Chapter 29: Paving the Road to Hell
Kagome landed at the bottom of the well in the modern era and took a deep breath of cold air. Immediately, she was hit with a jarring shiver and aching pain. Her muscles seized up, causing her to stumble against the dirt wall. She felt as though there was ice in her veins, chilling her skin and pumping into her organs. She could barely gasp enough breath to whisper, “Inuyasha.” No one answered her from above, and she sank to the ground, trying again, louder this time, “Inuyasha!”
Black hair, shining in the light of a camping lamp, popped over the edge and then quickly disappeared again. “What the hell, Kagome? You’re naked!”
“I- I-“ she whispered. She couldn’t seem to get anything else out past the clattering of her teeth. She didn’t understand why she was so cold. She hadn’t felt like this since she had fallen into the ocean. Even when she was standing by the well, wet and naked in a feudal winter, she hadn’t been this mind-numbingly chilled. Her stomach was painfully cramped with hunger and her limbs felt heavy with exhaustion.
A pile of clothes dropped onto her head and then Inuyasha climbed down the ladder, his back to her. “Pull something on already,” he snapped, but she could hear the worry in his voice. Her mother had left clothes for Inuyasha and a sweater and leggings for her in the well house, anticipating their return for the new moon. Kagome managed to get the sweater over her head, and one arm through, but her shivers prevented her from doing much more.
“Inu-yasha, help…” He turned finally, and, finding her important parts covered, his blush began to fade and he frowned at her. The hanyou-turned-human kneeled in the dirt beside her and pressed one hand against her forehead.
“You’re freezing! Dumb girl,” his voice was low and strained with concern. He quickly sorted out her leggings and pulled them up to her knees before shoving socks on her feet. He muttered, “Better scrub good before you get back, or the bastard will kill me.” Sesshomaru, her mind sighed. He had made her feel so warm and safe.
Kagome would have slapped her own forehead if she could have. His youki had made her feel warm and safe. It obviously couldn’t travel through the well, so now she was stuck with heating up her own body. Another dull, aching pulse of her arm reminded her that his energy had been holding her broken bone together as well. She managed to yank her pants over her butt and Inuyasha began rubbing her legs vigorously. “I broke my arm,” she announced a few minutes later when she could speak without chattering.
“Ya could have said something earlier, Kagome,” Inuyasha huffed. He studied the lump of her limb, held protectively against her chest under the sweater. She didn’t bother explaining how his brother had cared for her, put a piece of himself inside her to speed the healing. Even thinking about it made her blush a little. “Do you think you can get on my back? I can’t jump out like this, but I can carry you up the ladder.” She nodded, and they managed an uncomfortable, slow ascent. By the time they arrived at the top, Kagome’s mother was opening the door.
“Oh!” She sounded pleasantly surprised. Kagome slid off Inuyasha’s back. “I thought maybe you wouldn’t be able to make it this month.” She smiled, and tears welled in Kagome’s eyes. There was something about seeing her mother, about knowing comfort was just a few steps away, that had her suddenly balling. “Oh, dear!”
Inuyasha backed away, tugging at his human ear. “I’ll, ah, I’ll leave you two alone.” Then he was gone, like a shot in the dark. If Kagome had been in a position to care about anything but the flood that was running down her face, she would have laughed about his speed. Teary girls gave human Inuyasha the reflexes of a full youkai.
“It’s alright, dear,” Gen Higurashi folded her daughter into her arms gently. “It will be alright.”
“I don’t think it can be, Mama,” Kagome sobbed. They sank to the floor in the well house, and the situation in the feudal era poured out of the miko. Kagome wasn’t sure how long they were there, but her sobs had subsided to mere tears, her tears to an occasional hiccup and a runny nose, before her mother spoke.
“It sounds like you have quite the support to help you face this Ryu character. I have no doubt that the evil he has done will be revisited upon him.” She continued a slow, soothing rubbing of Kagome’s back. “I have always known that you would help others, Kagome. You have too much of your father in you to keep you at home when there is injustice that could be righted.” Kagome wiped her nose with the sleeve of her sweater and listened. She couldn’t help but hear the notes of amusement and sadness that colored her mother’s voice. “I cannot imagine how difficult it is for you, to see so many terrible things, but I know that your fate is to find wrongdoing and to be compelled to correct it.”
