‘It . . . It’s not possible . . . It’s just not possible . . .’
“Tell me, why aren’t you hiding those?”
InuYasha narrowed his eyes at the woman. “Hiding what?”
“Your ears—among other things,” she replied dryly.
Letting out a deep breath, she must have realized that he wasn’t about to answer, and while InuYasha wasn’t entirely sure that she was going to let it drop, she waved a hand toward the chair on the far side of the table instead. “Have a seat.”
InuYasha stomped around the small table in the nondescript cement room and flopped into the cold metal chair, without taking his glower off the woman. She’d finished speaking with Kouga in the hallway before she’d addressed InuYasha and slipped quietly into the chair across from him. Black hair drawn up in a sensible chignon, she had a rather stern air to her otherwise pretty face, and she took her time, pushing a pair of thick black rimmed glasses up as she regarded him for several moments without speaking.
“Keh. InuYasha,” he broke in with a stubborn shake of his head. Akamori might be the name that was printed on what Mrs. Higurashi had told him was a ‘birth certificate’, but it meant absolutely nothing to him.
She nodded slowly. “Okay, InuYasha-san . . . It seems as though you’ve got some fairly significant charges levied against you: obstruction of justice, attempted assault of an officer, hindering an official investigation, verbal battery . . . Do you have anything you wish to say for yourself?”
“How the fuck are you still alive?” he blurted before he could reconsider or stop himself. “You died. I know you died. I saw you die . . .”
The woman blinked, her eyebrows lifting in obvious challenge. “Well, I would guess that it’s pretty obvious that I’m not dead. In fact, I’m certain that I’ve never met you before, so if you don’t mind, can we get back to you?”
He frowned. “So you’re not Kagura?”
Staring at him for several seconds, she looked like she was trying to figure something out, she sat back and crossed her arms over her chest. “That name means absolutely nothing to me,” she stated flatly, eyes flashing behind the blue tinted lenses of her glasses. “Now why don’t you tell me about the altercation with Ookami-san. Is there a reason you went after him? Tried to attack him?”
“Ookami-san?” InuYasha echoed, shaking his head in confusion. “That damned Kouga, you mean?”
“I guess I can see where the verbal battery comes into it,” she muttered to herself before leveling another stern look at InuYasha. “Yes, Akamo—InuYasha-san: Ookami Kouga—Ookami-san.”
InuYasha snorted. “Weren’t no ‘altercation’ about it,” he retorted hotly. “He’s a fucking liar. I was gonna beat the truth out of him; that’s all.”
“Oh? And just what is he lying about?”
InuYasha gritted his teeth together so hard that his jaw ached. He didn’t like the altogether patronizing tone in her voice, and there was no way in hell he was about to tell this woman—whoever she was—what he and Kouga were talking about. “That’s between him and me,” he said instead.
She didn’t look like she was inclined to believe him, and she didn’t look like she particularly cared for his answer, either. “That does nothing to excuse your behavior, Akamori-san,” she replied in a clipped, brusque intonation.
He snorted indelicately. “I don’t really give a fuck, Kagura.”
He could see the flash of irritation in her magenta gaze despite the glasses that might have been intended to hide it. As it was, however, a soft knock on the door interrupted the interrogation, and after sparing a moment to narrow her gaze on InuYasha, the woman got up to open it.
“Sorry for the interruption, Namikaze-san. Got a minute . . .?”
She glanced back at InuYasha before following the man into the hallway and closing the door behind herself. ‘Namikaze-san . . .? But if she says she ain’t Kagura, then . . . So she’s gotta be Kagura’s reincarnation . . .?‘
InuYasha let out a deep breath, scowling around the otherwise empty room. He didn’t really give a shit about whether or not that woman was Kagura’s reincarnation, did he? The little patience that he had was sorely stretched to its limit already, and all he wanted to do was to get the hell out of there so that he could go find that damned wolf to demand answers. No matter how he looked at it, he just could not accept the idea that Kagome might actually have married the miserable bastard. To have done so shortly after he’d gotten swept into her world? No, the Kagome he knew would never have done something that rash so quickly, no matter what.
Kouga was just being an ass, right? He had to be because . . . Well, he just had to be. Anything else was entirely unthinkable.
‘Maybe not . . . not if she really thought that there was no way you’d ever find your way back to her . . .’
Shaking his head as a low growl escaped him, InuYasha rejected that thought as quickly as it had come. There just wasn’t any way that he could accept that.
“InuYasha, will you let me stay . . .?”
