There is no time more conducive to pain than winter. Oh, Winter, that time when the very air smells of ice and ischemia, when everything dies save the handful of organisms who had, after eons of fighting the good, evolutionary fight, had come out with thick fur, lots of fat, and the ability to sleep for months on end. What a noble attribute that must be. Very few living creatures, and certainly none of the sentient ones, could survive for very long in the cold. The body was not designed to. Veins would constrict; blood pressure would drop; the thoughts, though never truly the proud cacophony of higher thinking and frontal lobe stimulation about which sentient beings liked to brag, would slow and eventually cease. No, cold was not contributive to life.

In fact, how does one best describe a corpse? Stiff? Pale? How about cold? There never was, nor will there ever be, a balmy corpse. Yes, death is cold. On the same note, though perhaps less severe to a degree, winter is cold. Is it then safe to assume that death and winter are synonymous?

With a puff of warm air, thickened and condensed against the bosom of frigid wind into a life-indicative cloud, the Demon Lord laughed mirthlessly. He rarely deigned to ponder death. However, in his silent and ever clandestine discomfort, he would agree that, yes, death and winter are indeed synonymous. The guards that moved restlessly behind him would never know it by looking upon their lord, but Sesshomaru loathed the cold. He loathed the cold nearly as much as he loathed humans. He loathed the cold nearly as much as he loathed oysters. (This knowledge, oh eager readers, was gifted to none but one other creature alive: Sesshomaru cook. You should consider yourselves blessed.) He loathed the cold nearly as much as he loathed the concept of fate that, despite his lifelong and outright resolution to never believe in control lying in anyone's hands but his own, had, for lack of a better phrase, screwed him with his pants on.

Sesshomaru was one sword short of what he believed to be true contentment. He was one illegitimate brother great of the familial honor his ancestors had known before the contamination of his blood. He was one arm behind, one hand below, and five fingers beneath every other youkai lord in Japan with the exception of the Lord of the East, who was toriyoukai, making Sesshomaru, along with his other inadequacies, two wings late. And now, from the looks of the scene playing out in his courtyard, Sesshomaru was one human female closer to forsaking his birthright and handing his lands over to the little cesspools of putsch he knew to be blooming on his borders. What was the point of noble lineage if it did not qualify one for being above such plebeian concepts as generosity and
cordiality? Especially munificence toward human in-laws.

He scoffed. Human in-laws. The phrase tasted like bile, or worse, oysters.

She climbed out of her palanquin clumsily, making enough noise to ensure that, in case the word had not been properly communicated throughout the city, even the deaf youkai would know that there was a human within Sesshomaru's walls.

From his perch atop the innermost battlement of the city, the Demon Lord watched the demonstration of the glaring differences between humans and youkai with well practiced condescension. She had the hem of her kimono hoisted nearly to her knees as she stepped off the palanquin and into the snow. She then commenced to stand in the ankle deep accumulation, looking around her with sad, vacant eyes, waiting for someone to tell her what to do. A wind blew by, pulling her hair and kimono in its frigid fingers. The female shivered and tugged her haori closer around her little, frail body.

Disgust. A deep resentment of everything about that girl crept into Sesshomaru like an illness. She was a representation of all things he abhorred: she was human; she was his late brother's mate; from what Sesshomaru could recall, she was vocal... very vocal; knowing his luck, Sesshomaru thought it was safe to assume that she probably loved oysters. Clouds of condensed breath rose off her like she was a little volcano, spitting out steam just to irritate the clear, blue sky. That meant something, though. At least she was not cold. No, Sesshomaru remembered her being quite warm in character, and she was, by definition, a warm-bodied creature.

"Is that her?" a familiar voice asked from behind Sesshomaru. He did not turn to know who it was. Coming to stand at his right side was none other than his live-in female: not quite his mate, but the only youkai he granted any sort of intimacy. Though, because Sesshomaru had, over the decades, grown emotional armor that made the walls of his city blush in ineptitude, their intimacy never leaked from his bed into their conversations.

"Yes," replied the Demon Lord, thinking her question stupid. Who else could it be? Thankfully, he only had one sister-in-law. Had his brother been polygamous, Sesshomaru's palace would have undoubtedly been teeming with mourning and painfully childless human females.

