If Inuyasha had to make a list of his Top Five Least Favourite Things Ever, at least four of them would have been occurring at that very moment.
First of all, it was raining. Inuyasha hated rain. He wouldn't have minded if it was the kind of rain that hammered down from heaven and flooded the gutters – because that at least was over and done with in a few minutes. He might even have preferred the light drizzle that always managed to blow under your umbrella and drench you in a fine sheen of moisture. But no. This was the kind of rain that threatened all day and then finally broke under the cover of darkness. It was steady and relentless, and it had been going for five hours straight. Inuyasha didn't think he'd ever be dry again.
His second pet peeve was cigarettes. He hated the smell, he hated the taste, and he hated the people who smoked them – especially when he had to stand next to them. But that night, the tables had turned and he was the one with the cigarette in his hand. It burned steadily between his fingers, dripping ash onto the wet asphalt. Inuyasha never once brought it to his lips, keeping it vigilantly at arm's length. Every now and then, he ran out of tobacco and had to light a new one, only to let that one burn to waste too. It didn't matter. He only had to appear to be smoking.
The new moon probably topped the list of Least Favourite Things Ever. Every hanyou had a night when the recessive genes took over for a few hours, and he was left as useless and helpless as your typical human. Tonight was Inuyasha's night. Which was partly responsible for the presence of his fourth pet peeve…
They were too loud, too uncivilised and, frankly, too friggin' dangerous. How many times had Inuyasha accidentally forgotten to lock the safety and shot himself in the leg as a result? But whether he liked it or not, they were becoming part of the regular arsenal for the Coalescence. The police force was embracing firearms with alarming speed, and as a result, there had been a major gun boom. Several bookshops around where Inuyasha lived had been closed down and replaced with weapons dealers. Ordinary civilians could walk in off the street and buy whatever they wanted. And of course, once you armed your citizens, it was only a matter of days before your criminals had access to the most advanced weapons on and off the market.
The government was idiotic. They were quite effectively dismantling what had been a peaceful, quiet society and bringing it to chaos in less than a decade. Guns were power – the kind of power that was way beyond what your typical civilian could get their hands on. Power corrupted. You only needed to take one look at the government to see that. Gang warfare was suddenly no longer about rival graffiti and the occasional back-alley kicking. It was about open gunfights on street corners in residential areas with bullets flying in all directions and innocent people getting hurt and killed.
It was wrong. It was barbaric. But that was how it was now, and there was no going back. The only thing you could do to defend yourself was take up a gun of your own and pray you'd never have to use it.
Inuyasha resisted the movement. He refused to use guns unless explicitly ordered to by Naraku or the police. But tonight was different. Gone was his strength and stamina and his extraordinarily sharp claws. His hearing was muted, his nose was only good for picking, and his eyes could hardly make out anything on the grey, rain-washed street. Tonight he had accepted that, yes, perhaps he needed the gun. He just wasn't confident that when the usual danger arose, he would be able to cope on his own.
The air caught in Inuyasha's throat, and he spared a moment to cough into his sleeve. His human side didn't like spending all night in the cold rain. It seemed to buckle under the slightest pressure and didn't waste any time complaining. He pulled his jacket more tightly around him and huddled closer to the wall, no longer caring that the seat of his jeans were now sopping wet from sitting down for so long. In his pocket, a radio fizzed quietly with conversation. Inuyasha wasn't involved. While his cell was caught up in a complicated mission underground, Inuyasha was stuck on sentry duty.
This was what happened when no one trusted you. They gave you shitty jobs and shitty guns that went off in your face all the time. It was a miracle that the Coalescence had even let him come back to work for them, but naturally he had been painfully demoted. His influence and insider knowledge was greatly diminished, and no matter how many times Inuyasha pointed this out to his police handlers, they refused to let him pull out. A crap spy was better than no spy at all in their eyes.
Inuyasha sneezed miserably and glanced at his watch. Four-thirty. The sky was beginning to lighten up as morning approached, while Kouga and the rest of the cell were still taking their sweet time. Inuyasha grabbed his radio. "What's taking so long?" he growled.
A burst of static responded before Kouga's irritating voice piped up. "Relax, cretin! This is a delicate mission – these explosives are dangerous, you know. What's the matter? The cold getting to your squishy human bones?"
Too bloody right it was. Not that Inuyasha would ever admit such a thing. "Just get on with it," he snapped back. "A police patrol car has been circling the area and gone past twice now. If I stick around here much longer they'll get suspicious."
Kouga sounded dry. "Friends of yours?"
"Fuck off," Inuyasha bit out before stuffing the radio back into his pocket. His fellow agents – Kouga especially – tended to make these kinds of insinuations all the time now. There wasn't much Inuyasha could do. If he denied it too strenuously then he'd arouse their suspicion. If he kept his mouth shut, they'd only be equally suspicious. The trick was to treat the taunts the same way he treated the jibes about his human blood: as old tired jokes that he was sick of hearing. It didn't convince anyone… but at least it kept them guessing.