Why did those words come back to him now? All of the anger that had carried him along seemed to melt in the face of those words. Spoken so long ago, and yet . . .
Namikaze-san strode back into the room, closing the door quietly behind herself before turning to pin him with a calculating look. He sensed her irritation, but it was more than that. There was an underlying sense of hostility, though he didn’t necessarily think that it was entirely directed at him, either. No, she seemed to be bothered by something more, as though the situation itself was the source of her feelings. InuYasha didn’t really care, one way or the other. No, he just wanted to get the hell out of there, to get back to the shrine and the comparative quiet so that he could assimilate everything—and so that he could figure out how to verify what Kouga was saying. “Stand up,” she finally said, gesturing with her hand, as though she were trying to hurry him along.
He almost refused, just on principle, but considering he still couldn’t move his arms, he knew damn well that he was at a distinct disadvantage, at least, at the moment . . .
She wasted no time in crossing over to him and unlocking the handcuffs. They sprang open with a very loud click, and he couldn’t quite resist the urge to rub at his chafed wrists. “Your brother is here to pick you up. Apparently, Ookami-san called him and told him to make sure you calm down before you end up being arrested for real.”
“Keh! Bastard ain’t my brother—just a half-brother,” InuYasha spit out.
When she stepped around him again, she crossed her arms over her chest, pinned him with what could only be described as a completely unimpressed look. “If it were up to me, I’d throw you in jail,” she informed him, her eyes narrowing as a rather nasty little smirk surfaced. “You ought to be grateful that you have connections in such high places, though I wouldn’t go around looking for trouble. Next time, who knows if he can be bothered to pull the strings to get you out of it.”
Something in her tone surprised him. It almost sounded as though she hated Sesshoumaru—not that he could blame her if that really were the case. He wasn’t particularly fond of Sesshoumaru, either, but . . . But Kagura . . . At least back then, she hadn’t seemed to mind Sesshoumaru at all . . . “Yeah, well, he ain’t doing me any favors,” InuYasha grumbled.
She stared at him for another long moment before turning on her heel and pushing out of the room once more.
Stepping out from behind the thin paper wall, Chiyo clucked her tongue at the small girl who skidded to a halt before her, her pale blue eyes bright, her cheeks flushed as she caught her breath.
“And just what have I told you about running about when you’re inside?” Chiyo asked, pointedly arching a delicate eyebrow.
Minako’s cheeks flushed deeper as she sheepishly ducked her head. “Sorry,” she blurted miserably. Verily, she hated to displease her sister, and the perceived scolding was something she took to heart.
Breaking into a small smile as she knelt on the pillow at the front of the room, she held out her hands to the child. “Come, Minako,” she coaxed gently.
The girl hesitated for a moment before skittering across the floor and into her sister’s waiting arms. Chiyo idly stroked Minako’s downy hair. “Tell me about your lessons today?”
For the briefest of moments, Minako stiffened in Chiyo’s arms before relaxing and turning an impish smile on her. “Tetsuo-sensei said that I did well,” she replied, eyes widening without blinking, as though she were trying to brainwash Chiyo into accepting her answer as truth.
“Is that what he said?” Chiyo challenged with an arched eyebrow. “I could have sworn he told me that he had exceptional trouble getting you to pay attention today.”
Wrinkling her nose as her cheeks deepened into a brighter pink tone, Minako heaved a melodramatic sigh as she turned around and plopped down in her sister’s lap. “Why do I need to learn the human arts of writing and reading?” she suddenly blurted, a hint of belligerence coloring her otherwise sing-song voice.
Chiyo laughed softly. “Because one day, it may come in useful, Minako. Besides, knowledge is precious, and failure is born of ignorance.”
Minako sighed but nodded slowly, twisting a long lock of raven-black hair around her index finger, a nervous habit that she had stopped doing most of the time, unless she was busy thinking. “That’s what chichiue said before he left to—” Cutting herself off abruptly, she stubbornly shook her head. “Do you think he will come home soon?”
Biting her lip, Chiyo’s pleasant expression faltered. The child didn’t see it, busy looking at her hands as she was. There had been no word as yet, but there didn’t have to be. Chiyo had seen it all in her dreams.
The distinctive whistle outside the window drew her attention, and Chiyo forced a small smile for her sister’s benefit. “Minako, it sounds like Atsushi-kun is here . . . You don’t want to keep him waiting, do you?”
With a giggle, Minako shot to her feet, impatiently straightening her short summer kimono. “We are going to check the cave we found in the forest!” she informed Chiyo as she started to run toward the door.
