!) of richly seasoned meats, the sharp, sugary zest of candied citrus, all interspersed within the bevy of fine food and drink that made the air thick with warm plumes of buoyant color and heady smells.

The glittering telltale path of scent and the luminous veil of youki were still present, yet somehow compressed, or muted? Whatever the case may be, it allowed Kagome to take in so much precise depth of detail that she thought she might honestly cry.

And truly, the most absolutely, positively best part of it all?

No headaches!!

For the first time in ages, her head didn’t feel as if it would crack open and bleed out upon the forest floor. She didn’t feel as if her brain was being stabbed with a thousand bright-burning needles. Kagome felt perfectly alright and unharmed— save for her face. She should probably try to stop smiling soon, before her muscles atrophied and died from overuse.

She was just about to ask Shippou something (which she promptly forgot), when the bold glow of a sigil stole the whole of her attention. From fifty meters away, clear across a throng of yokai, she could make out the artistic flair it’d been carved with, onto a breastplate of yokai-forged armor! It was too strong of a lure for Kagome to resist; she made a beeline right for the lone stall selling the charmed wares. She slipped between varying breeds of yokai with the natural speed and grace one acquires when traversing the over-crowded pathways of a college campus.

A spiraling trail of eddying starlight was left in her wake. Kagome may have spared a moment to admire the picture of it— if the promise of being able to read sorely missed letters and characters had been absent. Hell, she may have even stopped to worry a thought or two over potential affects. But the wealth of possibilities! What if they had tablets or placards imbued with protective charms? Or dare she hope— entire scrolls of magicked words? Kagome missed many things since the loss of her physical sight and after so long without… reading was at the top of that short list.

The bubble of bookworm-is hope burst when she drew within a few meters of the stall. A scant handful of the items for sale were crafted with youki, and all of them were shaped in large, ancient symbols. The sort which were focal points to a grander, more intricate spiderweb of design. Their crude translations were little better than singular words one might see on a meme; harsh, guttural, to the point, and often misspelled…

Kagome sighed gustily and traced the shape of one such sigil with a fingertip. It was a delicate little thing, a glittering, spider-thread-thin necklace with its tiny charm. A looping filigree of burning sky-blue that promised a dubious level of protection to the wearer. Her hand left a steady, trickling stream of white starlight behind once she withdrew; and captivated, she watched what happened next, all the while, deaf to the eerie pocket of silence she’d unknowingly created.

She never really stayed in one place long enough to watch what her reiki did (was it even reiki anymore, honestly?), in fact, she didn’t pay much attention to it at all, really. It was hard to when she seemed to bleed it all over the place like a stuck pig. And after coming across Sumi Baba? Kagome wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to do legitimate miko training anymore; it seemed way too rigid and confining for her tastes.

But right now, she took the time to look and see what her runaway power would do. Waited and watched with arrested fascination as the dazzling trail of wild stars swirled down into the curlicued sigil; saw the miniature blue fire flash and flare with the energy of a newborn star. It was no longer a diminutive flame of dubious protection, no… it was a bonfire of bold invulnerability, now.

Kagome’s eyebrows rose above the protective blindfold in amazement, because the rogue starlight that was her power, appeared to be far from done. Oh so very far from done— it did not stop with simply strengthening the lone sigil, after all, protection was such an open and varied concept, wasn’t it? The brilliant glow of white branched out from lone charm into a dozen dizzying spirals as it took the simple, string-thin necklace and reforged it into a ‘bib’-style brocade of bejeweled webbing. Each and every point of connection flashed with a uniquely colored sigil that burned with its own fire. All the sigils were like small dewdrops upon an expansive web (with it’s crown jewel at its heart), interwoven and linked to one another, working in harmony to protect the wearer.

To her minds eye, the smaller symbols were a little blurry and hard to make out with any precision but she could make out a few of them: health, happiness, wisdom, and positivity.

The finale of Kagome’s power ended with a brilliant flash as the spider-webbing threads of the necklace came together at the knot; reforged into a broader, more secure locking-clasp that gave off a strange sizzling burn. Anti-theft lock, maybe?

“Ten gold bullion for that necklace!” A large, tiger-yokai called, boldly slamming the weighty bars down upon the merchant’s stall as he leaned forward and caused Kagome to get pushed into the side of another potential buyer in their haste.

Oh dear…

“Fifteen gold bullion!” Another yokai countered, this one even bigger and covered in glittering, rich brown fur. This one jostled her back from the table into the second row of bodies that were quick to press closer.

Nice going Kagome, here’s where you die… trampled to death because you were an idiot.

“Hah! I’ll pay twenty!” Someone yelled from the back.

The crowd surged forward and she was pushed nose-to-leather armor of the tiger-yokai who started it all. Kagome was beginning to fear for her feet— was she wearing her shoes? She couldn’t remember right now. The clamor and press of the crowd grew into a cacophony of color and noise as each creature fought to get the highest bid; she thinks someone even offered a couple acres of land, and the clothes off their back. In short, it was nuts and she caught the barest glimpse of the wide-eyed merchant whose jackal-faced visage kept dancing from the re-crafted necklace, to her, to the mass of the crowd, and then back to the necklace again. Poor guy was just as baffled (and slightly terrified), as she was.

But something sharpened in the fiery blue orbs that were his eyes, because in the next moment he’d snatched the shining necklace off the table in one hand, and half-lunged across the surface and stretched his free hand out towards her, between the press of bodies. The shadow of his human face had its mouth open in sync with the split, toothy maw of the super-imposed jackal as he shouted something at her that got lost in the din.

Kagome felt the firm press of tiny paws at her shins and saw great billowing clouds of glittering scent-trails burst in front of her as she was pushed and pulled away from the clamor of the crowd. She thought Shippou might be the one helping her out of the latest self-made disaster, but the colors were wrong, and she hadn’t felt the bite of his claws upon her legs. Nor had she heard the kittenish barks of his yokai form, or the latest sassy comment from his human one. Whoever her tiny saviors were, Kagome rolled with it. Because otherwise she would’ve gotten trampled to death; all for some kamis-damned jewelry.

That she unintentionally enhanced.

She’d nearly been herded to safety when a massive boar-yokai almost clipped her in the face with one large furry elbow. However, a pair of sizable bunny feet had intercepted the appendage, and sent it careening back the way it had come. The boar tottered forward several steps from the force of it (and consequently ended up slapping an unfortunate bystander upside the head, a pig-youkai, maybe). Neither boar nor pig seemed to notice either shove or slap, too interested in the ongoing bidding-war and what valuable object may have started it.

Kagome goggled stupidly once she was finally able to get a clear image of her saviors. Safe from the swelling throng of bid-wars gone wild, she found herself ringed by a collection of male rabbit yokai (bucks, if she recalls the term correctly), their chests heaving from exertion, shoulders thrown back as they all faced outward. And without a single squeak or twitch of an ear to signal each other, all nine of them raised their right foot and brought it down with a single, collective thump. A billowing riptide of aggressive youki spread out in perfect sync, the colors blending seamlessly up and out in a pastel rainbow. They struck the ground in tandem two more times in quick succession before one of them (their leader?), relaxed their guard enough to turn and address a very baffled Kagome.

