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x Serendipity x

Chapter 1: Fallen

On a cool Tokyo night, a creature oozed out of a magic well. It did so with great difficulty, working against the pull of the still-open vortex that had transported it and now seemed to try and suck it back in. For a moment the vortex appeared to be winning, but then a powerful tremor rippled through the gelatinous mass and the creature propelled itself over the edge of the well and onto the hard-packed dirt floor.

It lay there for a while, seemingly exhausted, its amorphous body heaving rhythmically in what looked suspiciously like breathing.

Its thoughts were still a jumbled mess, erratic electric discharges located by sheer habit where its head had once been, but one thought was clear and knife-edge cold.

It hated the well.

The well wouldn't let it through. It had needed to be forced, a waste of precious energy that should have been reserved for the transformation. And it had opened up here, of all places, here, where the air stank of spiritual energy and wards were everywhere, eating away at its defenses.

And then there was the tree, a terrible shadow looming just outside, waiting, waiting...

It had to leave. It had to leave now.

It slithered awkwardly towards the wooden wall of the shed, where it burst apart, slipping out through cracks in the old wood.

Wherever it had touched the aged timber a trail of slime remained, glistening silver in the semi-darkness.

Outside it was night. A half-moon shone brightly, illuminating the creature as it hurried across the shrine grounds, circumventing the menacing shadow of the old tree as well as the main house, from which pure energy blazed like a beacon.

It only stopped when it was well away from the shrine, well hidden in the concave pool of shadow between two street lamps. Only then did it examine its surroundings, from the strangely shaped lamps to the perfect flatness of the asphalt and the monstrous buildings crowding the city skyline.

Even though it had no nose any longer it gave in to habit and scented the air, which was heavy with the smells of exhaust, metal and humans. Millions of them.

Most importantly, the air smelled of opportunity.

Mollified, the creature turned and slid leisurely away.

xXx

Kagome dreamed of mirrors.

They were all around her, a solid wall of glass that should have shown her reflection but didn't. Instead they were grey and empty and somehow expectant. They hovered.

Kagome shrank back, hands gripping the folds for her uniform skirt so hard her knuckles turned white. The skirt was too small for her, she noticed dimly, and uncomfortably tight at the waist.

It was hard to breathe, but when a little white-haired girl stepped out from between the mirrors, it became impossible.

Kagome whimpered. There were too many mirrors, feeling malicious and alive, crowding her. She couldn't escape them all. And she definitely couldn't escape her.

"I won't let you take my soul," Kagome choked out, barely keeping the tears of desperation at bay. "I won't."

When had she become so frail and afraid? It must have been something that came with adulthood, when she'd shed her teenage self like an old layer of skin she must have lost her courage too; perhaps she had simply left it on the other side of the well along with her bow and the last sweets for Shippo.

And as she stood there trembling, she wondered whether simply disappearing would be worse than this unfinished ache in her chest. Her reflection in the mirrors looked small and lost. Faded. Would it be so bad to simply let that last bit of herself fade away too?

Yes, she told herself fiercely. Yes, it would. I'm still me, I won't let her take me away.

But Kanna just looked at her with sad eyes. "There's nothing there to take," she said quietly and then Kagome woke up to the darkness of her bedroom, crying with great, heaving sobs.

When dawn came it was to an overcast sky. As the grey light filtered through the blinds Kagome finally fell into an exhausted sleep.

xXx

Unlike reading, crouching in the dirt in the middle of an abandoned village while the sun was hot and high in the sky was not exactly one of Hatake Kakashi's favourite pastimes. He wished someone had bothered to ask him before sending him out on a mission that had hitherto consumed five full weeks of his life by filling them up with adrenaline, insects and badly cooked rodents. Sadly, Godaime was not in the habit of asking and so here he was, sweating beneath his mask and wishing he had taken the time to shave.

However, seeing how he had been on a hunt for several weeks with only mosquitos for company -- and the occasional unfortunate rabbit -- there hadn't been much point. Besides, the weather had not left him much time for shaving. Torrential rain had a habit of erasing both scents and physical evidence so he'd had to hurry, and he'd missed meals and sleep. It didn't help that at night he had only the foul energy echo of his prey for company, and of course insects.

Five weeks of that ensured that he was currently tired, cross, and not at all sure why his chase seemed to have come to a very sudden end in a dilapidated shrine, of all places. He did get that tingly feeling at the base of his spine that told him to sit up and pay attention because it might be a Bad Thing, though. Either that, or a mosquito had finally found its way inside his trousers.

Six hour later daylight was fading and Kakashi was increasingly certain the tingling hadn't been a mosquito after all. He rubbed the back of his neck, sighing.

"Anything, Pakkun?" he asked wearily.

A small and remarkably ugly canine head peeked out at him from behind a tree stump. "Nothing," replied the dog. "What's left of this tree's a bit strange, so I wouldn't necessarily pee on it, but that thing you're looking for didn't come here anyway. It's gone straight into the well if I'm any judge, and it didn't come back out either."

The other dogs nodded. They tended to let Pakkun do the talking.

Kakashi frowned at the well.