“Minako . . .” she called after the child. Minako immediately slowed her gait. “Be home before dark,” she reminded her.
“I will, onee-sama,” Minako replied without bothering to stop.
Letting out a deep breath that didn’t sound at all like a noise she normally made, Chiyo slowly stood and wandered over to the window to watch as her sister and her best friend sped off toward the forest.
“You’re going to have to tell her what you saw in your dreams soon.”
Chiyo didn’t acknowledge the visitor who had so quietly slipped into the room following Minako’s hasty departure.
“I know that he is a formidable opponent, but to think that your father—the great Yoshiaki-sama—could be defeated by Sesshoumaru . . .”
“Silence, Tetsuo,” Chiyo bit out coldly, spinning around to pin the diminutive ermine-youkai with an icy glower. “It’s water under the bridge . . . and Minako doesn’t need to know.”
The old and dedicated youkai recoiled from the vehemence in her tone more than from the power of her withering glare. “Forgive me, Chiyo-sama,” he hurried to say, bowing low once, twice as he backed toward the doors.
Biting down on her lip so hard that the tinge of blood filled her mouth, Chiyo strode across the room and back as she struggled to regain control over her emotions. The dreams about the hanyou had been bad enough, and though she was reasonably sure that the situation was under control, she wasn’t foolish enough to let her guard down yet, but the dreams of her father? Those were infinitely worse. She had learned long ago that having a dream once was a premonition, but if she had the same exact one twice, then it was truth, and the dream about her father? She’d suffered that one too many times to count, and it was always the same. No matter how many times she screamed, yelled, tried to make her father hear her, he couldn’t, and the shockwave from that wretched and vile sword, Bakusaiga . . .
“It was his own fault for daring to challenge one who is rumored to be unbeatable. Yoshiaki-sama was strong. Sesshoumaru-sama is . . . fearsome.”
Chiyo turned her head, spotting Tadao as he lounged casually against the wall near the main door. The derision in his tone when he spoke of the current Lord of the Western Lands was thinly masked. “Surely you did not travel this far just to laud the praises of that monster?”
“Monster?” Tadao echoed, mocking her choice of words. “You’re right. I did not.”
She nodded. “If you’re here about the prophecy, then I tell you that I have suffered no further dreams of him.”
Tadao’s face twisted into an affectation of a smile. It was far better to describe it as a pleased grimace. Tadao had forgotten how to smile years ago . . . “Then all is as it should be.”
Chiyo tilted her head to the side, silently regarding Tadao for several seconds. The arrogant youkai looked as though he truly believed that all of his troubles were over simply because she had yet to have another of those dreams. Maybe they were.
Or . . .
Or maybe they were just beginning.
“Thank you! Thank you so much! You have no idea, how much this means to our village!”
“You’re welcome,” Miroku said, holding his hand perpendicular to his face and offering a bow. “It’s the least we could do.”
“Please, please! It isn’t much, but we would like to give you these baskets of rice,” the headman went on, waving a hand at the small cart laden with woven baskets.
“That is very kind of you,” Miroku assured him. “We humbly accept your gracious gift.”
Kagome leaned toward Sango without taking her eyes off the men. “So were there really any youkai in the storehouse?”
“Two little mouse-youkai,” Sango replied, keeping her voice low, too.
Kagome considered than for a moment then shrugged. InuYasha would have pointed out that Miroku was ripping off the village, but she figured that Miroku’s logic was sound enough. After all, two mouse-youkai could easily multiply into the thousands if they weren’t taken care of, couldn’t they?
“If you’d like, we’d be happy to prepare rooms for you to stay the night,” the headman added.
Miroku opened his mouth to reply. Sango beat him to it. “Thank you, but we must decline. We’re expected back at home tonight.”
“Never mind that there’s a good chance that Kaede-baachan is probably well and truly fed up with the two we left behind,” Kagome muttered more to herself than to her companions. Shippou and Bunza were actually getting along today, but Kagome wasn’t so sure that it would last for more than an hour, at best.
Sango shot her a knowing look. “There’s that, too,” she agreed.
The villagers that were gathered around looked rather crestfallen, and Kagome watched, blatantly amused, as Sango stepped back and let Miroku step behind the bar of the wagon to pull it along.
“Should we offer to help him?” Kagome asked at length as they made their way out of the village and back onto the road home.
“Oh, I think that he can manage just fine,” she said, turning a very pleasant smile on her friend. “We shouldn’t have even taken half of that rice for that job . . .”
“Ah, but there’s really nothing wrong with stocking up for winter, is there, Sango, my sweet?” Miroku quipped.
