"Please Kagome! Please!"
"Sota! I said no. It's dangerous!" Kagome glared at her brother who was bowing at her feet.
"I just want to visit! We don't even have to go anywhere, I just want to see Inuyasha and meet your new friends. Please? Can't we spend time together?"
Kagome's face softened, it was true that they didn't spend much time together because of her journeys to the warring states era and to tell the truth, she did miss Sota, even if he was a brat. She sighed. It was a long weekend, the perfect opportunity for them to just visit. "Fine, let's go tell mom. You'll need some clothes and we'll bring some treats. Shippo would really like to meet you I'm sure."
"Really?" Sota looked up in disbelief.
Kagome nodded. "Um hmm."
"Yahoo!" He leapt up and gave his sister a bone-crunching hug before running out of his sister's room to tell his mother.
An hour later, they were standing next to the well with their backpacks on. Their mother had packed a large picnic basket full of food for Kagome's friends and told Sota to stay out of trouble and mind his sister. Sota had danced around excitedly trying to throw all sorts of useless things in his bag. Kagome had restricted him to clothes, a few manga, and some of his toys knowing full well that Shippo would love playing with Sota and his toys.
"Are you ready?" Kagome looked over at her brother.
"Yeah!" He nodded enthusiastically.
"Then let's go down the ladder."
Kagome climbed the ladder, followed by an antsy Sota and soon they both stood at the bottom of the well.
Sota looked around curiously. "Now what?"
"Hold my hand," Kagome instructed holding her hand out to him.
"Aww, do I have to? I'm not a baby," he whined.
"Sota, do you want to go or not?"
He sighed and took her hand reluctantly. Moments later he was grasping it for dear life as the bottom of the well seemed to drop out from under him and they fell.
"I think I feel sick!" he cried out.
Suddenly, he was standing on firm ground again, his knees wobbling slightly. He looked around. The well looked the same, only there were bones on the ground, lots of large and scary looking bones. He shivered.
"Can I have my hand back?" Kagome asked, trying to pull her hand from his still tight grasp.
"Oh, sorry." He quickly let go, cheeks coloring in embarrassment.
"Well, let's go, the village isn't going to come to us." Kagome began climbing another rope ladder.
Sota scooted up behind her, eager to get out of the creepy well. Once outside the well, he again stopped to look around. They definitely weren't at home anymore. Kagome began walking down a path and he quietly followed her, looking all around him as they walked to Kaede's village.
Sota looked up at the small voice that called his sister's name. He watched as a small orange rocket shot towards Kagome and landed in her arms.
"Shippo! I'm happy to see you," Kagome greeted.
"I'm so glad you're back, Inuyasha was being mean to be again." The little fox demon pouted.
"I'll have to tell him to sit then won't I?" Kagome grinned. "Shippo, I brought someone with me. I want you to meet my brother, Sota."
Shippo looked over surprised. "Hello, I'm Shippo. Kagome talked about you." He extended his small hand to Sota, who shook it.
"I hope it wasn't bad things."
"Well," he began only to be immediately stopped by Kagome sticking a lollipop into his mouth.
"Well! Let's get back to the village! All the others will want to meet you!" Kagome exclaimed, hugging Shippo just a little too hard as she began to walk off.
"Hey!" Sota protested. "You were saying bad things about me!"
"No I wasn't."
"Then why didn't you let him finish?"
"Hmph." Sota grumbled as he followed behind his sister. He was surprised when Shippo leapt out of Kagome's arms and onto his head.
"Hi again!" Shippo exclaimed, lollipop stick hanging out of his mouth.
"Did she really say bad things about me?" Souta asked, looking up at him.
"Not really. They just aren't always great, but I guess that's how brothers and sisters are. I don't have any."
"But you and Inuyasha sure act like siblings," Kagome called back.
"It's not my fault he's so immature," Shippo declared.
"I heard that runt!"
Sota was surprised when Shippo was lifted from his head. He turned to see Shippo dangling from Inuyasha's hand. The little fox demon wiggled and squirmed as Inuyasha glared at him.
"Inuyasha, put Shippo down," Kagome ordered.
"Yeah, yeah, nice to see you too." Inuyasha grumbled, dropping Shippo.
Annoyed, Shippo changed into a rock on the way down and landed right on Inuyasha's foot.
"Ow dammit Shippo!" He hopped around holding his throbbing foot while Shippo jumped up on Kagome, hiding under her hair.
Sota tried, unsuccessfully, to hold back a giggle. Inuyasha turned and glared at him, freezing Sota to the spot. "What are you laughing at?"
Inuyasha opened his mouth, but Kagome interrupted. "You remember my little brother Sota right Inuyasha?"
Inuyasha looked at him. "Yeah, I remember. Hey kid."
"Hi," Sota bowed politely.
Inuyasha looked at Kagome. "So we havin' a sleepover or something?" he questioned, glaring at the little fox in her hair.
"We have a long weekend off from school and I haven't spent much time with Sota. I decided to let him come along, so be nice to him Inuyasha."
"Okay. Okay. It's not like I'm going to eat him or anything. I do have some manners ya know."
Kagome smiled and the walk back to the village continued quietly. Shippo jumped back over to Sota and began a conversation about things he did for fun and what school was like. At the border of the village, Kilala bounced up to them quickly followed by Sango.
"Kagome! Welcome back." Sango walked up and embraced her, her attention quickly going to the boy standing in back with Shippo. "Who's that?"
"Sango, meet my little brother Sota. Sota, this is Sango."
Sango stared at Sota as he bowed.
