It is I, Jjah-Jjah! Here I am again. And I'm going to sincerely try to get this darned thing finished before I have to go back to school again. (Hiss). I don't care what anyone says, school is evil. Ok then. Bang a gong, we are on: Let's go on to reviews!
Sintar: Yes, yes school evil. I'm gonna try to finish this thang! I'm going to try putting summaries of the next chapter at the end of each chapter to motivate myself… Muaha…
Mizukithepanda: You're insane, but I like you anyway. I have not read that particular fanfiction… I'll have to try that…
Dark Inuyoukai: Huzzah! I'm glad you like Shippo! Thanks for reviewing!
RosieB: Yes, in this chapter we find out what happened to all the others! And thank you for the wisdom teeth advice. It actually wasn't too bad though. It didn't hurt that bad, I barely bled, didn't bruise or swell up… But I did drink lots of milkshakes… I like milkshakes…
cyclonegal12: Actually, I think I'm going to bring back Kouga and Ayame and all them in the next chapter… A spark to add to Sesshoumaru's jealousy, perhaps.. We shall see.
busoshwe: Lol. You're weird. Thank you! Perhaps you'll fall out of your chair this time as well!
concealed amber: Chocolate! Yay! Thank you! I don't really like fics where Kagome is turned into a youkai either. Some of the ones where she's a kitsune are cool, but all the others change her appearance and make her look like Sesshoumaru or whatever. Just leave her the way she is people, I say!
Mystic Hanyou: Yes! Soon Sesshoumaru's jealousy will explode! But not this chapter…
Noali: Yay! Thanks so much! Glad you like the story:D
The Honest Reader: Splendiferous! I love your reviews, they always make me feel so nice:D Renewed your fondness for Inuyasha? My day in complete. Muahahaha! Yay.
LtSonya: Thank you! I'm glad you liked Shippo's entrance. I worked hard on that; I'm really trying to do things that haven't been done before. And I don't think I could write a perfectly serious Kagome. Besides, she doesn't have to worry about Naraku or gathering shards anymore, so she should be able to loosen up.
BelleDayNight: Here's the next chapter! Gah, I wish my boy friend had held my hand or done something sweet like that. All mine ever did was buy me soda and have someone else bring it to my room… And then expect snogging privileges… Where the hell are all the Sesshoumarus in the world, why do I keep getting Inuyashas? Ahem, thanks for the review!
FurASmile: Thank you, I'm glad you liked my ideas! Yay!
Faerlyte: Alright, I'm flattered! You should go watch some Inuyasha!
Seijin: Actually, one of the lords being a kitsune is, in fact deliberate. But Shippo isn't tricking anyone, don't worry. It's more like, fight fox-fire with fox-fire, if you know what I mean…
Dark Neko17: I'm glad you like! I hope you like this chapter, too!
Shitsumon: Yay! Thank you! I'm glad you like my grammar skills, being an English major had finally paid off…
Noacat, Tsuki Yume, Comechatcha, Sukera, Joshua Glass, Me, Silvanon of the Orchard, renyun, GoldenRat, ChIbI rIn, BlueFrost, sheenachi, shadows-insanity, PippetJimmy, Trouble In Shangri-La, DeathIsntTheEnd, myeerah, SweetyDream, Nova Alexandria, lynnie6, GoldenEyedGirl, Chelsea, leeann, CelticGoddess, KJ., Duzzie, Queen-Of-The-Shadow, Culebra, Celira, kari konoko, Angelfire412, DAYLE-CHAN, lisa, Dark Lady Shi no Megami, Miranda, WriterOfDragons, Lua Haunted: Thank you so much for all these reviews! I love you guys and sincerely hope you don't die anytime soon! ;D
Disclaimer: I'm hungry and I need to take a shower. I don't own Inuyasha. So there…
Chapter 12: Cramp My Style
Once upon a time, there was a young maiden who was extraordinarily beautiful. She was also extraordinarily kind, gentle, and generous. Everyone who met her couldn't help but smile…
One day, she married a powerful samurai whom she was very much in love with. From that point on, everything should have been happily ever after, but it was not to be. Unfortunately, the samurai was a very jealous man, and somehow it got into his head that his wife was having an affair. Enraged, he attacked her, and with his sword cut her mouth from ear to ear. "No one will find you beautiful now!" He cried.
