Author's Note – I apologize for my all too typical delay in posting this chapter. I'll try and have the next chapter up within a decent amount of time for once (I promise). Thank you to everyone who has been kind enough to take an interest in my story and patient enough to wait for this update. Hopefully you'll find that it was worth it.
By the way, forgive my ongoing formatting difficulties. Apparently someone has decided that tabs are for the weak...
Sango's face was among the only things that Inuyasha remembered seeing clearly in days. She seemed to him to be almost unearthly beautiful despite the bruises and scratches that dotted her forehead and cheeks. At that very moment all he wanted in the world was to touch her, but as his hand cupped Sango's cheek, Inuyasha was startled to see that his claws were gone. The look in his eyes must have told Sango as much.
"It's the new moon, Inuyasha," she said softly, taking his hand in her own. "You're human, free of the curse that Kikyo laid on you."
"Kikyo," he repeated blandly, trying vainly to remember the past few days and finding that they existed in his mind only as a fog of anger and pain. Even now his thoughts were dull and vague, with real lucidity coming only fleetingly.
As he drew back his hand he was overcome by a sudden weakness that sent his arm flopping limply to the ground. Though his head was cushioned by Sango's lap, he assumed he was lying on the ground. A chill night wind danced mockingly across his face while in the distance crickets sang their maddening song. Inuyasha tried to move his arms again, to reach out to Sango, but his limbs disobeyed him, only lolling numbly in the grass. Attempting to move his legs yielded similarly frustrating results. Inuyasha began to speak again, but Sango put a finger to his lips, smiling softly down at him. He felt woozy, and when he closed his eyes the world seemed to spin crazily. Something inside of him was burning hot and cold at the same time, and despite Sango's embrace he felt as if he had been drenched with ice water. He was vaguely aware of a pain in his chest and tingling in his hands and feet, but when he tried to look down at himself Sango gently cupped his chin to stop him. He looked up at her questioningly and she answered him by leaning down and pressing a kiss to his lips.
"Sango, what's going on?" Inuyasha asked at last. He was surprised at how weak his own voice sounded.
"You've been poisoned Inuyasha," Sango said quietly, looking away from him. "I'm sorry, but it was the only way I could stop you…"
"Stop me," Inuyasha interrupted, his words suddenly choked off as he was seized by a fit of coughing. He tasted his own blood on his lips as he continued. "What are you talking about?"
"Hush," she whispered. "Just rest for now."
Inuyasha opened his mouth to protest but was silenced as sudden pain danced through his body. He stiffened for an instant, his teeth grinding sharply together, and Sango uttered a small, worried cry. After a moment the episode passed, and once again Inuyasha tried to sit up and examine him injuries. Sango lightly pressed one of his shoulders down, and much to Inuyasha's dismay she was easily able to restrain him. Frustrated, he struggled against her briefly, but he stopped short when her soft, loving hands cradled his face.
"Look at me, Inuyasha," Sango said, her soft brown eyes pleading with him. "Promise me you won't try to do anything else except look at me."
Inuyasha, taken aback as much by the sudden desperation in her eyes as by the fresh wave of pain that washed over him, nodded silently in reply. Sango leaned down as if to kiss him again, then reached back with one hand and untied her hair, letting it fall around his face. She filled his vision now, so close to him that he could feel her warm breath mingling with own. Inuyasha felt her slender arms tighten around him and tried to return her embrace, only to find his limbs still stubbornly immobile.
"Look at me, Inuyasha" Sango repeated, her voice wavering and then falling to a whisper. "There's no one else in the world, just you and me."
Inuyasha smiled weakly at her warm words. He tried to speak, but his voice wouldn't come to him. Staring up at her deep, soulful eyes he wanted nothing more than to comfort her despite his own pain. More agony flashed like lightning through his body, spreading angrily from deep within his chest. His weaker human self was unaccustomed to such ordeal and his eyes watered as this newest torment left him helplessly trembling. Even in the darkness the pained reaction on Sango's face was obvious. Inuyasha's head began to spin, and when Sango's embrace tightened it seemed strangely far away. Some hidden part of him fought its way to the surface and without any conscious thought he mouthed three small words to her.