"Pleased to meet you," Sota smiled. After a moment of silence he began to fidget. Sango was staring at him really hard and he was beginning to get uncomfortable.
Slowly, Sango walked forward, surprising Sota as she hugged him. "I'm happy to meet you! Kagome has told me so much about you!"
Sango laughed and smiled as she released him. "How long will you be staying with us Sota?"
"For three days."
"That's wonderful, I'm sure you'll have lots of fun here."
Kagome smiled as she watched Sango talking to her little brother. It was good that she liked him and was nice to him despite the deep ache for her own little brother. Their walk to the village continued pleasantly as Sango quizzed Sota on how his studies went and what kind of hobbies he had. When she found that he had a cat also, she introduced the delighted boy to Kilala. They walked through town to Kaede's house, which had become their home base. Kaede was sitting on the steps when they arrived.
"Welcome back Kagome. I see that ye have brought a guest with ye. And whom might ye be young man?" Kaede asked looking down at Sota, who was now carrying both Shippo and Kilala on his shoulders.
"I am Sota ma'am. Kagome's little brother." He bowed once more, showing great respect for the old priestess.
"Welcome to my home young Sota. I am Kaede and I am most pleased to meet ye."
"Where's Miroku?" Kagome looked around. "I'm surprised he's not around."
Kaede frowned. "Last I saw, he was chasing a village lass."
"That would explain it, the lech." Inuyasha snorted.
"He's not that bad Inuyasha," Kagome said, defending the over-eager monk.
"Oh thank you Kagome! It warms my heart to hear you say such kind words."
Kagome suddenly found herself in Miroku's embrace, his hands firmly grasping her breasts.
"Get off her!" Inuyasha yelled, bashing Miroku on the head with his fist.
Sota blinked. "Is that how he always greets people?" He asked Shippo.
"Don't mind him," Sango said. "He's harmless."
"Oh Sango, to hear you defend my honor thus!" Miroku exclaimed embracing her, hands eagerly squeezing her butt.
Growling, she smacked him across the face. "Get a hold of yourself Miroku. You did not even stop to greet Kagome's brother Sota."
Miroku rubbed his face but quickly gained his composure, bowing to Sota. "Kagome's brother, I am Miroku, a humble traveling monk. I sense a dark shadow over you."
"Oh get off it!" Inuyasha knocked Miroku over the head once more with his fist. "It's Kagome's brother, there's no dark clouds."
Miroku frowned and dusted himself off. "That may be..."
Kagome interrupted them before a brawl broke out. "My mother packed a picnic! Is anybody hungry?" She held up the basket with a smile.
"I'm stuffed!" Shippo exclaimed falling back against Sota's thigh.
"Me too," the boy sighed as he settled back against a tree, staring up at the leaves overhead.
"You have such good food Sota. What else did you bring with you?" The young fox demon asked eagerly.
"I brought some toys and manga."
"Well...it's like a picture book that you read."
"Wow, I've never had a book before. Can you show me?"
Sota nodded and dragged his bag over, pulling out a few of his manga. Shippo scampered up onto his shoulder and together they read through the manga, smiling and laughing happily. A few feet away, where the older people were gathered, Sango stared at Sota with a wistful smile on her face.
"You really miss him." Kagome sat beside Sango, eyes also fixed on her brother.
"I do. I will not stop until I have brought him back. Naraku will pay for what he has done to Kohaku."
Kagome took Sango's hand. "Don't worry, we will get Kohaku back. I promise."
Sango looked at Kagome and smiled. "I know. Thank you for bringing him with you. Though I miss Kohaku, seeing your brother laugh and smile lifts my heart."
"Yeah, I kinda like him myself when he's nice like this." Kagome grinned.
Feeling eyes on him, Sota looked up from the book. He smiled at Sango and his sister. Quickly, returning his attention to Shippo he never noticed the other pair of eyes narrowly watching.
Kagome stared at Shippo and her little brother. They both grinned back at the fact that they were covered in dirt and leaves from head to toe. "You're filthy!" She exclaimed. "What have you been doing?"
"Well, Shippo was showing me around as we started playing tag and it just happened!" Sota explained.
"It just happened? Your clothes may never come clean! You two need a bath. Now."
"Don't give me that! You're dirty. I won't let you in Kaede's house like that! I'll bring the soap and towels, you just go bathe," Kagome instructed the duo.
With identical sighs, they walked down to the river, or rather, Sota walked and Shippo rode on his shoulder. Leaving their dirty clothes in messy piles on the shore, they leapt into the river gasping at the temperature and splashing each other with the chilly water. As the boys splashed and romped about in the water, Kagome came down with a stack of towels and clean robes and a big bar of soap in a basket.
"Here, use this." She tossed the soap to Sota, who was in the process of teasing Shippo about his wet tail.
"It does not look like a rat tail!" Shippo protested, splashing at Sota.
Distracted by Shippo, Sota fell back into the water as the soap hit him in the head. Kagome and Shippo laughed as Sota came up sputtering, the bar of soap clutched in his hand.
"What's the big idea?!"
"Just making sure you clean behind your ears." Kagome grinned, leaving the towels on a rock well out of splashing range.
Making a face at his sister, Sota began to soap up, washing away some of the grime that clung to him. He tossed the bar of soap to Shippo, amused that it was almost as big as the little fox demon. Kagome collected the boys' dirty clothes in the basket and left. The two boys continued to play about in the water for a while. They were both beginning to shiver when they decided that they were clean enough. They raced to the towels, each wrapping up tightly and drying off.
"Man, I'm starved." Sota said as he put on the robe that Kagome had laid out for him.