"Pathetic," she muttered, turning her soft, brown ears backwards. "Sheltering her this way is shameful."

"Your opinion was not requested, Sokkenai," Sesshomaru informed her firmly. Sokkenai, still watching the human below, flared her nostrils as she always did when her consort snubbed her. Needless today, the muscles of her pale, narrow nose where quite adroit. Had her attractive, little nose had hands, it would have been ambidextrous. And polylingual.

"Of course not, my Lord." After years of uncompanionable companionship, Sesshomaru had learned that Sokkenai seemed to think that using formalities when their relationship was otherwise informal offended him. He allowed her to believe that; he preferred formalities. There was nothing like protocol to deepen the chasms between souls. "How long will she be staying here?"

"That remains undetermined."

"Hmm," Sokkenai replied, snapping out her fan the way Sesshomaru snapped out his claws. Even in the winter, when wind was abundant, the female carried her red and white, flower print fan. It was like her portable, failsafe poker-face.

Sesshomaru turned a dark expression on her. "What are you insinuating, female?" She never whipped out the fan unless she was insinuating something.

"Do you think she'd make a good companion for the little one? Perhaps you could start a collection, my lord?" she asked mockingly, smirking behind her creased, paper partition.

Sesshomaru narrowed his eyes. In a flash of motion, he snatched the fan from her hand and closed it. She did not flinch.

"The human will stay here until she can fend for herself."

"And when will that be?"

Male inuyoukai, especially since the race came to power, adhered to a strong code of respect toward their women because youkai of their persuasion were not easy to tolerate, and females willing to make that sacrifice were few and far between. For this reason, Sesshomaru made a pact with himself to not strike females. Had the Demon Lord not known for certain from personal investigation that Sokkenai was female, he would have acted on whatever slight sliver of doubt there was and beaten the shit out of her.

Instead, he preyed on her with verbal claws and innuendo-sharpened teeth. "Feeling insecure?" he asked, pinning her fan against the stone parapet before him.

Sokkenai's delicate nostrils stood at attention, but she swiftly masked her affront behind a sultry smile. Turning her back to the barricade and leaning backwards on her elbows, she placed one slender hand over Sesshomaru's arm. She began to purr deep in her plentiful chest.

"Not in the least." Sokkenai knew she had one advantageous tool when it came to Sesshomaru. She possessed the single power, that she knew of, that kept the Demon Lord seated where she could get to him: the inherent puissance that all women had over their men. And, with Sesshomaru's repressed character, sexual frustration would undoubtedly eat him alive if it were not for Sokkenai's altruism. It was a short leash, and Sokkenai never hesitated to give Sesshomaru's a rough jerk whenever she felt the need.

However, Sesshomaru was in no mood to be jerked. "Go inside," he ordered, pulling his arm free from her touch.

Sokkenai frowned, pushing out her plush lower lip. "Must you be so surly?"

He chose not to reply.

"Sesshomaru-sama?" she asked, leaning toward him slightly.

It takes a very potent sense of egocentrism to make the mere sliding away of one's eyes offensive. To dismiss with such a slight gesture requires the self-possession of a god. Had Sesshomaru's superiority been a drink, it would have been straight moonshine on an empty stomach; deities averaged in at about aSmirnoff Twister plus or minus a glass of water afterwards.

The Demon Lord's supercilious look at the human female below, who was still standing in the snow but now staring up at him piercingly, wielded a stiletto just narrow enough to slide between the plates of Sokkenai's armor. She scoffed, not bothering to hide it.

"I'm sure both of us remember how discriminating your taste is, my lord. I am not insecure." With that, she plucked her fan from beneath his hand and elegantly stormed off down the narrow walkway atop the battlement.

Kagome stood in the snow, feeling the capillaries in her feet cry out before going into massive spasm against the creeping, wet cold. She sensed the youkai around her staring as they went about their business, none of them offering to show her inside to her room where she would undoubtedly be held captive by the shame of simply being what she was. And if the resentment of the people around her was not enough to isolate, the soul-wrenching, unmitigated grief would certainly do the trick.
With an interest conceived in having found nothing interesting for that last five hours, Kagome watched the Demon Lord and his conversational partner high above and across the courtyard from her. Judging by their tactics when moving around each other, the female youkai flanking Sesshomaru was his mate.