His colors were a warm honey-yellow with crystallized motes of amber that cut a tall and strong figure in spite of the inherently small stature of his species. The unknown yokai prostrated himself before her and said something in his language— that curious series of squeaks and chitters that she couldn't even begin to translate.

She didn’t recognize him, or any of the other rabbits in his company. But it was entirely possible that they were relations to the previous rabbit couples she’d helped (amid the large number of lesser yokai pairs that she’d aided). Not that it seemed to matter at the moment since the prostrated buck appeared to be waiting for her to respond to… whatever it was he’d said.

f*ck.

“Thank you… all of you, for saving me,” Kami, that didn’t sound patronizing, or as if she were making light, did it? “I wish you and your families good health and happiness” She clasped her hands in front of her and dipped her head in a partial bow as a small wave of white reiki bathed each of her saviors, causing their hues to burn brighter while their shapes quivered beneath the blow.

The honey-buck climbs back onto his hind legs, half-nods and half-bows at her once more and then turns to his companions. He lets loose an authoritative chitter-squeak that has her pseudo-guardians stomping the ground and then sprinting off into the crowds, in different directions. All before she could even scrape a thought together to ask them… anything.

The hell?

And a meter or two ahead of her, Kagome sees the burning figures of Inuyasha and Shippou. One with a mulish scowl and the other with that toothy grin that made her want to tweak an ear or pull a tail.

What the hell?” Kagome whisper-yells as she strides up to Inuyasha and clutches at the shoulder of his fire-rat robes.

“Oi!” Inuyasha snaps back, affronted as he swats her hand away.

“I could have been trampled to death!” she replies sharply, following his and Shippou’s bold figures as they turn and resume their trek through town. Shippou appears to be chewing on something gummy that smells of oranges. Had to be something sweet, it’s the only thing that keeps him quiet for any length of time. Vaguely, she wonders if it’s something he pilfered or conned out of one of the merchants. Because Inuyasha certainly wouldn’t buy him anything.

“Isn’t that what you wanted?” the hanyo sniffs loudly, arms crossed. He ignores several rough-shouldered blows he receives from passing yokai; she can’t help but grimace at the way those liquid-silver triangles flicker and skip, how they twist and linger in certain directions. Kagome can’t hear the distinction of words, but the tell-tale buzz of derisive commentary is unique in its pitch and tone— so she knows that whatever crap the passing yokai are saying, Inuyasha is hearing.

“That wasn’t what I meant when I said those last fights could have been avoided,” she says, keeping her attentions split between their immediate area and the conversation. Kagome dodges to the side and braces her shoulder against the middle of Inuyasha’s back when the latest shoulder-check nearly sends him to the floor. He snarls in retaliation and grips the glowing hilt of tessaiga. Thinking quickly, Kagome bodily shoves him forward and stamps her foot down— it sends a bolt of white reiki forth, it shoots across the road directly ahead of them, all but lights up the path like a runway for her.

A series of startled yelps (and a few shrill screams), erupt alongside the path as yokai of all shapes and sizes abruptly get the hell out of the way and let them pass unmolested. Gamely, Kagome presses on, her face aflame as she bodily steers Inuyasha forward with a white-knuckled death grip upon his stiff shoulders, and Shippou hot on her heels in their wake.

She hears nothing but muted silence as they make haste in leaving town. Nothing save the awkward cough, shuffle of feet (paws, or hooves), as the many yokai mill about. Or the scrape of wood, stone, or steel as something is bumped or moved. Kagome also can’t help but hear Shippou choke a little on whatever sweet he is trying to consume while laughing. If she has to stop and give him a smack on the back to help him because he couldn’t control his laughter enough to eat his food… he’ll come up short a tail for the trouble.

But the thing that freaks her out the most about all of it is the silence. The weight of being at the center of everyones’ attention. The heaviness of their collective inhuman gaze set off her proverbial hackles; had that tiny, tiny voice at the back of her mind just screaming all shrilly. Inuyasha may not believe she had the self-preservation that kami gave to a flea, but contrary to his (and lets be honest here, everyone that she knew), opinion— she did! Kagome was a big fan of life, and breathing! She was the biggest fan of breathing!

And while she didn’t really think any of the numerous pairs of laser-glued-eyeballs meant her any harm… It didn’t erase the fact that there were, a lot of them. A villages’ worth of eyeballs, and individual persons attached to them. Persons with calculating motivations and aspirations, with wants and desperate needs. All yokai that she had, at one point admitted, and agreed to help— because she’d found a way to to do so, in a manner that so far, no one else had been able to engineer. Maybe the ones in this village hadn’t heard of her, but those rabbits did, and Kagome doubted they would keep her a secret unto themselves.

So when Kagome was faced with this collective weight?

It was staggering.



Humbling.


Outright terrifying.


What if she failed?

Ouch! What was that for Mama?” Shippou whined, rubbing his abused ear with a glowing white-orange hand.

“For laughing when your poor mother nearly got trampled to death,” she chastises, having rounded on her kit once the three of them were clear of the town, “and for stealing candy from one of the merchants!” she adds.

“And don’t you dare think of denying it, Shippou!” Kagome interrupts when she sees the flames of twin mouths open, “I don’t have any money and neither does Inuyasha, so unless you stole from someone to buy the candy…” she trails off, brows furrowed and fists planted on her hips, “Which is also, stealing.” she adds for emphasis.

“Yeah, twerp! Don’t you know that’s bad?” Inuyasha cuts in snidely, thinking himself safe up high in the stately tree he’d selected as their campsite. Kami they were impossible, the both of them.

“Zip it Inuyasha.” she warns.

“I’m sorry Mama…” Shippou apologizes, scuffing the dirt with one hind-paw, hands clasped in front of him as he stares up at her with impossibly large, burning emerald spheres. Was it just her or did they seem a little… glossy?

“It’s wrong to steal Shippou, those merchants need the money they earn from the goods they sell.” She explains, Kami help her, she was still a sucker for The Eyes, “Don’t you ever do that again unless you can offer them something of equal value in exchange, alright?”

“I understand, and I will.” he replies. “I promise.”

Above them, Inuyasha scoffs.

“Good,” she says, and decides to be the bigger person and ignore the brat up in the tree. “Now what on Kamis-green-earth was so funny, earlier?”

Shippou seems to be making a concerted effort to choose his words wisely for the moment, because he does not immediately launch into a convenient explanation. Kagome hopes it’s a positive point in his growth and developing maturity, but ultimately thinks it is more of a random blip. She doubted her little sass-master of a kit was going to taper off anytime this century. So while he takes a rare moment to find the least offensive words in his arsenal— Kagome sets about making camp with easy, practiced movements.