"Me too, I could eat a whole horse," Shippo piped up, putting on a considerably smaller robe.
Sota raised an eyebrow. "A whole horse?"
"Well, a small horse," Shippo corrected holding his fingers a little apart and looking through them.
Sota laughed. "Ok. Let's go back, it's getting dark."
Shippo nodded and scampered onto Sota's shoulders as the boy slid into his geta. Picking up the used towels and soap, they began to head back. It was a surprise to both of them when out of nowhere a chain wrapped around Sota's neck. He dropped the towels, hands going to his neck. Shippo quickly began to pull at the chain, but was forcefully knocked from Sota's shoulder.
Standing up quickly, Shippo looked around frantically, his eyes stopping on a figure not far off. "Kohaku! What are you doing here? Let Sota go!"
"Why would I let him go when I just caught him?" Kohaku approached the struggling boy.
"Stop it! You're killing him!" Shippo picked up a fallen leaf and threw it at Kohaku, watching as it grew and was easily knocked away.
"Even you should know that he's worth more to me alive than dead." Kohaku approached Sota, wrapping a firm arm around his waist and pulling him tightly against his body. Sota's neck was still wrapped tightly in the chain as he began to sag against Kohaku. "Go little fox. Run and tell them that I have Kagome's precious little brother." Kohaku held up his hand and a snake-like demon flew down from the sky. Kohaku leapt upon the demon's back, dragging Sota with him.
Shippo cried out in protest as his friend was carried off, leaving only a fallen sandal behind.
"Run!" Kohaku's voice drifted back to him. "Run."
And he did.
Kagome looked up as Shippo burst into the house eyes wide and out of breathe. "Where's Sota?"
"Kagome!" Shippo threw himself at her. "Sota. Kohaku! Gone!" Shippo babbled between gasps for breath.
Sango's head shot up at the mention of her brother's name. "Where is Kohaku?" She stood up approaching swiftly.
"He took Sota!" Shippo cried.
"What?!" Kagome stared at him. "Sota's gone?"
"Yes! Hurry! We need to save him!" Shippo demanded, tugging at her shirt.
"Inuyasha! Miroku!" Kagome cried, leaping to her feet. "Come quick!" She ran to collect her bow, heart hammering in her chest. Kohaku had kidnapped Sota. That meant only one thing, Naraku was behind this.
Inuyasha burst into the room followed by Miroku. "What's wrong?" He demanded looking around for danger, sword drawn. Miroku had his hand out, his ward loosened.
"Kohaku kidnapped Sota!" Kagome exclaimed, pushing past them and rushing out the door.
"What?" Inuyasha turned around watching her sprint down the road.
"Come," Sango instructed. "Kohaku has abducted Sota. We must work quickly to get him back."
Sota groaned as he woke. His throat hurt and his stomach was unsettled, as if he'd gone on a terrifying roller coaster ride and was about to lose his lunch. His eyes fluttered open. He cried out as he saw trees moving far below him. Trying to move back he actually felt himself slipping downwards.
"Stay still," a firm voice instructed.
Sota froze and a strong arm wrapped around his waist, pulling him into a sitting position. Soon, Sota was straddling what looked to be a giant flying snake and his back was pressed against the rider's chest, their arms planted firmly around him. He remembered being with Shippo and now he was here. There was pain and...a name. Shippo had called a name. "Kohaku."
"SYou know my name do you? It doesn't matter. I also know yours, Sota. I have been watching you."
"Why?" Sota asked, noting how scratchy his voice sounded.
"You are a weakness that I can exploit for my master. Now that I have you, they will come and bring the jewel shards with them."
"You can't have those! They're important!" Sota protested, knowing from the times his sister talked about them, that they were very powerful and needed to be kept safe.
"And you are also important. They will come."
"That's so mean," Sota said turning his head to face his kidnapper. "How can you use their feelings?"
"Feelings are a weakness. Weaknesses are to be exploited. It is as simple as that." Kohaku looked down and met Sota's eyes.
Sota stared at the boy that held him. He only a few years older than himself and his face was partially obscured by a mask. Only his dark eyes were visible, boring into his own. Sota met them stubbornly, refusing to give in. He would have continued glaring had not the demon beneath them begun to fly a little more erratically. Sota's arms waved, finally gripping the arms around his waist that tightened and balanced him with the movement of the creature.
"What is the meaning of this?" Kohaku demanded of the beast. There was no audible reply that Sota was aware of but he was sure that some response passed between them as Kohaku's eyes narrowed angrily.
"What's happening?" Sota asked, his knuckles white as they clutched at Kohaku's arm.
"Quiet," Kohaku ordered. "You will take us to Lord Naraku immediately."
Rather than smoothing out, their ride became more turbulent and soon they were descending. The ground rushed closer with alarming speed. Sota yelled in terror as they were suddenly launched from the creature's back. He clenched his eyes tight, praying that he might somehow sprout wings and not die in a terribly broken mess for his sister to find him. The air whooshed passed his ears and then suddenly it was silent, his downward movement jerkily halted. He quickly opened his eyes, looking around to see what had happened. He was hovering mere feet above the ground. Behind him Kohaku was perched in a tall tree and was the only thing keeping him from falling to the ground.
The moment he decided that he was relatively safe Kohaku dropped him. He didn't have time to cry out as he hit the ground with a dull thud. Having no warning his ankle twisted beneath the sudden weight on it and he crumpled with a pained whimper. Above him, Kohaku launched himself off his perch and attacked the demon they had been riding. Deciding that he was in a very dangerous place, Sota got to his knees and began to crawl away, ignoring the throbbing of his injured ankle.
