DISCLAIMER: I feel a little like Margaret Mitchell with this one, but the characters are neither mine nor hers.
DISTRIBUTION: If you like it, you have it. Just let me know.
SUMMARY: "Inuyasha watched the girl sleeping comfortably in front of him."
THANK YOU to Numisma for the wonderful beta work. And to Kristi for the title. hugs
Penitence: An act of contrition.
Inuyasha watched the girl sleeping comfortably in front of him. Kagome was bundled in the covers, both hands tight under her chin to prevent any cold breeze from sneaking inside. Ironically, one of her legs laid uncovered, lazily pointing in the direction where he'd woken up. Every few minutes she moved around, unconsciously feeling the empty space at her side and frowning in her sleep. He'd just had to rest his hand against her cheek for a few seconds to settle her.
Her dreams must be good, he guessed, for a small smile crossed her lips repeatedly. She looked so trusting and content, her position relaxed and serene. What Inuyasha wouldn't give to feel that inner peace!
He was barely able to keep his body from twitching in discomfort, hands constantly clenching and unclenching in obvious unease. Sometimes he made to awake her. A small tug on the covers would suffice. But he refrained.
If Kagome woke up, it would dispel the frail layer of courage he was building around himself. What's more, it would break the illusion of peace of this moment, would turn it into reality. A reality where she shouldn't be sleeping in this room, where her clothes were in their place and not thrown in mad circles around them. As long as she slept there was the chance that...
That what? That everything would be alright? Inuyasha knew it wouldn't.
He took another careful whiff, swearing mentally when nothing had changed . He could still smell himself all over her. Not his usual scent, either. Something weaker, devoid of the magic that made him a hanyou. Human. Kagome smelled like his human self.
Inuyasha felt like cursing the new moon night, his weakness, how slow he'd been when attacked by that demon. He'd been distracted; the serpent youkai had headed straight for him before he could sense it. After that moment everything was a blur.
Pain had spread from his arm and shoulder to the rest of his body, everything black for several moments, though he'd been able to dimly hear Sango and Miroku shouting their attacks. Kagome had inspected his wounds hurriedly, repeating his name over and over as her hands worked on him. From the corner of his eye he had seen Shippou and Kirara forming a protective wall around them.
The snake had escaped Sango's Hiraikotsu and slithered off before the taijiya could try again. He'd brushed off his friends' anxiety, walking without others' support until reaching the next village. They'd been lucky; the village head had offered a room immediately. One of the few upsides to the new moon, Inuyasha thought, was that no one denied refuge to a wounded human. Even so, he'd accepted the invitation to stay just because he knew Kagome wouldn't desist.
Shortly thereafter the monk and slayer had gone after the escaped youkai, worried that it'd attack the village during the night. Shippou had followed; with no moon his foxfire would be useful in providing light. Kagome had stayed, though, caring for his injuries until late into the night.
Inuyasha was already used to this nonsensical ritual of hers. She knew he healed as soon as the sun came back, but she always insisted on treating him in the meanwhile. He'd said nothing as she dabbed at his skin with rags coated in something strong-smelling, nothing as she covered the bruises with some cream or the other, he hadn't commented when she used those sticky little bandages that would only annoy him come morning. He only reacted when he felt her hands stop at his shoulders, her examination over, and tighten against his skin.
She hadn't replied for a long minute, instead just leaning her head on her hand, making her hair breeze against his arm. "You scared me," she had murmured at last.
"Hmph." He had made no movement, suddenly aware of something wet against his shoulder. Damn human nose, hadn't smelled her tears even though she was so close. Why wasn't Shippou around? The little kitsune always brought her out of these moods. "I've been through worse, silly," he'd said with a shrug.
That hadn't seemed to soothe her, though. If anything, she had hugged him tighter to her. "Don't say that." Her voice was muffled. Her head had turned until he'd heard her next words right below his ear. "For a moment I thought... I thought..." She'd trailed off, sounding as if she needed to pull herself together. "You wouldn't open your eyes." This time he'd caught her sniffle and had been careful not to react when her other hand tensed painfully upon a bruise.
"I'm fine." His reassurance didn't seem to have reached Kagome; she kept murmuring her worries and fears into his neck, her breath tickling his skin with every word. It had gotten to a point at which he couldn't decipher her voice anymore.
He'd caught her hands in his, unclenching them from his shoulders and turning around to face her. Unlike other times when he'd seen her crying, she had not hidden from his scrutiny this time. Her eyes had been wide, the pupils dilating and contracting with the flickers of the candlelight. Instead of shying away, she'd met his gaze with hers, holding him in her stare.
He hadn't finished the word before she'd launched herself into his chest, arms thrown around his body and tightening in a grasp that seemed almost... desperate?