Thunder rumbled somewhere overhead, and a fresh sheet of rain surged across the old warehouse that Inuyasha was crouched against. His cigarette had dwindled to nothing again, but he had no more to relight. He discarded it with a mutter of disgust.
His hands were shaking now with a strange mix of nervous energy and fatigue. They roved restlessly across the gun, loading and unloading the ammunition clip the same way people clicked their pens, staring off into the distance without paying attention to what he was doing. Clumsily, he unsnapped the clip again and blinked when it fell to the ground beside him. He didn't bother picking it up.
Inuyasha examined the unloaded gun with a hooded gaze. It looked an awful lot like the one a ten-year-old kid had aimed at him a few months ago. Inuyasha had been quite innocently buying his groceries on a particularly warm spring day when the kid had leapt out at him from behind a fence.
"Stick 'em up and give me all your money!"
To which Inuyasha had airily responded, "Have you seen what I'm carrying? Imitation milk. Does a guy with money buy imitation milk? No. So why don't you go and fuck off back to your drugs and give the gun back to your mother."
The boy had pulled the trigger.
Inuyasha had pretty much asked for it, but he'd still nearly had heart failure. Luckily, the kid was a lousy aim. Inuyasha escaped with little more than a ringing ear, while the kid was soundly thrashed and pitched into a dumpster – followed shortly by a crushed handgun. It had been one of the many times Inuyasha had cursed the Bullet Boom. Stupid kids with dangerous toys were becoming more hazardous than his day job.
Another sneeze exploded from Inuyasha's chest. Groaning in wet misery, Inuyasha pressed the barrel of the unloaded gun to his forehead and squeezed the trigger a few times. He imagined his brains spurting out the other side of his head. "Squish, squish…" he commentated chirpily.
The radio crackled in his pocket. "Getting the goods now. We'll be setting the charges in four."
"About time…" Inuyasha yawned and scratched an itch on his nose with the tip of the gun barrel.
A flash of lights blazed across his place against the wall, blinding him momentarily. Inuyasha looked out at the road and saw a familiar police patrol car turning his way. How had he missed its approach? Stupid human ears couldn't hear anything over the rain…
Quite calmly, Inuyasha switched off his radio, reloaded his gun, and stashed it away under his jacket. Hopefully the patrol car would just roll on by like the last two times… but judging from the squeaking of wet brakes, Inuyasha had run out of luck.
Two officers pulled up to the curb a few metres away and emerged with their hands virtually sewn to the butt of their projectile weapons. Inuyasha had to roll his eyes. The Bullet Boom had made an awful lot of trigger-happy cops. Only last week had he been held up at gunpoint for speeding.
"This is a restricted district," the older officer on the left announced. "Would you like to explain what you're doing here?"
Inuyasha didn't move a muscle. A droplet of water fell from the tip of his nose. "Just… enjoying the fresh air," he responded lightly, before spluttering in an attempt to disguise a rather nasty cough, which sounded uncannily like a sea lion choking on a foghorn.
"Sir, I'm afraid we'll have to ask you to leave." They'd relaxed their grip on their guns. Perhaps they thought he was nothing more than a homeless tramp? His cough certainly hadn't done him any favours other than convince them he had about ten more minutes to live.
"Alright, alright…" Inuyasha stiffly got to his feet. It was better to just comply with their wishes and move away. They'd leave after they were satisfied he was on his way, and at that point he'd be able to circle back. There was no need for anything to get ugly tonight.
As Inuyasha clenched his hands inside his jacket for warmth and turned to walk away, the ground gave a violent shudder. Behind him, the warehouse groaned in protest.
Ah…Inuyasha thought, with a tightly fixed smile on his face. Fuck…
"What was that!" cried one officer. "An earthquake!"
"Sounded like an explosion." The older officer was reaching for his gun.
Inuyasha sighed. In a single motion, he turned and lifted his hand, his finger already squeezing the trigger before the men had even noticed him. His aim was deadly. Two shots rang out, muffled somewhat by the encroaching rain, and two men in black uniforms crumbled wordlessly to the ground.
The business park was suddenly very quiet again. The hiss of rain filled the silence, punctuated by the hum of the patrol car's windscreen wipers.
Calmly, Inuyasha pocketed the gun again and wandered over to join the fallen men. He crouched down beside them and checked each man for a pulse. Both were dead, pierced through the heart.
"I would have gone for the head shots," he murmured, using his fingertips to close the fathomless, staring eyes of the older cop. "But I wanted to give you the option of an open casket funeral."
Inuyasha reached into his pocket and turned the radio back on. He wasn't surprised to hear Kouga already yammering away.
"-you human dipshit – what the hell is going on? We heard gunshots. Hellooooo? Are you dead or something?"
"Get off the frequency, you moron." Inuyasha spat into the receiver. "We have two dead uniforms up here. Better get your asses moving."
There was a long static pause.
"Eh?" Kouga prompted.
"Dead! Cops!" Inuyasha enunciated loudly. He took his finger off the call button and shot the dripping sky a pleading look. "Buttmunching asshole…"
Kouga's voice sputtered out of the radio. "What was that?"