Kohaku had his hands full with the mutinous snake demon. It attempted to strike at him with its fangs, but they were easy to avoid while he sliced at it with his scythe. After a few ineffective attacks that only got it injured, the demon tried to switch tactics and capture Kohaku within its coils. Anticipating the demon's move, Kohaku leapt onto the creature's back and drove his scythe down into its head, hitting the brain. Stricken, its nerves took over, thrashing around the forest floor. Kohaku leapt free, hopping from tree to tree to get out of range as the dying demon knocked down large swathes of trees with its lashing tail.
Kohaku watched from a safe distance as the demon finally died with one last flick of its tail. He surveyed the damage left behind. A large patch of trees hand been torn from their roots and his hostage was nowhere to be seen. Cursing, Kohaku leapt to the ground and began searching. It was almost fully dark out with only a sliver of moon to see from and it took him a while to finally spot the crawl marks on the ground. He followed them a good distance, surprised at how far Sota had managed to get by crawling.
A growl up ahead drew his attention. Staring through the gloom he could make out two luminous eyes. A wolf. The creature was standing right on the path that Sota had made. Dammit! Kohaku ran past the wolf, barreling forward into a patch of underbrush. As he cleared the dry bushes he found exactly what he was afraid of. Sota was standing on his uninjured leg beneath a tree waving a branch at a pack of ragged looking wolves.
With a loud yell, Kohaku leapt into the center of the pack swinging his scythe and chain. The wolves turned their attention on him, growling dangerously. Not giving them the opportunity to attack first, Kohaku lashed out at the nearest wolf. It yipped in pain as his scythe grazed down its side drawing blood. Kohaku continued attacking the wolves until they got the point and retreated without their prey.
When the last wolf was gone, Kohaku turned back to the tree where Sota had been standing. He was no longer standing. Instead he had crumpled beneath the tree and was curled tightly in on himself. Frowning, Kohaku approached. He knelt beside Sota and put an arm on his shoulder. Sota's arm shot out knocking the mask from Kohaku's face.
"Stop that." Kohaku knocked Sota's hand away. "I'm not a wolf. Sit up. Look at me."
Sota whimpered and ignored his command.
Kohaku sighed, obviously this treatment of the situation would not work and a change of tactics was in order. "Are you hurt?"
"You dropped me from a tree!" Sota said indignantly, if a bit muffled.
"That demon was going to eat us. Would you rather that?" Kohaku sat beside the other boy.
"Why did he do that?" Sota finally uncurled, looking up at Kohaku and pulling himself into an upright position. "Didn't it work for you?"
"No. It was working for Naraku because he promised it a jewel shard to make it stronger for its cooperation. The demon decided that it would prefer more immediate rewards and wished to eat me for the jewel shard in my back. When it was done with me it would have eaten you as well, but I have taken care of the situation." Kohaku explained, wondering why he was even bothering to do so. Sota was his hostage after all.
"Is that the shiny thing?" Sota asked staring at him.
"Shiny thing?" Kohaku stared at him quizzically.
"When you were fighting the wolves, I noticed it. There is a shiny thing in your back. It was glowing all blue-ish."
"You can see the jewel shard? I thought only people of great power could see them," Kohaku said, surprised that Sota could see it.
Sota pouted but ignored the comment to ask another question. "Why is there a jewel shard in your back anyway?"
"It keeps me alive. I was in a battle and was fatally wounded. Naraku put the shard in me and extended my life. So long as it is in me, I will continue to live as his servant." Kohaku's eyes were distant and sad and Sota felt a wash of pity for the other boy. He got the impression that he didn't really want to be working for Naraku.
"You said it keeps you alive, but you don't look hurt to me." Sota observed. "Aren't you healed now? Didn't the jewel shard heal you?"
"I...I guess so."
"Then that means your not going to die, right? So that means you don't need the shard in you anymore. And that means that Naraku can't control you," Sota pointed out with the oversimplified logic of an optimistic child.
Kohaku turned it over in his mind for a few silent minutes. He looked up at Sota with a kind of wonder in his eyes. "You're right."
"Of course. I'm not stupid you know." Sota crossed his arms over his chest.
"Why have I not thought of this before?"
"Maybe Naraku didn't want you to."
"Of course he didn't want me to. I'm of more use to him to torment my sister." Kohaku growled.
"You have a sister too?"
"Sango is my sister."
Sota blinked the spoke slowly. "You're the reason she's so sad."
Kohaku winced. "I didn't mean to make her sad. I just can't escape Naraku's grasp. I'm lucky to remember her."
"But you can now! You can go back to her and everything will be better!" Sota exclaimed.
"Can I? I killed my father and our comrades. I nearly killed Sango and I made her betray her friends. Can I really go back to her?" Kohaku looked down at his hands, as if seeing something detestable there.
Sota watched as tears began to collect in his eyes. He put a hand on Kohaku's shoulder. "But it wasn't your fault. You were being controlled. Sango loves you. She'll understand. She just wants you back," Sota said honestly.
Kohaku nodded, wiping the tears from his eyes. "You're right. Sango, she is my sister. I love her as she loves me."
"Yeah. I love my sister, even if she is a ditz. And I know that she loves me even when I'm a pest." Sota laughed.
"Kagome is lucky to have a brother like you."
"Thank you. I think that Sango is also lucky. She gets to have her brother back. You''ll make her really happy." Sota grinned.
"I hope that you're right." Kohaku sighed, standing up. He offered his hand to Sota, but the boy stayed sitting. "Don't you want to return?"