"We're going to wait here together and watch the sun come up," Sango said in a thin, almost childlike voice.
Kagome sat looking at the envelope for a long time, turning it over and over in her hands. The floor around her was littered with crumpled balls of paper, scraps and fragments that had been discarded. Nearly five hours had passed since she began writing, and from the start the words had not flowed as she had wanted them to. Initially she had been quite careful to restrain herself, resulting in a first attempt had been so sanitary and mechanical that it felt like a form letter. In each of her next several attempts she had trailed off into nearly histrionic ranting, and after those she had begun to meander around the points she was trying to make so much that her writing was barely coherent. Twice she had signed and folded a letter and sealed it neatly in an envelope only to tear it up in frustration moments later. It had been ten minutes now since the latest iteration of the letter had been completed, and this time she actually thought it might be worth the paper it was written on.
The irony of it all was that it wasn't the first time she had written a letter to Inuyasha, but it was the first and last one that he would ever receive. The others, two dozen or so, were tucked into the diary that sat safely in the drawer of her desk. Those letters were in pastel envelopes, written in gel pens of every imaginable color. The margins overflowed with absentminded doodles, the products of her wandering thoughts as she sat in class longing to return to her friends in the feudal era. Most of them were little more than products of her own whimsy and boredom, not much different from entries in her regular diary except that each one began with "Dear Inuyasha". The last few though, they were different.
Before she met Inuyasha, the last time Kagome had written anything as emotionally committal as "I think you're cute" was for a boy she had a crush on in the fourth grade. Inuyasha was the only person for whom she had ever written the words "I think I'm in love with you." She had written those words and many more for him in the two months before that fateful night when she watched him kiss Sango. Feelings she could only try to express to him in person with a furtive squeeze of his hand and words the she had only spoken aloud in the smallest of whispers while looking up at her ceiling in the dead of the night were spelled out in those letters. She knew now that those were letters he would never read.
At long last she sighed and slowly got to her feet. She hovered indecisively for a moment, her glance wavering back and forth between her bed and her closet. It was nearly morning now, a Sunday, and she still had the option of sticking the letter in her drawer, pulling the covers over her head and hiding there until mid afternoon. That actually sounded pretty appealing. She sat down on her bed, slid open her desk draw listlessly and plopped the letter down unceremoniously on top of the pile. She stared at the letter for a long moment.
"This is why he's with Sango," she whispered huskily. "Because I'm not strong enough to say what I need to say to him."
Suddenly furious with herself, Kagome snatched the letter from the drawer. She crossed to her closet in a few long strides and began to dress, unaware of the hot tears slowly crawling down her cheeks. As she finished dressing and reached to pull the door to the closet shut, her eyes fell unbidden upon her bow nestled between her raincoat and her gym glass tennis racquet. Though she could think of no good reason to take it with her, she stared at the bow, and the quiver of arrows beside it, for a very long time. Then the Shikon Jewel seemed to tug almost imperceptibly at the string that bound it to her neck, and Kagome reached silently for the weapon.
Sango sighed softly, her hand resting lightly on Inuyasha's bare chest to measure the rise and fall of his weak, labored breathing. There was pain in his face even as he slept, and from time to time a small tremor would pass through him as he exhaled. The bandage around his wound had turned a hateful shade of red, wet and sticky with the blood that had continued to flow, slowly but incessantly, from his wound. Sango shifted around uncomfortably, trying to jostle Inuyasha's head as little as possible. Her legs throbbed and ached from the awkward semi-kneeling position in which she had been cradling him for the past several hours, but thoughts of her own discomfort could only invade her mind for fleeting instants before being swept away by tides of guilt as she stared down at him.
The night seemed to have passed by small degrees of eternity. For a time Inuyasha had been more or less lucid, returning her whispered comforts in a pained, boyish voice that make her heart ache for him. As the night wore on he had become less and less coherent, and within the past two hours he had stopped responding to her entirely. Even after Inuyasha had fallen away into unconsciousness Sango continued to speak to him. She spoke of the elderly couple she had met in her travels, of their small home, their shrine and hearth, the sparkling glances they traded, the lifetime of mornings they must have shared in each other's arms. Something about this brought the sting of tears to her eyes, and she had cried.
