“Bye Mom! Bye Gramps! I’ll see you guys soon!”
Her grandfather bid her farewell without deigning to lookup from his paper as he casually pecked at what remained of the meal they had just shared.
Her mother, however, took a break from washing the newly dirtied dishes to ensure that her only daughter was prepared for her latest trip through the well.
Stopping Kagome’s progress as she hurriedly crossed the threshold, her mother called out before she disappeared... literally.
“Are you sure you have everything you need? It may not be too bad here, but it is well known that these parts have endured some terrible winter storms in the past.”
Her mother was right. January was almost over; and the last two winters Kagome had experienced while hunting jewel shards in the past had been rough ones. Snow dumped down mercilessly for weeks on end, trapping them in their huts for days as if an avalanche had barricaded them in.
But the worst part was the cold. Temperatures dropped to well below freezing, and the never-ending assault of the bone chilling winds made it feel even frostier than it was.
The first year, she had been unprepared. Armed with only wool socks and her best winter coat, the nights and days were long ones as fingers, toes, and faces numbed in the elements. The meager blankets they slept under did little to shield them from the brisk temperatures, and were it not for the vast supply of wood they had chopped that previous summer for dinner fires, the results could have been devasting.
After that, she kept a stocked supply of warm wear, emergency food, and anything one might need when trapped in a hut with four freezing companions- and a neko youkai.
But when the chill rolled in, bringing ominous clouds and their first taste of snowfall, Kagome immediately made the trip back home for extra procurements. Her abused backpack was bulging with surely much more than it was ever intended to carry, and she was covered head to toe in toasty attire- newly acquired after a very profitable Christmas with her family.
“I think I’m all set! And even if I wasn’t, I don’t think I could possibly carry any more.”
“Wait! You will need one more thing.” Eager to return to her friends, Kagome huffed as her mother disappeared out of sight, and quickly returned with full arms.
Kagome smiled gratefully as she was handed a lush sleeping bag; never once used and rolled up tight. It was puffy with stuffed down, and had a soft warm flannel inside that was just begging to be nuzzled by rosy cheeks. It would definitely be big enough for two; and Kagome had entertained more than one girlish fantasy about coaxing a certain half demon to share it with her as the chilly winter nights persisted.
“I almost forgot. Thanks mom.”
After strapping the bag to her backpack, she leaned in to hug her mother goodbye, and was given one last lingering look before she took off yet again. Holding her daughter’s arms on each side, Mrs. Higurashi smiled warmly and gave a resigned sigh.
“Please be safe, Kagome. I don’t know what I would do if anything happened to you.”
“I always am, mom. Besides, I have Inuyasha and the others looking out for me. Nothing bad is going to happen.”
“I know, dear. But it is a mother’s job to worry.”
Having given as much assurance as she possibly could have, Kagome turned to continue her path to the well house; and without looking back, she jumped through time.
A shiver tore through her as she scaled the well, and landed knee deep in the brutal winter snow. She had nearly had to dig herself out of the pile of white freeze as she appeared at the bottom, and the layers of protection she donned were already damp from her efforts.
She hadn’t been gone a week, but it looked like a storm had already taken the village captive. Snow fell and wind whipped with such force that even if she had been able to keep her eyes open fully in the harsh weather, she wouldn’t have been able to see far. She may as well be in a snow globe; thick white air clouded the distance in every direction.
She could barely get her bearings, trying to recall from memory which way would lead her to her friends. She hoped they were okay, but was confident that she had left them with enough supplies to see them comfortable until she got back.
Wincing in several directions before deciding on a path, she was distracted by an alarmed and thrashing aura that appeared to be making its way quickly in her direction.
‘Youkai!’ her senses immediately supplied, and she took a defensive stance in the demon’s direction, preparing to summon her purification if the intruder intended to be hostile.
She recognized the aura just moments before confirming it with her eyes, and she relaxed only slightly at the realization that the youkai was familiar... sort of.
“Ah-Un,” she greeted timidly, not confident that this would be a friendly visit. ‘If they are here, then that means that Sesshoumaru must be nearby. But what does he want? And why can’t I sense him?’
And why couldn’t she sense Jaken or Rin either, for that matter? Sesshoumaru didn’t always travel with an entourage; but Ah-Un was never alone. Whenever she had encountered the two-headed beast in the past, at least one member of the unlikely posse had accompanied it.
But the dragon was on its own, and bucking wildly and haphazardly as it made its way closer. The beast was distraught, that much was clear. But though it had the gait of a spooked and rabid animal, it appeared to have its wits about it enough to recognize the miko, and make its way toward her determinedly, and with reckless speed.
She tensed as it reached her, regarding it as she would an unfamiliar dog, and was relieved when it halted before crashing into her and sending her flying. It was hopping in place and jerking its one neck around harshly, while the other nodded into her back with unsettling urgency.
“What is it? Is something wrong?” she asked, knowing that she wouldn’t receive an answer. ‘It is definitely intelligent...enough. But I don’t know how to communicate with them.’ A frightening thought struck her.