The actions were so fluid and consistent that the routine proved to be both calming and relaxing. So much so that by the time she was boiling water for tea and heating up one of the remaining meals that a family of badger yokai had gifted to her— Kagome had already half-turned towards the treeline, having expected Jaken or Rin to come trotting out. The failed expectation struck her sharply.

She hoped Rin and the others got her letter.

She hoped they bothered to read it.

“I just thought it was funny…” her son piped up, dispelling the depressive haze of her thoughts; “How the usagi dived into the crowd and got you out— like one of those ninja hit-squads you told me stories about.” Shippou adds, his voice muffled as he fussed with a black teacup lined with remnants of her scent.

Kagome’s eyebrows drew together in bemusem*nt; why on earth—

“Mama you don’t get it— usagi, anaguma, araiguma, and all the other small ones?” Shippou went on, struggling to explain in words she could understand; “They don’t do things like that. Ever.”

“Sweetling, I’m afraid I don’t—" Kagome starts, only to be cut off by the least likely member of their party.

“The runt means that lesser yokai don’t just waltz into town and assert themselves against stronger demons,” Inuyasha snaps, irritable as he shifts in his perch. “Doesn’t matter what the reason is, they don’t do it. Especially when they’re prey.”

“But then why—"

“We don’t know ‘Gome, neither of us speak bunny.” he shrugs in reply, all hard edges of fire red and slashed curves of silver in a bough of healthy brown and burgeoning green.

Well, for once Kagome was out of words; partly at being talked over repeatedly (from both Shippou and Inuyasha, weirdly), and from the wealth of unexpected knowledge concerning yokai behavior and subconscious hierarchy? From a prey to predator standpoint it made sense; that a handful of bunnies wouldn’t just waltz up and save someone from the beginnings of a stampede. Or clock someone in the face with their hind-paws on someone else’s behalf. And she supposes from a… power-level? Standpoint, it’s sensible that smaller yokai with only one form would wisely keep well off the radar of those stronger than them. So as to avoid appearing on the menu (for some of them), later on.

Kagome hummed an idle tune and kept quiet for the rest of the evening, more than a little lost in thought.

“Incredible,” Kagome mutters, poking at the miniature sun in their makeshift hearth with a stick, “Friggin' unbelievable, actually.” She rests her chin on her free hand, ignoring the bright glow of the appendage.

She spends a moment watching the fire with its miniature solar flares, listens to the idle snap and crackle. Next she slots her attention towards the slow sprawl of twinkling stars that creeps a little farther out and around their campsite. It doesn’t look like it’s causing any trouble (at least not right now), but everything it slinks over, it leaves a little brighter, a little healthier. She squints and watches the light show for a moment longer, mildly suspicious. But then Kagome switches her attention to Shippou, his brilliant, burning forms shielded by the black silhouette of her sleeping bag. Her little kit had stuffed himself down into its puffy confines when he’d been put to bed. She wasn’t entirely sure how he managed to breathe while in there, but his snuffling snores were a positive indication that kept her from worrying.

But Shippou wasn’t what had her muttering to herself in the middle of the night.

Oh no.

This time, it was Inuyasha. Who was either dead asleep, or just dead. Because from what she could make out, he was sprawled across three different branches. One glowing red triangle of a sleeve flickered in the faint evening breeze, the same gust that made large swaths of silver curl and dance. She thinks she sees one leg twisted into the leafy-green ends of a branch while the other dangles freely, a sore temptation for any creature of the feline persuasion. Kagome isn’t sure where his other arm is, but can tell that his head is tipped forward against his chest, based on the blur of red that battles with the twitching cuts of silver.

Kagome had actually tried waking him a short while ago, but he hadn’t responded.

Boy was dead to the world.

Not that she was totally convinced that he had mysteriously up and died on them. His colors were still obnoxiously bright, and if she waited quietly enough, she would hear a soft chuffing sound. Like a half-aborted snore. It was weird, because she’d never seen him conk out like this before. Not at Kaede’s, and never this deeply. Did he feel safe enough within the bounds of a yokai town’s barrier, to relax his guard that much? Even when they treated him so poorly?

Kagome’s not sold on the posit, so doesn’t lend it too much credence. But then why else would—

Abruptly, she giggles. And startles herself so much that she squeaks, drops the stick, and slaps a hand over her mouth. What? Her face just recently stopped hurting, and now she was grinning like a dope?

A thousand shooting stars fly overhead, their comet tails an awe-inspiring trail of fantastical stardust that could put the aurora-borealis to shame. These were not the land-bound collection of stars led by little Hailey’s comet. No, these ones were larger, more commanding, with each pair burning in sharp contrast with their neighbor. A wordless competition, a jockeying of power and position as their stars kissed the earth, not far from her camp.

On light feet, she walked.

But beneath the pleasant haze, Kagome could still catch some of the details. Could see how their fires fluctuated and dithered on the edges. Reminding her so much of Ai, the acrid fear in juxtaposition with the promise of hope. These were not the lesser yokai she had helped in droves— these were the stronger demons. The ones who had at one point, more pride than sense, but now were willing to bend. Willing to set aside their squabbles and differences so that they could stand together and ask for something they had never dared to believe would be so freely given.


With each step closer, Kagome’s pleasant smile grew.


Her ability to see the circle of mated pairs became sharper.


Lions.


Tigers.


Bears.

Oh my…

Chapter 17: Temporary Measures and a Break...

Notes:

I've mentioned it before, but this fic is not abandoned. Nor will it be!

The pandemic halted a lot of jobs, but if you were a first responder or deemed critical, you didn't get to stay at home. On top of that; wagon-hitching, moving overseas (guten morgen), adding to the population, and surgery/cancer treatment... so it's been a rather busy time and I've done my best to keep writing!

Thank you all for your patience (however unwilling), and happy reading.

Chapter Text

Lions.

Tigers.

Bears.

Oh my...

“Mama, do you think the guide Lord Fujin was supposed to send... got lost?”

Kagome thinks on the possibility for a minute, unsure as they continued their trek, ever eastward.

“Maybe, or perhaps they’re not in that much of a hurry?” she answered.

Now that she’d taken the time to consider it— where was this alleged guide to the Eastern Lord? Kagome hadn’t a clue where they were actually supposed to go. Admittedly she was just directing their little group in a fairly meandering, easy-going way (while deliberately skirting Kouga’s territory, that potential headache was best avoided). At this point, she had half a mind to trot up to the nearest castle-shaped building and give it a go, more or less.

“Well they better get here soon before Inu-baka starts another— Ow!

“You know better, Shippou” Kagome replied to her son’s startled squawk. She had warned him earlier that if he didn’t start curbing his tongue— she’d start pulling hairs. From his bushy tails. Not that she came away with any tufts of fur betwixt her fingers, she’d noticed merely giving one of them a sharp tug did the trick. Especially since she couldn’t always get her hands on those ears…

Fiiiine,” he said, skipping a few feet ahead, out of grabbing range.