Inuyasha had mentioned a mate. He had warned her about the female, Sokkenai, once. Kagome remembered having the conversation, though she could not recall how long ago the exchange had occurred.

Lately, Kagome had noticed, time did not seem as important to her. How long ago had her last visit home been? She neither knew nor cared. How long ago had the ceremony been? She could only conjure up images of her companions kneeling at their wedding. How long ago had anything been? It did not matter.

Inuyasha had died four days and eight hours ago. That mattered. She could recall that one quite clearly.

In the vast pasture of expansive dysphoria that had come to encompass just about everything Kagome knew, a single, fungus-ridden plant reared an ugly mottled bloom: clearly, the only thing that kept Sesshomaru and his mate from complete estrangement was their pleasure in offending the other. Kagome watched their faces, their gestures, and their postures closely, none of which were characteristic of a healthy, loving partnership. So at least there was that. Kagome was reassured that she was not the only one suffering.

"Misery loves company," Kagome had told Inuyasha on one of his despondent, moonless evenings spent hidden and guarded by creatures he had once deemed beneath
him. "But if it makes you feel any better, I can think of something really sad, and we can just sit and be miserable together."

So her despair had some friends. It did not really make her feel any better.

From a passage in the hard hide of Sesshomaru's palace, a small body slipped by a sliding door that was opened just enough for her to pass. Her high, black ponytail bobbed and swayed as she came out onto the veranda where she paused and waited for a servant to place a pair of shoes on the ground below her.

Seemingly oblivious to the cold that threatened to eat the winter world alive, she stepped into her shoes and plodded out into the snowy expanse of the courtyard. Her little pale hands clutched her haori close in an almost affectionate grip, and her little pale face, complete with a sweet, pink mouth, button nose, and two large brown eyes that looked prone to wide, glistening gazes guaranteed to get her what she wanted all hugged between rounded cheeks still graced with baby fat. As though the cold itself could not keep its hands off the cherubic little girl, its icy fingers painted a rosy blush across her cheeks.

And she grinned, pushing her cheeks into plush little mounds of childhood glee. Rin bowed quickly.

"Kagome-san," she said, her voice a welcoming contrast to the frigid air. "I'm so happy you're here."

"Thank you, Rin," Kagome replied, feigning a smile with the belief that the little girl would not be able to read her. "I'm glad to be here."

Rin, the tender little human who had managed, years ago, to dig her petite fingers into the ice of the Demon Lord's heart to scoop out a place where she could fit quite snugly, titled her head to the side. Her eyes softened. "You needn't lie, Kagome-san," the little girl said, her smile turning sympathetic.

Kagome was not sure how to reply. Instead, she pulled her eyes from the suddenly knowing expression on Rin's face. Cutting across the snowy courtyard, Kagome's eyes moved up to her host, her brother-in-law. He was watching her.

A tinkling laugh spilled from Rin, sounding like the background music of sunlight breaking through cloud cover. Kagome looked back at her. "Well, however you're feeling, you must be cold. Come inside, please. Oh, you must be hungry, too! We'll get you lunch and then I'll show you to your room."

Still watching Sesshomaru where he stood over them all, spectating detachedly, Kagome replied, "If I could take lunch in my room..."

"Certainly," Rin said, understanding from personal experience how overwhelming it could be to be human in the center of a demon city. Keeping her hands safely tucked inside her sleeves, Rin gestured to the door from whence she came. She then started in that direction, Kagome following her with slightly dragging strides. As Kagome stepped from her shoes and onto the veranda, she felt something tugging at the trailing and slightly frayed edge of her psyche, attempting to hold her still while trying not to attract her attention. Kagome paused and turned.

Sesshomaru was still watching her.

A taste for finery is often assumed to be a symptom of that expensive and, for the most part, vastly overrated disease, sophistication. As is the case with most victims, they are not born infected, but through conditioning inflicted by growing up surrounded by fellow infectees, the victim falls into the same loop that has plagued eaters of the upper crust for centuries: sophistication makes you arrogant, and arrogance makes you sophisticated.