"I do...but I twisted my ankle. I can't walk," Sota explained, motioning to his swollen ankle.
"I'm sorry. That means I'll have to carry you." Kohaku knelt down beside Sota once more, offering his back. "Climb onto my back and I will carry you back to the village."
"Can you really carry me that far?" Sota asked, wrapping his arms around Kohaku's shoulders.
"I guess that we'll find out." Kohaku pulled the boy onto his back and gripped his thighs to help hold him there. "Hold on, here we go." Together they faded off into the trees.
"This is all my fault! I never should have left them alone! If only I'd stayed!" Kagome berated herself as she rode swiftly on Inuyasha's back, following the trail of Kohaku and Sota.
"Stop blaming yourself." Inuyasha was getting sick of her self-accusations.
"Inuyasha is right Kagome. You thought they were safe. None of us thought that Naraku would come to the village and abduct your brother," Miroku said from where he sat upon Kilala with Sango, only feet above Inuyasha.
"They're right Kagome. You could not have known. None of us can take the blame no matter how guilty we feel," Sango added, her face grim.
Kagome sighed and let her head rest against Inuyasha. "You're right, but it doesn't help me any. Naraku has my little brother!"
"There is always hope Kagome. We do not know how far away Naraku is. Kohaku may not have reached him yet," Miroku pointed out.
"Is he any safer? I only hope that Kohaku will remember himself and not hurt Sota." Kagome frowned.
"It is strange how Naraku handles Kohaku. It seems that at times he lets his personality through to hurt us and other times it just slips by, as if Naraku is distracted with other matters. We can only hope that this is one of those times."
The others silently agreed with Miroku. All their thoughts tuned to the two boys and the hope that one wouldn't hurt the other.
Kohaku stumbled on a hidden tree branch. Sota's arms tightened around his neck.
"Are you all right Kohaku?"
"Yes, I'm just a little tired. I feel so worn," Kohaku admitted.
"Then let's stop and rest for a while. We can find some water and have a drink," Sota suggested.
"Yes, a rest." Kohaku nodded and continued on at a slower pace for a while.
"Is that water up there?" Sota peered through the dark trees to a bright twinkle on the ground. Sure enough, a few yards away lay a small pond sparkling with starlight. Kohaku trudged on and soon he was setting Sota gently on a stone near the pond's edge. "It's so pretty." Sota commented, looking out across the water.
Kohaku sighed. "It's been so long since I've appreciated beauty." He stared out at the scene. Sota was sitting against a backdrop of night and twinkling stars. It was like a fine piece of art in his eyes. The boy's pale skin and dark hair were highlighted by the tiny reflections of starlight making him seem like some otherworldly creature, which in a way he was. Kohaku eased down onto the rock next to Sota, leaning forward only to cup some water in his hands and drink. Sota also took a few sips of water, but was more interested in putting his swollen ankle into the cool pond and swirling it lazily.
"This is so nice. It's almost like camping." Sota sighed.
"Almost. If you ignore the fact that I kidnapped you," Kohaku said with a bitter edge.
Sota turned to him. "It's not your fault Kohaku. That person was making you do those terrible things. That Naraku guy is to blame. I can tell that you're a good person though." He smiled at the other boy.
A small smile twitched at Kohaku's lips. "Thank you Sota. You are very kind." He hoped that the soft light didn't show the blush creeping over his cheeks.
"No problem. I wouldn't be saying it if I didn't really believe it," Sota assured him.
"And that, I appreciate."
They sat in silence after that, turning their own thoughts over as the water twinkled, undisturbed except for the small ripples of Sota's foot. After a while, Sota's foot retreated from the water. Kohaku noted a suppressed shiver that ran through the younger boy.
"Are you cold?" he asked.
"Maybe a little."
"Then we should go now."
"But you're still tired," Sota protested, reading the weariness in his companion.
"I can deal with that."
Sota shook his head. "No. I can walk. I'll walk." He nodded as he turned around and slowly stood up. He only took one step before he was pitching forward with a squeak of alarm. Then he wasn't falling, his head was resting gently on a warm chest as Kohaku quickly caught him. Sota sighed in relief, glad that Kohaku was there to catch him. He looked up with a thankful smile on his face and seemed to get caught.
Kohaku's sad eyes were gazing down at him with a warmth that made his insides tingle. Any words that were about to pass his lips were frozen in his throat as he gazed like a small animal in the path of a hunter's arrow.
Kohaku reached out and gently brushed back some disheveled strands of Sota's hair, caressing his cheek as he did so.
Sota's mouth formed a small "o" of surprise as he leaned into the warm touch. Sota's eyes were wide as Kohaku leaned down and gently pressed their lips together in a chaste kiss. His heart hammered in his chest as they kissed. Kohaku pulled back slowly, but Sota wasn't ready to let the feeling go. He leaned in. Wrapping his arms around Kohaku, he followed his retreating lips, pressing his own eagerly to them.
Kohaku didn't protest. He tightened his grip on Sota, relaxing into the moment as his eyes slid shut.
The kiss was broken when Sota gasped in surprise.
Kohaku's eyes flicked open, looking for some danger. As his eyes landed on Sota, they widened.
"You're glowing." They both exclaimed at once. Surprised, they pulled away from each other, though reluctantly.
Sota winced at a sharp feeling in his palm and looked down at his hand. Protruding from his palm was a small shard of the Shikkon Jewel. It glowed a soft pearly white. Sota stared in amazement, not even reacting to the blood that began to well up around the shard's pointed end. He looked up as Kohaku took his hand, carefully drawing out the shard. He wiped away the small drops of blood and kissed Sota's palm, his lips a mere whisper against skin. Sota was speechless as Kohaku closed his palm around the whispery kiss.