“Is Rin okay? Where is she?” The demon seemed to react to the question, bumping into her with its head with sharper force. Fear set in as she worried for the child. Ah-Un didn’t seem to be an unwilling captive when it traveled with Sesshoumaru. And if the dog demon wasn’t here, it meant something was wrong.
“What happened? Where’s Sesshoumaru?” The mention of the demon lord caused more panic from his steed. And seeming to be at the end of its patience with the useless conversation, it used one of its heads to lift her from the ground, and throw her unceremoniously onto its back.
She had no time to protest- not that she intended to- before the dragon took to the skies, with her as its passenger. She still had her cargo, and intended to keep it; she adjusted her pack on her shoulders and used her hands to grip tight so that she wouldn’t fall off at the intimidating speeds.
Even with incredible demon haste, the journey through the blinding snowstorm took several minutes. A demon could cover ground quickly when properly motivated, and Ah-Un very much seemed to be. She didn’t know where they had ended up, but it had to be far.
She was grateful when they finally landed, and she jumped off before she was thrown to the ground.
Ah-Un's panicked bucking continued, but its attention was now on a crumpled mass in the snow.
Long black hair was all she could make out at first, and that was the first sign that confirmed to her that it was a person. Who was it?
Whoever it was, they weren’t moving; despite being nudged repeatedly, and harshly. The nonverbal beast seemed to be doing its best to relay its panicked plea; to both its target and their audience.
Kagome was finally able to barely make out traces of their immediate surroundings. Only steps away, was a river coated in ice. She wouldn’t have been able to tell, if not for the large hole made by force in the surface.
Ah-Un huffed loudly, commanding her attention, and once it had it, proceeded to nudge and nuzzle the apparently unconscious human in the snow. The person was faced-down, but studying the mass of hair more closely, she could tell that it was wet. She gasped.
This person must have fallen through the ice, and it looked like the dragon had pulled them out.
It was clear that it wanted her to help them, and she would not deny aid.
Making her way over quickly, she dropped to her knees, to take vitals.
At closer proximity, she recognized the attire of the individual.
These were Sesshoumaru’s silks...and his armor. What was this person doing with his things? She couldn’t imagine any scenario in which the dog demon would be robbed and stripped of his clothing, and she rolled the blacked haired human over to investigate further.
It was a man, that much she could tell. And he was heavy. The dead weight of the lifeless being only added to the density of his impressive stature. It took all her strength to flip him over, and she didn’t manage the feat without a few strained grunts and less than ladylike epithets.
The very first thing she took in of this pitiful sight was the large black eye that nearly matched the color of his hair. Other smaller bruises and gashes were present on his visage, but the swollen eye stole the show by far. After the shock of the battered face settled in her observance, a double take followed a long, still moment as she immediately took in the resemblance.
This was Sesshoumaru... only, it wasn’t.
He had no markings. Other than the effects of what appeared to be a brutal assault. No crescent graced his noble brow, no stripes...nothing to inform any who would look his way of his aristocratic pedigree.
But she recognized him instantly. This was his face. But even without his demon markings, something else was jarringly off. He looked... vulnerable.
She supposed anyone in this situation would. He was frozen, nearly drowned, and defenseless. She couldn’t see his eyes, as they were closed, but she brushed his bangs aside to regard him more completely.
“Miko!” A familiar squawk startled her from her perusal.
“Jaken!” she responded to the toad as he made his way to her with haste. He was visibly shaken, but held none of the distain that was usual when he greeted her. He stopped at her side to kneel beside the very still lord.
“You must heal him!” he ignored her question to issue the demand.
They could go over this later. It was clear that Sesshouamru needed help, and fast.
She turned back to him as she placed her fingers to his neck, hoping for a trace of a pulse. The cold feel to his skin was alarming, and she lowered her head to his face for any signs of life. She could detect none at first; she finally found a slow and low heartbeat... but it was very weak.
“Is he...?” Jaken’s tears were barely contained.
“He’s alive,” she announced solemnly, causing the toad to release a very audible breath. “But barely. We need to warm him up fast.”
She turned to address Jaken directly.
“Is there anywhere we can go for cover? We don’t have much time.”
His eyes never left his lord, and he tried to organize through his distressed mind for anything remotely helpful. A thought finally struck him.
“I know of a cave, but the journey will take several minutes.”
It would have to do. There was no time for second thoughts or back up plans.
She moved to lift him then, but could barely prop him up. Ah-Un took charge, using its two heads to easily lift Sesshoumaru onto his back, and Jaken immediately followed suit. Before she could climb aboard herself, the dragon aided her up as well.
The back of the beast was now crowded, but she quickly went to secure Sesshoumaru. Holding him in place was more for her own comfort. She wasn’t strong enough to keep him from falling if the ride became turbulent. Neither was Jaken, but they held onto him still. Ah-Un's steady movements seemed to be the only real thing keeping Sesshoumaru from taking a tumble to the terrain far below.
They traveled without comment; silently assessing Sesshoumaru’s limp form, and pondering how such things could have come to be. Motionless, marred, and mortal; Kagome wondered how, after all he had apparently endured, he could retain that passive expression on his face. She studied it as they flew through the air; half lost in thought, and half willfully distracting herself from some very likely possible outcomes in the not so distant future.