Fueled by anger and sadness, the young maiden henceforth became the youkai known as the Kuchisake-Onna, slit-mouth woman. She wanders the streets of Japan on foggy nights with her face covered and asks random passersby a question.
"Do you think that I'm beautiful?"
If the person says yes, she uncovers her face and asks the question again. If the person shows any disgust or fear, and tries to run away, she will chase them down with lightning-fast speed and repay their unkindness by doing the same thing to them that her husband did to her.
However, if the person has the kindness of heart and the presence of mind to answer 'yes' to both questions, the Kuchisake-Onna will spare them, and will finally be able to rest in peace.
Too bad the Kuchisake-Onna can tell when you're lying…
Kagome turned over and snuggled into the soft mattress, but winced when she hit a bruise. The pain brought her back to awareness, and her eyes shot open. Where the hell was she?
The first thing she saw was Kirara, curled up and bandaged on the pillow beside her. The poor little cat looked exhausted; she must have lost a lot of blood. It was at a moment like this that Kagome could see just how old the little youkai really was.
Gingerly, the miko sat up, wincing from many bruises. She must have fainted. Being nearly poisoned and tossed onto rooftops probably tended to do that to a person. Her eyes widened as she looked around. The room she was in was not gargantuan in size or elegance, but it was extremely comfortable. This room was made to be slept in. The walls were a cool soothing shade of blue, and a few strategically placed houseplants gave the impression of being in the wilderness. Placed on the dresser beside her was a worn, little, wooden top. Kagome smiled.
"Shippo." She picked up the toy and held it in her slightly trembling hands. She couldn't believe that he was actually still alive. She should have, considering Sesshoumaru and Kirara's emergences from the realm of myth, but such a thing simply did not occur to her. If she kept him out of her mind, she didn't mourn his loss… As much…
She smiled giddily. She was going to go find him and give him gigantic hug… But first thing's first. Where was the bathroom? She gently patted Kirara on the head and got off the bed on shaky legs. There was a door nearby that was either the bathroom or a closet. She moved to find out, not noticing her two shadows till…
"Meep!" Kagome turned around and stared directly into the flames of two hitodama.
Kagome looked at the hitodama. The hitodama looked at Kagome. This went on for roughly about ten minutes.
"Can I… help you?"
The two of them merely flew around her in a circle and stopped right in front of her.
"Ok then… Heh… I need to go to the bathroom now, so… Stay here…" She started towards the door and opened it, only to find that they were still following her. "Hey, I mean it! Stay here. I'll be out in a minute!" She closed the door, and found that the hitodama had slipped in behind her. She could feel an eye tick coming on.
"Damnit! I have to go to the bathroom!"
"Cease and desist!"
"Alright. I'll try being polite… Please, stay out here."
"Stop it right now!"
After trapping the glowing orbs under a vase, Kagome finally managed to do her business and subsequently escape the room. The house was larger than she had thought it was, considering the small size of the room she had been in. It was quite spacious, decorated with all sorts of whimsical art and sculpture. It had to be Shippo's house. The hitodama and his toy top had proven that.
She found it strange though, that she had not seen Sesshoumaru yet. She had half expected him to be lurking outside her door, but he wasn't. She wondered what had happened between him and Shippo after she fainted. Had he just allowed Shippo to take her? Did they fight? Did Shippo understand that they were friends now? So many questions, so little time.