"You scared me," she'd repeated. Her eyes had moved constantly, following the path her fingers made as they mapped out his injuries. "Tell me you're alright," she'd said when her latest exam was over. Inuyasha had been moved, as countless times before, by the tears threatening to fall. Why was it that he always made her cry? He'd taken her chin between his fingers, bringing her face closer to his. "I am," he'd said slowly, willing her to believe it. Kagome nodded.
Inuyasha had expected her to stand up and blush while rummaging in her bag for her nightclothes. He'd thought she would smile, her cheeks a deep pink, and give him one last hug before going to sleep. He'd even considered she would be angry for him worrying her unnecessarily and lecture him on taking risks on his human night. But instead, she'd closed the space between them, and he'd barely had time to see her eyes close before feeling the pressure of her lips on his.
As in every aspect of her life, Kagome's advances had been insistent; her lips, once lightly, once firmly, playing over his without pause. His hands had gone to her shoulders, intent on separating them. But she'd chosen that moment to murmur his name and instead, his grasp had stayed loose, thumbs caressing the skin above her collar without his permission. He had tried to say her name, but she had taken that chance for her advantage, pressing her attack by slipping her tongue between his lips.
Reason fled out the window, logic and sanity mesmerised by Kagome's actions. And Inuyasha? Inuyasha had been helpless to do anything but return that kiss, if only to taste her once before she recovered her senses. The kiss had been awkward, lips, teeth and tongues finding each other without order. But after a while the tension had lessened, lightening the kiss into something gentler. He'd felt her teeth worrying his lips for a second before she licked them and began again. He'd mimicked her actions, glad for once for his blunt teeth. Their lips had finally found a rhythm in their movements, go left when her head moved to the right, go right when she returned the kiss, repeat.
There'd been a point at which Inuyasha had forgotten where he was and why he shouldn't do this; the only thing that mattered was Kagome kissing him. Kagome in his arms. Kagome pressing herself against him and running her hands carefully across his back. Her touch had inundated his world. And then, it had stopped.
Kagome had backed away, a shy smile even though her eyes shone in obvious happiness. She'd given him another kiss, a peck really, and began fiddling with the top button of her blouse. He'd only stared at her, unable to make any movement. Then his mouth had tried to work one word out, and when it hadn't come, his hand had reached for her... just to stop inches away. Had he tried to stop her? To beg her to consider it? Had he intended to bring her to reason and make her see.
But whatever he'd planned had fallen into nothing when he saw the look of her eyes. She wanted him. At that moment she'd wanted to make sure he was real and alive, not the victim she'd seen in the forest. The only thing he could do was to caress her cheek with the back of his hand, repeat her name when she leaned into his touch. The only thing left was to watch her as she dealt with her clothes and came back to his side. It was she who had taken his hand and placed it above her body, guiding it along her sides and upwards, until he could feel the weight of her breast against it.
She had stopped then, looked directly into his eyes as she'd touched him in return. Inuyasha had had no words, only the knowledge that this was Kagome offering herself and if he said no.... If he said no, she'd never do this again. He knew her enough to guarantee that. That was why he'd taken her into his arms, a silent assent to her unasked question.
They'd stayed like that for a long time, both half-clothed and intensely aware of it. There had been a moment when the heat of her body had increased, signalling a shy blush and possibly her regret. He'd loosened his grasp; if she wanted to end it, he wouldn't dream to stop her. Instead she'd furrowed deeper into his embrace, tucking her face against his neck. This time he hadn't been surprised when she kissed him. A light touch on the base of his neck; he'd never thought such a tiny gesture would make him feel so much.
"Are you sure?" she'd asked, unintentionally echoing his thoughts.
Was he? No. Yes. Maybe. The only thing Inuyasha knew was that he couldn't deny Kagome anything, much less when parts of him screamed for him to follow her lead. Once again the only thing he could see then was the hopeful look in her eyes; the only thing he could hear, her agitated breath. She was closer than she'd ever been, and he was sure his dreams hadn't made this moment as perfect as it was. There were no words to answer her; none of them came near the truth. Inuyasha had only leaned down and kissed her. Apparently that had been the answer they both needed; from then on, neither hesitated anymore.
Dawn and the transformation it brought had broken him from his sleep, dim, shaky memories coming under the spotlight when he discovered Kagome peacefully sleeping beside him. He could remember covering her, mating with her, loving her. He'd gotten to his feet instantly, his hand trembling when he recovered his clothes to cover himself. The inside of his lips were still raw from when he'd forced himself not to make any noise. To awake her at that point would have been an incredible mistake; first he had to collect his thoughts, bring the world back into focus. Every second brought him memories of her touch, of her eyes, of her smile when he finally kissed her back.
