Monday, March 20, 2006

Property - Chapter Twelve

When they arrived at Kouga's cave, they found that it stunk with gore and was shadowed by death. Barely recognizable body parts from both men and wolves lay around. The bright blood provided sharp contrast against the dull brown dust and the pale green plants. Kouga stood high up on the mountain, looking murderous and had not noticed Kagome and her traveling companions yet.

After some hesitation, Kagome decided that it was best to alert him instead of taking him unawares. "Kouga," she shouted upwind. "Wolf Prince Kouga!"

Slowly, his pale blue eyes focused on Kagome, before his face morphed into a gentler veneer. "Lady Kagome."

When he came down the path to meet them, Kagome asked, "What happened?"

"Naraku," Kouga snarled with his lips curled. "I'm going right now to kill him right now."

Kagome placed a hand on his arm to slow him down. "You might want to heal and regroup first."

"What is there to regroup?" Kouga asked, all of a sudden sounding resigned. "This is our territory. And we have well over five hundred wolves throughout these caves. Naraku comes in here with his two lackeys and wipes out half of us and injures the rest of us."

"Then why are you going against him by yourself?" Kagome asked reasonably.

"I have to avenge them."

"Maybe he has some weakness."

Kouga laughed at that. "Maybe I have more."

Kagome looked down at the valley. There were only trees down in the valley and no carnage. "Maybe you can find some allies. He attacked us when we were traveling west, too."

Surprisingly, Kouga's eyes lit up at Kagome's newest suggestion. "Sesshoumaru was upset, too, wasn't he? He'll probably want to kill that bastard, too." Then, he looked around and remarked, "Where is he?"

Kagome's hand closed convulsively around the Shikon no Tama and the necklace that was made from Sesshoumaru's hair.

Fortunately, her father stepped up. "Sesshoumaru-sama decided to stay at the Taiyoukai house and take on his duties as the Taiyoukai heir."

"So you're not under his claim anymore?" Kouga asked speculatively, looking at her necklace.

Kagome ignored her father's sharp glance. "No." But I wish I was, she added silently. But it had never been Sesshoumaru's choice in the first place, so she supposed that none of the feelings on his part had been genuine. At least she knew how it felt to be cared for by someone like him. She thought how lucky Rin was, to be chosen by him.

Uncomfortable with where the conversation was going, even if he was the one who had proposed the alliance in the first place, Higurashi cut in, "We are traveling back to the Higurashi house."

"Oh," Kouga flustered, realizing that he had been ignoring the elder Higurashi. "Congratulations on your... successful negotiations." He had had to think fast for a non-offensive term for Higurashi's release. "And you are welcomed to stay at my lair. I can prepare some rooms for you."

Higurashi accepted graciously. "That would be much appreciated."

Higurashi spent the next day going over the terms of their alliance with Kouga. Sango and Miroku both had professional training and helped with bandaging and healing the injured wolves. Kagome learned from them, too, and even managed to insert a little dose of healing energy with every wound she bandaged.

The day after, Kagome and company left Kouga's caves to go back to the Higurashi House.

"What are you doing?" Inuyasha asked, confused, when they entered the third room this afternoon.

"I'm airing out the rooms," Kikyou answered without taking a moment off of dusting the table tops and the chairs. She fluffed the blankets on the bed a couple of times.

"I mean, why are you doing this?"

"Because Kagome and her father are returning," Kikyou answered. She had just received the missive this morning and realized that she had not done much while Kagome was gone. The least she could do was to air out their rooms, even if she couldn’t defend against Naraku's attack. "And I have barely done anything as the leader of the Higurashi House."

Inuyasha trailed behind Kikyou. "I don't remember Mr. Higurashi airing out rooms."

"Of course you don't." She decided that she would have one of the maids dust the carpets. Meanwhile, she could use the rag she had to dust the drawers. Industriously, she pulled them out one by one to wipe their edges. "Mr. Higurashi is a man. I am a woman."

"Oh." Inuyasha didn't really understand. Maybe it was because he was a man.