Kagome came to a stairwell, and descended hesitantly. The closer she got to the ground floor, the sweeter the air smelled. What was that? It smelled like…tea… There was hot tea, and something that smelled a bit like…honey? She felt her stomach flip over in glee. Following her nose, she found herself on the threshold of a glistening state-of-the-art, but homey kitchen. In the middle of the kitchen, sat a table, and at the table, sat a kitsune.
Shippo was reading what looked like the culinary section of a newspaper, oval wire-rimed reading glasses perched on the end of his nose, and a mug of steaming tea balanced in one hand. He was dressed in plain clothes, a tan long-sleeved shirt and dark slacks. His hair was up in a ponytail, and his tail rested on the tabletop in a glorified heap. Her little baby was all grown up…
"Kagome!" His green eyes brightened as he finally noticed her. He set down his tea and met her halfway from the table for a big hug, in which he picked her up and spun her around before depositing her gently back on the floor.
"Dang it! I missed you!" She said.
"I missed you too…" He replied, as he took the glasses off and gave her a heart-shattering smile. It was at that point that she realized just how much her little kit had changed. His features were leaner, no baby-fat in sight. He was actually quite attractive. And tall… How could a kid who had been roughly the size of a melon grow up to be so frikken tall! Maybe it was the pocky…
"I can't believe it's really you! I'd given up hoping that this could happen."
"Not completely I see if your traveling companions are any indication. Where did you find them?"
Kagome smiled. "I didn't find them, they found me. First Sesshoumaru, then Kirara… Speaking of Sesshoumaru, where?"
The kitsune shrugged and smirked slightly as he guided his foster mother to a seat at the table. "He's outside somewhere. I must admit, the last person I'd ever thought to see you with is the ex-Lord of the Western Lands… We had quite discussion after you passed out. A whole lot of nothing important enough for you to know about, that ended in you all coming to my place…" He spread his arms wide. "Mi casa es su casa."
"Where are we? Do you live around Shimoda?"
"Nah. That's just where my restaurant is. There are waaay too many tourists in Shimoda for my tastes."
"Your restaurant?" Kagome blinked and Shippo smiled, picking a tray of sweet-smelling little round cakes off the countertop and presenting them to her.
"Yup. Masshuru-mu is my own creation; the most celebrated center for the confection of desserts and other sweets on the west coast of Japan!" The kitsune smiled sheepishly when he realized he had stood up on the chair when he went off on his tangent and hopped down, offering her the tray again. "It's your fault, you know. If it weren't for the chocolate addiction you gave me I wouldn't have shipped off to France at the first opportunity so I could find the stuff and get my sugar fix…"
Kagome smiled, and stuck her tongue out playfully. Then she reached out a grabbed one of the little cakes, brought it to her mouth, and took a bite.
"Oh my God, Shippo, I love you!" She screeched and latched herself onto the kitsune's waist, tears of unadulterated bliss running down her face. "If you can cook this well you should be thanking me for giving you a sugar addiction!"
A few trays of honey cakes later, intelligent conversation continued. Kagome sat in a chair and Shippo sat on the floor, his head in her lap. The miko played with his hair absently, yet contentedly. Despite the aura of danger that still surrounded the world she had entered, she felt as light as a feather.
"So, if we aren't in Shimoda, then where are we?"
Kagome froze. "Do what! That's on the opposite shore of Japan from where we were!" She looked down at him, her eyes wide, and he smiled at her.
"This is true…"
"But…what? How! Meep?..."
"I have my ways…" He intoned solemnly, trying desperately to keep a serious expression on his face. He soon gave up. "Anyway, seriously… If you ever want to go into town for some reason, you're welcome to use my chauffeur. He stays on call all the time, since he knows how spontaneous I am. He'll drive you anytime. You can go look around if you want to…"
She smiled. "Thanks, Shippo, but I don't know how long I can stay here…" A sliver of pain ran through her, and the kitsune's head slowly rose from her lap and looked her straight in the face, as if sensing it. He didn't blink. He simply stared, and the pain in his eyes mirrored starkly her own; her grip on his hair tightened. His eyes shimmered slightly, and then they closed and he buried his face in her lap again. The time had finally come for the most important question of all…
"Shippo… What… What."