“And?” she prompted, brow rising above the warm cloth of her makeshift blindfold.

Bright auburn fires spark and flare, a three-tailed fox looks left and a young boy looks right before Shippou speaks; “I hope our guide gets here before InuYASHA starts a fight with someone. Again.” he blurted out, words rushed and quiet.

“Thank you, kit,” she murmured, lengthening her stride, feet gliding over earthen greens and glowing browns; “I know he can be trying, which is why I appreciate your efforts in being the bigger person.” glowing white fingertips stretch and curl into the wild fringe upon Shippou’s brow.

The answering grin is blur of fox and boy, a fiery thing so wide and full of easy joy.

If only it were just the few... but oh no, there were beautiful birds, and even a rare kitsune couple. All stood together in a loose semi-circle before her. Their colors so bright, their forms so varied they overlapped one another— a living, breathing, tangled blur of saturated brilliance. If she mentally squinted and canted her head to the side, they almost looked like a frothy tentacle monster. The thought twists her smile into something edged in mortified humor.

When she draws to a stop before the collective, a solitary pair breaks away to greet her, their elected representatives. She sees a vibrant, cheery pink and a soothing blue-violet youki entwined at the hands; and as they neared, Kagome could see their human shapes, the faint illumination of their marks. While she could not determine their species due to the sheer size and joining of their other forms, she still saw wings and beaks, of a kind.

When the couple were within a few meters of her person, they halted.

And broke pattern.

“One day I’ll be bigger than he is!” Shippou crowed, delighted at the prospect of being larger than Inuyasha in all ways.

“Quite possibly Shippou, time will tell.” Kagome replied, unable to shake the sudden listless feeling. She raised a hand to her hair then, slender fingers alighting upon the twist, ensuring the pair of faux kanzashi continued to hold the thick bulk up and off the back of her neck. Even amid cool weather, the sheer density of her hair made things a bit too warm.

Kagome pressed on, one foot in front of the other. Shippou trotting faithfully alongside and Inuyasha up ahead, the picture of modern Picasso’s take on red battling silver.

It was all they did, in these seemingly endless days. Okay, so it had only been a few weeks (nearly a full month), but even with such a relatively short time spent traveling... it all felt dull and repetitive. The monotony of it only broken by the occasional novelty (that demon village and the night spent within its confines), and late evenings spent giving aid to the passing yokai she came across. She really wasn't kidding about going up to the next castle they found.Kagome wasn't the young-and-dumb teenager anymore. Traipsing around the Japanese countryside on the hunt for jewel shards? That boundless energy to walk for miles on end every day, and sometimes well into the night?

Yeah... she just didn't have that sort of insanity in her bones. Not with the number of late nights she was pulling on top her daily journey-ing.

She was getting tired!

Scratch that, she was tired!

It seemed like a great idea at first, once she'd... left, but living it now?

Maybe she should find a place to set up shop, have Shippou make fliers, and then pay some bird yokai to distribute them across Japan, advertising her free fertility services. Have them come schlepping from all over the countryside, to her, instead of the other way around. She snorted at the thought.

That'd be hilarious.

One of the fresh cuts upon her arm twinged, the pain as sharp as it was brief like the snap of fingers.

Kagome's thoughts were a lot less funny then.


They burned with such intensity, their hues trembled with fear and cautious hope along their edges. The bleed of their youki left the earthen floor a sparkling carpet of violet-blues and iridescent pinks; as if a bottle of glitter had been carelessly upended. This curious pair did not grovel, nor did they prostate themselves, and neither did they bow. Strangely enough, she gets the impression that the male was going so far as to glare at her, as if in challenge.

It was so very different, so far from the norm, that Kagome felt the scarcest edge of sobriety cut into her thoughts. She was unsure if she liked that.

“Are you the one who claims to be a miko? The Miko?” the male speaks, takes a bold step forward ahead of his mate. She sees the sharp purple of his humanoid form brighten, edge closer to pink.

She tips her head to the side and waits, hands clasped lightly in front. Kagome says not a word, has the strong sense that anything she’d dare to say, would do little, if any good.

“The lesser yokai claim you are the reason they have been so… plentiful.” he says, clawed fists of cherry-pink, vibrating at his sides. “As if the season has no bearing on it.” he adds with a snarl.

“Yoru…” a worried whisper, a plea from his mate.

“They’ve told me of your crude methods.” he barrels on, sneer and self-righteous ego bolstered in the wake of her continued silence.

A quiet reticence that only grows more sobering the longer the avian yokai talked. Kagome didn’t know whether to be insulted or grateful. She still felt the swell, that buoyant jubilance of intoxication— but it was a distant thing. A curious sensation frittering along the outskirts.

“You’ll do no such thing tonight— ” at those words, an uneasy wind swept through the collection of yokai; as if the dialogue had gone off script and they now found themselves to be in both unexpected and dangerous waters.

The violet colors of their speaker were more pink now, sparking and spitting in their ferocity.

“If that is the case," Kagome hears herself say, having interrupted the bird before he incensed himself further; “then why are all of you here?”

Silence.


Not a whisper, nor shuffle of nervous movement.


She hadn't asked them to explain rocket science, or to walk her through advanced trigonometry... and yet, the perfectly sensible question appeared to have struck the lot of them dumb. Unable to answer, or (to her growing ire), unwilling. Kagome had this ability, this wonderful, kami-gifted power to help— and there they stood. Insulting her, scoffing at the true accounts from their own kin, and for what?

Pride?

Fear?

“Why congregate here, not a stones-throw from my camp… and summon me?” She says, no— demands.

Kagome shook her head in an attempt to dispel the unpleasant recollection. That night had happened four days ago, and it wouldn't leave her. It wasn't something she wanted to revisit, but like a freshly pulled tooth... she couldn't help herself from poking and prodding at the empty socket. The entire incident, while ultimately productive (and beneficial!), was still an unexpectedly bitter experience. Especially since it happened to be her first true instance of helping the larger, and more powerful yokai.

Unfortunately, she got the sense it was going to be one of those memories. The sort that would haunt her, repeatedly, for some time.

Because why would it not, that was her sort of luck, right?

"Hey Inuyasha?" Kagome called out, thoughts caught between her current miseries (her feet ached!), and the memories of that night. She couldn't stop thinking about it, she really wanted to stop thinking about it.

She wasn't sure what she'd do if she didn't, go mad maybe.

Or die of shame.

"Yeah?" He hollered back, he didn't pause his steps or break his strideonly tipped that track-skipping silver-head to the side, a lone puppy-dog ear stuck out from the glitching picture as it swiveled back to attention.

Would it be like that, when they made it to Lord Fujin's?

Kami she hoped not.

"Let's call it a day," she said, "Either at the next inn or decent campsite near some hot springs, whichever comes first." Kagome added with a careless, all-encompassing wave of her left arm. A blithe gesture to indicate any forward direction, ideally whatever degree eastward that had what she sought, within the least amount of walking distance.

