A/N: Okay, back in action with the second chapter. The beta search went well. I found a few girls who look like they'll be able to help me out beautifully, so everyone cheer for Kendiefox, Caeria, Claire, and Kat Morning, my new betas. Claire will be helping out with Wakareru, as she's more of an RK girl. Caeria will be my IY specialist for Without Words, and Kat will be neck deep in both fics. Kendiefox, as always, is my grammar and style guru, so she'll be helping out with both stories, as well. With that said, everyone should re-read chapter one now that it has been properly beta-ed. The changes were small, but significant. Some confusions have been cleared up and the chapter is generally cleaner. So go! And then read this!
Disclaimer: I own neither Inu-Yasha nor Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Mermaid." Disney can bite me. I didn't use their mangled, cuddly-goodness version of the story I mean, I like fluff just as much as the next gal… but they totally nixed the awesome angst!
Without Words: Prejudice
Kagome turned bleary eyes toward the horizon as the first faint ribbons of false dawn reflected off the waves. Pink and green fire rippled across the glassy surface of the ocean and she tipped her face up in search of what little warmth the light could offer. Her sodden prince stirred weakly in her arms and she held back a sigh of relief. Perhaps he could sense that he was almost safely back to land.
She craned her neck around and judged the distance remaining between her and the fog-draped shore. They had been drifting toward it all night. It was grueling work trying to kick while grappling a man a full head longer than she was, so she'd had to limit her efforts to making sure they drifted toward land and not further out to sea. Even then, she was absolutely exhausted. The prince was heavy and not buoyant. Her own instincts were arguing for her to dive down and seek shelter among caves or reefs. Floating in open water was almost like asking predators to attack them. And if it came to a fight, she would have to abandon her charge or risk both of their deaths.
"Almost home, prince." She pressed a comforting cheek to the crown of his head. Long hours spent fighting storm and exhaustion had melted any shyness she might have felt. She'd blushed and tried to rearrange him the first time his face had slumped against the natural pillow of her bosom, but had since shrugged the discomfort away. Her shoulder had been starting to cramp with the earlier position anyway, and he wasn't awake to take any enjoyment out of the situation, either.
She glanced over her shoulder again and grinned tiredly.
"In a minute you'll have sand and maybe some crabs for a pillow," she murmured to the unconscious man. The large bump on the back of his head was hidden by dark, matted hair, but she knew it was probably still fierce.
When she'd first lifted him from the waves, he hadn't started breathing immediately. Knowing that he'd swallowed water, she'd driven a hard fist into his gut to push up his diaphragm. He'd purged the sea and started drawing in shallow breaths, but hadn't regained consciousness. Frantic patting and coaxing on her part had discovered the nasty lump on the back of his head. With a discouraged sigh, she'd hooked her arms under his own and hauled him back against her chest to ride out the remainder of the storm, knowing he wouldn't be waking any time soon to help her.
"That knot better not have cracked your skull," she warned. Fighting to keep his head above water all night had given her a righteous sense of authority over his well-being. She was risking the safety of the guardian of the shikon jewel, the merkingdom's youngest princess, to save him.
"I shouldn't be doing this at all," she sighed. Surely Kaede would have a long lecture about priorities and responsibility ready for her when she got back. She just hoped the elder miko wouldn't inform her mother of her misadventure. A half-trained miko would not improve if she was confined to the palace.
Her lips quirked and she flicked her tail to push them to shore faster. False dawn was quickly lightening the sky and she wanted to make it back to the safety of the waves before most of the humans began stirring.
Sand gritted against her fins and she groaned. Holding him afloat was one thing. Wrestling him onto shore without legs to walk on was another. Still, her tail was almost three times as strong as any pair of human legs. After a few floundering kicks, she found a rhythm to push herself and her soggy prince far enough up the beach to be mostly out of the waves. Enough that he wouldn't drown, but not so much that her skin would dry out.
"You're home," she announced with tired cheer and patted a hand to his chest. She hoped he wouldn't fall sick. Kaede said humans were prone to illness when exposed too long to cool air when they were wet.