"I was wondering when we'd get around to that…"
"You won't like it. Not all of it…"
"Tell me anyway…"
The youkai sighed, did not raise his head, and then began. "Miroku and Sango were fine. You'll be glad to hear that. They got married and had about nine-hundred children and pretty much lived happily ever after. I guess you know about Kirara… Kaede lived for about five more years after you disappeared, and then she died peacefully in her sleep… I stayed with Sango and Miroku for awhile, and trained and explored and stuff. Went to Europe for a bit. Came back. Nothing much to tell…" He trailed off slightly, and then started again. "I'm not quite sure about what happened to Kouga. Last I heard of him was from Hakkaku and Ginta. They were looking for him everywhere after he was supposed to marry Ayame and then got cold feet and disappeared off the face of the planet… I wonder if they ever found him…" The kitsune's eyes were raised to the ceiling, glazed over in nostalgia, lost in the green wilds of Feudal Japan.
Green eyes snapped into focus; he was back. His head raised a fraction, so that his hair was the only weight on her lap, and he spoke.
"He didn't go to hell…" It was the first thing he said, and she felt lift an indiscernible weight from her. It was only when her lungs filled with air that she realized she had been holding her breath. Her heart constricted within her chest in anticipation and she waited…
"I think he had been planning on it, but when you disappeared, it changed everything. He went nuts, he panicked. He ran straight to the well, he left Kikyo in the dust, he tried to get back to you, but the well didn't work…" She felt one of Shippo's hands clutch at her clothing, and he suddenly resembled the young tiny kit that he had been. "No one could figure out why you disappeared for the longest time, till Miroku came up with a theory… He said that since you had stayed even though the jewel was completed, something else had been holding you there, in the past. It had to have been the…love that you and Inuyasha shared. When he denied it, when he said he was going to be with Kikyo, there was nothing to hold you to us anymore. So you went back to your own time."
They were silent for some time. Then Kagome asked, "What happened to Inuyasha, after?"
"Nothing. Nothing happened. He didn't go anywhere with Kikyo. He just stayed around waiting. Waiting for you, just in case you came back, and then he died. Old age. Kikyo disappeared soon after. Guess she didn't have anything else to live for, other than hating him…"
She was stunned, yet unaware of it. She could have sat there in the chair forever, and never noticed anyone or anything around her, but then she felt something hard and cold draped into her palm. It startled her out of her trance like nothing else could, and she looked down at it, even though she already knew what it was.
A string of purple-blue beads and ivory teeth. They clinked together with the soft sound of porcelain prayer titles; ancient prayers for the dead. She couldn't stand it anymore.
She stood up so hastily, that the chair scraped against the floor with a hair-raising screech. "I'm sorry, Shippo, I have to go." She bit out the words in a voice she didn't recognize and ran out the door, somehow finding it in a confused haze. He didn't follow her.
She looked around, and saw the garage. Shippo had said that she could use his car anytime she wanted, right? She hardly remembered it, but she busted in, found the driver, and had him bring the limo out. As she opened the back door, and began to get inside, she looked behind her.
She caught Sesshoumaru's gaze almost instantly, and suddenly she was aware that she was crying. He was standing up in the branches of a tree by the door she just come out of, his hair blowing slightly and his face as stoic and flawless as marble. Brown met gold for quite awhile. Then she ducked into the car and was gone…
Somewhere, at some point, the fact that she was in a limo filtered through.
It seemed like both a dumb and an obvious thing to be noticing at such a time. It seemed ironic, really, in a cosmic sort of way. Sesshoumaru, the great and invincible Lord of the Western Lands had come to her defeated and penniless and Shippo, the once small, a bit cowardly, and weak orphaned kitsune kicked shikigami ass and had his own restaurant and a limo, plus driver. Irony was indeed the gold-eyed monster that bit back at the most inopportune times…
Speaking of time, she was hardly aware of it… It seemed mere agonizing moments instead of the hour it took to get to lovely little city of Kanazawa. She stared out at the world bustling with life around her. Streetlamps sputtered to pale luminous light, and a curious numbness overtook her, a thin barrier of protection from the knowledge that she had just acquired. It would not hold for very long. This she knew, so she had to find a place to be when the dam broke. A place to be apart, away.