Sango shot him a look but said nothing as she slowly shook her head.
“That’s enough rice for a year, you know,” Kagome pointed out, shielding her eyes with one hand as she peered up at the sky. The sun was out, and the late afternoon was beautiful. Still, the clouds on the distant horizon looked rather foreboding, and as she watched, they seemed to be moving just a little faster. Thick, dense, heavy with rain, and the breeze that blew in from that direction carried that certain smell, too, of the rain, of the ground, of the freshness that only came with the weather. “Let’s hope we get back to the village before that rolls in,” she remarked.
The taijya and monk’s heads turned in the direction that Kagome had nodded. “Hmm, that doesn’t look very good, now does it?” Miroku mused, lowering his shoulders as he pushed harder against the cart. Sango and Kagome exchanged looks before ducking under the wooden brace to help out.
“Now, now, ladies, I’m sure I can handle this by myself,” Miroku said, his voice distorting due to the efforts of pushing the heavily-laden wagon.
“All the rice will be ruined if we get caught in the rain,” Sango told him. “Less talking, houshi-sama, and more pushing.”
“Too . . . bad . . . InuYasha’s . . . not . . . here . . .” Miroku added.
Kagome laughed. “If he was, he’d be complaining that we’re using him as a pack horse,” she allowed.
“Well, at least he was consistent,” Sango quipped.
Kagome made a face, glancing at the rapidly-approaching line of storm clouds as she dug in her heels to push harder. “Next time, ask them for a horse, too.”
Sango gasped then laughed. “You’re starting to sound more and more like InuYasha every day,” she said.
Kagome blinked and stopped pushing for a moment. For some reason, the teasing statement struck a nerve somewhere deep down. Sounding like InuYasha? Was she?
“Look, houshi-sama. There’s a cave over there,” Sango pointed out.
The three of them glanced at it for a moment then back up at the sky, and without a word, they all turned sharply to the right, toward the cave that would at least keep the rice dry until after the rain had passed.
They barely made it under cover when the first crack of thunder rumbled the earth under their feet. Miroku let out a deep breath and darted out of the cave to gather some firewood, and Sango quickly dug the one pot they’d brought along out of Kagome’s backpack before hurrying out after the monk. Kagome busied herself by using her feet to scrape the debris littering the cave floor outside. They hadn’t bothered with any bedrolls since the village they’d gone to help was only about an hour’s walk from home. Now Kagome wished they had.
“You’re starting to sound more and more like InuYasha every day . . .”
Shoving a couple boulders over to the side, Kagome frowned. Just how many times had Kagome teased InuYasha about his viable lack of manners, his often abrasive way of talking? And even if Sango had been teasing at the time, Kagome had to wonder if there weren’t some measure of truth in her words. It was true, she knew, that she hadn’t really been herself in the weeks since InuYasha’s disappearance. She spent way too much time, dwelling on the past, and she knew it but it wasn’t something that she could make herself let go of, either. She’d never stopped to really think about why InuYasha might say some of the things he’d said, had she? Yet here she was, saying the same kinds of things—thinking the same kinds of things, too . . .
It was anger, but there was more to it than that. Melancholy? Sadness? Loneliness? Sure, she had friends. Sango and Miroku were as close as family to her, not to mention Shippou, but none of them could fill the significant void that InuYasha had left behind, either. Those emotions were the ones that were affecting her, and as much as she might want to pretend that it were otherwise, she knew it. But how to move on without letting go of him? How on earth was she supposed to smile and pretend that she was all right? She wasn’t, and that was the hardest thing of all. To be completely honest, she wasn’t entirely sure that she ever would be.
She’d tried to rationalize it in her head. She’d tried to tell herself that they were just best friends. Once in a while, she might even believe that, but she knew. She’d known for a long, long time. She loved him, but there was more to it than that. There was a bond between them, the kind of bond that some people searched for their whole lives, and even fewer were lucky enough to find. He’d taken a part of her with him when he’d disappeared that night—the best part of her—and what remained . . .
Flinching as a bolt of lightning struck the ground so close that the unmistakable smell of charred earth wafted to him moments later, Miroku tried to hurry about his task despite the nagging feeling that anything he collected at this point was going to be much too wet to have any hope of burning. Still, he snatched up a couple more good-sized pieces before turning around and running back to the cave.
Kagome started when he dropped the wood on the ground. At least the cave was up on a slight hill, enough so that the rain wasn’t able to reach much farther inside past the opening . . . “Sango’s not back yet with the water?”