“But I left her, Mama. I left Ko behind and then I- I…” Kagome swallowed, blushing but knowing she had to tell someone. The guilt that was eating at her, the knowledge that she had forgotten about Ko for a brief time, the knowledge of how she had managed to forget about Ko was weighing on her like a shameful albatross. In halting words, ripped from her chest, she gave her mother a brief account, without many details, of what she had been offered, what she had accepted, in order to forget for a little while the terror and malevolence of the Northern Palace. She ended with a whisper, “How could I? What kind of person…enjoys themselves like that when a friend is being tortured?”
Gen was quiet for a long moment before she spoke, “Do you know, I always worried about your dad.” Kagome blinked at the confusing change in topic and tried to sit up, but her mother hugged her tightly. “He worked with so many dangerous diseases in the research lab, I was always worried that he would get sick. When the car accident happened…” Her voice trailed off and she had to clear her voice. “I loved my husband very much, but I had to go on living. It hurt at first, felt wrong to enjoy life when he couldn’t. I needed it though, needed to remember that I was alive. I had so much to live for.” She gripped Kagome’s arms and pushed her away so that she could meet her gaze.
Kagome was awed and humbled by the love an acceptance she saw there. “You came very close to death, Kagome. So many times. Actually, I am surprised you have waited so long to lean on someone else.” She cupped her daughter’s cheek and smiled, her voice trembling a little, “Sometimes we have to assure ourselves that something so awful hasn’t consumed us. There is nothing shameful in that – unless we give it that meaning.” As if a great burden had been lifted, Kagome felt lighter. Tears swam in her eyes, but she was done crying. Her mother was right; she needed to move on and focus on how to end Ryustokokken and free Ko – and she would continue to live and enjoy what she could in the process.
Something else her mother had said, or maybe her expression, made Kagome wonder, “Mama, are you saying you…dated…after dad died?”
“Kagome,” Gen smiled, “it has been fifteen years. Of course I have dated.” Her amused smile met Kagome’s embarrassed one. She would have thought telling her mother about her attempted rape or intimate encounter afterward would have been difficult, but it was nothing compared to the possibility that her mother had dated. She might have had sex. Her mother. “Although, I have always been open with the gentlemen I see about what I am looking for.” Kagome wanted to die, right then. Just sink through the floor and pray she would never hear her mother say ‘one-night stand’. “You should give him the courtesy of doing the same.”
“What?” Kagome had no idea what her mother was talking about. Most of her brain was still stumbling over the idea of her mother. Dating. Casually. When did she find the time? The other part was trying to figure out how that had anything to do with Sesshomaru.
“Inuyasha, dear. I know you aren’t interested in him in that way anymore.” Kagome felt her mouth fall open. Surely she doesn’t think – her brain shorted out while her mother continued, “He did his best to make you feel better because he loves you. But please don’t let him go on thinking that this will become something more – that you and he will continue to be…intimate. It wouldn’t be fair to him, Kagome. His heart has been through so much.” Kagome blinked. She swore she could hear the sound of her lids closing and opening echoing in the silence of the well house. Her mother was staring at her with concern that was almost disapproving. “Unless your feelings have changed?”
“What?” Kagome shouted. She broke out of her stupor and leaned away from her mother with an expression of mortified disgust. She thinks I – with Inuyasha – that we – she couldn’t finish the thought. “No!” she denied, then again, more vehemently, “No, no, no. Ew! No! It was Sesshomaru, Mama. Not Inuyasha. Ew!” They sat at stared at each other: Kagome trying to quell the urge to scrub her eyelids with something to remove the afterimage of an imagined Inuyasha with his hand between her legs; Gen clearly trying to process new information.
“Inuyasha’s brother?” Gen finally managed. At Kagome’s mute nod, she continued, “Isn’t he the one that tried to kill you?”