And that was when the spires of Kanazawa Castle loomed up before her.
"Stop the car!" She yelled. The limo screeched to a halt, and Kagome was out the door and running before the chauffeur could even turn around to ask her whether he should stay around to pick her up. He stayed and watched the girl running towards the old building as if her life depended on it, before shrugging and driving away.
The ancient castle stood up among the modernity around it like a dog among cats. Luckily for her, it was a public park. She could see the gabled beauty of a traditional, bridged gate in the distance. Ishikawa Gate, the signs said. The night was coming on strong and people were thinning off to go do things elsewhere, not wanting to stay near the castle after dark, knowing the ghosts that stayed around such places. Kagome raced up the stair towards her destination, unheeding of the strange thick fog that seemed to be creeping up out of nowhere…
Sesshoumaru watched the miko flee with time-wizened eyes, noting that despite the fact that she seemed distraught, she didn't seem to be suffering any ill effects from being unconscious. He shied away from the pain he saw in those huge mortal eyes of hers. Pain was something he recognized, knew and understood far too well. It shouldn't have bothered him, he should have been used to seeing pain, but for some reason seeing that pain in her eyes and knowing why it was there…
"Come down from there." There was that kitsune again. The inu youkai was having some difficulty suppressing the urge to snarl. He avoided looking down at his adversary, and tightened his on a branch near his head, leaving claw marks burned into the bark. "You can't stay up in the tree forever… Besides, you're starting to act like Inuyasha."
That did it. With speed that left a blur of color behind him, the Taiyoukai came down to stand before the smirking redhead, his face a strange mixture of disdain and blank fury. "If you have something to say, then say it."
Shippo frowned. "All is not roses in Kanazawa, if I do say so myself. What I want to know, is why Kagome has been marked by Lord Wakarazuya's assassins, and what the hell going on here!"
"I have already told you." Shippo lashed his tail, scattering leaves in his wake.
"You told me nothing. All I know, is that the youkai voted most likely to grill his own mother with lemon-pepper sauce is currently trying to kill my mother! And for reasons unknown, mind you! I mean, it wouldn't be so bad if she had robbed a bank or something, and it was all over the news, and there were wanted posters everywhere, and there was a reward out, and so all sorts of people were after her head for the money… I mean, at least then I'd know why she's on the Psycho of the East's hit list! But as it is, here I am, standing in the middle of everything with no freaking clue!" Shippo bared his fangs at the end of the tirade, breathing heavily, but not making any move to attack. Tension radiated through the night like echolocation, and Sesshoumaru's instincts were flaring dangerously.
Normally, under any other such circumstances, while being disrespected so, he would not hesitate to lunge forward and put the interloper out of their misery. He was even more tempted to take this route than usual for some reason; it was if the whelp's mere existence rubbed him the wrong way. Different than any feeling of animosity he had ever held for Inuyasha, yet so similar. But he did not attack. There was something about the way the kitsune, obviously furious, stayed perfectly still, save for expression and the occasional twitch of the tail. He was not tense or afraid, and there was no sense of false bravado, either. He simply stood there, letting his feelings be known, giving the youkai lord ample opportunity to try to kill him.
It just didn't smell right. There was more to this Shippo than met the eye. He slightly remembered a ball of orange fluff from back in the Feudal Era, and Kagome had mentioned the little youkai who was like her child, but Sesshoumaru had never seriously considered the possibility that the weak creature could have survived. The kitsune was weak no longer; youki was coming off him in disorienting miniature waves. While he doubted that he was truly any match for him, it would probably do him well to tread carefully. Kitsune were loyal to the death, and any misstep on the subject of Kagome, could prove unhealthy.