"Okay, you should wake up, now," she coaxed. "I can't get you any further up shore than this, and I don't know how long it will take your people to find you." She stroked the damp ends of his bangs away from his forehead and chafed his hands between her own. He was alarmingly cold.
"Please wake up. I'll feel like an idiot if I did all this only for you to give up now." She hummed a morning song under her breath and looked up to get a better idea of where they were.
The beach sloped up for a good distance before the soft edges of a low cliff thrust up from the sand. The tawny and tough vegetation of the coastline blocked any view of what lay beyond, but she thought she saw the crest of a tower a ways off to the left. Hopefully the humans who lived in the tower and surrounding buildings visited the beach in the mornings.
A pulse of magic rippled through her just as the first rays of the sun fell across her back. She gasped and sat upright, staring down at the prince in surprise. That magic had come from him. Magic that felt… like youkai.
"How?" Mild alarm snaked through her veins. If he was truly a youkai, it would explain his relationship with the prince Sesshoumaru. But if he was a demon, why did he feel and look like a human?
Another pulse of magic halted her whirlwind thoughts. She peered into his face as the features wavered a bit. Then a streak of white shot from his temple down through his hair. His ears elongated and began sliding up the sides of his head. His hands flexed and she looked down to see thick claws growing from his fingertips. The power of his aura doubled and then tripled as the transformation took place. She dimly wondered if she should back away, but was too shocked to put any urgency behind the thought.
It lasted maybe a minute and then she was looking at what could have been the prince's twin brother, if he were a youkai.
She perked and slapped the end of her tail against the ground as the solution came to her.
"You're a hanyou." She grinned as Kaede's old lessons filtered into her mind. Half youkai had certain time when their demon energy ebbed. His must be the night of the new moon. The argument about King Inutaisho not wanting his son out last night suddenly made sense. And it explained Sesshoumaru's apparent hatred for the younger prince. But how had such a mix of blood happened in the first place?
"Will you wake up now?" She rubbed his hand again. Reason said she should move out of sight, but part of her couldn't resist staying beside him. Would his eyes be golden like the other demons' she'd seen? Did he remember being plucked from the waves? When he woke, would he recognize her voice from all the coaxing and singing she'd done throughout the night? If he didn't, she would be very annoyed with him, irrational as it was.
She trilled a silly melody that mothers sang to get lazy children from their beds. All night she'd delighted in the strange quality her tone had in air. Singing was one of her few indulgences and she'd tried using the charm of her voice to lure the prince back to consciousness.
Her hands patted his face, his chest, and his arms. She trailed her fingers through the damp length of his hair. The fluffy ears he'd acquired during the transformation received awe-filled attention as well. They were incredibly soft beneath her fingertips.
"Wake up. Your body isn't like mine. It'll melt into mush if you don't get out of the water."
She thumped his chest with a gentle fist and sighed. She wanted to talk to him. Knowing that he was a hanyou had only added to her curiosity about him. She wanted to know what it was like to be able to shed one form for another. As much as she loved her tail, she wouldn't pass up a chance to strut around on the sand with a pair of legs. Kaede said humans danced almost as well with their long legs as mermaids did with their tails. It was something she'd always wanted to try even if she knew it was impossible. But… if this boy could change forms by magic, who was to say she couldn't as well?
A groan ripped through his throat and she leaned forward eagerly. She wanted to see his eyes the moment they opened. When he found her hovering over him, would he scowl or smile? He'd scowled a lot last night, but a silly part of her wished the first thing he did upon seeing her was smile.
"Wake up, handsome prince, your princess is getting impatient." She chuckled and curled his hand closer to her chest. Propriety and a streak of shyness kept her from hugging it to her.
Her shoulder wrenched back just before lightning shots of pain arched down her arm and back through her body. A startled shriek ripped from her throat and she clutched her hand to the ribbon of fire oozing across her upper arm.
"Back away from him, Siren." The voice barely registered as her eyes found blood welling up between the fingers of the hand gripping her arm.
"Hear me, Siren. Back away from the man. Get back to the ocean where you belong." There was no warmth in that voice. Cold calculation and wariness threaded through the commands.
