The situation's always the same; you got your wolves in their clothes, whispering Hollywood's name. Stealing gold from the silver they see, but it's not me…
- City, Sara Bareilles
"Let go," Kagome grunted. "I've got this."
Kagome shoved away from Ginta and Hakuku's arms. Scratched, bruised, and shivering, she dragged herself towards the cave entrance, the threads of her dignity unraveling with every limp. This shouldn't upset her. Her past was full of injuries, some self-imposed and some not. But with the fiery part of herself that wanted to be independent, she felt like a failure.
If Ginta and Hakkaku hadn't heaved her back up the mountain in the first place, she would still be below, a cold mess of dripping hair and scraped up legs. Just climbing down the cliff had almost killed her. A few steps and she had slipped down the rocky trail, every bump and toss heaving her closer to the doom of dark waters below. She was lucky the stream was deep. If not, she would have splattered flat to the bottom and the boys would have to peel her off.
The bath was pure trouble. First of all, it was bitter cold. Kagome could only stay in the water for more than a few seconds before leaping out, teeth chattering. Not to mention night had fallen, blackening the waters, and strange fish kept weaving themselves between her ankles…not that she was sure what they were.
Finally she had given up, letting the brittle air freeze-dry her skin before pulling on the clothes that the boys had provided. The clothing fitted around her torso like a furry brown tube top, leaving her shoulders bare. Another strip of fur stopped at her upper thighs, allowing free movement but still not enough to keep the cold out. Kagome glanced over her dress. At least her clothing looked the part of the wolf demon tribe. Perhaps then they wouldn't turn from their meals tonight and eat her.
Kagome stopped her limp towards the cave mouth, swallowing her nerves. Fire crackled from inside the cave, overlapped by the laughter of male and female voices. She doubted Kouga's clan wanted her here, let along eating along them. She had never met them in a cordial way. There was that time were she fought by the men's side, but it was a brief and so long ago; would they even remember the supposed bond Kouga had with Kagome? The words he'd said the day he kidnapped her were still clear in her head, word to word.
"This woman is off-limits," he hissed, swiping a protective arm over her form. I'll kill anyone who tries to take a bite."
Then again, he had also declared her his women, very publicly. Kagome bit down on a curl of laughter. And she had declared herself no one's women and slapped him, also very publicly. No one was going to forget that. But she was hungry and cold. The boys were standing beside her, shooting concerns glanced between one another. She couldn't let them think she was scared of their pack. Kagome shook off her nerves, hoping the clan minded Kouga's vow of protection, and stepped inside.
When Kagome entered, flanked by Ginta and Hakkaku, the voices in the room dropped to a pulsing silence. The wolves were gathered around the room, perched on various stones and clustered around fires as they devoured their meals. Many sniffed the air, inspected Kagome with hard gazes, and murmured to one another.
"You two brought extra supper," a voice called from the back of the room. It belonged to a rugged male wolf demon. He grinned at Kagome, bearing ugly, rotted teeth. "I've first pick."
Kagome stumbled back, bumping into the boys' shoulders. The room rumbled with laughter, her fear amusing, and then the conversation moved on again. Just like that, the wolves turned away, pointedly ignoring the human. Ha! So they mocked her? Kagome lifted her chin, sending an annoyed glare in the direction of the man with the rotted teeth, and marched forward. She didn't need their acceptance; she just needed them not to eat her.
Kagome surveyed the groups the wolf demons formed around the space. Most of the men stuck to one side of the cave wall while women flanked the other. A handful of sets included both males and females who sat so close together that they were practically on each other laps. Children gathered in tight, hidden corners, settled among the brown wolves.
Kagome spun around the room, searching for the meat that the wolves were devouring. bones, licked clean and white, rose in piles by the second. When Kagome was about to give up her search, a hand took her shoulder and spun her towards a back corner.
"Over there, sister." Hakkaku pointed to where a pile of dead animals lay. It was disappearing quickly as wolves shuffled over and tore meat from the kills, almost nonstop. Hakkaku had a torn expression on his face, glancing at her and back at Ginta.
"Single men sit on one side while unmated females sit on another. Mated couples can sit wherever they'd like, but since Kouga isn't here, I suppose its best you sit with the rest of the females."