"This Sesshoumaru has never had any intention of doing the miko any ill." Shippo raised a tawny brow. "In fact, I am in her debt. She has saved me twice over…"
"Why is Wakarazuya after her?"
"Because she stays with me. Because Wakarazuya saw her power, and saw her wield it in my defense. He cannot afford to have such an enemy."
Sesshoumaru looked off into the woods, as if bored with the conversation. Shippo tilted his head, and perked up like a dog ready to be played with. "Why is she helping you?" He said it softly, carefully, already halfway knowing the answer.
The inu youkai lifted his lip in a miniscule snarl. "How am I supposed to know? That human is utterly maddening. I do not understand her. I do not think I can…"
And Shippo smiled. "That sounds just about like Kagome, alright…" He followed Sesshoumaru's gaze off into that fabled fixed point out in space and uttered softly, "I don't think that anyone can really know Kagome, and not be touched…" He looked back to the fallen lord thoughtfully. "You're different than you used to be… You don't raise my hackles like you used to… I should be outraged that Kagome is traveling with you, but I'm not. Maybe it's just that specter of Inuyasha hanging over me, expecting me to lash out like he would…" He paused. "I am not Inuyasha… And I don't particularly hate you, but you have to realize…that I can't allow you to endanger Kagome anymore…"
Sesshoumaru nodded almost invisibly. "I understand."
Shippo smirked, a huge chunk of his sly nature shining through. He spoke in a tone of voice that was enough to make Sesshoumaru turn and look at him.
The hours passed and fireflies began to emerge from their hiding places. Soon the surrounding yard and forest was a mass of neon yellow living stars. The inu and the kitsune sat together, albeit several paces apart, watching the road for any sign of a certain runaway miko. An uneasy truce had fallen between them and for the moment, they were at peace.
"Maybe I shouldn't have told her the way I did…" Shippo mused to the air. Sesshoumaru said nothing, and they continued to sit, waiting.
At least until a certain sound began to permeate the air. It came in soft, insidious at first, indistinguishable from all the other night sounds. But then it grew louder and more obviously apart from all the rest. All other sound abruptly stopped, and the lights of the fireflies went out all at once.
The youkai slowly stood. Sesshoumaru flexed a claw, and Shippo waved an arm, instantly summoning his hitodama into being.
"That sounds like…"
"Bone against bone?"
The sound halted, and then a small section of the trees before them blew apart.
"YAA-HAHA!" The eerie broken laughter echoed through the otherwise empty night, as a gigantic pile of glowing-eyed human skulls spilled into the yard before them. Suddenly the air was filled with the chattering sound of skull hitting skull and clicking teeth, not to mention hideous demented ghost giggles.
"Are those a bunch of evil, freaky-eyed skulls laughing manically at us?" Shippo asked a touch of incredulity in his voice.
"Dokuro." Sesshoumaru muttered.
"Dokuro? Aren't those only supposed to haunt people who are all evil and wicked and whatnot?"
"They are likely spies for Wakarazuya."
"You're wicked, aren't you?" Shippo laughed lightly, and Sesshoumaru leapt forward and disintegrated about half of the dokuro pile. The kitsune shrugged. "Guess so…"
Kagome collapsed and hung over the railing of the gate like someone who was seasick. The teeth on the necklace were cutting into her hand, but she didn't care. Her own body was the furthest thing from her mind.
If she tried hard enough, she could almost convince herself that she was back in the Feudal Era. They were staying at the beautiful castle because Miroku had been producing ominous black clouds again, and in the morning, the hunt for jewel shards would resume. She could almost hear Inuyasha somewhere in the distance complaining that the food wasn't any good, or arguing with Shippo. Almost, but not quite. The past was slowly slipping away from her, at least the one she remembered.