She swallowed back tears and stared up at the woman a few yards up the beach. Her dark hair lifted in the morning sea breeze and Kagome felt a faint pulse of recognition before she focused on the bow growing from the woman's hands.
"You shot me." Her voice sounded very young to herself.
"I am protecting the young man you were about to make dinner of. Or sport. Either way, you are not welcome on this beach. Get back to the waves." Another arrow was notched and pulled back. This time aimed at her chest.
Kagome pushed her shock aside and swallowed. "I was not going to eat him," she finally managed. And then more hotly, "I was going to leave, but I was worried he might not be found. I cannot carry him up further and he will fall ill in the cold like this."
The other woman arched an eyebrow. Kagome wondered at the solemn cut of her robes. They were too elegant for the common class, but not elaborate enough to be noble. Yet, there was a noble air to her.
"You will make sure he is safe?" she pressed on after a moment. Her glance flicked from the arrow to the prince. "He is part demon. You won't kill him, will you?" If she was ready to murder a Siren or mermaid, she might carry the same prejudice to creatures on land.
The tip of the arrow drooped and then fell away as the woman regarded her with expressionless eyes.
And in that word Kagome thought she could hear the woman acknowledge the hypocrisy behind the distinction.
"Thank you." She bowed her head. "I'll just 'get back to the waves' then." She tried to keep the bitterness from her voice and almost succeeded. Pain and disappointment strained her sunny disposition.
She spared a final glance at her hanyou prince's face and quickly began shuffling back into the lap of the waves. Tears threatened and she blinked them away furiously. She had been stupid to let such romantic ideas get her hopes up. The woman's reaction had only confirmed everything she had been warned of about humans. Just because the surly boy was a prince didn't make him an exception. He probably would have opened his eyes and tried to kill her with those claws she'd been so fascinated with.
Another story of human ignorance to share with her sisters.
No… no, she would not share this with anyone, only Kaede because she would have to explain the wound.
Just a few more kicks and she would be back in the safety of the water. She pushed the damp hair clinging to her chest away and froze. Her hand wrapped around her neck frantically.
The jewel. When had she lost it?
Kagome twisted her upper body around wildly and searched the prince with her eyes.
"Siren," the woman warned.
Kagome glanced up at her and saw that she'd restrung her bow. Her jaw was set in a firm, disapproving line.
She thinks I'm going to try to eat him again, she realized. A glint drew her gaze back to the prince and her chest constricted. There lay the jewel in his slightly curled hand, the chain tangled in his claws.
What if I just explain that it's mine? She took another peek at the other woman, who was now advancing on her in determined strides.
Panic chilled her veins and Kagome cast one last, desperate glance at the jewel and the prince before hastily flinging herself into the welcoming embrace of the ocean. An arrow thunked into the sand just to the right of her head as she wriggled free of the sand bank. There was no other choice.
She only stopped long enough to smear some of Kaede's salve onto the arrow wound with shaking hands before racing through the ocean back to her mentor's cave.
She should have left the jewel with Kaede. Its glittering surface never should have crested the waves. For thousands of years it had lain safely dormant under the protection of the mermaids. And now, because of one act of mercy, it had found its way back onto the land where it had been created.
Kagome had lost the Shikon no Tama, the Jewel of Four Souls. And in the hands of man, its power could be unleashed.
A burning voice taunted her as she flew recklessly through the sea.
She had failed.
Kaede was waiting for her just beyond the entrance of the cave. Deep lines of age outlined a face set with worry and fear.
Kagome barreled into the older woman's embrace, and for a few minutes all she could do was swallow convulsively to hold back her tears. The older woman simply held her. She didn't offer soothing words or caresses to ease her apprentice, only the security of her presence.
"Grandmother Kaede, I've lost the jewel." Saying the words out loud almost felt good to her. The admission made it final, and now that she'd accepted the situation, maybe she could do something about it.
She took a deep, shaky breath and leaned back to meet her mentor's eyes.
"I know, child. I saw you on the beach in my mirror." Kaede held her at arms length for a moment before turning back to her cave.