"Buttmunching! Asshole! Get a move on!" Lest Kouga pose another dumb question, Inuyasha quickly flicked the radio off and returned it to his pocket. He scanned the street once more for any potential witnesses and began rolling the cops over as he went through their pockets.
The first one only had a few bills of money in his wallet – only enough to buy a few sandwiches. The second cop had more, tucked behind the picture of a smiling teenage girl. Probably his daughter.
If it weren't for the braces, the girl would be a spitting image of her…
Inuyasha turned at the sound of Kouga's exclamation. The wolf stood against the entrance of the warehouse with a large box under one arm and a pair of gormless demons behind him who, together, were just about smart enough to equal half of Kouga's expansive intellect (not a great feat). Inuyasha didn't remember their names as the Coalescence cells were moved around and reformed so often that the only names he ever learnt were in code.
"D'you kill those guys?" Kouga asked, lifting his hand to tilt back a pair of tinted specs.
"No, I bored them to sleep with my recital of Act Three, Scene Three from Romeo and Juliet…" Inuyasha went back to removing the contents of the cop's wallet and stuffing it in his back pocket. "Of course I killed them. I had to when you blew the hatches without waiting for me to give you the all-clear."
Kouga took offence. "You had your radio switched off!" he retorted.
"Because I was talking to the cops!" Inuyasha exploded. "They don't take kindly to people who have voices coming out of their pockets saying they're about to detonate a few bombs."
"What were you doing talking to cops, anyway!" Kouga snarled. "Having a little chitchat with your buddies?"
"Yeah, 'cause I always shoot my buddies after a good heart to heart!"
One of the cell agents behind Kouga muttered into his hand, "That explains a lot…"
"Inuyasha-no-mates," the other agreed quietly.
"You were supposed to be inco… inconspec… incon… you were supposed to be not noticeable!" Kouga barked. "You're human!"
"Even humans get picked out when they're hanging around off-limit warehouses waiting five hours for the rest of the cell to complete a thirty minute operation!"
"We got lost!"
"You always get lost! You couldn't even find the bathroom last week – you wound up pissing in the fourth floor closet!"
"Lies!" shouted Kouga.
"Why do you think everyone's been avoiding that floor recently!" Inuyasha pointed out.
Kouga looked ready to respond with another heated comeback when he fell quiet, his head turning slightly towards the twinkling city lights to the North. The other two demons had perked up too. Once again, Inuyasha could only loathe his humanity for having such bad hearing.
"They called back-up," Kouga said. "Any of you guys fancy being strung up and executed next week?"
Inuyasha rolled his eyes. The two cronies shook their heads vehemently.
"No?" Kouga shrugged. "Better get cracking then," he announced, leading the way onto the road. He brushed heavily against Inuyasha as he passed, making the human stumble heavily against the greater strength and weight of the wolf.
There was an old manhole a few metres away that had been their prearranged escape route. Kouga lifted the cover as if it were made of polystyrene and disappeared into the ground in one step, closely followed by the other two cell agents.
Inuyasha hesitated a moment. Even he could hear the approaching sirens now, but he spared one last moment to look back down at the dead men at his feet.
Two more families torn apart by tragedy…
"Inuyasha," Kouga's disembodied voice sang from somewhere beneath his feet. "Stop pillaging corpses and get a move on!"
Whatever his feelings, it didn't matter. They didn't matter. Hardly anything mattered anymore. These days, everything seemed to blur together into one long smudge of grey that tinted his days through a grim lens. The only prevailing colour seemed to be red.
Blood red, to be precise.
Inuyasha slipped down the manhole, descending the slimy metal rungs one at a time. His eyes weren't quite sharp enough to see how far he had to fall, and he didn't care to risk dropping from a great height in his condition. He ignored the snorts of derision from his unseen team-mates and continued the better-safe-than-sorry route till he was knee deep in a heavy flow of rain water and… other things.
"You didn't put the cover back on," Kouga remarked. Inuyasha squinted, but he could only see the vaguest outline of the other man's profile.
"Couldn't lift it," he shrugged in response.
Kouga tutted. "I told Naraku he'd just slow us down…" he muttered grumpily as he waded past Inuyasha, shoving him aside for a second time, and quickly scaled the ladder.
In one effortless tug, the manhole cover fell back into place and the sewer was plunged into total darkness.
Inuyasha lamented his lack of visibility…
…yet he had never been so relieved to lose his sense of smell.
Only the profoundly stupid or the exceedingly brave walked inner city streets at night. Kagome didn't consider herself to fit in either one of these categories, and simply decided the only reason she was there was because of extenuating circumstances. On any other night, she would have been soundly tucked in bed with a warm pillow to hug. Tonight was different.
No matter how much they liked to say Paris was a glorious, liberal city full of life, happiness, and colour, there were still dark corners that were just as dangerous as those of any other city on earth. You still couldn't trust it.
Which was why Kagome was glad to have Serge with her.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" he was asking, walking just behind her, out of her line of sight.