She had always known logically that Inuyasha had to have been dead, either by going to hell or by the ravages of time. But there was something about knowing it, irrefutably and absolutely, holding the prayer beads in her hand, that made it so much worse. Before, there could have always been a kind of hope that he had survived like Sesshoumaru, Kirara, and Shippo, however unlikely that hope might have been. Now it was all gone.
Inuyasha was dead.
He was dead, and there was nothing that she could do.
Then there was always the knowledge of how he had died. That was lovely. She could see him in her mind's eye, sitting by the well, slowly wasting away, Kikyo watching from the distance, timeless beauty framed in white scales.
And yet… And yet, as much as that image made her heart break, and bleed, and cry, there was still a little burn in her chest. It grew, and ate away like acid, pushing her tears out with even more force as the words echoed as they escaped her mouth.
"Damn you, Inuyasha! How could you do this to me!"
Why? Why! She had stood and watched him choose Kikyo, chose death and descent to hell. Her heart had broken then, too. How could he do this? He chose her, but then when the living miko was gone, he had changed his mind. Suddenly, life was worth living again, and for what? To die, slowly, with more suffering than Kikyo ever would have inflicted? She could not accept it, would not accept it, but she knew she had to.
She felt horrible for it, but she was just as upset as she was sad. She was crying tears of sorrow for him, yet she was angry with him for choosing Kikyo and getting them all in such a mess in the first place. She didn't like the weight of the fact that he had waited for her on her conscience. She didn't like the fact that she would be able to yell the word 'sit' anytime she liked without consequence. She didn't like a lot of things. Numbly, she noticed that a few cuts on her hands were bleeding and as soon as she did, the pain finally welled up.
She cried, and she cried. Her whole body wracked with sobs till she felt dizzy from lack of oxygen. The occasional pair of lovers that walked her by whispered to each other in solace, trying to convince themselves that they were apart from such heartbreak. The fog that had been creeping up steadily till then suddenly became much thicker. One could no longer see the others walking in the park. Each person was an island unto itself in a misty sea.
Kagome noticed her a few moments after she ceased crying. A girl who looked just about her own age stood a few feet to her left, leaning against the railing and occasionally stealing a shy glance. She looked very pretty, her hair soft-looking and curly, tied up in an elegant bun atop her head and her eyes nearly lime green in their brightness. It was hard to tell much else though, because she was wearing a surgical mask. Odd. It wasn't cold season…
"You looked very sad." When she spoke, her voice was like silver bells. "I thought you might need someone to talk to, so I came over to see if you were ok."
The miko didn't want to talk to anyone. All she wanted was to be left alone to stew in her own misery. "I'm alright."
"No you're not." Kagome looked over and the girl, and watched as she cautiously inched closer. "You shouldn't keep such feelings bottled up inside. You never know what might happen."
Kagome sighed, and drooped down. "It's just… I found out that someone that I cared about a lot is… That he died."
"Don't be. It isn't as if I didn't know before, but just hearing it…" She clutched the beads like a talisman. The girl blinked at her.
"Those belonged to him?"
"Again, I'm sorry. I know what it's like to lose someone you love…"
Kagome started, and jumped when she looked over at her companion, not realizing that the girl had moved to be right beside her.
"I guess I was in love him… But, now I don't think I am. Still hurts, though… And…" She paused, unsure of how to continue.
"And yet, you're mad at him, aren't you?"
Kagome looked at the girl in astonishment, and could only nod. The girl tugged dark clothing around her as if catching a chill, and continued.
"It's weird, how you can love someone so deeply, and yet hate them sometimes. You can love them with all your heart, despite their flaws, because of them, and they'll turn around and do something that hurts you, badly, you know? Its as if they've become blind to all you've done for them and turn into someone else, someone other than whom you fell in love with, and you're torn; torn on whether to keep on loving them as you always have, or hating them because they've hurt you…"
They were standing shoulder to shoulder now, both leaning over the railing watching the swirling mist with twin fascination. "What do you do," Kagome asked quietly, "when that happens?"