“Everyone tries to kill me at first, Mama,” Kagome said without thinking. Then she laughed, and both women lost some of their tension. “I guess I just inspire that reaction.”
“Oh, dear,” Gen smiled. “Not in everyone.” She laughed too and bumped her shoulder against Kagome’s. “But almost all of them end up loving you afterward. You do inspire that reaction.” She stood, brushing off her jeans, and offered Kagome a hand up. They linked arms and began the walk back to the house. Kagome sighed, content, if not completely happy. The house glowed from every window and even across the shrine courtyard she could hear Inuyasha arguing with Souta about whether they should eat supper without waiting for the women. They were nearly to the door when Gen leaned in close and whispered, “Now after supper, we can have a little talk about men and women. I assume things all still work the same way with a demon?”
“Mama!” Kagome threw her palm over her face to hide her blush. She simply was not talking with her mother about that.
Inuyasha jumped out of the well the next morning and into the future with a grumble, “I ain’t his messenger-boy.” He had been grumpy to begin with, after his human night – the one night where he always slept deeply in Kagome’s time – was interrupted over and over again by Kagome’s nightmares. He had done his best to soothe the woman, but he didn’t get more than a few hours rest, and none of it at the same time. He hadn’t been looking forward to the run North, and then to find his half-brother waiting for him – well, he wasn’t happy about it. He flipped his silver hair over his shoulder and shoved his arms through his t-shirt. Regardless of the complaints, not for a moment did he consider discarding the note or ignoring Sesshomaru’s request that he speak to Mrs. Higurashi. This was something pack did. It was something that fathers did for sons. Brothers for brothers.
Sesshomaru loved Kagome. He would never admit it; certainly not to Inuyasha and most likely not to himself, but he loved her. It wasn’t surprising, when the hanyou thought about it. There was something about Kagome. Ya can’t help but love the clumsy wench, he thought. He still loved her, too. Not like Sesshomaru did – although he had tried. Hell, he had tried so hard to love her like she deserved, like she had wanted him to in the beginning. He just couldn’t. She was so like Kikyou, but not. His heart wasn’t in it, and it hadn’t been fair to Kagome to pretend that it ever would be.
The bastard had fallen hard for her. He had shown more emotion in the few weeks Kagome had been with him than in the centuries Inuyasha had known him. She would be good for him, make him less of a cold prick. At least, she would if they mated. Inuyasha paused in the early morning light of the shrine courtyard, his blue jeans stiff against his legs and his bare feet flat against the cold paving. He stared at the flat, folded paper in his hand. Sesshomaru was asking Mrs. Higurashi for Kagome. He was paying the Higurashi’s a fortune for their only daughter. Any youkai family would have probably fallen all over themselves to be related to the Saidai Mao. Any human family from his time would have gotten over their concerns about evil youkai pretty quickly when they saw the bride price. Although Inuyasha was sure Mrs. Higurashi would understand the significance of the traditional gesture, Kagome was a modern girl.
His gaze flicked between the formal seal of the Western Palace and his clothes, purchased at a store Sesshomaru couldn’t have imagined, with money that didn’t really ‘exist’ as Kagome had explained it. Inuyasha knew Sesshomaru was going about his courtship the wrong way. At least, the wrong way for the woman he wanted. Inuyasha didn’t know a lot about inu customs, but he figured Sesshomaru was sticking as close to tradition as possible, given the circumstances. Kagome, on the other hand, would want to go on those date things, and hold hands, and probably kiss a lot before she thought about mating. She had friends in the future who dated men for years, different men, and still weren’t even promised for marriage at the age of twenty. It was strange to Inuyasha, but he guessed it would be mind-boggling to Sesshomaru.
It could be fun to watch his half-brother squirm. The daiyoukai would muck it up. Terribly, enormously, like guts-in-her-hair and no-place-to-bathe-for-days bad. He hasn’t even asked her yet, Inuyasha snorted to himself. He could picture how it was going to end. Kagome would figure it out, or Sesshomaru would announce something pompous and arrogantly certain and she would snap. Embarrassed and mad she would scream and yell and point her skinny finger. If Inuyasha was lucky, he wouldn’t be anywhere close enough to be sat. When she couldn’t relieve her frustration with subjugation, she would want to go home and cry. If Sesshomaru was stupid enough to let her leave, she might not come back.