Kikyou was on the last drawer, but it wouldn't open. She tugged and tugged and tugged. Finally she gave up and asked, "Will you help me get their drawer open?"

"Sure." With on pull, the drawer was flying out of the dresser and landed on the floor.

Kikyou tugged suspiciously on the green cloth that was stuffed into the drawer. She didn't know what it was, but it looked like it could be washed. With Inuyasha's help, she spread the cloth on the floor and found that it was a sheet.

With blood on the middle of it.

Even that would not have been so condemning if not for the parch-y, circle-shaped areas right next to it. She had a fair idea of what her cousin had been up to.

"She should have married him," Kikyou muttered. She supposed she could burn or wash the sheet without anybody knowing anything, but Kagome would still have to do something else to cover for the fact that she wasn't a virgin. At least Kagome wasn't a priestess, she thought, or she would either already be crippled for life, or unable to marry anybody else because this man was her true love.

She had forgotten about Inuyasha's sensitive hearing. He asked, "Sesshoumaru?"

"Sesshoumaru?" Kikyou repeated dumbly. The name sounded familiar and it took a moment for her to remember the slave that she had bought on a hunch that he might be somebody important. She had meant to tell Kagome that, but somehow never got around to it before her cousin had left with the blood-bound. She hoped that her cousin didn't do anything stupid with the blood-bound. "You mean, she did that with her blood-bound?"

At Inuyasha's pointed look, Kikyou flustered, "Well, you and I are different. We've known each other longer. And we... are different..."

Inuyasha shrugged. He didn't want to force Kikyou into any confessions. "Sesshoumaru was a pleasure slave."

"Oh." Kikyou found herself jumping away from the sheet. "She can't marry him."

"Of course not," Inuyasha agreed.

She turned to look at him. "What do you mean?"

He shrugged. "He's the Taiyoukai heir. He can't have hanyou children as an heir."

"He's the Taiyoukai heir?"

Inuyasha frowned at Kikyou's surprise. "I thought you bought him because he's my half-brother."

"And you're his brother?"

"Half-brother," Inuyasha corrected. "Didn't you know?"

Kikyou shook her head. "He had a strong youki. I thought he would be powerful as a blood-bound or maybe even from one of the important families. But, gods, he was the Taiyoukai heir!"

For wont of something to do, she paced around the sheet again. "But, then, you're a Taiyoukai, too."

Inuyasha shrugged.

"Why didn't you ever tell me?"

He shrugged again. "It wasn't important."

"Men and communication," Kikyou muttered her breath. She had always thought that she communicated fairly well with Inuyasha, especially before she had wrongfully accused him of murdering her sister. She had thought he would have told her something like this. She supposed that old adages remained for a reason.

She asked him, "So, what do we do with the sheet?"

"I don't know," he answered uncomfortably.

"We should—"

Kikyou was cut off by a servant's entrance. The servant explained, "I was sent to help out in any way I can when the housekeeper found out that you are cleaning out the rooms." The servant stood up from her bow and her gaze landed on the sheet spread out in the middle of the room, with suspicious stains all over it.

"Oh, Lady Higurashi," the servant gushed in a scandalized whisper.

Before Kikyou could threaten the servant not to tell anybody about it or else, the servant scampered off, no doubt to share the gossip.

Kagome thought that she should be happy when she returned to the Higurashi House. She should be like Kouga, exclaiming, "Home, sweet home." Even if she was upset over losing Sesshoumaru, she should rejoice in the peace between the Western Lands and the human territory. Even if she would never see Sesshoumaru again, except perhaps in formal settings with polite words, she still had many other friends.

Thus, she consoled herself, when she entered the Higurashi House. Although they had only left for several weeks, she was sure that rumors had abounded as to their business and their whereabouts. It was long enough for trees to burst with fresh, green leaves and flowers to pop up from the ground; it was more than long enough for servants to gossip, even blood-bound ones. Besides, they had human servants, too.

Surprisingly, Kikyou was out to greet them as well as Kagome's mother and brother. After the initial hello's and how do you do's, Kikyou pulled Kagome aside.

"I'm sorry," Kikyou apologized.