She had been more beautiful than his fantasies had created; her hands in his, fingers threading and twisting against his own. Her words against his lips, trailing down his neck and above his shoulder line. Words he'd only guessed at, that he'd seen screaming behind her declarations of friendship and support. If he closed his eyes, her voice would play as a mantra, now tempting him into laying at her side again, return to the place where he'd woken up without Kagome being the wiser of his early vigil.
Kagome kept sleeping peacefully as he chastised himself silently for his weakness, as his eyes tried to concentrate on anything but the inviting body at his side. His palms still stung, half-healed half-moons telling how he'd determinedly restrained himself from touching her again.
Leaving the room would be the logical solution, but Inuyasha couldn't bring himself to step outside the door. The thought of Kagome waking up and not finding him....
The mere vision of her eyes darkening as pain housed itself behind them.... Impossible. Right now she knew herself to be warm and safe, and her expression reflected that knowledge. Inuyasha couldn't bear the thought of being responsible for its disappearance. He just had to think of something. Anything. If he hadn't had enough presence of mind to make things right last night, Inuyasha swore he'd do it now.
Kagome chose that moment to roll in her sleep. Her eyes opened halfway, searching for him on the empty side and then turning until she encountered him. She regarded him almost curiously for a moment, then her eyes widened momentarily before her hands tightened at the covers' brim, bringing it closer around her. Then she smiled a sleepy smile and playfully wriggled until she was free.
Inuyasha didn't move. If he'd been able to sense his own scent through the blankets, now it was almost unbearable. His hands tightened on his lap. Kagome smelled clearly like taken property. Like his. Every youkai around them would see that. If they targeted her before, now it'd be even worse. How could he have been so careless?
Her words broke him out of his reverie. He wanted to run. He wanted to scream. He wanted to rewind the night and....
Wait. Kagome would hate him. Their relationship would deteriorate, surely irreparably. But she would stay alive. Everything was worth her life. Inuyasha kissed her brow, breathing deeply one last time. Then he ignored her small tugs to really kiss her and went to her backpack. A change of clothes, her largest towel. One bar of strawberry-scented soap. He threw everything into a bundle, then covered Kagome with the blankets again. He felt himself hesitate under her curious look, even more when she threw her arms around him wordlessly when he made to pick her up. Her legs entwined intimately around his torso, her nose tickling his shoulder even as she kissed his skin in a more suggestive good morning.
It struck Inuyasha that she now had the right to do that. For how long had he dreamed that she'd behave this way? His hand moved over her thigh to adjust her position. It stayed there on its own volition, moving carefully under the covers in a caress. He only noticed when Kagome pressed herself tighter to him. He dropped his hand and placed it on her back, hearing her small sigh of disappointment.
It was hell. And he'd brought it all onto himself. His eyes closed in defeat, letting the smell of water lead him and thanking all the gods that it was too early for the villagers to be awake.
He dropped the clothes on the riverbank, making sure they stayed in a dry spot. The soap he kept, and threaded into the water with Kagome still in his arms. It was the cold water which finally woke Kagome up completely. Her body twisted and almost jumped out of his grasp, but he held her firmly.
"Wh- What are you doing?" she sputtered, curiosity blending into confusion in that question.
He shook his head, unable to say the words, to invite the inevitable into these precious seconds where she still looked at him trustingly. He checked their surroundings, making sure nobody was nearby, and slipped the blankets off Kagome's body. Inuyasha thought he'd be prepared for the sight. He was wrong. Memories pushed and ran through his mind, reminding him why her skin had two long lines above her thigh, why the inside of her breasts had two small purplish spots on either side.
He shook his head again, dropping it so he didn't have to look into her eyes. He grabbed the soap and created a lather between his hands, just as he'd watched her do so many times. She tried to speak again, but this time he held a finger against her lips and gave her a short kiss for good measure. It was so tempting, to forget his plan and make love to her again. Her quick response let him know that she wouldn't deny him. Like the proximity she kept between their bodies being an obvious invitation, her arms remaining at her side, never covering her nudity, was a clear show of trust.
Inuyasha forced himself to think of his reasoning. He visualised the sadness that followed his mother, Shiori's mother's helplessness against her neighbours and the bitterness in Jinenji's mother's eyes after years of enduring the villagers' abuse. It would be a thousand times worse for Kagome, who came from a world where discrimination was frowned upon by the majority and who, despite the reality she'd witnessed, still believed in the inherent goodness of humans.
How could he rob her of that illusion?
That was the mantra his mind repeated as his hands went over every inch on skin from her toes to her knee. She didn't say any other word, though he could feel her play with his hair, making random patterns above him. Her touch made him grind his teeth in an effort not to snap and ask for her forgiveness. He passed the soap all over her back, rubbing his fingers in until it was creamy to the touch. Then he switched to her stomach, to the juncture of her thighs.