Damn it. Inuyasha heaved a sigh at his own conclusions. He would have to help the bastard, not that he deserved it. Kagome deserved it. She deserved happiness and love and someplace to keep all the lost children and people she seemed to collect like Tessaiga collected blood. He didn’t really want to. His feet dragged as he walked to the kitchen door where he could hear Mrs. Higurashi humming and smell breakfast soup. He was going to have to help Sesshomaru. Inuyasha brightened somewhat as he considered that Kagome would keep Sesshomaru from trying to kill him once the two were mated. He would be free to remind his brother as often as he liked that the great Saidai Mao had said please.
He still had a smile on his face when he opened the back door. Mrs. Higurashi greeted him with a bowl of soup and a glass of water. He offered her the note, and for once didn’t scarf down his food. Instead he leaned against the refrigerator, watching her carefully open the paper so as not to break the wax. It seemed to take her a long time to read what he could see was a fairly short note. Finally, Inuyasha couldn’t stand the silence any longer. “He buried the hofuna kin gift under the Goshinboku. I can show you where.”
Gen looked up, and Inuyasha was shocked by her flat expression. Never had he seen the woman without a smile at her lips or a sparkle in her brown eyes. “Is your brother a good man, Inuyasha?”
“Half-brother,” Inuyasha responded automatically, “and he ain’t a man. He’s youkai.” Gen’s eyes bore into his, still waiting for an answer, so he continued gruffly, “The bast- er, Sesshomaru ain’t exactly good. He’s killed a lot of demons – a lot of people – but he doesn’t do it for fun. And he never eats ‘em; he wouldn’t be able to stomach the smell.” That didn’t seem to impress Gen and Inuyasha could feel the sweat building under his arms. Helping Sesshomaru was turning out to be much harder than he had anticipated. “Look, I hated him for a long time, most of my life. And I think he hated me too. That might be changin’ some, but even if it wasn’t, I can say the truth to you about this much: Sesshomaru is honorable. He protects those in his care. He is a good ruler,” he muttered the next part, reluctant to admit it, “he’s a great fighter.” His voice became steadier and rose in volume to something approaching normal and he squared his shoulders, desperate to express to Gen what he meant, “He’ll take good care of her. He doesn’t care that she’s human and weak and dumb sometimes. He’s got a kid-”
Gen’s eyes widened and Inuyasha could feel the words falling out of his mouth without thought, desperate to fix things, “Rin! You remember hearing about her, he adopted her! He treats her really well, and she lives at the palace. Kagome and Shippo would live there too, and always have plenty to eat and the best medicine…and…warm clothes…” She wasn’t convinced. Inuyasha could tell. Her eyebrows were drawn together just like her daughter’s right before she explained something for the final time. It was usually followed by a ‘sit’. She smelled strange too. Protective and loving like always, but her love had an edge to it that tasted like cold steel in his mouth.
“Will he hurt her?” Her tone – Inuyasha had never heard Gen use that tone before. It was hard and serious; it demanded an answer and made promises for what would happen if the answer was wrong. A shiver gripped the base of Inuyasha’s spine. Kagome could be scary, but she had nothing on her mother.
“Hell – I mean, er, no, Mrs. Higurashi.” He straightened away from the wall and met her eyes with all of the seriousness and ceremony he could manage, although he still wasn’t going to call that bastard sama, not even for Kagome. “Sesshomaru-san loves Kagome, although he hasn’t told her yet. He is inuyoukai, so he will protect and cherish her until the day he dies, maybe longer. He will live for her happiness. He is the Saidai Mao, so the West will always be first for him – but Kagome always puts everyone else first too, so she’ll be a good Lady. The palace already loves her – for savin’ em and everything. He-“
Gen interrupted him, “Sesshomaru loves her. You are certain of that, Inuyasha?”