Kagome nodded, understanding. She didn't want to rub anyone the wrong way, or step on any "paws" by breaking the formation. Ginta knew his wolves better than she, and without Kouga to enforce any civility, it was best that she blend in, though her pale skin seemed fluorescent against the rows of tan and brown-skinned wolves. It would definitely be best to stick with the females and bow her head. Honestly, she wasn't mated let alone dating Kouga. Why let the wolves get ideas?
Avoiding the stink, Kagome breathed from her mouth as she approached the pile of meat, the smell of fresh blood increasing with each step. Leaning over the kills, she reached for a small rabbit. Just as she touched the tail, a brown wolf snatched it from her hand and walked off, his tail sassing high. The laughter from behind her rode up Kagome's spine, stiffening her entire body. She bit back on a frustrated hiss and searched for something else. She would love to give these wolves a telling off. That would be dangerous, though, so she wouldn't risk her neck. Hmph. Not now, at least. With a groan, Kagome grabbed the only small animal left, a muskrat creature, clutching it by the tail. She plucked a bone from a pile and stuck the muskrat to the tip then approached the fire. It was time for eat.
The female section was packed. The only empty spot was beside two female wolf demons, talking animatedly around the fire. As Kagome stood there awkwardly, one of the wolves looked back at her and mumbled something in the other's ear. The girls tossed their heads back, brass laughter hammering against Kagome's ear drums. Who cares if they talk about you, Kagome told herself, pressing down on the bud of anger. Sit down, cook your food, and suck it up. With only a second's hesitation, she headed to the spot. When she sat down, the two females made displeased noises and conversed more animatedly, as if to drown out the human presence. Kagome shrugged, ignoring the hit to her heart. Better that they turn their backs then poke at her already fractured ego.
Kagome plunked her stick into the fire, crisping her meat. As she pulled it out to begin eating, one of the female's voices grew more pointed, aiming to be overheard.
"It is so pathetic how humans must bring flame to their meat."
Pathetic? The irritated bud in her belly flared. Kagome tried to keep her mouth shut. She really did. But all her efforts failed. With every snicker and slight from the day, her shameful descent into freezing water, plus her other personal issues, she was cranky.
Kagome looked right into the mocking woman's face. The female wolf had dark, smoky eyes, angled at the corners. Her sun-dusted skin was a few shades deeper than Kouga's tone and her long brown hair pulled back in a tight binding. She sat cross-legged around the fire, like most of the other women wolves, and muscle stretched across a lean body from under furred attire.
"I'm pretty sure you stuck your meat into the fire a few minutes ago," Kagome said, staring straight at the woman. "Clearly I'm not delusional."
The friend giggled, and the wolf demon narrowed her eyes at Kagome. Kagome arched her eyebrows, crossing her arms. Yeah, that's right. I'm not a pathetic human. Come at me, sista.
"I merely like the crisp," the female said, a notch of arrogance in her tone as she swept her ponytail over her shoulder. "Besides, it is not like I have to. But humans depend on heat to prepare their meat."
"I eat raw fish all the time!" Kagome protested, waving her muskrat about as if to emphasize a point. Have these people never heard of sushi?
"I suppose that is beside the point," The female said. The angular eyes looked Kagome up and down, from the rise of her chest to the lean lines of pale legs. Kagome fought the urge to cover herself. "The real concern is you are here. Why are you here, human?"
Kagome broke her staring contest with the wolf to gaze into her lap. Well, let me see. Because my boyfriend dumped me and is in hell with the woman he really loves. Yes, he would rather be in hell than stay with me. Also, home is a different time period and my ride to the secret well is busy. And oh yeah, your leader is in love with me so he probably won't mind me moping around his crib for a while.
In this cave full of boisterous wolves, Kagome felt alone. And here was this infuriating wolf female, peeling back fresh wounds and forcing her to revisit them. Kagome must have been lost in her head, just staring at her lap, because when she finally looked up to tell the woman to work on her manners, the room was empty. The fires smoldered low, blackened wood coughing up leftover smoke entrails. Voices echoed through the cave, distant. Even her muskrat dinner was gone, having been plucked right from her hands. Kagome stood up, peeking down corridors and checking behind rocks.
"Hello?" She called out. "Ginta? Hakkaku?"
No one answered her. Paranoia prickled the hairs on her arm. Was this some sort of scheme? The wolves plan to actually kill her? It was not like she was imposing on anyone by being here! And they had already eaten… surely they couldn't be hungry. When a callused hand held Kagome's shoulder, she spun, instincts pulsing high.