They finally arrived to the mouth of a cave. It was wide enough for the dragon to enter. And when it did, it did its best to gently deposit Sesshoumaru to the hard rock ground below.
Kagome unrolled her sleeping bag as the two demons fussed anxiously over their lord’s comfort.
“We need to get him warm.”
“What should I do?” a helpless Jaken inquired frantically.
“We have to get him out of these wet clothes. Do you know how to remove his armor?” she asked, fumbling with the ties awkwardly. Jaken was hesitant, but only for a moment.
He didn’t want to take any liberties with his lord’s person, but it was clear that if he didn’t, the results could be dire.
Pushing Kagome aside, Jaken made quick work of the straps, but when loose, he needed the miko to aid him in removing it. When she began removing his soaked haori, Jaken hesitated again. He shouldn’t let her do this, but made no move to stop her as he watched on.
“What do I do now?”
She managed not to wince as the answer became clear to her.
She hadn’t taken any of the survival classes that they offered at her high school. Though, with the way she lived, it would have been the smart move.
She did watch a number of television shows on the subject, however. And one of the methods that stayed fresh in her mind was indeed one for warming a person who was in danger of freezing to death.
Though when she pictured this unlikely scenario playing out in her fantasy, it certainly wasn’t like this.
It was supposed to happen with Inuyasha. And because a half demon probably wouldn’t be at any risk of losing a dangerous amount of body heat; he would have been the one to save her.
She would be near death from the cold, and Inuyasha would ask her what to do. She would tell him how to save her life, and he would shyly oblige... and realize his feelings for her in the process.
That’s how it was supposed to go. And in that moment, Kagome decided that the next time she wanted to ask the fates for any favors, she would resort to using reverse psychology.
Because instead, here she was.
Despite all of her selfless acts of kindness, and do-gooding nature; she was put in a position where she would have to attempt to save the one person who probably rather die than accept her aid.
And for her efforts- which had no upside for her, mind you- she would probably receive a push off a cliff or a snap of her neck.
If she had any longer to consider her options, she might have reconsidered.
As she continued to remove the silks, she only glanced up a moment to regard him.
“I don’t suppose either of you are warm blooded?”
“No. No reptile demon is. I don’t see what that has to do with-”
“Then the best thing you can do is build a fire. I see you have your staff. We just need some wood.”
“The staff of two heads is powerful, but it can’t make fire of water!” he screeched, more out of frustration than anger. “Any wood out there is drenched all the way through. The amount of fire it would require to ignite would burn it down to nothing!”
His lord’s chest now bare, he did his best to ignore the start he felt at watching the miko begin the task of removing his hakama.
“Well, you better find some. We don’t have much time. Take Ah-Un, and go find some wood that will burn. Lots of it. It is the only thing that will save him.”
As Sesshoumaru was reduced to nothing but his fundoshi, she paused a moment to regard the toad demon. She had to get him into the sleeping bag, and she considered leaving his undergarments. But they would do him no favors soaked through. They would get the bag wet as well, and they needed the dry material to warm his frozen body.
She stood to unzip the bag completely, and laid it spread out flat.
“Remove it,” she directed, her back turned to the pair. Jaken obeyed, and undid the last bit of cover from Sesshoumaru’s body. He was somewhat mollified by the fact that the woman did not seem interested in molesting his lord’s nude form. With her eyes, or otherwise.
“Help me get him onto the bag.” She avoided looking below the waist as she grabbed Sesshoumaru by the shoulders to turn him. Jaken was beside her at his back, and together they rolled him into position. Managing not to sneak a peek, she quickly zipped the bag around him to encase him in it.
When she stood with the drenched clothing in her hands, the freezing temperature of the cave became even more apparent. As it stood, it offered them cover from the snow and a wall from the winds. But little else as far as warmth.
She took to Sesshoumaru’s discarded attire, and stretched it out across the floor of the cave to dry. As she did, she continued issuing orders.
“Get as much wood as you can carry, then bring it back here. And hurry.”
He nodded, making his way back to Ah-Un. He would normally not consider taking orders from a human, but her confidence bolstered his own in her. She appeared to know what to do, even if it was all show. For he, himself, had been at a loss until she appeared.
“What are you going to do?” he asked as he grabbed the beast’s reins and made to exit.
Removing her own coat to lay beside Sesshoumaru’s clothes on the ground, she answered simply.
“I’ll do my best to get him warm. But we need that fire. Go.” She was now removing her sweater, and Jaken barely contained a flinch. With no time to waste, he only nodded once; and without sparing a look over his shoulder, they were off.
A/N: The title of the chapter says it all, I think.
This is the story I’ve been wanting to write since before I finished NLMD. I didn’t want to start posting it until I was further along, because I want to update weekly. I will still try, but if I’m not ready, I won’t. I don’t want to rush it through like I did with NLMD.
At this point, I know where I’m going, but not exactly how to get there. I hope that by getting the beginning out- which has been done for some time- it will kind of pressure me to get the lead out on the rest. We shall see...
Wish me luck!