Other symptoms of sophistication include: a preference for large dwellings, a great abundance of stuff, (art, clothing, jewelry, little figurines of animals made of crystal, etc.) a virtual army of servants, the tendency to demand that all around you(including your current fuck-buddy) refer to you by your title and not your name, the ability to snub even the nigh snub-impervious with the flick of one finely manicured hand, and a lot of money and-or power. Sesshomaru had all this, though his crystal figurine collection was lacking to the point of inexistence. He preferred the less fragile of keepsakes even if cynical onlookers would often note the sudden plentitude of rather fragile females in his domicile.

Kagome knew, from what she had seen of the Demon Lord's ability to shed blood and organs while still appearing pristine, that Sesshomaru qualified as sophisticated; however, what she knew from the battlefield was promptly blown out of the water by what she saw in the Distributor of Viscera's home.

The Palace of the West was copious. Its walls were copious. Its ceilings were copious. Its tatami floors and shoji doors and ikebana-ridden nooks were copious. Kagome felt very small and very rustic in her faded blue, cotton kimono as she padded down the hall, wearing stained tabi. She was suddenly aware of her hair hanging inelegantly down her back. Kagome could feel the dirt under her fingernails and the bruises on her knees.

While fretting over her appearance, a single notion occurred to Kagome like a large, harpy of a bird coming home to roost in her mind: it did not matter what she looked like. She was human. That fact by itself was enough to tear up her raffle ticket for the grand prize of a little patrician culture. Sorry, Kagome. Better luck next time.

The atrium of the palace was like a mouth, open and salivating with tapestries of large, white dogs stuck in its teeth. Rin guided Kagome down at throat of a hall with sliding doors like gills on either side. About halfway down the beast's esophagus, they took a turn to the left and slipped like spent oxygen through one of the doors as youkai, servants and nobles alike, hid their aversion behind a poorly fabricated ignorance. As if one human was not bad enough, their collective demon consciousness grumbled. Two left them surfeited.

A covered walkway stretched out its long body from the porch outside the hall like a wooden snake, dead in the snow. Their footsteps sounded loud and hollow on the serpent's back, making Kagome feel even more human than she had before.

"You'll be staying right up here," Rin said over her shoulder, pointing to a structure, one of many outlying buildings reserved for private conference or residence of guests. It looked to be large enough for a family or small group, and it would suffice. It had to. Kagome did not have much choice.

Somewhere, deep in her starving heart, a little voice began to weep at the thought of sleeping alone in that building. But what were her options? Would someone sleep in there with her? There was no one.

Rin opened the door to building and stood to the side to allow Kagome first entrance. Like a shadow, Kagome moved into her new home.

"Do you know how long you'll be staying, Kagome-san?" Rin asked, in her tender, girlish voice.

"No," Kagome replied as she strolled over the tatami, pretending to look interested in yet another tapestry of a large, white dog. "I suppose I'll be here as long as Sesshomaru will keep me."

"Oh, I don't think his invitation for you will expire," replied the little girl. She shrugged her narrow shoulders. "Mine didn't."

Kagome turned away from a window she had been examining and watched the girl. She was sweet and gentle and radiated a sort of unbiased love. A hopeful smile graced Rin's face and she clasped her hands behind her back.

"We are very different, Rin," Kagome said

Rin's smile slipped a little. "Not that different, Kagome-san," she insisted, taking a step closer. "You and I, perhaps we should spend some time together. We could get to know one another, and you'd see, Kagome-san. I would enjoy that very much."

Souls are warm. Doctors will tell you that body heat is the body's struggled for homeostasis, fighting to keep balance in what is typically an unbalanced shell. They will say it is the blood or the burning of fuels in the muscles; however, the ones who actually know the truth, be it spilled unheard on a playground or recited while in the arms of a lover, will tell you that body heat it just the soul. Like a little illuminated furnace, like a miniature star, our souls remain snuggled deep within us, emitting their warmth and drawing each other closer with their gravity. And Kagome's soul, burning low now, yearned for a little warmth.

Rin glowed. She was warm, her soul obviously closer to the surface than most, or perhaps she just had fewer layers on.