Kagome followed her mutely and rubbed a hand absently across the base of her neck. The jewel had been a solid weight around her throat since her twelfth year when her miko powers had begun to manifest. Without it she felt oddly buoyant.
"I guess the chain got tangled in the prince's claws when I was bending over him." She sighed as she settled on a low coral stool.
Kaede grunted assertion. "Yes, it broke when you jerked back from the arrow."
"How much did you see?" Her eyes traced her mentor's movements as she went to the back of the cave and rummaged through her shelves.
"Only a little. I sought your spirit out just after sunrise because I was beginning to wonder at your absence." She shot her a speculative glance over her shoulder. "You found the youkai ship, I gather."
Kagome plucked at a string of pearls that had come loose from the bodice sometime in the night. "Yes. I couldn't just let him drown, though. He's a hanyou and last night was his human time. He almost didn't survive anyway."
Kaede swam back to her and crouched next to her wounded arm. "Lucky for him you have such a soft heart. Though, he won't be properly thankful."
"I don't think he'll even remember that I saved him," Kagome agreed and winced as Kaede took a soft sponge and started cleaning the wound.
"Well, at least he is a hanyou."
She sounded almost hopeful. Kagome stared at her mentor's down-turned, calm face.
"What do you mean?"
Kaede gave her a sharp glance and Kagome took a pensive breath. The older miko expected her to figure it out on her own. Her training was constant.
"A hanyou," she mused as she turned to stare vacantly at the miko pool. Her gaze sharpened. "Oh. Because he is so unique, his soul will be easier to search out with the mirror. We'll be able to find where he lives so I can follow and retrieve the jewel."
"Indeed." Kaede smeared a new salve over the wound and muttered a few words under her breath. Kagome obediently opened herself so her mentor could tap a bit of her spirit to speed the healing of the small gash.
She wasn't good enough to use her powers to heal yet, but the raw power was there for Kaede to use if she needed it. The older miko was old enough that using her spirit for big works was a risk. At two hundred and ninety years, she was nearing the maximum lifespan of a mermaid. And any day, the renewing ability of her spirit could give out and her body would dissolve to become the foam lining the sea waves.
Hopefully not before I find the jewel, she thought darkly and shook her head. She needed to stay positive. A miko's spirit became clouded when she let fear distort her thinking.
"Grandmother Kaede, could we search for the jewel through the mirror? I mean, it houses souls."
Her mentor patted her arm and drifted back to her pool. "I wish it were that simple, but my mirror is blind to the jewel. Perhaps it is having so many souls trapped within such a small space. We'll have to settle for finding this young prince of yours."
Kagome nodded and balled her fists expectantly. "I'll go tell mother that you need me for a few days and start right away." I should have stayed close by to begin with, she added silently, cursing her earlier panic.
"No, you will tell your mother how tired you are from staying up so long and rest," Kaede returned sharply. "I'm surprised you haven't fallen asleep yet just sitting there."
"But my first duty is to the jewel," she insisted.
Kaede's eye widened and she looked away with a sigh. "Yes, child, I suppose it is." She began waving her hands over the surface of the pool. "However, you won't be of use to anyone if you don't rest. And it will take me a while to find where exactly this prince is so you can retrace your strokes." She glanced at her. "Unless you can remember from earlier."
Kagome sighed and shook her head. A pleasant fog was drooping over her mind now that the adrenaline from her escape was wearing off. She wouldn't be able to navigate accurately in this condition.
"Fine, I'll go rest." She pushed away from the stool and drifted to the door.
"And be sure you think of a good excuse for your mother. I don't want her sending a messenger here later to fetch you when you are searching the coast."
She nodded absently and frowned. "How long do you think it will take to get back the jewel?"
Kaede shrugged. "It depends on how long it takes before the prince comes close enough to the water for you to speak to him. You'll need to work on looking harmless enough that he doesn't immediately take you for a Siren. Youkai may have sharper instincts than humans, but they are as equally ignorant about the creatures of the sea as them," she warned. "And Spirits help you if he moves inland. If he does, the jewel is lost."
So far, Kagome wasn't enjoying her first days of adulthood.
"I just wanted to save him," she whispered.
"I know, child."