"I don't really have a choice," Kagome responded. She strode on with confidence.
A black motorbike leant against the curb up ahead. Kagome ignored it.
"Want some mint?" Serge asked.
"No, thank you."
"Mint's good for you."
"I'd prefer something else."
Kagome sighed as she drew to a halt. Serge's footsteps stopped behind her. She turned slowly, opening her mouth to tell him exactly what she wanted, but she choked when all she saw was a flash of white and a rock hurtling towards her head.
It didn't hurt. She simply hit the pavement and felt the world close in around her. Her body numbed of all sensation, save for the growing ache in her back. She couldn't move. Her vision was failing and her lungs were struggling to draw in breath.
I'm dying, she realised.
In the darkness, Kagome could only just make out the profile of his face. Fear prickled through every nerve in her body…
Then she realised she was just looking at a vase.
An upside down vase.
It took Kagome several more seconds before she realised she was the one who was upside down. The pain in her back had formed because of her unnatural backwards slump over the edge of the sofa. One foot was hooked behind a cushion while the top of her head brushed the floor.
Great… an early morning aneurysm. Just what she needed.
Kagome rolled herself carefully onto the floor and sat back against the foot of the sofa while she rubbed the sleep from her eyes and calmed her hair down from its upright position. The dream was already fading from her mind. It disturbed her, but that was nothing new. Every now and then, her subconscious seemed only too happy to remind her of the very event that she was struggling hard to forget. Every time she thought she'd got a lid on her memories, something like that happened.
Since coming to Paris, her dreams had been full of people braining her with rocks, beauty products, notebooks, and traffic cones. The people behind the attacks differed. Sometimes it was Kikyo, sometimes it was a teacher from school. Occasionally it was her own mother, and she guessed she could now add Serge to her list. After a while, her mind seemed to give up all pretence of symbolism and meaning as it confronted her with the very same memory that haunted her whenever she sat for too long in the quiet apartment.
Since the clock had broken, Kagome had resorted to leaving her TV on all night to help her sleep. She directed her gaze across the room to the box of flashing lights and sound and focused blearily on the caption at the bottom of the screen.
An early morning news bulletin.
"…bodies of inhabitants of the small village were found piled in a shallow trench behind a farm. Two survivors are claiming that they were raided by the military for not complying with Japanese restrictions on local radio broadcasting. The incident has not been reported by Japanese media…"
Kagome sighed. Japan was always on the news these days. And if it wasn't the situation in Japan that was hogging the headlines and offending people's sense of liberal freedom, it was the American General making vague noises about wanting to send an army into Japan to 'sort things out' – which most people took to mean 'make Japan the 76th state of the American Empire'.
The world sucked.
Kagome felt that fact with every fibre of her being. It pained her so much that she was compelled to switch the television off and sink onto the floor with a cushion dragged over her head. If she thought too much about the growing famine in the British Isles, the plagues sweeping through quarantined Russia, and the floods engulfing Italy, it was all too easy to get overwhelmed. She wanted to do nothing more than lie on the floor of her living room and weep for all the suffering everyone had to endure while she lived it up in fair Paris.
The thought of her family living in the heart of the madness that was descending on Tokyo while she played around in the swimming pool of a villa made her feel endlessly guilty. She didn't even know if her family was ok. What if they'd been caught by a car bomb? What if they'd been collateral damage in a gang shoot-out? What if something had happened to the shrine during the government's crackdown campaign against all forms of religion?
The uncertainty gnawed at her.
The letters she'd wrote, all stashed away in a box beneath her bed, were meaningless. It was unlikely her family would ever get to read them.
It was unlikely he'd ever receive his…
All Kagome could do was continue to play dead and keep out of everyone's way. That was all that was expected of her. That's all she had to do. It was by far the easiest path of least resistance. There was no indication that she was going to be sent back to Japan to join her family. The embassy had already sent her notification that she was to inform them when she'd found a full-time job so they could stop sending her cheques.
It was obvious they thought she would be in France long enough to complete her education and obtain a real job. Then what?
Start dating? Marry Serge? Have green-eyed babies fluent in Japanese and French? Find a way to explain to Serge why her family could never know of their children?
What kind of life was that?
When she was fifteen, Kagome had made a reckless promise. She'd sworn that even if it meant dismantling the Coalescence itself, she would take back her life no matter what. It had been a stupid vow made by a naïve girl who hadn't known the full facts of her situation. But exactly how much closer had she gotten to reclaiming her life?
If anything, she'd physically gone in the wrong direction. Paris was nowhere near her family shrine.
She was just rolling over and giving up like everyone back in Tokyo. It was impossible to fight something so much bigger and more important than herself. So why even try?
Because no one else will.
Sunrise was both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it meant Inuyasha was no longer deaf, dumb, and blind. On the other hand, he could finally smell himself in all his sewer-trekking glory.
Flooded sewers were not kind on his clothes.
But at least he didn't have to bother with the debriefing. While Kouga and the rest of the cell were summoned straight to Naraku's office the moment they walked through the door, Inuyasha was free to hit the shower and change his clothes. And by a 'change of clothes', he meant 'steal Kouga's'.