"What?" Kagome asked, bewildered. "What happened?"

"I..." Kikyou looked around and lowered her voice to be sure that it couldn't be heard over the chatter. Not that she needed to have bothered, since the gossip mill ran quickly. "I was cleaning out your room for you."

"Oh, thanks." That was an unusually thoughtful gesture from Kikyou. Kagome if anything triggered this change of heart.

"No, listen," Kikyou interjected. "I was cleaning the dust off the drawers, so I was opening them."

"Okay..." Kagome had no idea what this was going.

Kikyou sighed. "On the bottom drawer of you dresser, there was a green thing stuffed on top."

Green thing, green thing, green thing... Kagome scrunched up her brows in an effort to remember what she had stuffed in there so long ago. She shouldn't be expected to remember, she thought sullenly, what was with everything else that was happening to her.

"The sheet," Kikyou said, finally frustrated from Kagome's lack of remembrance. "With blood... and other bodily fluids on it."

Suddenly, Kagome's face paled. It was several seconds before she asked, "You didn't tell anybody, did you?"

Kikyou looked away from Kagome. "Look, I'm really sorry, but a maid walked in on us."

"You..." Kagome took a deep breath. "Who said you could go in my room?"

Kikyou glared at Kagome. "It's not my fault that you decided to sleep with someone. Or that you can't hide the evidence well enough."

Kagome had a good idea of what her parents wanted to talk to her about as she entered her parents' room. They'd sent a very vague but nicely worded message to tell her that this was a private meeting, mandatory, and that even Souta needed not to attend.

"Father, mother," she greeted formally as she sat herself on the floor across the coffee table from her parents. The grave situation seemed to call for it. Light streamed through the windows, but a sheer white curtain dulled the brightest rays into a soft, diffused glow.

"Kagome," her mother, Ayako, replied. "We wanted to talk to you about something... unsettling."

Kagome nodded. Normally, she would have explained that she knew the rumors and that they were true—true enough, anyways, for the scandal to be justified. For some reason, though, she had not been her normal, energetic self these days. Her sleep had seemed fitful, despite that she remained free of nightmares. In her waking hours, she stewed in boredom, and nothing brought out her excitement anymore, not even playing with Shippou. So, she kept silent and let her parents work for the conversation.

"As you know, servants like to talk," Hiroshi Higurashi continued valiantly. "And if they have nothing to talk about sometimes they will make up things to talk about."

Again, Kagome nodded.

Mother sighed and leaned forward to look into Kagome's listless, brown eyes. "Honey, we're worried about you."

Kagome managed to drag up a smile. "I'm fine."

Father sighed, too. "I wanted you to know that there are... unsavory rumors about you."

Kagome nodded.

"They say..." Hiroshi forged on. Distantly, Kagome found that she had to admire his tenacity. "It's difficult for me to say this about my own daughter."

Mother held father's hand under the table. She continued for him. "Daughter... they say that you have been with a man... the way a wife is with a husband."

Kagome smiled at this analogy. Perhaps, she thought. But she very much doubted that the whirlwind passion and the frantic urgency could be found in many married couple's beds. And surely, husbands and wives stood by each other for longer than a night. They would talk to each other and share their troubles. They would lie leisurely by each other's sides just admire the stars. They would choose to stay with each other and hold each other's hands when facing their own unruly child.

Ayako frowned worriedly at her daughter. "Please tell us how we can disprove this rumor."

Kagome didn't want the rumor disproved. It hadn't felt wrong, that night they shared, and if she could do it all over again, she would have done the exact same thing. At least, she had had one night with him. Quietly, she told her parents, "I don't want to keep it a dirty little secret."

Her parents were surprised, but Hiroshi controlled himself soon enough. "Look, Kagome, even if you loved him—or even if you still love him—he's not here. It's not worth it for you to bear the shame for such an irresponsible man."

"I was the irresponsible one."

"You were, too." He was not going to let Kagome off the hook so easily, but he wanted to salvage the situation. "But ultimately, he was the one—"

Kagome looked at the sheer, white curtains. "He couldn't have done anything different."