"How old are you, Rin?" Kagome asked, turning her back to the window and leaning her soft backside against the pane.

"Eleven. How old are you?"

Kagome smiled. "Nineteen."

"Do you think I'll be as tall as you are when I'm nineteen? I've always wanted to be taller. Sesshomaru-sama says that I'll grow, but... well... I guess I'm just impatient."

"Being bigger isn't any better," replied Kagome. "Sometimes I wish I could be eleven again." Before I knew anything about youkai and jewels and magic and love.

"I simply can't wait until I'm older. Sesshomaru-sama likes to tease me by holding my things over my head where I can't reach them because I'm so short. Do you think by the time I'm nineteen I'll be able to reach them?"

"Sesshomaru teases you?" Kagome asked, surprised. A man carved from marble or some other lifeless, immobile substance could play like that? Part of her was appalled that a man his age would taunt a little girl while another part was floored that Sesshomaru was capable of teasing anyone.

Rin grinned. "Yes, but he always gives me my things back. Do you think by the time I'm nineteen that I'll be able to get my things back on my own?" she repeated, clearly more fascinated with the concept of beating her warden at his own game than anything about which Kagome could care.

"Well," Kagome began, thinking back to the pale vulture that had perched above her when she had arrived, watching her intently. "You'd have to be taller than me."

Rin's round, little face wrinkled, looking disgruntled. "Phooey," she said. "I thought for certain... oh well." And with that, her expression lifted. She shrugged her slender shoulders once more.

"Rin," Kagome said, glancing over her shoulder out the window. "Be honest now, okay?"

"Okay," Rin replied. Why had Kagome sobered so quickly, Rin wondered.

Turning her gaze back on the girl, Kagome asked, "How do you live here? Doesn't it bother you to be different from everyone else?"

"It did at first," Rin said, putting a finger to her chin as she thought. "There were a few servants who were very rude to me, but I told Sesshomaru-sama, and they stopped. But I love living here, now. Besides, I don't really have anywhere else to go." Only a child, so carefree and well taken care of, could declare such a thing as brightly as Rin did. No, she had no other home, but she obviously did not desire one.

"I mean, don't you ever get lonely being the only human?"

"Oh no, I have Sesshomaru-sama. He may not be human, but he keeps me company." His name was like a switch behind her eyes, flicking on a light that projected all the adoration she could muster on her face. "But I am not the only human anymore, Kagome-san, and neither are you. So, you needn't be lonely. I think we could be very good friends."

Yes, souls are very warm. "I do, too."

"We could have lunch together, if you like," offered Rin.

Kagome nodded. "That sounds nice."

Rin quickly dismissed herself, declaring that she would have lunch brought to them in Kagome's new home. With a wave of her fragile hand, Rin disappeared through the shoji and ran gingerly down the raised walkway back to the main building.

And suddenly, the oppressive companion solitude that seemed to now follow Kagome everywhere she went put its hands to her shoulders and pushed her to the floor. With a quiet thud, Kagome found herself seated with her back to the wall. And then her knees were against her chest. And then her face was in her hands. And then tears were running down her forearms to pool at the creases in her elbows, leaving cold, itchy trails behind them

She was sexy like a vampire was sexy, like a sword was beautiful. She was sexy like guns and violence. She was hot like cold that forced people to huddle close together to share body heat after shedding their snow-dampened clothing and inadvertently spooning up next to each other under their only blanket. Oh, what delightful games she inspired on chilly nights.

Her eyes, with black, slit pupils that cut through her green irises like a yelp cutting through the night, scanned the scene before her with disdain. From between her plump, red lips, her slippery tongue darted to catch a drop of sake that had lingered there just to get the individual attention of that slender muscle. A sake cup rested in her hand, her index finger absently stroking the underside.

"Hmm," she purred without affection.

They stood facing one another, readying for a battle that, if it did not happen there, would happen eventually. It was inevitable. Never place two, intelligent, beautiful females in the same room. They will either rip each other to very fine and still sexy ribbons, or they will join forces and joyously conquer anything with a penis that happens to cross their paths, consequently taking over the world which is, as it would seem, run by penises.

