"You're saying he protected you?" Maro's eyebrows drew down over her big eyes, an expression of deep thinking rather than displeasure.
"Yes." I fit the arrow to my fingers and drew back the bowstring. My arm protested, already sore from the half-hour of practice. The arrow whistled before it hit the tree, inches away from the outermost ring of the bulls-eye.
"That's highly unusual." The child muttered, no longer paying attention to my marksmanship. I made a face at the tree I had been mutilating.
"Can I stop now? My arm hurts." I frowned as I flexed the appendage mentioned.
She nodded her consent, and I gladly dropped my bow to gather the shafts stuck in the trunk. I had to tug hard to get some free- something my raw fingers didn't appreciate much.
"Isn't there another way to utilize my spiritual powers?" I asked, throwing the last of the arrows into a pile. That done, I stretched out on the ground, happy for the break from the unwanted task.
"There are other weapons you could learn to use, yes. However, arrows are the best decision for a novice like you. Superiority in using them does not require large amounts of strength, or years of practiced technique- rather, some good judgment and a keen eye. It is also a weapon that is difficult to use against you, should attackers come in close range, and gives you an advantage over those attacking-"
"Okay! Okay!" I interjected, a little exasperated that she made so much sense. "Geez, try breathing while you speak once in a while. I was only whining anyway." I smiled a little to soften the blow.
Maro remained unblinking and un-amused. "I breathe when I speak."
My answer was a light shrug- humor was lost on Maro, apparently. She was the only grade school kid in the world that didn't appreciate Bugs Bunny cartoons. "Utterly childish." I had heard her mutter under her breath when she watched one with Souta. The phrase disturbed me, with good reason- it was coming out of the mouth of an eight-year-old.
I found myself voicing inner queries. "Have you always been this way Maro? Even in your past life?"
She seemed to consider this for a moment before answering. Her pigtails swished lightly against the strap of her tiny purse as a breeze flew by. "I'm not sure. I have my memories from this life, but I also have a lifetime's worth of knowledge from my former self. Perhaps, the me that exists now is a compromise between the two." She imitated my shrug. "Quite frankly, I'm far more concerned about Inu Yasha playing hero than I am about my levels of consciousness."
"He loved Kikyo, you know." My gaze got lost in the play of leaves and sunlight. It reminded me of some childhood moment, unspecific but so strong I could smell the rain that had been threatening in the air. The silence from the girl next to me was too long. I glanced over and blinked when I saw how tense she had become in the space of those few long minutes.
"How dare you." She wouldn't look at me, but self-righteous fury oozed off of every syllable. My heart jerked and sped up, a nervous sweat breaking out on my palms. She turned towards me then, and I knew I should have kept my musings to myself. "He used my sister and then tossed her aside like she was just another piece of trash, all for his own selfish ambitions. I saw their last fight- there wasn't an ounce of remorse in him." This wasn't Maro, something told me instinctively.
"I surface in this child, I come to you out of my own good will to try and aide you in your destiny, and you have the nerve sympathize with your enemy?" She was back, the woman from the first night with Maro, old and bitter and tired. What had I called her? I knew her, I swear I did-
"They were tricked...Kaede." My headache was back, but I ignored it in favor of trying to reason with Maro's other awareness. "Listen- Inuyasha wasn't whole when Kikyo sealed him. The side you saw wasn't-"
"It was enough!" The small girl bellowed with all the authority of an elder. "Anyone with that much horror in them...deserves whatever justice is brought against them." She hissed the last part of the sentence, before her small frame hunched slightly in on herself. She appeared to be in pain, if her harsh breathing was any indication.
At a loss, I merely watched her. Several more minutes elapsed before she abruptly stood. "We're done for the day." Her voice held the hollow and even quality I had become accustomed too. Without another word, she clutched her Hello Kitty bag and walked away, leaving me to contemplate the outburst.
I gathered my arrows slowly, before slinging my bow across my back. The weight was beginning to feel familiar, after two straight weeks of training. Still, the routine of cleaning up my practice area couldn't shake the confrontation I had just had out of my mind.
Apparently, Inuyasha wasn't the only one harboring a grudge over the past.