Ayako took Hiroshi's sigh as a signal to try another approach. "Kagome, even if it is not his fault, unless he can marry you..." She continued at Kagome's headshake. "Or if there's a baby..." Another headshake. Mother's audible sigh of relief. "Then, nothing's going to happen anymore between you and him. You should do the best to preserve your future."

Quietly, Kagome repeated, "I don't want to keep him a dirty little secret."

"Do you know how much you are giving up by doing this?" Father demanded, his voice less gentle.

Mother put a steadying hand on father before he could say any further. "I know this sounds impossible right now, but you can find another man to love," mother soothed. "You are still young and attractive. Losing your first love is difficult, but don't give up everything else in life because of it."

Kagome kept her eyes on the blue curtains and refused to answer.

Father shifted in his seat, trying to work out the tension in his muscles from worrying for his daughter. "Just announce that that the rumors are false and we'll stand by you. The whole thing will be forgotten in less than a month."

This time, Kagome turned to look at her parents in the voice. She steadied her voice before saying firmly, "I won't keep him a dirty little secret."

At this, father narrowed his eyes ominously. "Who is it anyways?"

"It's not his responsibility."

"But who is it?" Hiroshi demanded.

Kagome gritted her teeth. "I'm not telling you. You're just going to debase him. Or insult me. Or force us to marry each other, which will not happen."

He slapped his hands on the table in a loud crack and lifted himself out of his seated position. "Is this how you don't keep him a dirty little secret? Is he why you are going to give up the position of a Higurashi heir and any chance of an advantageous marriage? Is he why you are going to fight with your own parents?"

Sullenly, Kagome pointed out, "We are the ones choosing to have the fight. Don't blame it on him."

"Dear," Ayako tried to soothe her husband and pull him back down by the sleeve. "I don't think—"

"Kagome, you're our daughter," Hiroshi ignored Ayako's words. "And we love you dearly. But we still guide all of the humans. We can't let little things in the family slide—not things like this. People will lose faith in our ability to protect them, if we can't even look out for your interests."

"I understand that," Kagome answered quietly.

"Do you?" Hiroshi's words held a sharp edge. "Then, choose. Either you announce that the rumors are unfounded, or you take leave of the Higurashi house because I do have another child to be the heir."

Ayako tugged harder on his sleeve. "You shouldn't..."

"The girl has to learn something," he told her. "She's the Higurashi heir. She's already sixteen and she barely started learning about the family and political affairs. And she's already made a mistake that she's unwilling to rectify."

Before Ayako could say anything else, he stormed out of the room.

"Really, Kagome," Ayako chided quietly when father was definitely out of earshot.

"It's okay, mother." Kagome felt strangely acquiescent about all of it. So, she would have to make a living on her own, but it couldn't be that bad. "Souta would make a better leader anyways."

"Kagome, don't say that." Mother struggled visibly to find something to say to change her daughter's mind, but Kagome had her mind made up already.

"It's true." Kagome pushed herself up, ready to leave the room. Her parents had told her what they wanted to tell her and she had informed them of her decision. "I think I'll take one of the empty gardener sheds before I explore the world. You know, I've always wanted to just wander around, but I've only ever been at the Higurashi House. And traveled to the Western Lands."

"Kagome, don't be rash," Ayako called out behind Kagome and then lowered her voice. "You can still fall in love again, even if the man is your true love."

Kagome found herself grinning painfully at that. "No, he was just an infatuation."

Mother persisted, "But you don't know. It's not like you're a priestess or anything—"

"But I am," Kagome confessed. "I slept with him and I still have my powers. So, what does that mean?"

For a moment, Ayako couldn't think of a suitable reply, and then her daughter was gone, probably packing her suitcase. Even if Kagome hadn't seen very much of the world—or because of it—she was persistent in her decisions. Hopefully, they could settle the situation before Kagome actually started to wander the country, but she didn't know what could be done now that the rumors would be proven true. What could Hiroshi do but disinherit Kagome to prove that he had the fairness and firmness to punish those who break his rules, even his own daughter?