The motion itself dispersed a trifling amount of white reiki, fragments of power that drifted in the pastel blue winds. The slightest notes of discordant song, a miniature windchime just behind her ears.

A blue hanashobu for hope.

"My vote's for an inn!" Shippou chirped, his form blurred and burned as he bounded ahead on four small paws. He ran dizzying circles around the hanyo, barking all the while. Her little kit's intent seemed geared towards driving Inuyasha to distraction, or temper, the bratty little imp.

"Whichever it may be, you'll be getting a bath, Shippou!" she announced to the dismayed little barks she got in reply.

"Hah!" Inuyasha crowed as he took a half-hearted swipe at Shippou's fiery form.

Boys.

"As will you, Inuyasha." Kagome adds. She'd roll her eyes if she had the capability.

But, as the two barked and bickered at each other up ahead, Kagome's thoughts once more went back to that night. Like an insufferable dog with a stupid bone.

Kagome’s face is twisted into an unseemly, borderline painful grimace. The giddy intoxication of her power is but a whisper in the corners of her mind. She can see the shimmer of nervous movement, can hear the twitch of their claws and nervous shuffling of their feet beyond the couple before her. Kagome thinks she can even smell the scent of impending tears; a flickering tea-light in the path of a strong breeze, here for moment then gone the next.

She knows.

She had not forgotten.

Kagome remembered how these yokai treated Inuyasha— how their speaker talked about the small ones, dismissive and condescending… Kagome needs no songs to see that these haughty creatures suffered the same plague of infertility. She could see that they were even worse off than the little cousins they so ignored and derided. A small, bitter shade of herself thought it served them right. How dare they come to her and demand her service, riding in on their arrogance and conceit? Did they expect her to kowtow to them, beg a thousand pardons, and plead at their feet, to be allowed to heal their infertility in some new and unknown way that met with their delicate sensibilities?

Her hands have clenched painfully tight at her sides, so much so that her arms start to shake just the tiniest amount.

Did these ‘higher’ demons think she cut her hands and touched genitalia because she wanted to? That she did it for the laughs, or due to some innate human perversion they surely believed her to have? Kagome couldn’t figure out another way to do what needed to be done! The technology for blood transfusions has not been invented! She had still tried to heal those smaller yokai without any of that! She did— but nothing had worked! Feeding power into their small bodies had only served to make their internal state more clear. And having them ingest a diluted tincture of her blood? All it had done was strengthen their inherent abilities, made their fires more bold! It had been unable to heal the deformity they had been born with; what had been there for so long that their bodies had known of no other way to be.

She was so angry, so hurt, and so bloody offended that now even she was starting to cry, damnit!

“If you know of a guaranteed method to cure your infertility, then I am all ears, bird,” Kagome snapped, willing her tears to abate, without success— kami she felt so f*cking stupid; “Otherwise, go help yourselves.” with that, Kagome turned sharply on her heel and started the walk back. Shame, failure, and embarrassment are all tangled up and knotted like a lump in her throat, and she can’t help but hate herself, and this stupid town she had been so excited about.


“Ena no!”

“No! We all agreed Yoru! You are the one who decided to inject your personal opinions into this and look what you did!”

A sharp slap rings out, and the female named Ena speaks again; “You have done more than enough talking for all of us Yoru, and I’ll not stand here alongside your damnable pride while our only hope at a future walks away! None of us care how she accomplishes such a miracle— so long as it works! And by all accounts it does!” she cried, a chorus of desperate support following in the wake of her words.

Kagome cannot help but to hear the impassioned speech, can see a blur of feathers, hands, and arms in her periphery (this all-around vision is just wonderful at the worst of times), but she’s doing her best to focus all of her attention on the path before her. She does not care. She doesn’t! They don’t want her help? Then they can rot! Plenty of other yokai will gladly accept her aid— no matter how improper or crude her methods were.

“I cannot last another barren season Yoru; and if you won’t do this with me, then I’ll do it myself… and find another.” Ena claims, her last words a whisper so full of betrayal and heartbreak that Kagome’s own chest clenches in pained empathy against her will.

Her steps have long since slowed to a complete stop, unable to make herself continue the walk back toward camp. A gust of wind tugs at her clothes and the purple-blue shape of Ena (who else would it be, after all of that?), lay prostrate at her feet. She sees the razor-edge of a feathered crown upon the dirt floor, motes of rich brown glittered upon their tips. Kagome almost thinks it beautiful… if it did not tell her just how hard Ena had pressed her face into the ground.


Please! Miko-sama!”


If Kagome had any anger left in her, she would not know, couldn’t fathom it— not now. Not when she could so easily picture Ena’s slender shape bloodied and wounded, purposely caught in some hunter’s trap and waiting for death, like Ai. Kagome’s knees hit the dirt with enough force that it makes her bones jolt with pain, but she pays it no mind. She has leaned over and dragged Ena’s trembling, groveling form into the circle of her arms. The avian yokai was light, and felt so unbelievably fragile that Kagome feared the possibility of crushing the demoness if she held her any tighter.

When Kagome finally spoke, her voice was choked with tears and muffled by the bevy of soft feathers that made up Ena’s hair;

“I’m sorry, of course I’ll help. I always help, I promise.”

Kagome chewed on her bottom lip, she didn't regret it, and was infinitely glad that she'd helped. But it had hurt, having been faced with such contempt. She didn't know why it had, it wasn't like she was a stranger to adversity and the many forms it took.Maybe the reason it'd stung her so, was due to the fact she hadn't expected it? At a time when she feels simultaneously, the most vulnerable and most powerfulto then be metaphorically slapped in the face? Honestly, the whole affair might have hurt less if Yoru actually had done that instead.

"Oi, hotspring up ahead." Inuyasha announced, his silver brightening into a jittery mess as he veered off their current path. It was akin to staring at a pissed off hornets nest as it floated atop fire-red robes. Some days (and today was one such day), Inuyasha's figure was truly, and utterly incomprehensible.

"That's perfect Inuyasha, thank you." Kagome replied, grateful for her friend's quick and keen find. She was going to soak in that spring for hours. Days, even. She'd just about kill for a foot rub right now too, a nice long one.

The change from a glittering rainbow of a well-worn footpath to the subtler, earthen sparkle of one less traveled, caused her steps to fumble. A light jingle played accompaniment, Kagome's very own private soundtrack. The notes were soothing, even if a little jarring since she's still getting used to it.

Sakura blossom petals for renewal.

It isn't long before their small party comes to a small clearing just off to the side of the deer path. The ground is a warm and verdant green, a gentle cheery light with hints of robin's eggshell blue winking at the farthest edge of the tree line. The space feels inviting, peaceful.
This would be a good spot to rest and recuperate for a few days.

Refresh the spirits, reinvigorate the body...

And put up her feet.

A loud sob rips from Ena in response, her arms wrapped around Kagome’s form and squeezed it tight. Her grip betraying the illusion of her delicate form— Kagome’s ribs will be bruised for weeks.