Kohaku smiled, holding up the jewel shard to the moonlight. "This was red. The evil that Naraku infects his jewel shards with makes it red like an angry wound. It's white now. Do you know what this means?"
Sota shook his head silently.
"It means that you were able to purify the jewel shard and remove it from me. Don't you see? You have saved me."
Sota stared at the shard, and then at Kohaku, completely at a loss for words. Slowly he shook his head. "I...I can't do that. I don't have powers. I..."
Kohaku put a finger to Sota's lips. "Only someone with great powers could have freed me like that."
"I need to sit down," Sota murmured as he sank to the ground, suddenly feeling too weak to stand.
"Are you okay?" Kohaku quickly knelt beside him.
"He doesn't know it yet, but he has drained all his energy to save you. Too bad it was in vain."
Kohaku spun around, scythe held at ready. "Naraku!" He spat at the figure of Naraku swathed in his white baboon robes a few feet away.
"Kohaku. You have disappointed me. You were a perfect pawn. Now, it seems that your usefulness has come to an end." Naraku purred as he glided forward. "I will be taking the boy, as soon as I finish you."
"You won't touch him!" Kohaku threw his scythe at Naraku.
Naraku easily dodged the razor sharp blade. "Ah, youth. So passionate, especially when love is involved. Such a foolish emotion. It always leads to pain. Like how you hurt your sister and continue to hurt her still."
Kohaku stiffened. His eyes narrowing spitefully.
"Don't listen to him Kohaku," Sota said, his hand resting on Kohaku's calf. He stared at the white clothed demon, wincing at the bad feelings rolling off of him.
"Quiet whelp. I shall take care of you shortly. For now do not interfere. I would hate to have to kill my new toy so soon." Naraku grinned as his shadowed eyes raked over Sota.
"Stay where you are." Kohaku held up his scythe threateningly. "I won't let you hurt him."
Naraku laughed. "You presume to order me around? How amusing. We shall see who masters this encounter." At these words, sharp roots began to flow from the baboon cloak and out towards Kohaku and Sota.
Kohaku turned and gathered Sota in his arms, leaping away from the stabbing roots. "Hold tight," he whispered into Sota's ear as they began to run through the forest.
"You cannot run from me," Naraku called.
Sota looked over Kohaku's shoulder, watching as trees were shoved aside by Naraku's root-like protrusions and the demon followed. Sota shivered.
"Don't look back Sota. Just look ahead and lend me your strength."
Sota nodded and buried his face in Kohaku's shoulder. He didn't want to see the threat bearing down on them or consider the possibility of Naraku capturing them.
Kohaku dodged through the trees, trying to gain some ground. He weaved through the forest, his eyes taking in everything around him. Suddenly, he stopped and put Sota on the ground next to a tree.
"What-" Sota began.
Kohaku pressed his lips to Sota's, cutting off his question. "You'll be safe here." He pushed on Sota's shoulder, causing him to topple backwards. Sota landed with a soft thud in a bed of dry leaves. He had landed in a hidden animal burrow under the roots of a large tree. He looked up, but Kohaku was gone, leaving only a tingle on his lips. He could hear Naraku pursuing Kohaku. He shuddered. Kohaku was in danger. When Naraku caught him, he was going to kill him. He couldn't sit and cower like a child when Kohaku needed him.
Gritting his teeth, he stood up, frowning, as he felt no pain. He looked down. His ankle was still swollen, but it didn't hurt. It had to be the effects of the jewel shard. Not sure if it was good or bad, he ignored it, instead focusing on crawling out of the burrow. Once outside, he could easily see the path that Naraku had blazed through the forest, leaving behind twisted and broken trees. He quickly picked his way down the path, ignoring or not noticing the splinters that got imbedded in his feet. Soon, he came to a natural clearing. He watched in horror as one of Naraku's tentacle-like appendages batted Kohaku to the ground then plunge towards the fallen boy.
"No! Stop!" Sota cried, sprinting forward. He got to Kohaku's side and looked up, ready to shelter him. Instead, he found the tentacle hovering above them, frozen.
"Release me!" Naraku hissed.
"I...I didn't do anything," Sota murmured, thinking that surely he didn't stop the demon from attacking.
Kohaku struggled to sit up. "It must be the jewel shard," He muttered. "Gotta get him while he can't move." Raising his scythe, he threw it with all his strength at Naraku's heart, hoping it would hit his target. Naraku snarled as the scythe flew at him, sinking deeply into his chest. For a moment his tentacle were free, lashing towards the boys and then they were blowing away like dust. Sota watched in amazement as Naraku's body disintegrated.
"Did...did you beat him?" he asked Kohaku.
"No, that was just a Golem. I destroyed his control over it. I only did it with your help." Kohaku said as he slowly stood. Sota stood up beside him, fighting down a blush. Kohaku returned his scythe to his belt and then looked at Sota. "Why are you standing? You are still hurt!"
"I can't feel it. I can't tell that I'm hurt," Sota admitted.
Kohaku frowned. "We need to find shelter. Neither of us are in any condition to continue. I won't let you walk though."
"But Kohaku! You're tired and hurt!" Sota protested.
"I can handle it. Now let's go. I don't know how much longer I can go on." Gathering the weakly protesting Sota into his arms, he glanced at the stars to gain direction, and then headed off into the trees.
Inuyasha sniffed the wind. It was early morning and they still had not found Sota and Kohaku. Frowning, he sped up then suddenly stopped as he came across a large clearing containing the skeletal remains of a large snake demon. Kagome shuddered.
