Drowning in the Sun, Part 1
Natsu (Summer)
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Passion or coincidence
Once prompted you to say,
"Pride will tear us both apart..."

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It was the allure of power that drew him there, but such was not the snare that held him.

In the bleak years following his mother's death, there had been no tranquil hand to temper his volatile nature. Lost in the heart-starved void of her absence, a desperate yearning for acceptance grew in his breast, running wildly unchecked until it consumed every waking thought. He'd learned early on that he had no place among humans, but with the jewel's power he could cast off the disgrace of the human taint in his blood and become a true youkai, joining their ranks and assuming his true potential. Every youkai knew of the Shikon no Tama, but none had yet been able to steal it away, as it was guarded day and night by a priestess of fearsome power.

Occasionally, in his quest to deny her legacy, half-forgotten whispers of his mother's voice stabbed him with darts of lingering guilt. These he obdurately ignored, for she, in her frail humanity, had left him in the end. And how else should he gain the respect of those who endlessly mocked and reviled him? Especially his arrogant and faultlessly perfect half-brother...

It had not taken long to locate the Shikon no Tama, though attaining it became another story altogether. His every attempt had yet been met with crushing failure. The deceptively delicate miko that guarded the object of his desire began to fascinate him as she thwarted him effortlessly at every turn. She mercilessly and unrepentantly ended the lives of the other youkai attacking her stronghold without hesitation, but always she left him alive, burning with frustrated fury. How humiliating, to constantly meet such shameful defeat at her hands. Her, a mere human. He hated her even as he began to respect her.

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Tiny lines of pain blossomed where the blazing arrowheads grazed the first layers of skin, a gently taunting reminder of the archer's consummate skill and purposeful intent: to humiliate but not harm, mere wounds to my pride that burnt from the sweat beading my skin involuntarily from the close call that really wasn't.

Again.

My furious gaze caught only her back when I raised it, as she was already walking gracefully away from me with both the proud bearing of a princess and the confident stride of a warrior, at a pace of apparent leisure.

That was too much. "Why don't you just finish me off?" I roared, shaking with impotent rage.

She paused abruptly, for this was the first time I'd ever spoken to her. For a moment she was silent, but then without turning around she said, "Make no more attempts on the jewel, Inuyasha. I would not enjoy killing you."

Her voice was clear and even, but with unfathomable undertones, as though some vibrancy or emotion ran wildly beneath the surface, forcibly subdued by the assumed serenity of a dedicated miko. There was a beautiful sadness that pierced me, reminiscent of my mother.

I began to follow her after that day, telling myself that it was natural I should stalk my prey, searching for a weakness and memorizing her routine patterns of movement. Eventually I had to abandon that pretense. She fascinated me. Soon I could pluck out her unique scent easily from among the teeming masses of villagers that swarmed through the human community daily. She smelled like no one else. There weren't words to describe it, her scent. It had a crystalline purity not found anywhere else, with notes of spring blossoms and summer honey and the spicy woodsmoke of winter fires. I could become drunk on it. I dreamed of it. But still I told myself to think only of power, and the jewel.

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There was no sound above the muted roar of falling water, nothing to detract from the view my inhuman eyesight afforded me. The white robe concealed nothing, made translucent as it was by the water pouring from the bucket she held overhead. Her face tilted up toward the patch of sunlight gleaming through the sheltering trees, cool water raising a roseate blush in the pale skin, her lips curving in a rare smile I only ever saw her wear alone. My own cheeks were burning as well, to my shame. For all that I was not young in human years, I had never seen so much of a female's bare flesh.

I had not thought rainbows could be black, but dark motes of color flew from her hair as she shook out the water in that bit of sunlight, sitting down on the grassy bank to comb and spread it behind her to dry. I had never seen it unbound before, such a length of pure black, shining and fine. So different from the hair I wore as a human, dark and coarse and wild. My mother had had hair such as that, like heavy cords of silk I'd loved to bury my hands in when I was very young. The only good memory I had of the new moon was of being allowed to brush it, because with their usual claws my childish clumsiness made it nearly impossible for me to pull the fine silver implement through without snagging painfully. Only on that one night was I allowed to comb and play with its gleaming length, until it fell like a waterfall of night down her back to pool around us both. I still had that brush somewhere.

I could not keep from imagining what it would be like to join her in the sylvan quietude of that secluded waterfall, lying together in a lake of black silk.

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I relished time alone, then, when I did not have to wear the endlessly patient face of a miko: placid, enduring and unemotional. The waterfall was my favorite place, far enough from the village that none but me frequented it, close enough to civilization that no youkai deigned to dwell there. A whisper of awareness touched my mind. Is he here, now? I knew he followed me sometimes, coveting the jewel. But something in the way the intensity of his unseen gaze had begun to burn into my skin made me wonder, was there more to it than that?

I could not tell if he were near, and I did not want to leave my bath now that I had my heart set on it. I checked the impulse to cast my gaze around suspiciously -- I found suddenly that if he were he actually here, I did not want him to leave. There was some forbidden thrill in the idea that he might be watching, a wicked mote of rebellious glee in the immodesty for one who must always be perfectly modest, pure, and sexless. I was a woman long past the onset of marriageable age and no man had ever looked at me with anything aside from fearful respect. No man had ever looked at me as a man looks at a woman.

Inuyasha, at least, looked at me with none of the awe or respect of the villagers, and skillfully hid any fear with disdain or anger. Pinned more than once by the furious intensity of his amber, cat-pupiled eyes, I felt each time that he actually saw me. The last time we met his gaze had dropped briefly to my mouth, a spark of hunger igniting behind the wild irises that set my heart beating faster with something akin to anticipation, or fear.