Miroku stared out into the hazy grayness of the falling rain with a frown. The river that ran past the village shouldn’t be too far away—definitely not far enough to explain why Sango hadn’t returned yet, anyway. “I’ll go look for her,” he said.
“Okay,” Kagome said, digging a big box of matches out of her bag and hunkering down to pick through the haphazard stack of wood for the driest pieces. “Wait . . .”
He stopped and turned back while Kagome dug into the bag once more, this time, coming up with a bright blue umbrella. “I don’t know how much it’ll help, bu-u-ut . . .” she drawled, grimacing apologetically as she held it out to him.
He chuckled and popped it open as he neared the cave entrance once more. “Thank you,” he called over his shoulder before he stepped back out into the rain again.
True enough, he was already pretty well soaked. Stopping long enough to scan the area, his frown deepened. There was no sign of Sango. “Sango!” he called, raising his voice, knowing deep down that there wasn’t a chance that she would hear him over the storm. As if to mock him, the wind seemed to strengthen, and with a muttered curse, he ran in the direction of the river.
Breaking through the trees beside the water, Miroku stopped abruptly as Sango came into view. She wasn’t alone. Standing there as the rain fell, already drenched to the skin but seemingly unaware, she stood, silent, motionless, as she watched her younger brother slowly walk away. The very air around her seemed sad, wrapped in the somber shades of endless gray. Scowling as he started forward, he tamped down the urge to run after Kohaku, the urge to try to make the boy understand just what it was he was doing to Sango every time he left her. But as much as Miroku might want to do something, it was Sango’s battle, wasn’t it? Something she had to do herself—something she had to learn for herself—even if Miroku hated the role of helpless bystander.
“I was getting worried about you,” Miroku remarked in what he hoped was a neutral enough tone as he held the umbrella over the both of them.
Sango sighed and slowly turned her face up toward him, her eyes unnaturally bright—completely horrifying when she tried to smile. “He just wanted to check on me. He wanted to let me know that he’s well,” she said.
“You don’t believe him?”
She quickly shook her head. “No, I do,” she insisted despite the hint of uncertainty in her voice. “He . . . He was smiling while he was talking,” she whispered, barely audible above the winds and rain and occasional cracks of thunder. “He’s traveled as far north as he could go, helping whoever needs it when he’s heard stories of aggressive youkai. It seems like . . . like he’s healing.”
Slipping an arm around Sango’s shoulders, drawing him closer against his side, Miroku smiled. “We all are,” he agreed. She drew a deep breath, looked up at him for a moment. There was something else; he could see it in her gaze. Those soft brown eyes hid nothing. Sango was honest to a fault. “What is it?” he coaxed gently.
“I told him . . . I told him that I wanted to rebuild our village,” she admitted. “I . . . I asked him if he’d help me do it.”
“And what did he say?”
Sango sighed, and while she didn’t cry, he had to wonder just how far off those tears really were. “He said that he’s not ready yet . . . but someday . . .” Taking a deep breath, she finally managed a smile—a real smile—and it was as bright and radiant as the sun rising over the horizon in the morning. “He said that someday, he wants to have a place to return to, as well.”
Miroku smiled and gave Sango’s shoulders an encouraging squeeze. “Well, I guess that settles it, then,” he told her.
She shook her head as though she were confused. “Settles what?”
Miroku chuckled and reached out to take the pot from Sango. “It settles what we’re going to do now. When do you want to head back to your village, Sango?”
The look she shot him was full of silent thanks, unspoken words that really weren’t necessary. “You’ll help me farm the fields and rebuild the houses and training grounds?”
“Can’t say I’m much of a farmer,” he admitted, letting Sango take the handle of the umbrella as they headed back into the forest. “Not sure how good I’ll be with a hammer, either, but I suppose I can learn as I go.”
She thought about that for a long moment then sighed. “Well, it’s too late in the season for planting, and there’s not a lot of anything left in the old village . . . I think we should stay here and work on collecting the things we’ll need for spring.”
Miroku grinned at her and rolled his eyes. “Whatever you want, Sango . . . whatever you want.”
010: Confrontations >>>
Minako: Beautiful Child.
Chichiue: archaic and highly respectful way to say ‘father’.
== == == == == == == == == ==
Final Thought from Kagome :
Like InuYasha, huh …?
Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic (will apply to this and all other chapters in Desideratum): I do not claim any rights to InuYasha or the characters associated with the anime/manga. Those rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi, et al. I do offer my thanks to her for creating such vivid characters for me to terrorize.