That was the opportunistic side of being untrustworthy. No one wanted to discuss mission details with you, leaving you with a bit more spare time on your hands.
Inuyasha sat alone in the empty changing rooms, scrubbing his hair dry with a towel that smelled like it had already been intimate with a few dozen other people. But it was virtually potpourri compared to what he'd spent the best part of the morning wading through. Kouga's clothes weren't smelling as fresh as a daisy either, but it was better than nothing. Maybe. He'd probably have to have another thorough shower when he got home… as well as burn the clothes.
With a deep sigh, the hanyou got to his feet and mooched across to the sinks to splash some cold water on his face. He dabbed himself dry with a grey sleeve and caught sight of himself in the mirror.
Another sigh escaped his lips.
The stark florescent light was not kind to his complexion, but then, nothing short of pitch black darkness was. Dark marks of old injuries and scars stood out prominently against skin that was almost as pale and dry as his hair. Around his eyes were dark smudges of purple and red. He rubbed them half-heartedly, but he only wound up making the discolouration worse.
It was a sign that the lack of sleep and poor diet was catching up with him.
Wearily, he pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes, suddenly feeling just as tired and old as he looked. A familiar feeling welled up beneath his ribs. He'd never understood it, but it was somewhere between the urge to vomit and the desire to scream until he was hoarse.
The door to the changing rooms flung open behind him. Inuyasha lowered his hands quickly to look through the mirror at the new arrival.
"Boss wants to see you," Kouga drawled. He was picking at his teeth with disinterest, but there was a sullen note attached to his tone.
Inuyasha didn't move. "Let me guess. About those cops, right?"
Kouga hummed with a vague shrug. That was as good as 'yes'.
"Fine," Inuyasha grunted. He moved to fetch a hair tie from his locker and snapped his wet hair into a high ponytail before mooching slowly towards Kouga.
At the door, Kouga smirked. "Very nice," he said. "Very ninja."
Inuyasha viciously flicked the wolf's nose as he passed. Kouga squeaked indignantly and scowled after the hanyou. But as he rubbed the abused flesh, he noticed something else. "Hey! Are you wearing my clothes!"
It had been more than a year since Inuyasha had been allowed into Naraku's office. Not much had changed. The wallpaper was still foul and the mismatched furniture waved a vulgar finger at any concept of feng shui. The only real change was that the tank of sea monkeys had been swapped for an aquarium of Siamese Fighting Fish. Much more eye-pleasing. Had someone finally grown the balls to tell the boss that he was mooning over a tank of brine shrimp?
Inuyasha's guess about the cops had been dead-on. Kouga was succinctly told to wait outside while Naraku indicated Inuyasha could take a seat. He waited until the door was shut and they were finally alone before letting a slow smile spread across his face.
Naraku cut straight to the point. There would be no dancing on eggshells around the matter of distrust and betrayal. "So, Kouga tells me you killed two police officers."
Inuyasha shrugged. Naraku's office was dark, warm, and smelled a little ripe. Just like his flat. He felt himself wanting to nod off.
"Any reason?" Naraku tented his fingers, holding the apex to his chin. "Self-defence?"
Inuyasha shrugged again. "Not really. They heard Kouga blow the vaults too early, so I shot them."
Naraku's eyebrows tilted in amusement. "A bit hasty."
"They could have called for assistance. They had guns. They would have apprehended the others the moment they appeared, so why wait for the problem to manifest before dealing with it? Nip it in the bud before things get unnecessarily out of hand." Inuyasha looked at the fish. He could have sworn the blue one was staring at him.
"Good initiative," Naraku commented. "They did have guns, and you were human. One shot could have killed you. The police are a bit overeager when it comes to firearms, so I can see them simply taking a shot at you in momentary panic. It's a nasty surprise a lot of people have been experiencing lately."
"I don't like surprises," Inuyasha conceded, clasping his hands behind his neck. He looked at the floor, not bothering to keep the earnest venom from his tone when he added, "And I don't like cops."
A lengthy silence fell on the office. The aquatic pump hummed quietly in the corner as Naraku stared thoughtfully into space. The blue fish was still staring belligerently at Inuyasha. It was unnerving him rather. "Sir, what's his name?"
Naraku didn't even blink. "Bubbles. Don't worry, he stares at everyone like that."
Another beat of silence suffused the air before Naraku finally tipped his chair back. "We have a mission coming up. Rather important. Rather secret."
Inuyasha nodded numbly.
"Ever heard of the Grand Hyatt Tokyo hotel in Roppongi?"
Inuyasha shook his head mutely.
"Nice place," Naraku informed him. "Attended a wedding there once. The food was to die for." He chuckled like he'd made a joke.
Inuyasha almost started. "Isn't that the hotel where that whole bunch of businessmen got food poisoning and died?"
"The very same!" Naraku dropped his hands against the desk. "Only this time, I'll be asking you to poison a contingent of UN workers who'll be holding conferences there between now and a week next Friday."