"Hmm," she repeated, the brown skin on her chest vibrating. In a smooth motion, she brought her sake cup to her lips and drank deep the contents, granting another drop the luxury of her tongue across its back.

Every time Sokkenai moved, Kagome wanted to let out a little eep.

"Hmm." It was a simple mantra that seemed to be tearing her opponent limb from limb. How easily her desired result could be achieved, the cat youkai noted, her shining lips curling upwards at the edges.

"So you are Kagome?" asked Sokkenai, the sounds of disinterest and patronization ringing clearly like bones breaking on the wind.

"Yes," Kagome replied, careful to keep all arms and legs and emotional extremities behind her armor. "It's nice to meet you."

"I'm sure," Sokkenai said, her smile cracking slightly to reveal a wall of ivory teeth within.

What else was there to say?

If you can't keep your clumsy human cunt off Sesshomaru, I'll disembowel you and eat you with a court audience.

And Kagome's reply would be a simple, Eew. On so many levels. Eeeew.

But none of that needed to be spoken. Sokkenai's eyes uttered thick, leather-bound volumes; Kagome could feel them piling up on her chest, pressing her slowly but surely into a death that would have made Giles Corey proud.

"Inuyasha told me that you were Sesshomaru's mate," Kagome offered, hoping to keep their strained words well within safe territory.

"What a chaste way of wording it." Sokkenai looked out the window at the blanketed landscape. "I suppose you could call me that." She let out a sound that resembled the love child of a sigh and a laugh. "That would make us sisters-in-law, would it not?" Her sneer was lined with fangs that glistened like she was holding a string of pearls between her lips.

Kagome paused. She had not really considered that. "I guess. By demonic standards, yes."

Sokkenai raised a curved, glossy eyebrow. "And by human standards?" Every youkai, it appeared, was born with the inherent gift of being able to make the word "human," or any related term sound like an insult. Sokkenai's usage was saccharine.

Kagome wanted to narrow her eyes. Instead, she willed a smile. "We would be acquaintances."

Sokkenai's responding smirk was derisive. "Of course." She opted to say nothing more, and instead, add to the weight of the tomes on Kagome's torso by watching the human.

"Well," Kagome said. "I've been keeping Rin waiting, so I had better go."

"Certainly. I suppose the girl was happy to finally be with her own kind."

Kagome nodded. "I think it will be good for her."

Sokkenai drank once more from her sake cup, her eyes remaining trained on the human seated on the tatami, facing her. "It will. The girl gets under foot like you wouldn't believe."

"She's still young."

"Sesshomaru-sama is a very busy youkai," Sokkenai continued without acknowledging Kagome's comment. "She would do well to give him berth and stay out of his way. There is little place in his schedule for humans." Her green eyes pierced the air like neon signs, broadcasting her meaning in clear, abrasive hues.

Youkai watched human. Human watched youkai. Sokkenai insinuated, and Kagome interpreted. Kagome wanted to recoil. She wanted to run from this woman who personified the creeping cold that seemed determined to wrap its fingers around her heart and squeeze until it whimpered.

"It was nice to meet you, Sokkenai-san," said Kagome in the smoothest tone she could muster.

"Hmm," replied Sokkenai with a curt smile that did not reach her eyes. The act of glowering with one's eyes while smiling with one's mouth was not one for the faint of heart or weak of face. Luckily, Sokkenai was neither. "I'm certain I'll see you around the palace, Kagome." Stay out of my way, flashed those glaring signs.

"Sure," Kagome said. She gave a small bow and retreated to the sanctuary of the hall where Rin was waiting, impatiently pacing past the door. The little girl looked up.

The sight of simple, brown eyes with small, round pupils made Kagome sigh. Had she been holding her breath? Kagome had not noticed; she had been too busy planning the fastest escape route out of that room.

Rin blinked and smiled warmly. Kagome thought she would drop to her knees and hug the girl. For being there. For being kind. For being human.

"What did Sokkenai-san have to say that she didn't want me to hear?" Rin inquired, looking a little putout.

Kagome shook her head. "I'm sure she'll tell you when you're older." When you've become more of a threat.

"When I'm older," Rin began, frowning at the floor. "That's when everything's going to happen, when I'm older."