She feels a bubble of relieved laughter tickle her throat, a promise of elation, and knows that the night will not end in heartbreak. Kagome holds it back, but gives Ena a return squeeze before she loosened her hold and leant back.

Ena takes her cue and released her grip, limbs unsteady from the emotional turmoil. Her form is a jitter of fairy dust and windswept-sparks painted in soft blues and pearlescent violets; scarcely contained within a diminutive figure hiding a behemoth of a second form. There is a swipe of delicate, amethyst daggers across the wide, burning spheres— a gesture to erase any evidence of her tears.

“What…” a hesitant voice speaks up while Ena worked to compose herself, “What can we do?”

Kagome climbed to her feet then, and takes in this new stranger; a short, stocky male. They are soft of voice, but broad in shape and burn with a strength she has seen in few demons. His life is a wellspring of summer orange, the warm coals of a winter hearth; his shape is solid and immutable. Their human shape as bold and clear-cut as Sesshoumaru (if, without all the prismatic luster and glory), just as their demonic form lumbers high about on four thick legs and a wide, grizzled snout drawn down in deference. An ursine. A bear.

Good kami.

She hoped he wasn’t one of those Grizzly or Polar types.

Kagome coughed to stifle a hysterical giggle at the thought, and pushed the sensation back. A clear head was the best thing right now, and to be honest, she needed it. Because maybe, just maybe, they could help her. And in doing so, they may help others, too.

“It is, as you’ve heard…” she trails off, having realized she didn’t know his name.

“Getsumei.” the ursine yokai offered.

“Getsumei,” Kagome nods, “My methods, as previously mentioned, are primitive.” she cannot help the slight inflection of her contempt, but pushed past it; “They are not ideal, but they work— every couple I have aided, has successfully gotten pregnant within the year, and to my knowledge, every single one so far has safely birthed healthy offspring.”

The murmur of the assembled crowd grows then, and Kagome catches bits and pieces from each. One with a snippet of a rumor, another gossip, and one who has a tenuous connection with the ‘small ones’… but all are in general consensus. None refute it, not even the sullen, wordless bird, Yoru.

She knows these rumors, the gossip, and the fragments of truth because most of those same couples had kept in touch, either with herself, or those whom she spoke with. Kagome still remembers all of those gifts that had been delivered to her camp several weeks back. She had not forgotten her time as an impromptu babysitter. Nor would she, not ever— they were some of her most precious memories now.

“I do not gleefully go about cutting myself and groping veritable strangers for the fun of it.” Kagome speaks, willing her voice to carry to the crowd beyond Ena and Getsumei. “I do it, because nothing else I have tried, has worked.”

The silence is back.

Kagome figures they hadn’t actually expected her to own up to her own inadequacy (the absolute shock!), her own shortcomings. But she had so many of them now and so few people she could rely on to help. At this point, with Myoga still in the wind, she’d crowdsource and try to get all the damned help she possibly could.

“If anyone knows of a better, safer, and more refined method… please, tell me.” Kagome says, “I’ll gladly try it.” to further illustrate her point, she rolled her long sleeves up and upturned her hands before the gathering, both beseeching and unveiling the multitude of fresh and old cuts that litter her palms and forearms (she’d begun to work further up to give her hands more time to heal).

There is a beat of quiet, an exchange of glances (or of what she assumes to be), and then the group slowly, moved closer. The foxes are the first ones who reach her side, their forms lithe and wily like their twin fires of green and gold. The lone yokai that stands apart from their group is none other than Yoru, the pink hues of his life are sharp and choppy, filled with wounded pride. He makes no move to join them, and Kagome only feels glad of it. The bird was a prick.

It is the female vixen who speaks up first, and when she does, Kagome knows it is no longer an inquisition, but an open forum— a collaboration of minds invested to a working solution for the problem at hand.

“What has been attempted, so far?”

Even a dim-witted fool would have to be blind to not see that Kagome’s methods were temporary. They were not fit for the long-term, given the toll it takes upon her physical person, and with how many yokai were still out there, in need of her help.

“I’ve tried feeding them my power alone by invocation and by touch, it had no effect on the damaged areas. I made potions with healing herbs, purified water, and my blood; it strengthened them and healed superficial, short-term injuries, but it did not fix the main problem.” Kagome answered, “The best I’ve figured out is that both my blood and reiki need to be directly fed into the source of the afflicted areas; the reproductive systems.” she added with a helpless shrug.

“A logical assumption, a healer treats a wound at its source.” the male fox replied.

“A topical paste?” a tiger posits.

“Same issue as reiki-infusion, it would only take care of surface damage,” Ena chimed in, sounding much more composed, “The problem is internal.”

“Fertility ritual?” one lioness queried.

“Tied to specific times of the year, and location.” the vixen answers, “And it would not be a guarantee, such rituals enhance the body and increases chances of conception, but it does not heal or restore what has long been damaged.”

There was a distinctive pause then, and Kagome gets the impression that every yokai present has, at one point, participated in such rites. She wisely assumes such of all methods they were working through. Each couple had no doubt tried half a dozen times (at least), before her involvement ever came into play.

“Bells and drums are not what is needed— just her blood and power.” the lion says, as if to remind the crowd; “There must be a simpler solution.”

The collective bandy a few more alternatives aloud and reach much the same stalemate as before, until Getsumei’s mate (presumably), cuts in.

“Shinsei needles,” the female ursine murmurs aloud, “withdraw a measure of your blood from a marked site, then inject it into the affected areas… enabling your reiki to travel the length.”

Her solution rendered the debate speechless.

“It is not much changed… but it’s less hands-on.” the bear adds, unsure at the continued lack of response to her proposal; “And it won’t add to or worsen Miko-sama’s current injuries.”

“The idea has merit.” the lion conceded.

“Shinsei needles are not easily made,” warned a second lioness.

“Nor are they readily found in these times.” the first lioness added.

"I'll get the firewood!" Shippou hollered as he dashed off, the red-orange glow of his humanoid form was quick to disappear between the muted auras of the cypress trunks that ringed their small campsite.

"You're still getting that bath!" She called back. Kagome shuffled a little over to one side of the encampment and sets her heavy pack upon the ground, and gets down to the business of setting up camp. The faster she gets it done, the sooner she can while away the evening hours in the hot spring. A nice long soak was most definitely in order.

"Right, well I'll go scare up some dinner." Inuyasha sniffed, "Someone's gotta make sure you two don't starve."

She opened her mouth, torn between saying words of gratitude or something smart.

"Yeah yeah, bathing." he said before Kagome was able to decide. Shredded silver passed through the garish red of his glowing haori sleeve; the disjointed motion looked like he'd waved her off as he too, disappeared into the tree line.

Was she imagining it, or was Inuyasha's form becoming more distorted in her minds eye? His shape frequently looked like a jumbled mess. It always had. In the last few weeks though, he'd begun to look more like a blurred, buzzing hive of mismatched shapes. The cuts and parts of his figure fighting to fit themselves together in one breath, and desperately trying to break apart the next.