"Ooh, actual work?" Inuyasha smirked. "I'm honoured. You finally decided to trust me?"
"Mm…" Naraku's lips twisted. "You're starving to death, Inuyasha. If I don't give you proper work, you'll wither away by the end of the year. It's more out of pity than anything."
Inuyasha ignored the comment. "Will I be doing it solo?" he asked.
"No. I'm sending Kagura with you," Naraku said, turning his chair to regard the fish. Bubbles immediately stopped ogling Inuyasha and resumed swimming. "It's a classy place. The only way you'll get in is with a classy woman like her hanging off your arm."
"I say that, but you'll be posing as staff. Kagura will bag a waitress and you can enrol as a trainee chef. Try and slip the poison into the right meal." Naraku gave a short laugh. "Last time we played this gig at the Grand Hyatt, we wound up poisoning two families and a bachelor party before we got our targets."
"Ha ha," Inuyasha agreed. "When will this be?"
"No idea. Between now and the Friday, I suppose. Kagura's busy in Kyoto at the moment, and our poison specialist has stomach flu." Naraku leaned forward with a benign smile. "I just thought I'd tell you sooner so I could see a little flicker of hope enter your cold dead eyes. Living off one BigWac meal a week must get a little depressing. Are you depressed, Inuyasha?"
Inuyasha looked at his boss evenly. "Hungry, mostly."
"Well, you're free to scarf anything you want at Grand Hyatt," Naraku declared. "So you're willing to accept the mission?"
"Wonderful! You can go now." Naraku dismissed him with a wave of the hand. Bubbles glubbed sullenly at him from behind his glass wall.
Inuyasha heaved himself up and out of the office, only to come face to face with Kouga again. "Strip now," the wolf demon commanded. "Or prepare for the thrashing of your-"
In no mood to squabble with Kouga, Inuyasha pulled back his fist and slammed it squarely into the other man's jaw. He didn't hold back. Kouga bounced off the wall before crumpling into a neat heap on the floor. It wasn't often that anyone would KO Kouga. Normally it took the aid of mustard gas or some sort of anchor to knock him out, but today Inuyasha was not a happy bunny. And when Inuyasha was not a happy bunny, anyone who came on the receiving end of his fist would be seeing stars all day.
Naraku's voice drifted from his office in vague reprimand. "Inuyasha, don't kill Kouga. It's not nice…"
Inuyasha hissed a curse and cradled his hand against his stomach. He wondered just how many bones he'd fractured on that numbskull. "Sorry, sir."
After a quick pit stop at his locker to collect a fisherman style hat to jam over his ears, Inuyasha headed home. A hat was a necessity in a city like Tokyo with a growing hostility towards demons. Already he'd been accosted twice by gangs of human youths who had spotted his ears and taken an instant dislike to him. Both gangs had wound up scattered across three whole districts of Tokyo by the time Inuyasha was done with them.
Even with the hat, Inuyasha still drew the occasional odd and tasteless stare as he meandered through the streets on his way to the train station. His hair was odd. A bit too different. A few years ago, people had been indifferent to his appearance, taking him as a human with an odd sense of style. These days paranoia was ingrained so deeply in people that anything that set you apart from the mob automatically made you a suspicious person. A rebel. Rebels were harmful to a peaceful society, the government warned through various campaigns and advertisements.
By the time Inuyasha reached the station, it was time for the early morning rush hour. Streets were full of dull people adorned in black and grey (white had gone out of fashion again) who were probably on their way to work and school. The station was flooded with people while the trains moved in and out, far too full to let more than a handful of bodies on at a time. Inuyasha scanned the area closely before he was satisfied he hadn't been followed. He was alone. Well, as alone as you could get when you had three hundred plus people crowded around you.
Inuyasha took out his phone and dialled a number from memory. He pressed a hand over the ear under his hat to concentrate on the sound of the ring tone.
Someone answered with a cough. "Password," a man prompted.
"Obedience," Inuyasha had to almost shout to be heard.
"Ok, ok…" There was a shuffle of paper on the other end of the line. "We picked up two dead officers in the vicinity of your mission last night. Please tell me you were the one who got them."
"Yeah," Inuyasha answered flatly.
He heard his police handler sigh in relief. "Good. So it wasn't for nothing. Did it work?"
"In a way. Naraku invited me into his office."
"Fantastic. Any names? Any targets?" the handler asked greedily.
Inuyasha clenched his teeth briefly as he composed himself. "I told you before, it's not like that. I have to earn trust. Naraku's set me up on a mission some time between now and next week. It's a fairly big and messy one."
"Grand Hyatt Tokyo in Roppongi. The target is some sort of party of delegates from the UN."
"Ok. Good. Thanks for the tip. We might be able to-"
"No," Inuyasha interrupted. "It's a trap."
There was a long pause. "Oh?"
"There's only one other person who'll be coming with me. She's high-ranking. I don't think there's anyone Naraku trusts more. If this mission gets screwed up or the police miraculously arrive to save the day, they'll know exactly who leaked the information." Inuyasha rubbed his face, feeling tired again. "Naraku's testing me. Shooting the cops wasn't enough to convince him I'm not the mole."