Despite this slow torture, the night was finally nearing an end. At last the first strains of soft blue light had begun to creep across the sky, heralding dawn's approach. Sango allowed herself a small smile.
"It's almost morning, Inuyasha" she said quietly, stroking his face as if to wake him.
Kagome struggled to pull herself out of the Bone Eater's Well, her letter to Inuyasha still in hand. Somehow she was crazily sure that if she let the letter out of her grasp for even a moment, even to put it in her pocket, she would lose her nerve and slink silently back to her own time, so she clung to it, even as it hampered her climbing. As such, she reached the top of the well only after an effort that left her eyes stinging with fresh tears of frustration.
The first light of day shone in the sky, drowning out the Shikon Jewel's eerie glow. Kagome glanced about and frowned.
How am I even going to find him?
She looked around for a moment, and then became aware that her free hand was resting on the lip of the well. She jerked it away as if she had been touching a snake.
Now you're just looking for excuses to go back, she thought bitterly to herself.
Then, just above the tree tops, something caught her eye. Kagome squinted for a moment, trying to make out just what she was seeing, and then her blood turned to ice as she recognized the object in the sky. Kikyo; borne by a handful of her soul collectors. She stood transfixed, her skin cold and covered in gooseflesh, before a quiet realization came to her.
She's going to Inuyasha, Kagome thought. I don't know how I know, but I do. Because part of us is still the same…
Without further hesitation, Kagome followed the ghostly priestess.
The sun crested slowly over the horizon, bright rays of morning filtering through the trees and turning their leaves into a sparkling sea of emeralds. Once the clearing was awash in sunlight, the transformation began. The color seemed to retreat through Inuyasha's hair, his doglike ears reappearing from beneath the sea of white, and claws emerged from his fingertips. Sango held her breath expectantly as Inuyasha began to stir in her arms. A faraway part of her shouted unheard warnings to arm herself in case the curse of hunger still lingered in Inuyasha's mind, but Sango paid no heed.
At last his eyes began to open, and Sango's heart leapt to see that they shone like amber in the afternoon sun, completely devoid of the milky, hateful look of Kikyo's curse. As he looked up at her with warm recognition, Sango let herself get lost in those eyes which she had missed so much. Inuyasha's hands, still shaking and weak, found their way to her face. Then his lips parted slightly and Sango bent to kiss them.
Kirara's growl shattered the moment's wordless perfection.
"Inuyasha," A familiar voice cried out. "Must you betray my memory at every turn?"
Her head lowered, Kikyo stood at the edge of the clearing. Her left hand clenched and unclenched on the hilt of her bow. Soul collectors danced lazily in the sky around her, but as the priestess's shoulders began to shake even her demon servants retreated from their mistress's fury. With no further words, Kikyo drew an arrow from her quiver.
Author's Note – The climax of "Closer" is fast approaching. As fun little bonus (though that may be too strong a word) to the readers who have been willing to deal with all my delays and other idiosyncrasies, I'm going to put a little contest (that may also be too strong a word) out on the table. As some of you have already realized, there are references in this story to lots of stuff that isn't part of Inuyasha, including real people, movies, and literature. The contest, such as it is, is this: Interested readers (if any remain), can reach me at the e-mail address listed in my profile. The reader who can identify and explain to my satisfaction the most outside references in this story will get to dictate the outcome of either an alternate ending or a special epilogue which I will write to the winner's specifications. I ask that anyone inclined to participate please do so via my e-mail rather than the review function. Please put "Closer" in the subject line of the e-mail. Try and be as specific as possible when identifying references. (If references to the same thing occur in multiple chapters, at least note which chapters.) Some of the references are fairly obvious, while at least one is almost unforgivably obtuse. The deadline for submission is June 8th, the date on which I plan to post the next chapter of "Closer".
I hope at least some of you will decide to give it a try. ,