“Yes,” Inuyasha swallowed hard and pulled his hands out of his sleeves. “Yes, ma’am.” The tension broke almost instantly, and if he hadn’t felt the sudden release of pressure he would have never guessed that a regular human aura could be so commanding.
“Very good. Now, you eat your breakfast while I get things started, and then you can show me where that gift is buried. Oh,” she paused with a smile on her face as he sat down at the table. Gen handed him a spoon and said, casually, “and if she decides she doesn’t want him, I will hold you responsible to bring her back safely, Inuyasha.” She was smiling, her eyes sparkling, and her scent was light and happy again, but Inuyasha could not forget the tangy smell of steel.
“Yes ma’am,” he managed, before shoving a spoonful of soup into his mouth so he wouldn’t have to say anything else. Sesshomaru is going to pay for this. He finished his soup and took Gen to the Goshinboku where he dug up Sesshomaru’s gift, the frozen dirt giving easily under his claws. The leather wrapping was stiff and cracked in places, but Inuyasha peeled it back far enough to allow her to life out the box. She traced the designs carefully, and the hanyou kept his jaw clenched. He wanted to say something cutting about his half-brother throwing away money and the stupidity of the ritual bride price, but Gen seemed pleased with the box.
“He must have put a great deal of work into this. It is exquisite,” her eyes met his. “Thank you Inuyasha.”
“Don’t you want to look inside?” he blurted.
“I appreciate the gesture,” Gen smiled, “but I think this is something for Kagome to accept or reject. If she doesn’t agree, you can take it back.”
Inuyasha dropped the leather on the ground and backed away. “Oh, no, she can do that herself. I’ve gotta be somewhere. Stuff to kill, ya know?” He laughed nervously. There was no way he wanted to be anywhere near Kagome when she had the news broken to her that Sesshomaru had tried to buy her from her family. And he most definitely didn’t want to be the one to tell the daiyoukai if his efforts had failed. “You, ah, might want to mention that there is a courting process. So she still can change her mind, or whatever.” He was nearly twenty feet away before he turned and bolted for the well house, calling over his shoulder, “She should ask him about it!”
When he landed in his own time, once again naked and swearing that he would start leaving his clothes at the bottom of the well, Sesshomaru was waiting for him. He looked cold and unfeeling, but his youki was strained and trying to break free of his control. Get the fuck outta here, he said to himself. When she comes through, ever’ fuckin’ thing in a mile around is gonna be purified, subdued, or melted with acid. Sesshomaru stared at him, clearly waiting for a response, but Inuyasha wasn’t dumb enough to speak until he was fully dressed and armed.
“Well.” The daiyoukai’s statement was flat, but the impatient question buried there almost had Inuyasha smirking. Almost. Then he remembered what Sesshomaru would do to him if Kagome said no. Not that he would let that fucker kill him. As if he could! But he didn’t have time for a fight right now, and he definitely didn’t want to see what Kagome was going to do. That would only be good to watch from the other side of a stone wall. With a spying glass. From about a mile away. Then it would be funny.
Inuyasha secured his sword and braced his feet. “Mrs. Higurashi has it. She’s gonna talk to Kagome about it when the wench wakes up. That’s how they do it in the future,” he added hastily. Sesshomaru was silent for a long moment that had the hanyou bracing for an attack.
“Higurashi Gen was pleased with the value.”
Inuyasha really did roll his eyes then. As if the entire world would fall into chaos if Sesshomaru admitted to not knowing something. Actually asking a question was beneath him. “She liked the box; I told you the gift was too much. Anyway, she didn’t open it while I was there.” Sesshomaru frowned, a tiny, fleeting downturn of one corner of his mouth. Inuyasha had seen his brother’s control slip before, he wasn’t sticking around for it again. “If Kagome says yes, the family will say yes.” He prepared to leap away, but his conscious was nagging at him. “Shit.” He turned, and pointed one claw in frustration at Sesshomaru. “Ask her, and really make it a question. Give her some time, and try not to be a fuckin’ arrogant icicle. She forgives a lot, but don’t fuck this up.” Without intending it, his voice dropped an octave. “She loved me first.”