"I see. Can you hold on for a minute?"
"Whatever." Inuyasha rolled his eyes as a cheerful little ditty began playing through the earpiece. The handler was probably off to inform his superiors and decide on the next best plan of action. Inuyasha didn't know why he bothered. The answer always came back the same.
A train was pulling into the station. People swarmed to the very edge of the platform, determined to be the first to get on the undoubtedly cramped carriages. Inuyasha quite mercilessly beat a clear path through the crowd till he was standing right before the train door as it opened. The music was still playing relentlessly in his ear as he stepped aboard. A dozen people crushed on behind him, almost upsetting the hat from his head. Inuyasha tugged it down sharply over his ears again and reached up to grab an overhanging bar. To fall over in this kind of crowd probably meant you'd be trampled on for a week before anyone noticed you were down there.
The music still played. Inuyasha chewed the inside of his cheek in boredom, ignoring the dirty look a middle-aged woman crushed against his side was giving his hair.
"Wait, wait, wait!"
Inuyasha glanced at the platform. The doors were beeping, preparing to close, but a schoolgirl was rushing to get on. She looked desperate, not much older than fourteen, and so uncannily like…
Inuyasha forcibly looked away with a mild grimace. It seemed that half the population of teenage girls looked like her. The door started to slide closed, and Inuyasha spared a small glance at the girl. She was reaching out for the opening, panicking at being left behind, and for a brief moment her eyes met Inuyasha's. The bottom almost dropped from his stomach.
Like an elevator…
The girl was cut off. The train started to move away from the station and the girl was soon gone from sight. Another hand passed over Inuyasha's brow. He was sweating, but that didn't have anything to do with the clammy atmosphere of the train carriage.
The music ended. "Yo?"
"I'm here." Inuyasha said. His voice carried through the silent compartment, though no one looked up.
"Ok, I talked to the superior. He says just continue as normal."
"As normal…" Inuyasha repeated, feeling his jaw harden. "You mean, he wants me to go in and poison all those people."
A few people inched away from him.
"We feel it's more important that you regain trust and power within the Coalescence," his handler told him frankly. "At the moment, you're about as useful as a dry pen. The only reason we haven't abandoned you is because you are the only insider we have. And if you don't start rising in the ranks and get some decent information soon, you will be ditched."
"Lovely." Inuyasha deadpanned.
"The UN workers congregating at that particular hotel are worth the loss if it means you can gain trust and ultimately save more lives."
"Right." Inuyasha swallowed his growing revulsion. "Like how killing those two cops was 'saving lives'. Like how putting bombs in playgrounds is alright on the off chance that at some point in the future, I might be able to give you the name of the Coalescence's leader."
"Don't get shirty now, Inuyasha." His handler's voice was mocking and curt. "It's your own fault that you're in this position. You were killing cops and kiddies long before we caught you."
Inuyasha tightened his grip on the overhead rail.
"Oh, and before I go, we actually managed to catch one of the sub-leaders in another city. He's given us a few names of some high-ranking agents. There's quite a few in Tokyo. We're a bit stretched on manpower, so would it be alright if you took care of one or two?"
It wasn't a real request. It was just a nice way to pose an order. "Just give me the names," he mumbled, beaten.
His handler rattled off five in total, along with their addresses, description, and aliases. Inuyasha grunted with every prompt of "Is that clear?"
"Have you got all that?" his handler asked pointedly.
"You're not writing it down. Write it down."
"I'm writing it down!" Inuyasha lied fiercely.
"Alright then. Hope to hear from you again." Which was another way of hinting that Inuyasha should try not to get himself killed any time soon.
Inuyasha hung up and looked around. Despite the cramped conditions of the train carriage, he'd now managed to accumulate some personal space. Evidently people had overheard some of the keywords of his conversation like 'kill', 'cops', and 'coalescence' and had given him as wide a berth as possible. No one would say anything. No one would report him. People were indifferent to crime and violence so long as they stayed out of its way. He could probably strangle the old man sitting by the window, and the most he would get would be an "Oh, bother…" from some uptight woman while everyone stepped back and averted their eyes.
However, if he were to take off his hat, it would be another story. Murder was one thing. Being a demon was something entirely more unacceptable. He'd probably find himself beaten to within an inch of his life.
The awkwardness of the journey relented somewhat when the train drew into the station at the heart of the business district. The majority of passengers took off, as well as a fair amount of the kids in school uniforms, and Inuyasha was finally able to find himself a seat.
Four stops further down the line, Inuyasha got off. After a short walk across the bridge running over the railway lines, Inuyasha was pretty much on his doorstep.
The flat was two doors away from the train station, backed right up against the railway lines and jammed between one abandoned house and one semi-collapsed office block. With each train that rumbled past, the flat threatened to follow the neighbouring offices into the ground, but as long as it remained upright, it remained the best that Inuyasha could afford.