"Souta! Mama! Grandpa! I'm home!" I called out, hearing the T.V. speaking softly in the other room.
"Mama's at the store!" I heard Souta shout in reply. Brothers and communication. Go figure. "Ramen for dinner tonight!"
I stuck out my tongue, but resigned myself to the less than satisfactory meal. As I poured the heated water that had been left for me over the noodles, I caught a flash of quicksilver through the window.
Two weeks without so much as a peep out of him, and he just waltz's back into my shrine like he never left it? I was tempted to ignore his presence, but something in me just couldn't allow it. Casting the softening noodles a contemplative look, I grabbed a pair of chopsticks and the hot Styrofoam cup.
"I'll be right back Souta." I said, and did not wait for a reply as I slipped out the front door.
All was still in the main area of the shrine, but I had an idea of where he would be. Walking across the courtyard, I stood in front of the huge stone gate. Somehow, I knew it would open for me.
I was not disappointed as it swung ajar, and I walked through without hesitation this time. Initially the stillness of the enclosure made me think I had been mistaken about his location, but an unnatural rustling in the leaves of the Goshinboku tree signaled otherwise.
As calmly as possible, I walked over without haste and settled myself on one of the larger roots. I removed the half-open top of the ramen cup, letting the fragrant steam waft out into the night. Crumpling the soggy circle of paper in my hand, I waited for Inuyasha to give himself away.
The trees above me sniffed curiously. I forced back my grin. "I know you're there. Come down. I'll be good, I promise."
The leaves scoffed before a red blur leapt down to join me on the ground. "What, no death threats today?" He sized me up as he settled one hand at his waist. The modern clothing had been discarded in favor of the old robes, I noted. I shifted in my seat to face him, but he took it as a sign of aggression. Leaping back a few paces, he put his hands palm-up in a poor attempt at a defensive position as his face puckered into some sort of estimation of a battle face. I swallowed my giggles as he growled. "I'm ready, wench! Don't think I won't kick your ass just because you're a girl."
Ignoring his tense posture, I blew lightly on the hot soup. His eyes fell to my dinner and stayed fixed there.
I managed a half-smile for him. "Truce for now. I'm tired, and apparently you're hungry."
The insinuation seemed to wound his pride, because he turned his nose up and let out a noise that sounded distinctly like 'keh'. "Listen, I'm half dog demon. I don't need-"
Raising an eyebrow, I lifted noodle-laden chopsticks to my mouth and took a bite. He was so intent on staring longingly at my meal that he forgot to finish his sentence. I couldn't suppress my mischievous expression. "You were saying you didn't need something?" I feigned an innocent expression. Common sense told me it was preposterous that I could tease this legendary, and by all means mythological, creature as if he was my little brother, but my instincts were at rest for the first time since this whole ordeal started. Something was telling me this was natural, this was how things were supposed to be.
A light flush rose on his cheeks, and he began to stammer out some sort of excuse. He was silenced when I thrust the ramen and chopsticks under his nose.
"I'm not hungry. You finish it."
I thought I saw gratitude flash in his eyes but he snatched the food from my hands and started slurping it down so fast that I couldn't be sure. Oddly, I didn't feel pity as I watched the very obviously starving boy scarf the sub-par dinner down. Rather, I felt a sense of satisfaction- of peace.
"Wow!" He exclaimed, for the moment seemingly unconcerned with my presence. "This is delicious!" All further speech attempts on his part were impaired by his determination to eat as quickly as possible, but the message was clear- he liked it. Feeling at ease by his acceptance, I broached the topic I had been intending to speak to him about since my afternoon with Maro.
"Inuyasha, I need you to do something for me."
Inuyasha's ears twitched as he froze mid-gulp, a suspicious expression pinching his eyebrows together. "Heh na."
Years of watching Souta trying to speak and chew at the same time allowed me the ability to translate Inuyasha's mumbled reply- 'Hell no.'
"Please. It's very important." I clasped my hands together in an attempt to keep them from twitching in annoyance. He hadn't even heard me out!
He didn't bother to reply this time, just kept eating as if I hadn't said anything at all. I huffed a little before deciding to keep explaining myself.