Sesshomaru’s reaction was subtle, a tightening at the corners of his eyes. His youki, however, rose like a black wave behind him, ready to crush his opponents. Inuyasha could feel his own hackles rising, but he held his ground.
“She doesn’t anymore, not like that.” His brother’s threat diminished, but youki still filled the clearing with an angry energy. “Still, she gave it to me first, so if you so much as leave a bruise on her heart, I’ll kill you.” Of all the threats he had ever made, all the times he had sworn to kill his half-brother, only this one would be carried out. No matter what it took. If he had to die at Sesshomaru’s hands just to be able to return from the grave and take revenge, he would. The threat – the promise – felt right. It sealed something between the two brothers. An agreement, a oath to protect someone they both cared about. After centuries, something honest and serious, something born of pure intentions existed in the space from one dog demon to another. The weight of it, a chain that bound them in a way that was beyond good or bad, settled on them both. Sesshomaru nodded, once, and Inuyasha followed suit before leaping away to run north, leaving the daiyoukai to wait for his miko.
Kimi tapped her tea cup with a single claw, considering the hare youkai kneeling before her. Her appearance was more animal than human, with reverse jointed knees, paws for feet and whiskers. Long, silky grey-brown fur cascaded down her head to brush against her shoulders. It was slicked back behind dramatically long, pointed ears that twitched at every sound or shadow.
“Nousagi,” Kimi said softly, knowing from long association that the demon was easily startled. “You are certain of this information?”
“Oh, yes, Kimi-sama, most certain.” The hare dipped, touching her forehead to the floor. Her whiskers shivered and her shoulders trembled. “Matsudaira has sent many envoys to his neighbors – past the warrens of my family. They leave with scrolls and come back with heavy packs that smell of silk and metal.”
Mikawa province was small, even by the standards of human lords, and was surrounded by much larger, more powerful neighbors. The location, straddling the border between the East and West on an important trade route leading to the South could be of significant use to Sesshomaru in the coming war. If the lord of Mikawa had indeed, as Nousagi guessed, forged an alliance with his neighbors he would be even more valuable. More likely he has blackmailed or threatened them in some way, Kimi thought. She had been looking forward to meeting some of the human lords her son was inviting to the palace, but Matsudaira was becoming of particular interest. One who appears so weak, but who may hold great power over his neighbors, that is a human I would enjoy meeting. Kimi smiled widely in anticipation, forgetting for a moment her audience.
The little youkai made a noise not unlike the feeble scream of a strangled infant and cowered in fear. “Please, Nousagi,” Kimi said by way of apology, “This One’s fangs are reserved for another.” Kimi soothed her with a slow, gentle motion, “With This One’s thanks and respect, rest and refresh before you return.” She nodded, and Kento stepped forward with a wrapped bundle which he placed on the floor and then slowly he glided away. “A small gift of appreciation from the West.” The hare snatched up the package and walked backward from the room, bowing and twitching, uttering thanks and compliments to Kimi until the doors slid shut. The Lady strengthened her barrier and smoothed her hair over her shoulder.
“Shall I add the name to the list, Kimi-sama?” Kento sat at his small scribe’s table, brush and ink ready for her order. His mushroom colored face was smooth, but his eyes glinted with knowledge. Kimi was pleased; she did love it when subordinates proved to be intelligent, and her son’s assistant had shown himself to be most adept. If only she could find someone at the castle that would match her in other recreational pursuits – bloodletting and sex, although the two were not necessarily mutually exclusive – then she would be completely satisfied with her new residence.
“This One will be most pleased to have Matsudaira Nobutada in attendance at the full moon council.” Kento added the name to the list and Kimi poured another cup of tea for herself. The day, even with Sesshomaru’s absence while he waited for his miko, was turning out to be most productive. “Fetch the next one,” she ordered, her smile breaking loose again. She admonished herself to conceal it before the next informant entered. It would not do to make her spies believe she would eat them – as tasty as that might be.