Inu-Yasha woke to a pounding headache, sand, and the brilliant stabbing of morning sunlight in his eyes.
"What the hell?"
He lifted a hand to shield his face and wondered briefly when the sun had decided to turn such a cheerful shade of pink. He blinked salt-encrusted eyelids and stared at the jewel dangling from the chain tangled in his claws.
"How are you feeling?" a gentle, melodious voice asked from somewhere above him. A pale face drifted into view framed by softly curling hair haloed in sunlight. In the distance, he could hear a chorus of voices praising the new day.
"Shit," he growled, "I'm fucking dead."
The face above him jerked back and gasped.
"Is he awake?" The singing faded out and curious voices crowded around him, more bright heads of hair blocking the sun from his eyes. He blinked rapidly and faces came into focus.
"Whoa… I thought angels were all supposed to be good looking. I mean, isn't it a rule somewhere?"
Blondie gasped again and pointed an accusing finger at him. "He's vile!"
A brunette sniffed. "Maybe we should just leave him on the beach for the seagulls."
"Remember yourselves, ladies," a cold voice drifted over the crowd. The girls looked up as one to face someone behind him.
Inu-Yasha tried to tilt his head back to see and yelped. No, he couldn't be dead and have this big of a lump on his head. He fingered it gently and sighed. His demon blood would take care of it, but it would take a few hours. Until then, he'd have to deal with the headache.
"Bring him to one of the guest rooms for a bath and a meal. And be gentle. He is injured."
The group turned and once again he was the object of scrutiny. He ignored them in favor of mentally taking stock of his well-being. Hostile stares just didn't faze him anymore.
"Can you get up on your own, demon?" the same brunette asked, her nose crinkling as she did.
Inu-Yasha rolled his eyes. "Feh. Don't want to touch the 'vile' demon?" He levered himself to his feet gingerly. The women fluttered away from him, the heavy fabric of their robes gritting against the sand.
He absently brushed sand from his soggy vest and scanned the area to identify his location. He studied the local vegetation, felt the wind currents, took note the color of the sand, variety of seashells, and the particular sea life scuttling across the surf.
"Where the hell am I?"
Geography hadn't been his strongest subject.
One of the girls blinked and blurted, "The beach."
"Hush, Kione," Blondie snapped. "You're in the country of Kishibe. This is the Southern Shinto Shrine."
His ears flattened. "You mean I got rescued by a bunch of prissy mikos?"
Blondie smiled and opened her mouth, but Kione cut her off. "Actually, Kikyo was the one who saved you. She came and got the rest of us because she couldn't carry you herself." She pointed up the beach.
Inu-Yasha turned to follow her finger and stared. The wind whipped the thick loops of her hair across her face, but she made no move to brush it away. He could feel the strength of her aura from where he stood. Her gaze on him was steady and neutral. She was eerily familiar.
"She saved me?"
"She only did her duty as a priestess," Blondie piped sourly. "Now let's get back to the shrine before we all freeze."
The women murmured agreement and began shuffling back up the beach. Inu-Yasha let them pass by him, his ears trained on the woman standing in the shadow of the cliff. The longer he stared at her, the more elusive his memory became in trying to place her. Still, he couldn't ignore the strange pull of recognition.
"Um, excuse me?"
He tore his eyes away from Kikyo to focus on a slight priestess who had hung back. Kione.
She flashed him a shy smile. "We were wondering," she pointed at his hand, "what is that jewel you have?"
He blinked and stared at the small necklace still tangled in his fingers. The chain was delicate, like something his mother would have worn. He certainly had never owned anything like it, but there it was sitting comfortably in the palm of his hand.
"I don't know," he answered truthfully.
"The prince has left," Kikyo announced from the doorway.
The High Miko of the shrine gazed out the window of the tower onto the shrine grounds below. "Good."
Kikyo folded her hands together in her sleeves. "He should have stayed until his head injury had healed. Why did you forbid me to convince him?"
Amusement threaded the miko's voice. "He is a hanyou, Kikyo, they do not need our concern." She straightened, her eyes pinning on something outside of the window.