"There are lots of things you can do… You can decide to love them, but then there's always the fear that they'll hurt you again. You can decide to hate them, but then there's always the pain of knowing that you're no better than they are for hurting you in the first place. You can also decide just to stay where you are, loving and yet not loving, hating and yet not hating… I do not recommend it… Or, you can always just let go…"
"Let go?" The miko turned her head and found herself captured by stark green pinned down by a stark black pupil.
"Let go. You can decide that the pain and the heartbreak aren't worth it, and then you can move on… And maybe find someone will love you better…" The girl looked away, but not before Kagome saw the tears that glistened there. She felt a pang of compatriot sympathy within her.
"Here…" She said, digging in her pockets and bringing out a slightly mashed tissue. "Don't cry, that's my job." She smiled weakly, knowing that she looked a mess. The girl dabbed her eyes delicately, then asked, hesitantly.
"What's your name?"
"Well, Kagome, do mind if I ask you a random question?"
"No. Of course not."
The girl sighed audibly, moved one step away, and looked Kagome straight in the eye.
"Do you think that I'm beautiful?"
"Die, evil cranium-mass scum!"
The last of the dokuro imploded in a spectacular display of fox-fire and all the hitodama danced around in triumph.
Sesshoumaru sighed through his nose and looked heavenward. There was only so much he could put up with. If the kitsune's cheerful hyperness continued, he would be forced to take drastic action. As it was, the probability of acquiring a new kitsune pelt in the near future was rather high.
"Alrighty then!" Shippo grinned. "I wonder when Kagome's going to get back. I'm getting kind of worried about her… Think we should rally a search party?"
Sesshoumaru snorted, and began to glide into the house. "No. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that that girl is fully capable of taking care of herself…"
Kagome wasn't quite sure what to think. It was such a strange question, especially under such circumstances. Maybe she had poor self esteem or something… It was hard to tell with the mask on, but she certainly appeared to be beautiful.
"Yes." All at once, the temperature dropped, and suddenly she realized how unnatural and out of place the fog was. A shiver went down her spine. The mist thickened and the girl held her head down.
"Is that so…" Her hand went to the ties of her mask, and then the scrap of cloth fell away. Her head still down, she breathed the words. "Do you think that I'm beautiful now?" She raised her head.
Kagome looked, and felt…pity… And something else as well. Before her stood a kindred spirit, just as in pain and wounded as she. The grotesque exaggerated smile didn't matter. She had been shown compassion by this being, and she could do no other than give it back.
"Yes. Yes, I think you're beautiful." Kagome launched herself into the arms of the Kuchisake-Onna, heedless of the danger, and had not long to wait before the embrace was returned. "You have a kind heart. That's what makes you beautiful; it doesn't matter what you look like." She could feel the youkai's tears falling down.
"Thank you, Kagome. You're the first to ever say that."
"You're welcome." They separated. "And thank you..."
"Don't mention it. Anyway, I can let go now. That was all it took… Promise me that you'll try to let go, too, alright?" The Kuchisake-Onna was starting to fade away.
"I promise. I promise that I'll let go. I have to help someone else, anyway…"
"That's the spirit! Goodbye!" The youkai disappeared into thin air, and slowly the fog cleared and was gone.
Kagome stood there for awhile, staring up at the stars as if they were new. She couldn't afford to be so stuck in the past now, she had things to do. Regrets could wait for another day, today, she had Shippo and Kirara and Sesshoumaru… For the moment, they were more than enough… She turned and left the castle. It was time to go back to those she cared about…
A few hours later, Kagome realized that she had no idea where she was, or where Shippo's house was located… The lone cry of a miko echoed over the city of Kanazawa.
Alrighty then, read and review! And now, a preview for the next chapter…
Fukai Mori: In which Sesshoumaru reclaims his fluffy thing, Kagome and Kirara join a biker gang, and Shippo sits in a tree and cackles….
Once again R&R!