"It regards the task I was charged with." He showed no reaction to these words either. Seeing as how mention of my plans to kill him did nothing to dent his appetite, I assumed that my next request couldn't do much harm. "I want you to tell me everything that happened with Kikyo."
He froze again, this time swallowing what he had been chewing loud enough for it to be audible. He spoke finally. "I can't remember."
The muscles of my body bunched. "Inuyasha, please don't clam up about this. I know I don't trust you, and I'm sure you don't trust me, but this isreally important, so I need you to-"
"I said, I don't remember!" He snapped, baring his fangs. I was abruptly reminded that this was a being capable of ripping open a centipede monster- a being who currently had designs on an object I carried within my body. My hands curled into firsts. He continued, oblivious to the slight shift in my mood. "Everything after I used the jewel is a blur. I don't know how I was sealed, or how I woke up. One second I was making my wish, the next I was disoriented and staring at you."
He seemed to settle his emotions as he drew his last sentence to a close. The threatening aura I had felt so keenly calmed, and with it, my anxiety. I decided I would try to push him a little harder. "Surely you must remembersomething. Anything."
I saw his spine straighten and he shot me a distrusting look, as if I had said something that had struck too close to whatever mental processes he was sorting through. I saw him weigh the benefits and drawbacks of speaking up, then finally- he opened his mouth.
"There are things that come to me. Seconds of experiences I can't account for." His bright eyes glazed over, and I knew he was consciously trying to draw upon those memories. "I know this strange food you've given me is called 'ramen'. I understand that your clothing comes from a shop, and that the people of your time only pay in currency, instead of livestock, produce or other valuables. I don't understand how I know these things. But I do." He sighed, tugging on a lock of hair in mild frustration.
I mulled over what his confession could mean. In terms of information, it meant that Inuyasha somehow still had a link to his human consciousness, who would have had to learn how to survive as the times changed. In terms of himself, it meant he had decided to take a leap of faith where I was concerned, and openly answer my questions.
If there was one thing I could instinctively feel, it was the way things just didn't seem to add up. The more I became embroiled in this medieval drama, the more obvious the discrepancies between the accounts became. Had Inuyasha been the monster Maro believed, he would not have hesitated in taking the jewel and fulfilling his ambitions, this time without the hindrance of Kikyo's arrow. If I was going to make sense of this mess, I had to get both Inuyasha and Kikyo's accounts of what happened. I bit my lip, unsure if the latter was even a possibility. Still, I could try- starting with the grumpy half-demon.
"Inuyasha...why did you wound Kikyo that day?" I was cautious asking this, unsure if this would again set off his temper.
He didn't disappoint. "Not that it's any of your business, but I think you've got it backwards. It was that crazy wench who shot at me! Didn't even spare a second to explain herself. I was played for a fool!" He snarled the last part, ears twitching wildly in irritation, strong brows drawn low over his eyes.
I wanted to back off, but the record had to be set straight. "She wanted to be with you, Inuyasha. I know she did."
He snorted in contempt. "Right. Because nothing says 'I love you' like turning your intended into a moving target. As if you would know the first thing about her, and what she felt, anyway."
He turned away from me, but part of me was screaming 'he has to know'. Mama always did say I was too stubborn for my own good. "I may not have been there...but you saw her apparition the same as I that night." I looked to him for some sort of confirmation.
He ceased all movement at this, the only clear indication that he was listening was one fuzzy ear cocking in my direction to catch every last word.
"I see her almost every night. And every time I do- she is mourning for you."
Tense seconds passed in which neither of us spoke. He seemed to be struggling with the information I had just imparted on him.
My heart and arms went out to him. "Inuyasha..."
He whirled to face me, expression enraged. "Stay the fuck away! You know shit about me!"
And with that, he was gone so fast that all that was visible to my ordinary, human eyes was a flash of angry, vulnerable red.
"You took my line, you stupid jerk." I whispered, not caring that I was the only one there to hear it.
A humorless smile crossed my lips when I realized he had taken the ramen with him.
AN: Woooow, it's been a while. Don't hate me. Penumbra lives on in my heart! Thanks for all the readers who have stuck with this story. 3 I'm grateful in so many ways for your loyalty.