"No one's eating me!" she cried, sending out a blind punch.
"Ouch," a gruff voice said. "I wasn't planning on it, Sister."
Kagome bit down on her lip as the wolf demon rubbed his dimpled cheek. "Ginta! I'm sorry about that… where did everybody go?"
"Well, the wolves like to run at night, though some went into their chambers already. You looked really deep in thought and Hakkaku and I didn't want to disturb you. Kouga gets dreamy like that too, and he hates when we interrupt. So," he slapped his hands together. "Ready for bed?"
"Yes," Kagome said, glancing towards the platform near the back of the cave. She headed towards it and began to fluff her knapsack, planning to use it as a pillow. "I'll lay down here for the night."
Ginta shook his head like a dog whipping out wet fur.
"Don't be silly, Kagome. You can't sleep there. I'm bringing you to Kouga's bedroom."
"Kouga's room?" Kagome repeated. She backed up, locking loose strands of hair behind her ears. She would so not sleep in his room. That was getting too intimate. Surrounded by his things, his scents, plus sleeping in the leader's room would shout a message to the wolves, her actions chanting mate, mate, the leader's mate. She was not his mate, girlfriend or any of that. Just a friend in need. A guest… that Kouga happened to like. A lot. But it was a one-sided affection, of course.
Kagome never allowed herself to entertain the idea of herself and Kouga together. Inuyasha was her focus. Inuyasha was the one who she would…oh, right. Inuyasha had chosen another. Her gaze dropped to the floor, shining with unshed tears, but her lips curled into a smile. How could someone drown her in sweet sadness and longing all at once? Why didn't she hate the dog demon that dropped her hot and fast at the first opportunity instead of pondering over him, wanting him even more? Why did the thought of him give her mind freeze, causing her to blank out to all the things around her…like right now, as she realized she was being pulled down a fire lit corridor.
"Ginta, where are …" She stuttered, but they had stopped at the end of the hall, standing before a huge, door-shaped stone.
"We are here." Ginta said, heaving the stone to the side. He stepped away, revealing a large, circular room.
The scent hit her first, and not because it was putrid like other parts of the cave, but because it smelled…nice. A light, woodsy fragrance melted over the area, drawing her feet forward in open invitation. She surveyed the space's stone arches that served as elegant supports to the cave, reminding Kagome of photographs of ancient Rome. Imprinted in the blue gray walls were various carvings of wolves. The wolves were in different scenes, hunting, sleeping, running, but the drawing that captured her the most was the life side depiction of the farthest wall. A man stood beside a large wolf. The wolf's eyes shone, reflecting and absorbing all at once. Next to that wolf was a man that looked very much like Kouga. She hardly felt her legs move forward as she approached the drawing as if spellbound, and traced the figure with her fingertips.
He had Kouga's angular jaw, the pointed ears, and the sharp eyebrows. Furs and armor flanked the muscled body. Ginta coughed behind her and she drew her hands back, spinning. A smile crooked onto his face.
"Uh, who drew these?" Kagome sputtered. "It is very nice artwork." She had to change the focus, make it impersonal. She had to establish her admiration of the drawings, not the man on the wall.
"Kouga did. He likes that sort of thing. Art."
Ginta still stood in the doorway, his hands wrapped around the stone that served as a detachable door. He was obviously getting ready to leave. She didn't want him to leave. He couldn't just drop her here with all these beautiful drawings and smells and thoughts of Kouga.
"Why won't you come in and show me around?" she asked.
Ginta twisted his fur pelt.
"I can't come in without your permission, Sister."
"Don't be ridiculous!" It was bad enough that she was sleeping in the wolf prince's personal rooms, but being treated as Consort reached a whole new level of awkward.
"It's not ridiculous." Ginta said. He smiled at her, drawing attention to those charming dimples. That smile made her cheeks bloom with color. Along with the fact that Ginta still kept his feet firmly behind the invisible barrier, honoring what he had said. Kagome was about to drag him into the room when a howl whistled through the air. Ginta turned, listened, and then answered in his wolf language, a series of murmurs and grunts. When he turned back to Kagome, there was distraction in his gaze.
"I must take care of something."
"Sleep well, Sister."