"And you're going to look back and wish you'd stayed eleven. Being older doesn't mean being better," replied Kagome. Deciding that her signification was lost on the girl, Kagome changed the subject. "So where did we leave off?"

"Oh, right!" Rin exclaimed, looking up with her bright expression. "I was going to show you the conference rooms. They're the prefect place to sit and read if you want quiet. That reminds me! I'll have to show you the library. Do you like to read, Kagome-san?"

"Yeah, sometimes." Sometimes qualified as when the book in hand did not involve academics. She also was not particularly fond of James Joyce. (Had Sesshomaru read James Joyce, he would not be either, for, despite his distaste for humans, he would not delight in reading about them drunk or dying or in any other type of Irish pain. Yes, readers, you are now privy to knowledge that the Demon Lord himself did not possess. Congratulations.)

Kagome stared at the ceiling in her new bedchamber, cradled in the lap of a thick futon and wrapped in the arms of a warm blanket. She was also wrapped in the arms of herself, but the blanket was, by far, more effective.

"I suppose this is what they mean by the first day of the rest of your life," Kagome muttered. The cliché itself had never made much sense to her before. Was it not true that every day was the first day of the rest of your life? And what defined the rest of your life? When did the beginning pass the gauntlet to the rest? And why had someone not told her about that rather important seeming transformation somewhere back when she could have done something about it... back when she was still in Beginning and not flailing her arms desperately while trying to keep her head above the surface of Rest?

But now she knew.

The gap between Beginning and Rest was a chasm far deeper and wider than any she had ever seen before, and she had leapt it nearly five day prior and had touched back down that morning. Her knees hurt from the impact of landing on the other side considering she was usually astride a far better jumper when chasm-crossing was required. She had jumped this one alone, though.

Beginning starts with cognizance, even if that cognizance is limited to, "Me! Look at me! I'm hungry! Ooh, I just soiled myself! Hurray!" Oh, what simple roots from whence we come.

Beginning lasts through those learning years --walking, independent excreting, feeding oneself, the complexities of language, and Human Relationships101-- on into those awkward years -- puberty, puberty, and more puberty-- and somewhere through all those learning experiences, you pick enough to survive the jump into Rest. Of course, nothing that they teach you can actually be used while in Rest, but it will get you there in one piece. Surviving Rest is your own feat.

There are no words to describe Rest. The closest this humble author could come to an accurate depiction of Rest would be describing the sensation of being there. Fear. No, terror. There is no path ahead of you. The bridge you were crossing has suddenly ended, and it is now up to you to get to the other side before apathy takes you down. That is the nature of braving Rest. If you stand still for too long, the crashing jaws of willful indifference will snap you up and, after a time, leave you on the street somewhere as pathetical turds.

Movement is required-- preferably forward movement, but some choose to cope with Rest with backwards motion. Those retrograders, though they can be successful in many other avenues, are not happy. Not truly.

This was the rest of her life. Kagome knew it. This existence of devastation, of sleeping alone in a house designed for a family, of being scorned for reasons outside of her power to change stretched out before her like a borderless map with a little, red arrow pointing to somewhere just right of the middle where the words, "You Are Here" were inscribed.

It would be so easy to lie down in her fold and stay there. When every part of her wanted to just take a long nap there on the chilly, wet concrete of mourning, Kagome knew that she could not. She could not. She could not. She could not. If she could ride a demon and fire arrows at the same time, she could damn well walk and mourn at the same time, too. At first, her walking would be purely perfunctory, but Kagome hoped that she would someday come to enjoy the journey again, even if she was walking alone.

But her knees still hurt from the landing. And her back was sore from spending so long bent over, begging forgiveness at the dais of a council of deaf deities. Her feet were tired from standing in one place, fighting the ice of the Rest of Her Life that was holding her from the shins down. Her eyes burned from crying. Her hands were raw from wiping away the abrasive liquid. But above all the other pain, standing like a towering monument of despondency and overshadowing the little human figure standing at its feet, was the ache right behind her sternum, where her heart had once been.

Oh, God, she missed him. She missed him so badly.

The ceiling did not have any words of wisdom to offer, so Kagome rolled over onto her stomach and tightened her arms around her lonely, hollow chest.