Inuyasha almost stopped breathing when he felt the tug on his hair. Then, a more insistent one. He kissed her between the breasts, one of the few places that still retained his scent. Then he lathered them as well. She had been touching him in the meanwhile, sounds of protest coming off her when he insisted on staying clothed. Soon she settled back on safer parts of his body; fingernails teasing his neck, going especially slow over his jugular. His only response was to tighten his hands on her waist, unintentionally bringing her closer.
It was unbearable, to know this would come to an end. Kagome was obviously enjoying his attentions, blissfully unaware of the reality behind them. Her responses made him aware of her disposition. But mostly they forced the knowledge that this would be the last time she behaved so openly affectionately towards him. It hurt. His vision blurred when he made to lather her shoulders and neck....
He couldn't do it.
He couldn't do it.
But he had to.
He almost whimpered when the strong fruity smell covered the last of the telling evidence. His arms rested lightly around her figure, unwilling to let go. His head dropped above her breast, a mimicry of their position last night. He heard her breathe under him, noticing how it rose and fell, suddenly remembering it was the same movement that had lulled him into sleep. Which other things would he remember if he stayed right there? But he couldn't.
His hand stopped hers before it could reach his head. Inuyasha knew what she'd do. Her fingers would thread through his hair, making it feel as if they were caressing every strand. They'd do that until his eyes closed and he relaxed into whatever position he'd chosen to sleep. It never failed to ease off the tension of a particularly bad day. Kagome had discovered it only weeks earlier, and always tried it when he was too stressed. This was the first time he'd stopped her. That, more than anything else, tipped her off.
"Inuyasha? What's wrong?"
What was wrong? He breathed in. There was only the scent of her own body; he should be relieved. He wasn't. It was wrong that she smelled only of Kagome now. It was wrong that he'd had to do it himself. What they'd done was wrong and the fact that he yearned for more was even worse.
She caught his chin, raising his head until his eyes could meet hers. They stayed frozen, two figures surrounded by water and silence, for the longest minute. He knew Kagome would read the truth there. She did. Then her face paled, a horrible shade that Inuyasha had only seen when a life was at risk. Her hand fell, suddenly lifeless, at her side, and it tightened into a fist. Her lips trembled, and Inuyasha forced himself not to touch her in reassurance. His maddening thoughts of the last hour weren't as tormenting anymore. It was this moment, this instant where Kagome realised the truth, that made him believe in hell on earth. She still had yet to make a sound, though.
He hadn't realised how much he'd waited for it until she turned around and stepped out of the water. If silence and guilt could kill, there were no fire-rat clothes that would protect him.
She didn't show any sign of having heard him, just walked to the spot where he'd left her clothes, arms protectively held over her chest. Her skirt went first, hurriedly covering her backside and the top of her legs. Then she kneeled as she went through the bundle of clothes. A sniffle.
Inuyasha swore under his breath. "Kagome, please...." His words died when the smell of tears hit him. Inuyasha felt the strongest blow fall against his stomach. The only thing he wanted was to explain himself, but her unyielding behaviour gave him no opportunity.
Kagome stopped only when she had her underwear on, a dirt-streaked blouse held in one hand. There was no sign of her previous state anymore. Her posture was stiff mere metres in front of him; so different from her usual stance, worlds apart from her relaxed behaviour just minutes ago. Would it be always like this?
She turned around then, a smooth movement that belied her obvious strain. Her eyes gazed at him thoughtfully. The hurt in them left him speechless; what could he ever say that would make this right?
"I don't accept this."
It was her voice, of course, he'd never have said something like that. Not when he'd spent the last hour searching for a way out of 'this.' There was none. None at all. Her next words made him wish with all his might that there'd be a solution. Anything would be better than to hear the plea in her tone.
"I know why you think... I know your reasons, Inuyasha. I don't care. Don't do this."
He couldn't even shake his head as an answer, much less verbalise it. He couldn't do anything but make sure he stayed on his feet, weathering the onslaught of Kagome's accusations. What hurt him most was that she never accused him.
"I see," Kagome said after several moments of silence, buttoning up her blouse with brusque motions. She looked at him one last time before turning around. Her whole body asked that he didn't let her leave. Her eyes begged that he stop this enormous mistake. Inuyasha would do it in a second if he believed it was a mistake at all.
Kagome took one step away, then a second. Then another until she was almost running. She stopped right before leaving his sight, her chest moving rapidly under her clothes. Inuyasha could almost hear her taking a deep breath to calm herself. She leaned back a bit, and he knew she was trying to listen for his approach. She wanted him to reach for her, just as she'd wanted him last night.
Inuyasha was damned if he let her repeat that mistake.
He ignored her mute invitation, the forgiveness and love she was offering. He watched as her shoulders drooped and she followed her way into the village.
Inuyasha stayed in the river.
Comments, suggestions and corrections very appreciated.