Ginta pushed the stone back, setting it over the doorway. Kagome turned back to the room for she'd obviously lost that battle. A carved out circle on the ceiling poured wide patches of moonlight over the space, directly spilling over a high pile of furs resembling a bed. Kagome set down her backpack and approached the cot, her movements small and careful. I mean, if she was stuck sleeping in the room anyways, might as well be comfortable. It wouldn't hurt…
The space was open, breathable, and with the large circle in the ceiling of the room, it felt like she was directly under the sky. Her eyes softened as she stared into the white blush of moonlight. This room gave new meaning to a sunroof. Already she thought of her own bedroom back home, wondering why she couldn't have such a view in her room. Then again, that would mean moving into the attic, which was not on her agenda.
Kagome laid herself on the cot, wrapping the furs around her form. The fur's airy aroma was a cognac to her brain and she couldn't help but place them to her nose and inhale. Kouga's scent screamed at her, stone and forest, rippling through her senses and trying to scratch its way under her skin.
What a terrible idea to run to Kouga. Yet, she just could not stand to be around her friends as she dealt with Inuyasha's leaving. They would keep looking at her, checking on her, reading every emotion on her face and sending her those pitying frowns and stares…she just could not take that. With all the crazy emotions in her, pity was one she did not want looking down at her.
Kagome thought of the wolf female that had challenged her presence at dinner. That woman was definitely not willing to pity her, which Kagome appreciated, in a very small, small place. "Why you are here, human?"
Kagome had never answered her question. But wrapped in the scent of stone and forest, the moon coating her skin in milk, she realized the simple truth. Kagome did not want to be alone. When her brain had realized she could not stand being alone, Kouga had been the first person to come to mind.
In his presence, she never felt invisible. As she drifted off to sleep, snuggled into the fragrant furs, she wondered when he would return. I hope it is soon…she thought. I'd kind of like to be seen again.
... ... ... ... ...
Kagome woke up cold. Not a little chilly, but trembling, chattering, my teeth will drop out of my mouth cold. She lifted her head, shakily taking in her surroundings. She was on Kouga's bed, but the furs were pushed about, many feet from the cot. She must have shoved the blankets away in the night, leaving herself exposed to the chilly autumn air. But even through the cold, she had not woken up, trapped in a nightmare's chokehold.
Running hands across her goose bump ridden flesh, Kagome cringed at the memories. She had dreamt of kneeling beside a deep, black crater sized pit. She stared down into the blackness, sorting through flames and the eerie shapes that moved within. It took her dream mind a minute to piece together where this place was: hell. She called out to Inuyasha, screaming until her lungs ached, begging him to return. When she had exhausted her voice to a mere moan, he had finally appeared. Rising from the fire, flames danced about his red kimono, white hair as wild as the flames on his body. The golden eyes were no longer gold at all, but the rusty red of aging blood.
"I will never come with you," Inuyasha had told her, that voice luring. "But you can come with me."
Then he dug his nails into her flesh and wrenched her towards the pit below. She'd fought against his hold, crying out, begging him to let go.
This nightmare had replayed itself in her head, the crying, Inuyasha pulling, but in the very last sequence, there had been a growl behind her. The growl cracked with so many things; rage, fear, and some other emotion too deep for her to process. The growl was so loud that it had shaken the entire ground, knocking Inuyasha's hold loose and dropping him back into hell.
Then someone held Kagome, warm arms wrapped around her.
"You're okay now," He'd said as her body trembled. He kept kissing up her neck, dragging his nose from her dark hair to narrow shoulders. "As long as I live, he will no longer hurt you."
She had looked up slowly, her drunken gaze trailing up, up and into the blue eyes of…
Kagome tasted his name on her dry, morning breath. Still shivering from the cold, she snatched up the furs that she'd kicked away and clutched them to her chest. She didn't have to look up at the sky to know that it was early morning. Light touched the tips of the room and birds chirped the gentle chorus of morning.
Still wrapped in Kouga's furs, she dragged herself to her knapsack. As she pulled out a toothbrush and toothpaste, her stomach whined. Right. Her meal was snagged right from under her nose last night. Too bad she didn't have any more treats left in her bag; she had given them all to Shippo. Now she would actually have to leave the room and face whatever lay waiting for her.
Kagome glanced at the stone slab covering the entrance. That is, if she could get out.