It was a severe drop in living standard compared to his old flat, which hadn't exactly been Buckingham Palace either. But it was either this or a cardboard box. Both leaked and smelled strongly of rats, but at least here he could fit a sofa inside. A sofa which now doubled as a bed since his mattress had mysteriously disappeared four months ago. In fact, a lot of things went missing from that flat – including the lock on his door.
Inuyasha trudged up the outdoor steps to the topmost flat (he decided that in the likely event that the building collapsed, he at least would come out on top) and pushed open his door with a finger, before shutting it again behind him with a foot. There wasn't much to choose between indoors and outdoors. It was just as cold inside the flat as it was outside, if not slightly damper since there appeared to be more puddles in his home than on the street below.
Wearily, Inuyasha slumped onto his sofa, briefly happy to see it was exactly where he'd left it. For a long time he simply lay there, unmoving. He listened to the trains clatter past the window and watched the plaster dust fall from the dipping cracks in the ceiling.
A squeak drew his attention to the corner of the room. From under an old newspaper poked a pink, wobbly nose with whiskers. "Ah… Binky… my one and only friend! How nice to see you out and about during the day."
Binky ignored him and vanished back into her pile of junk to snooze. Inuyasha's stomach gave a wrenching groan. He momentarily entertained the thought of crispy aromatic rat for dinner, regardless of 'one and only friends'. He eventually forfeited the idea. However desperately hungry he was… he hadn't quite sunk to hobo level yet.
The phone in his pocket suddenly leapt to life, shattering the silence of the flat and causing Binky to rustle indignantly. Inuyasha groaned. No one called him unless they wanted him to kill someone or something.
"What?" he answered bluntly.
"Inuyasha! Bonjour! I hope I haven't called at an awkward time. These time zones are tricky things…"
Inuyasha stared at the wall, nonplussed. "Um… what?"
"I'm insulted. My own assassin doesn't even remember my name. I expect that from my father, but not from you, Inuyasha. Did our time together mean so little to you?"
Another groan tore from Inuyasha's throat. "Urgh… Miroku," he said, realising it as he said it. "What do you want?"
"Nothing at all!" Miroku chirped. "Just calling to, you know, catch up. It's been a while, hasn't it?"
"Nearly two years," Inuyasha pointed out. "Why the hell are you calling me? I thought I'd gotten rid of you."
"Charming. I hope you know that this call is costing me a small fortune."
"Then hang up." Inuyasha was more than ready to do it for him.
"Ah, no, don't be hasty. I just wanted to call to ask you something."
Vaguely intrigued, Inuyasha rubbed a hand over his tired face. "Shoot."
"Um… you wouldn't happen to know where Kagome is, would you?" Miroku's voice was full of forced lightness and nonchalance. "Only, I think she's done a runner and left the country…"
Hope you're feeling better.
Much. I have a sneaking suspicion that the amount of red hearts and soppy love songs on the radio and television actually moved me to physical sickness. The same thing happened to me on St. Patrick's day after seeing too much green… and drinking too much Guinness (which would make anyone throw up, regardless of how drunk they were).
Was Serge modelled on Hojo?
Serge is a Frenchificated Hojo, with a bit more sensitivity. Hojo might have been included in this story as one of Kagome's previous romantic interests, but sadly, he's currently hiding out in the Alps after a nasty run-in with the Yakuza, going by the name of Henrietta with Bob the Goat as his only companion. Take that as you like. (I don't know. He might get his own spin-off story for that one…)
Why do people sneeze in anime when people talk about them/Why did Inuyasha sneeze?
It's an old Japanese belief that when you sneeze, it means someone is probably talking about you (not always in a flattering light). It's not just limited to Japan though, as China, India and Pakistan have similar myths when it comes to sneezing (where it usually means a loved one is thinking of you).
How long have they been in Paris?
Eighteen months exactly. (The hint was in the chapter title.)
Why is Miroku discouraging Kagome's romantic relationships?
This'll be clear in the next chapter…
You seem to like to give Inuyasha very traumatizing pasts…
Emotionally scarred and traumatised people are just SO much sexier than the average!
Where do you buy sea monkeys?
There's only one place I ever found and bought sea monkeys: on the ferry from France to England. I have no idea what they were doing there, but I suspect they were just plastic boxes of sea water fresh from over the side of the boat that had 'Sea Monkeys' scrawled across them. Having bought a set, I can assure people that these things are not monkeys. Nor do they hold any kind of resemblance to the mermaid-esque people pictured on the box. I felt so cheated I eventually flushed them down the toilet. My love is fickle like that.
Did Inuyasha kill Daisuke Hoshi?
No. I'll probably explain this later on in the story.
How long have you been drawing?
Since last Tuesday.
There's a lot I don't understand here…
There's a lot Kagome doesn't understand either. Things shall be revealed in all good time…
Is that ice cream thing true?
Yes. Completely. I didn't make it up at all and it's true that all chocolate lovers are shallow and vacuous, mint-fiends are left-wing, and all strawberry girls are too cool for this world. There has never been a documented case to say otherwise.