Like many of the things about her... vision, Kagome didn't know what it signified. She could only hope it didn't mean anything bad.

A white yuri for purity.

After all, Inuyasha was family and she did love that hopeless idiot.

“Yoru!” Ena cried out, and it is then Kagome noticed the vibrant pink shape of Ena’s mate flash. Like a bath-bomb dropped into the water, a cloud of sea-foam pink smoke and miasma explodes and then a brilliant swath of shimmering, wind-broken wings take to the air.

Yoru had flown the coop.

Kagome thinks he may have been a golden eagle, judging from the shape of his animal form. She watched as Yoru shot across the sky like a rocket, a bizarre, floral-pink one in the loose shape of a giant bird of prey. Because apparently all wind-oriented creatures had a strong aversion to stable forms within her minds eye.

Boy was that particular fact going to become quite annoying with the Eastern crowd. Kagome had a feeling most of them were going to be flight-based creatures, so that would just be awesome. A bevy of creatures with barely-there silhouettes of intermittent color, unless she routinely got them riled up. It was not the most ideal prospect.

Kagome tuned back into the discussion, and is unsurprised that they’re still on the needles, option. But have apparently run into the same issues; the needles were not easily made (and none of them knew of any crafters who had the level of skill and technique required to successfully make one, never mind a pair of them), and no one in the group knew of anyone who owned them. Or, of anyone who would relinquish them for her use— even on a temporary basis. They were sort of going around in circles and Kagome was getting a little tired.

And a smidge worried that if she continued to delay and push back that feeling of buoyant, metaphysical intoxication— she’d lose it. Not forever or anything, but for the night, most likely. An opportunity missed.

She’d be loathe to say it, but she would not be delaying her journey, not in order to accommodate these yokai. Kagome was grateful for their brainstorming efforts and possible solution, even if it too was a plaster bandage, in the grand scheme of things. But they were not the only ones suffering this queer plague.

She had to keep going.

“I’m grateful for this possible solution,” Kagome smoothly cut in; “but my time is limited and I cannot remain here indefinitely.” she added, mentally girding her loins for what she had to say next; “I will help those who… do not object to the primitive method tonight. In the morning I will continue my journey East.”

There is an abrupt roar of dismay at her words, Kagome raised a hand for silence (most unsuccessfully), and powered through.

“If or when a pair of shinsei needles are obtained, you are all more than welcome to come and find me. I will still help you, I swear it.”

“And how will any of us accomplish that?” the two lionesses snarl in tandem.

“I imagine in the same manner you found me tonight.” Kagome answered glibly, she’s slowly eased back on her self-restraint, and in the process, feels a knot between her shoulders unravel as liquid heat trails down the length of her spine; “I’ve made no efforts to hide my whereabouts, and do not foresee changing that in the near future.”

So…” Kagome said, drawing the word out nice and loud to cut off any further discussion. She’s tired of the stall, and welcomes the pleasant curl of dizzying power as it rolls through her;

“Who’s first?”

After the bedrolls were laid out, the campfire made, and one fat pheasant was freshly plucked and prepped for cooking (thank you Inuyasha); Kagome sent the pair off to bathe. Given strict orders to be both diligent and thorough, otherwise she'd scrub one of them to within an inch of their short little lives, and Sit, the other into next Tuesday.

While still in the hot spring.

Wisely, the pair complied with minimum fuss as she finished preparing the ingredients for a hearty stew. The downside of which involved far too much mental squinting and useless head turning. Bloody fires were still uncomfortably blinding, no matter how small they were. But the inconvenience (and headache), would be worth it in the end, there would be enough leftovers for at least two days. Two whole days of no cooking, soaking in the hot spring, and having her feet elevated all the while.

Peak vacation days, right there.

Crystallized tears of the first Amabiko, to ward off disease and encourage healing.

While the stew cooked, Kagome gathered her few toiletries and bundled them together within a well-worn towel. She'd need to pick up a new one soon, it was getting rather threadbare, to her fingertips. Once the boys got back, she'd bathe next. Kagome intends to sit in that warm water until she completes her transformation into a human raisin.

By night's end, Kagome lacks the strength to lift her arms. The mild blood loss has her head feeling a little fuzzy, her hands and feet a bit tingly. Her euphoria is a large and beastly thing and the muscles in her face ache from the hapless smile she cannot rid herself of. Not that she's tried, really.

Kagome typically would've left by now, having helped all the couples who had sought her out. But her feet remained planted, for while all the mated pairs (and the pride of lions), had all but fled the second she had removed her bloodied hands from their most private of body parts... there Ena stood.

A solitary, wind-blown shape of dimmed blues and violets in the open field, waiting on a miracle.

She watched Ena's dual forms flutter and bob, crystalline feathers of indigo fanning out only to retract as her avian-form hopped from one foot to the other. The twin spheres of burning pink quartz seemingly pinned to the heavens. No sharper picture could be made to illustrate such a bundle of anxiety and dismay. It broke Kagome's heart to bear witness, doubly so when she recalled Yoru's abrupt departure, all those hours ago.

Did he really have no intention to return?

Was he so cold-blooded as to abandon Ena, his mate?

Kagome hadn't any answers to such questions, all she knew was it was time for her to go. She was not confident in her ability to remain conscious (never mind standing), for too much longer. So with great care and light steps, Kagome closed the gap until she stood before Ena's petite humanoid form.

"Miko-sama, please," Ena spoke up, "Please just a-a little more time, I'm sure he—"

Gently, tenderly, Kagome raised her right hand (there is a fine tremble to it that will not cease), and placed it atop the smaller set that is clasped together. The skin is cool and waxen beneath her palm, and while Kagome still feels the bubble of elation, she knows her smile has faded and her brows have drawn down to a commiserative furrow.

"I will always help, Ena," Kagome offers, voice no louder than a whisper, these words are for the woman before her, and no other; "But I cannot stay any longer."

A sound cracks and dies within Ena's throat, the plea halted when Kagome's hand tightens briefly upon her own.

"I can help you now, without him," she said, "However, I cannot guarantee success without also treating your chosen partner. But... it gives you a chance."

"I..." Ena starts, stops. Her voice as stilted as her words, "Okay... yes, okay."

"For whatever it's worth, I believe your hopes for this night will not be in vein." Kagome murmured.

She withdrew her hand to trail fingers down the length of her arms in search of an unmarked spot. There weren't many and Kagome had to be exceedingly cautious with the few areas where she had yet to cut. She finds one. At the back of her arm, right above her left elbow. She'd have to be careful because the angle was troublesome.

The scalpel is raised, angled to part her glowing flesh.

And just as she is about to give the blade the barest fraction of pressure—

Yoru returns.

He is speed personified. A sonic boom that cracked through the air, a cutting assault upon her ear drums. Her vision is flooded with splayed wings of bubblegum pink with radiant feathertips of peach. Glittering swirls of residual scent and youki are kicked up, caught betwixt the beat of massive wings and shimmering coral bird feet, as they lower and dig into the ground.