The younger miko breathed in through her nose and let it out slowly through her mouth. Even a hanyou was vulnerable with a head injury. He should have been persuaded to rest.
"How did you convince him to give up the jewel?" She moved from the doorway into the middle of the room. The High Miko of the shrine glanced back at her and smiled.
"I told him that, yes, the jewel is as powerful as it feels, but that it is useless to him. Why not let us mikos protect it?"
"You lied to him." Kikyo pitched her voice to be as bland as possible, but she couldn't keep a small frown from tweaking her lips.
The High Miko watched the young prince trot into the forest bordering the shrine grounds from the window, so she missed the disapproving gesture.
"Of course I lied to him. We do not know anything about this jewel except that it is immensely powerful and not inherently Good. He is a prince from a youkai kingdom. I would not risk such power in their hands." Her voice crunched and growled huskily. Even faced with her back, Kikyo could see the scars on the older woman's neck rolling with each pain-filled word.
"The jewel was not tainted in his grasp," she pointed out calmly. Though she understood the High Miko's prejudices, she couldn't embrace them. Her home country rubbed easily with the border of a youkai kingdom. In her experience, monsters didn't always earn their name with a set of fangs.
The High Miko ignored her. "You said the jewel was forgotten by the Siren who brought him to our shore to feed?" She held the jewel up to the light of the morning sun. Pale, pink dots of light danced across the floor of the dim room and over Kikyo's face.
"I didn't say she was trying to feed."
The miko frowned. "That is what Sirens do, girl." Her eyes clouded with distant pain. "Do not be fooled by an innocent looking face."
"I don't think she was a Siren."
She shook her head sharply. "Nonsense. She was hovering over him, you said. What else could she have been? Dragging a helpless hanyou into the ocean on his human night when his soul is pure and vulnerable." She clucked her tongue and tucked the jewel into a velvet pouch. "It is sickening."
Kikyo didn't voice her opinion. The High Miko was letting her prejudices cloud her judgment.
"We will need to contact the nearby monasteries and see if we can cajole a few monks to help us protect this jewel." She turned from the window and handed the small pouch to Kikyo.
At least this idea was sound. "It will call to any who seek power. Demons and humans alike will answer." Kikyo stared at the pouch in her hand, imagining the pale jewel lying muffled in the velvet. Even she could feel its call. You could be High Miko, it whispered. You are not blinded by prejudices, you deserve to lead the others.
"The prince would have felt the call. A hanyou in a youkai court," she mused. "It is not difficult to guess what he would desire."
The High Miko chuckled. "I told him the jewel was tied to untainted souls, that a hanyou could not activate its power."
Kikyo's mouth thinned and she tucked the pouch into the sleeve of her robes. "And no doubt he is already insecure enough about his worth that he did not question you."
"He scowled so hard I thought his face would break," the miko confirmed with a shake of her head. "And those ridiculous ears drooped right into his hair. He looked more like a kicked puppy than a demon spawn. I almost felt sorry for him."
"Indeed," Kikyo murmured and turned to leave the small room. She could worry about the prince later. Right now, the jewel needed to be placed in their highest warded room to both mute its call to warped souls and to guard it from those who answered.
And immediately afterward, she would visit the shrine's library. The guileless eyes of the young woman that morning kept floating back into her mind's eye. There had been no deception there. And, looking back, she realized what the girl had turned back for. Not for the prince, but for the jewel caught in his hand.
Kikyo would research the demons of the ocean. If she could find some facts to back up her instincts, the jewel wouldn't remain on land very long.
She would find a way to return it to the girl who had saved a drowning man. Who had protected a self-conscious hanyou on the one night of the month when he was helpless.
And the High Miko would be kept blissfully ignorant.
A/N: What?! Kikyo's a good guy? Though I'll bet you guys were screaming for her blood at the beginning of the chapter. Don't worry, it gets even more complicated. Notice the distinctions between the use of 'spirit' and 'soul' in this fic so far? Yeah, there's a difference, and that difference plays a biiiiiig role in this story… like, the entire plot ::laughs:: so pay attention. And did you catch the giant plot twist? Second chapter and the situation has already gone fubar. Except… none of the characters have noticed yet.