I did not stray from my normal routine, or play to the audience I might have had, but I could not keep the slight smile from my lips or the blush from my face. I felt feminine, desirable, like a water nymph at play covertly spied upon by mortal men. A mythical, enchanting naiad instead of a lonely mortal bound in miko's robes.

To someone, I was beautiful.

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I sat in the summer meadow that looked over the village, alone as usual. He alighted, as always, in the trees above me, and I sighed quietly. Was it always to be like this? Him shadowing my footsteps silently, while I pretend not to notice in the absurd hope that he will just approach me openly?

I want to talk to him.

My heart jumped into my throat at the thought. I shoved it down forcefully and spoke around it, my decision made. "Inuyasha? You're there, aren't you?" I asked, though of course I knew that he was. "Why don't you come down and sit with me?"

Why did that feel like an invitation of more significance than the words themselves lent? My heart pounded with fear of his refusal.

Today, she was sitting alone in a meadow, gazing quietly at nothing, the bow that never strayed far from her hands resting lightly across her knees. Fascinated by the rhythmic play of her ebony hair in the shifting winds, I was startled to hear her speak suddenly, though she never glanced my way.

To my surprised delight, he leapt gracefully down next to me, and I kept my face expressionless with the ease of long practice. He warily kept distance between us and said nothing, glancing at me only out of the corner of his eye.

Somewhat affronted at her ability to detect me so easily, I grudgingly leapt out of the tree to land at her side, settling into the carpet of grass. Looking at her out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw her smile, almost.

The silence was unsettling. Well, I rather figured that I would have to do the talking. I had not even half the experience with flirtation that the coquettish village girls many years my junior did, but I stumbled doggedly ahead anyway.

"This is the first time we've sat and talked like this, isn't it?" I said inanely, stating the obvious. And he had not said anything at all yet, the significance of which was apparently not lost on him as he raised a sardonic eyebrow.

Her quiet, maddeningly calm voice was lined with an unfamiliar note of wistfulness. Glancing over, I grimaced sourly at her. To my knowledge, I hadn't said anything yet.

Enough with pleasantries, I supposed. I dove right in. "How do you see me, Inuyasha? As a human?"

Was she simple-minded? Had I been beaten down countless times by a half-wit?

Obviously surprised into responding in spite of himself, he said, "Feh. Of course! What the hell else would you be?" His voice was rough and unpolished, husky but not unpleasant. The low timbre sent a slight shiver down my spine.

"You are the only one," I said, hating the note of vulnerability that crept unbidden into my voice. After a pause, I said, "We're the same, you know. You and I. Always alone. That is why I could never bring myself to kill you."

I jerked in surprise at her blatantly untrue statement. "What? What the hell are you talking about?"

She gave a small, humorless laugh. "I have never lived a normal life. I was born a miko, destined to guard the shikon with my life. To everyone else, that is all that I am." Her voice grew quiet. "My power isolates me. They are glad of its protection, but it frightens them."

She spoke truly, I realized. All the while I had followed her, I had never seen the villagers treat her with anything other than a respect bordering on fear, as they sought her services. She ate alone, walked alone, and only the children ever sought her out for companionship.

"Human am I in body," she said, "but never a woman."

Perhaps we were more alike than I had dared to think. I glanced over at her, and she smiled. I sniffed and looked away, but could not leave.

We sat in somewhat companionable silence until the ruby ball of sunlight touched the horizon, slowly sinking into the earth. I stood then, and he leapt to his feet also, facing me with an uncertainty I knew was mirrored in my own expression.

For those few brief moments at the instant of dusk, every hue seemed suddenly brighter and more vibrant, until at last they burnt themselves out and faded softly into the silent dark. In the gloaming her hair threw back a nearly blue-violet sheen, flickering and half-concealing the pale gleaming oval of her face. The amethystine highlights captivated me utterly. Her white skin almost seemed faintly to glow, and her solemn eyes were fathomless, a dark, swallowing obsidian that ate up the night and stole my breath.

"Will you not come tomorrow?" she asked, twisting the strands around her finger. "I'll bring food."

He took so long in answering that I had begun to think he would not. Fearsome and slightly feral, his amber eyes glowed inhumanly in the low light, his platinum-fair hair twisting in wild array around a cold, expressionless face. Only half-youkai was he, but all the more unpredictable for it; perhaps I took dangerous liberty with the invitation. One of my dead mother's sayings came suddenly to mind: "Those who would play with fire should not be surprised at finding themselves burnt..."

"I might," was all he said, leaning in, and I was suddenly fascinated by the dilation of the cat-like pupils I had never been close enough to really notice before. It was like swimming in amber flame, drowning in the sun.

I drank deeply of the air touched by her scent before I caught myself doing it, leaping suddenly away into the trees before she could take notice.

After that, I ceased to think about the jewel. My thoughts were only of Kikyou.

Always of Kikyou.

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End Part 1

For the record, I'm not against Inuyasha and Kagome being together. But I do think the love between Kikyou and Inuyasha is worth writing about; I think that it's a beautiful story that would have been a perfect romance had not Naraku interfered. I think that Kikyou was a good person before her death, and it's very sad to see what even the most pure and kind person can become under the right circumstances. I don't think she and Inuyasha still belong together; she is no longer herself, and I don't think there is a future for them unless she somehow merges with Kagome. I suppose that part of me just thought that their melancholy, star-crossed romance needed to be written, if only to show how it influenced the Inuyasha who now loves Kagome. Perhaps it will turn out to be a prologue to another, longer story (if the manga is finished by then!).

Happy reading, and please let me know what you think, good or bad :)

song quote by Duran Duran

~Sango (sango_chan@hotmail.com)