"That was the demon Kohaku was riding," Inuyasha replied, moving towards it.
"What? But those bones are completely stripped!"
"Other demons and animals cleaned it off. But its scent is still here. This was the creature. They fought here and then..." Inuyasha turned, sniffing the air again. "You brother and Kohaku went this way, alone."
"Why would Kohaku fight the demon that he was riding on?" Kagome questioned.
"Perhaps the demon had some plans of it's own." Miroku offered from his perch on Kilala.
"That doesn't concern us now," Sango interrupted. "What does is the safety of your brother. We must continue to follow the trail."
"Agreed." Miroku nodded. "Let us continue following this new path."
Kagome shut her mouth and Inuyasha sped through the forest, following their scents once more. They paused only for a moment at the foot of a tree that held the heavy scent of wolves and battle. They soon discovered that they were heading back to Kaede's village and Kagome wasn't sure if she should be more worried by this new turn or relieved. She chose to keep her thoughts to herself and hope that her brother was not hurt.
Soon, Inuyasha paused beside a small pond and growled. "Naraku."
"What?!" Kagome demanded shrilly, causing Inuyasha to wince.
"I smell Naraku, he was here with them. And..."
"And what?" Kagome demanded, her stomach turning flip-flops.
"Blood. Your brother's. But it isn't a lot, probably just a cut," Inuyasha said, trying to tone down the impact on Kagome.
Kagome didn't burst out in panic, but she also didn't comment on his assessment, which sort of worried him. She never hesitated to say her mind.
"Let's hurry and follow this path," Sango said as Kilala turned down the path and started to follow the destruction.
Inuyasha quickly followed them, worrying about Kagome's silence, but setting it aside in order to focus on finding Sota. They ran swiftly over the fallen trees and mixed debris, each of them harboring fears of what they might find. The forest opened up into a clearing where signs of battle were evident. Sango and Miroku stopped to survey the scene, but Inuyasha kept going. He could smell the boys more clearly now, the trail was fresh. Mere yards into the next patch of trees he stopped.
The scent ended. It didn't go forward rather it went up. Inuyasha looked up the tall tree. Putting a hand on Kagome's arm around his shoulders, he leapt upwards, landing easily on a large tree branch. His ear twitched as he heard Kagome whisper her brother's name. There, in the heart of the tree was a small bowl shaped indention and in that indention lay both Sota and Kohaku curled up together. Keeping his hand on Kagome's, indicating silence as he crept forward.
Kohaku had his arms protectively wrapped around Sota. There would be no way to get the boy without waking Kohaku. What struck him as odd, was the way that Sota was so comfortably snuggled into Kohaku's side. For someone that had been kidnapped by the other, they sure were comfortable together.
"Kagome! Quiet!" Inuyasha hissed.
But it was too late. A deadly scythe was already out of its place at Kohaku's side and in his hand, pointed right at them.
"Kohaku," Sota murmured as his eyes fluttered open.
Kohaku looked at Inuyasha and Kagome and quietly laid down his weapon, turning his attention to Sota.
"Sota, wake up. You sister is here," Kohaku murmured.
"Kagome?" Sota rubbed his eyes as he sat up.
"Sota!" Kagome jumped off of Inuyasha's back. He moved cautiously forward on the tree branch, allowing her to move forward to her brother, his eyes fixed firmly on Kohaku.
"Kagome! You found me!" Sota cried happily. "We've been waiting for you!"
Kagome knelt down and embraced Sota, ignoring Kohaku, letting herself forget that he had kidnapped her brother. "I'm so glad you're safe," she murmured, squeezing him tightly.
"What do you mean you've been waiting?" Inuyasha asked.
Kohaku turned to him. "He means just that. Sota is injured and I was unable to carry him after our battle with Naraku. Sota has been expecting you."
"Wait a minute, what do you mean battle with Naraku? What are you talking about?" Inuyasha demanded.
Kohaku opened his mouth to answer, but was stopped, his eyes looking past Inuyasha.
"Kohaku." Sango leapt off of Kilala's back and balanced on the tree branch.
Kohaku swallowed. He wet his dry lips with his tongue before answering. "Sango."
Sango looked surprised. "Kohaku...you remember me?"
"O-of course I remember you Sango...how can I forget?" Kohaku whispered, his eyes tearing up.
"But Naraku's control." Miroku protested from the next tree where Kilala had perched herself.
"I have a surprise!" Sota announced suddenly.
"What?" Kagome pulled back and looked at him. "What surprise?"
Sota pulled back from his sister and brought up his hand. He opened his fist slowly, revealing a small jewel shard sparkling with the light of the morning sun.
"What? A jewel shard! Where'd you get this from Sota?" Kagome questioned, picking up the shard.
"I got it from Kohaku's back." Sota pointed to the other boy who glanced over and smiled.
Everyone was silent, trying to digest what this meant. "You got the shard out of Kohaku? And it's not red..." Kagome trailed off as she stared at the white shard.
"Sota purified it. He also stopped Naraku's golem, allowing me to slay it," Kohaku explained.
"You fought Naraku?" Inuyasha's fingers twitched.
"I did." Kohaku nodded.
"Does this mean..." Sango stopped, almost not daring to continue the question aloud for fear that it would turn false. "Does this mean...that you're no longer under Naraku's control?"
Kohaku looked at her and nodded. "It does."
Sango stood, staring at him, drinking in the sight of him before her limbs flew into motion. She sped towards him, arms wrapping in a strangling hug around him.
He hesitantly hugged her back, eyes clenched tightly shut as tears leaked from them.