They're called anisodactyl feet, Kagome thinks idly, distracted by the noise. The wind. The vibrant flash of one gargantuan form as it transitions into its other.

Yoru's true form is now a specter of feathered, cotton candy color above them as his human shell burns like a traffic light. He is folded, made compact and brighter still from where he placed himself upon the floor.

At her feet.

Kagome says nothing, entranced as she is by the fine outline of amethyst (once, cherry-pink), claws that till ten small, discordant rows into the earth. The tracks are short but deep on either side of Yoru's shimmering, pearlescent head. A head with a face pressed to the dirt (an echo of Ena's supplication), his feathers are a crested carnation pulled flat. The contrast from Ena's earlier splayed crown to Yoru's indrawn plumage has piqued her natural curiosity.

She hears clicks and chirps, the language of birds as it floats up and beyond her. It is yet one more dialect she will never know, but it bothers her little. For Yoru's actions are loud, louder than the sincerity found in his native tongue.

"I have given you the gravest of insults, in spite of what you have done in service of our people, our kind." Yoru says, voice hoarse and raw. "I know it will not be enough, but still I apologize with utmost sincerity Miko-sama. I beg your forgiveness, even though I am unworthy of receiving it."

A long, slender box is proffered to her then; held aloft upon crystallized claw-tips. It is like her scalpels, liquid, molten silver of clean lines and reflective surfaces. Those same purple claws flip the box open on soundless hinges.

It takes her a moment to make sense of what she is seeing, given how the pair are laid out within the box, their bed a velvet void.

Ena's startled gasp pulls her up short. Kagome's left hand stops, caught midway between herself and the open box. She hadn't realized, or even noticed she'd reached out to touch the... kanzashi? They are heart-stoppingly beautiful, she has never before seen such craftsmanship or detail— not even when she'd had traditional sight.

"These are the legacy of my bloodline; crafted by the founder of my people, the Goruden Iguru clan ." Yoru explains, "They are Tamashi no Me— the Eyes of the Soul. The one heirloom passed down through the members of my line who have proven themselves through feats of greatness." he lifts his head from the ground then, and arrests her with shockingly clear, twin fires of earnest turquoise. "I have earned the right of my clan's shinsei needles and I can attest to their profound healing properties, such capabilities that by far exceeds any other set crafted."

The Tamashi no Me are an identical pair. Made of a long, delicate spine of liquid silver. One end a needle point, and the other a broad, fat end with a slight curve. A curve tipped in fine chains and bound with flowers of blue and white, pink petals, and fat little orbs that mimic the mercurial nature of the open sea. Kagome has not seen flowers so clearly, not for ages.

"I gift them now, to you," he says. The box is raised higher, towards her open hand; "Please accept them and do with them as you will. I beg of you, Miko-sama; accept this gift along with my submission unto your judgement." There is a moment, a long moment where Yoru hesitates, and it is reflected in the rise of frenetic energy that destabilizes the solidity of his figure. A windstorm of sakura blossoms that breaks apart his silhouette.

And in that breath, Kagome hopes.

Hopes that he is brave.

"I know, I know that I have no right..." Yoru speaks, choosing to face the fear he has made; "But still I beg... I beseech, and I implore you, O' Miko-sama! Please help me to carry on the blood of my line, in whatever manner you deem appropriate for the likes of me."

Ena is weeping bejeweled tears while Kagome is crying salt-water rivers that soak the binding across her eyes.

In spite of the tangible evidence of sorrow, Kagome is smiling.

She has swapped her hiking boots for bathing sandals and dusty traveling clothes (thank you Shippou, for yet another charmingly atrocious outfit), with a yukata that feels as thin as her towel. As she removed the pins from her hair, faint, bell-like tinkling follows, it's brief song as lyrical and soft as a whisper. The last thing she pulls from her hair is what frees the dark tresses; twin treasures of flowers and crystalized tears, preserved with elemental youki and bound with shining chains of spider-silver. The subtle notes made from the ornamentation have her smiling from a convoluted mixture of joy, pride, and bemusem*nt. The memory of that night still smarts, but ultimately, she is grateful...

For the past four days of travel, it is the faux kanzashi the Tamashi no Me, that has held the riotous black mass of hair in place.

With utmost care, she places the items within their storage case, and slips the box into her rucksack until it is nestled beside the soft leather case of her scalpels.

By the time Kagome has finished preparations for her own bath, the boys have returned from theirs. She does a quick spot check with nimble fingers behind damp ears and is not disappointed. More than pleased, she turns cooking duty over to their watchful eyes and sharp noses as she departs. Their soon-to-be grumbling bellies will most assuredly inform the pair as to when dinner is ready.

Her mood is already significantly improved; the decision to make camp early and relax for a few days was the right call. Not to mention a nice, out-of-the-way campsite that's less than a stones' throw from a hot spring? It's as close to perfect as one can possibly g

There is a bug in the hot spring.

There is a large bug, in her hot spring.

A very large, winged bug.

On some level, she can recognize it is sort of... cute. With it's banked honey-orange glow and fuzzy outline; a deceptive bumblebee on first take, a fat fluffy moth on the second. But, it's a bug.

A yokai bug.

With an uncomfortable number of limbs.

"Ah! Welcome, welcome my esteemed Miko-Sama!" the petite moth demon bids as four stick-thin limbs of ambient honey-yellow fog raised above the steaming waters; "Yes yes, welcome! Come in! Come in, these waters are most restorative!" The moth (for what else could it be, with those thick ghostly wings and the inordinately large amount of fluff?), then pats the reflective surface of the water, an effort to offer her further enticement.

What.

No.

"A... a-are you...?" Kagome stuttered awkwardly.

"Si si si! Tis' I, Mottomo Fuwafuwa sh*ta!" the very proud moth yokai replied. He gave a bold flap of his amber-gold and fuzzy (or blurry?) wings as the small demon launched himself up onto the lip of the hot spring, for his self-introduction... and sent a torrent of water her way. Kagome is abruptly drenched from where she stands, a scant few meters from him; "The Greatest and most Glorificous Miko-sama's personal guide to Supreme Fujin-Sama's fortress of The East!"

Was that Spanish?

"f*cking hell 'Gome, we leave you alone for five minutes!" Inuyasha shouts from behind, a mish-mashed blur of silver and red lined with the threat of his claws, poised to strike. An attack that doesn't come, for her friend is wordlessly forestalled as he next bleats; "No! Nope! No, he's—"

Her Eastern escort's name is, The Fluffiest?

"Naked!" Shippou cackled.

Kagome says nothing for a solid thirty seconds.

She thins her lips, swallows down some excess spit, and rakes her free hand up through the veritable tangle of her hair.

Kagome smacks her lips, loudly.

"Of course he is."

The Tale of Inari Okami - InkHound - InuYasha (2024)
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