"Oh Kohaku! Kohaku!"
"Wah! I can't eat another bite!" Shippo exclaimed as he flopped onto the leg of his new best friend.
Kohaku looked down at the little fox spirit and smiled. "Then don't."
"But it's so good," Shippo whined as he took another bite of the food on his plate.
"Shippo don't. I think you're going to explode!" Sota laughed as he poked him in the stomach.
Shippo giggled and flopped back against Kohaku's leg again. Kohaku held a noodle over Shippo's head. Not one to resist, Shippo opened his mouth and sucked the noodle from Kohaku's chopsticks. Kohaku and Sota laughed as the noodle smacked Shippo's nose just before being slurped into his mouth.
"If I didn't know better, I'd say you were a pig spirit." Sota giggled.
"Hey!" Shippo protested over the laughter.
A few feet away, Sango stood watching the three boys talk and eat. She had a feeling of déjà vu, but this time, a smile was fixed firmly on her face and her heart felt lighter than it had in a long time.
"I told you we would get him back!" Kagome said as she walked over to Sango.
"I know. I'm so happy. Every time I see him I want to cry all over again," Sango said with a teary smile in Kagome's direction.
"Hey now, none of that! This is a party! Come on! Have fun!" Kagome pulled on Sango's hand.
"Yes, a party." Sango nodded. She turned to Kagome and gave her a quick hug. "Thank you."
"I didn't even do anything."
"You brought Sota and already look what he's done." Sango waved over to where the boys were all laughing at something.
"Yeah, he is pretty special isn't he?" Kagome smiled, feeling proud of her brother.
"Aren't they all?" Sango grinned.
"More precious than they know," Kagome replied with a smile as she looked over her extended family.
"Oh no! Now you look serious!" Sango exclaimed. "Come on, we need to find some more of those chocolates you brought. This is a party after all."
Grinning, the girls headed back to the rest of their party in search of sweets.
Kohaku and Sota sat beside the river, watching the sunset. Soon, Sota would be returning home.
"Do you think you'll return soon?" Kohaku asked as he stroked Sota's hand.
Sota blushed at the gentle treatment of his hand. "I hope so. Now that they know I can see jewel shards, maybe I can come more."
"I hope so too." Kohaku raised Sota's hand to his lips, letting a kiss linger on the soft skin on the back of his hand.
Sota blushed again. Over the past day they had become unexpectedly close. Kohaku doted over Sota, who was shy about the constant attention, but warmed up to it quickly. In return, Sota's sunny smiles and carefree attitude did wonders to remind Kohaku that he was still young and not a bad person. Without the other boy around to reassure him, who knew what self-recriminating cycle he could have fallen into.
"It's almost dark. They told us to be back to the hut by dark." Kohaku sighed softly.
"I don't want to go. Just a minute longer," Sota said, hand tightening within Kohaku's.
"I'd give you a lifetime if I could." Kohaku's eyes were fixed upon Sota.
The boy turned to him, eyes wide at the serious remark. It sounded like something from one of Kagome's romance movies. Even so, it made his heart skip happily. Was this what love felt like? Was he old enough to know? Kohaku looked so sure, his eyes were so focused and tender, surely he wasn't lying.
"Shh." Kohaku pressed his finger to Sota's lip. "Let's just enjoy these moments."
Sota nodded, watching as Kohaku smiled and slowly leaned towards him. Sota held his breath as their lips met gently. The kiss was slow and tender as Kohaku wrapped his arms around Sota, pulling him closer. Sota was surprised at the slow sweep of tongue over his bottom lip. It took him a few moments to register that Kohaku wanted him to open his mouth. He was unsure of what to do. He'd always been under the impression that a kiss like that would be slimy even if adults did it on television a lot.
"Trust me," Kohaku whispered against his lips, tongue once more stroking them.
Hesitantly, Sota opened his mouth. It was enough as Kohaku slowly pushed his tongue between Sota's parted lips. The touch of their tongues was strange, not gross, just different from what he'd been expecting. Kohaku moved slowly, letting him adjust and soon the feel of the older boy's warm tongue exploring his mouth became more pleasurable.
Sota slowly fell into the kisses. His body was leaning heavily against Kohaku's, his head tilted up to move easily with his companion's. Both of their arms were wrapped tightly around each other. It was then that they were interrupted by a loud call slicing through the air, causing them to jump.
"Kagome," Sota muttered as he rested his head on Kohaku's shoulder. He was slightly out of breathe from their eager, but unpracticed open-mouthed kisses.
"We should return, before they send out a search party," Kohaku said, reluctantly. "We're probably lucky that they let us go this far without a chaperone."
"They probably sent a spy," Sota said. He looked around for anything out of the ordinary.
Kohaku laughed. "There is no spy, but there will be if we don't get back." He stood up, bringing Sota to his feet as well. "Now let's go, the sooner you leave, the sooner you can come back to me." Kohaku kissed his nose before he began to lead Sota down the path.
Sota blushed and followed, deliberately walking slow to stretch out his last private moments with Kohaku, their fingers tangled gently together. Sota squeezed Kohaku's hand. It all seemed like a dream. As soon as he stepped through the well with Kagome, he would be waking up from the best dream he'd ever had. He just wanted to sleep forever, but knew he couldn't. Just as Kagome returned for her schooling, no matter how much she wanted to stay with Inuyasha, he knew that would he return to the real world, leaving only one thing behind: his heart.
Woo! That was a long one! I enjoyed writing it all the way up until the end where I got stuck and frustrated. But it's finished and I'm pretty pleased.