There was nothing remarkable about it except perhaps how ancient it was, its rickety frame sunken and moldy, but the trail ended right there. Hours of meticulous examination hadn't changed the fact that it just stopped right at the lip of the well. He was sure of it, and his dogs, who all had better noses than he did, concurred.

Kakashi was a cautious man. Confronted with the choice of whether to jump into a rather deep well where at best something spiky might be waiting for him at the bottom, or wait until he got a better idea, he would have preferred to wait. He was good at waiting. Too bad that in this particular instance waiting was not an option.

"Pakkun," he called. "I'm going in. I need you to go back to Konoha and report to Tsunade. Tell her to send reinforcements if she can spare them. Someone who's good at sealing, a Hyuuga if she can."

Pakkun peered suspiciously down the well. "You sure?"

Kakashi considered the question. He couldn't afford to give away too much of his chakra, but holding Pakkun had never been a great drain on his resources. The other dogs were much more firmly entrenched their own dimension, so maintaining a summon that involved all of them was more of an effort, even if they were good trackers.

"I'm sure," said Kakashi, reshaping the web of the summoning with a few quick seals. As the other dogs vanished in a puff of smoke, Pakkun shrugged.

"Suit yourself." With a large leap that seemed much too powerful for his small body, the dog vanished in the underbrush.

Kakashi leapt into the mouth of the well, bracing himself for an impact that never came.

Instead he fell, spinning, into a strange night where the stars singed his skin and the void was thick as water, drowning him.

Genjutsu, he thought, trying to form a seal only to find that his hands were gone and he was being twisted inside, pulled apart like honey, and then he stopped thinking at all because there was an ocean stretching to infinity beneath him and the waves rose hungrily to meet him.

There was no air. He tried to swim to the surface but the water weighed him down like lead. Through the red veil of suffocation he could dimly see his own reflection struggling to get free. The mask stretched across his face and throat like slime, choking him, and he tore it down to reveal Obito's face staring back at him out of empty eyes, his undulating silver hair slowly bleeding to black.

In its socket the sharingan burned, violently drawing chakra to fuel its mad spin and Kakashi felt his limbs go slack and his lungs seize as he was hurled forward into the night.

Somewhere in the wilderness a small dog gave a surprised yelp and vanished in a puff of smoke.

xXx

Kakashi awoke to warmth, darkness, and the faint smell of cat.

He had never felt so sick in his life. He was perilously close to throwing up and only years of discipline forced the bile back down his throat. The acute feeling of disorientation was unfamiliar as well, the nagging sense that something was off but he couldn't put his finger on what it was, and he'd rather not know anyway because it was bound to annoy him.

Vaguely, he wondered what had him so on edge. Blinking away the cobwebs from his eyes, he propped himself on one elbow to look blearily at his surroundings. It was hard to see well in the grey darkness; shapes and shadows flickered and danced before his eyes, shifting in and out of focus. He smelled and heard more than he saw -- the mingled scents of dry wood and dust and old metal and an odd, staccato rumble in the distance.

He seemed to be in some sort of shed whose owner did not seem to possess a broom but owned -- or was owned by -- a cat. And a bicycle. And, surprisingly, no skulls or torture implements whatsoever.

Kakashi sat up carefully, mentally cataloguing each one of the muscles that screamed in protest at the movement. It slowly dawned on him that he was obviously not dead if his various aches and pains were any indication. Of course he might still be trapped in a genjutsu, but by now his eyes had adjusted to the scarce lighting and so he dismissed that possibility rather quickly after a thorough look at his surroundings.

Here and there minute cracks in the wooden walls let some silvery light spill through, catching on dust motes that were too delicate, too different and too unevenly scattered for an illusion. Besides, the insidious, pervasive smell of feline incontinence had a definite realness about it. A cautious sniff had been enough to make it very clear that the cat who lived here was very real indeed and enjoyed a varied diet which allowed it to create a complex, textured scent which had settled in his nose and refused to budge, growing more distinct with each passing minute.

Kakashi tamped down on his rising irritation. Being alive was unsettling as he had no idea whatsoever how exactly he had managed it, but no more so than the feeling that he'd been taking a long vacation away from his body and in the meantime someone else had slipped in. He felt crowded inside his own skin and itchy on the outside, as if legions of ants were marching over him, plucking at his chakra.

Besides, he hadn't felt this dizzy or this ill in a long time. The nausea dragged back murky memories of several drunken binges with Genma after the war, after ANBU. At the time, being either sick or drunk for half of the week had been rather useful for taking his mind off being alive. It was the other half of the week that had been the actual problem.

If he recalled right, the solution had included working so much his brain became pleasantly fuzzy with exhaustion and didn't feel the need to suddenly take off on unwanted tangents. He had also managed to avoid sleep to the point that when he finally gave in his rest resembled a coma. Dreams had a way of creeping up on you; he preferred not to let them.

Bracing for the pain, Kakashi rose fluidly to his feet. It was time to take a little walk.

To the eyes of the cat dozing on a pile of boxes at the back of the shed it looked as if the strange visitor had simply vanished.

Buyo yawned. It might prove difficult to trip up that one on the stairs, he mused, but that didn't mean he wouldn't have fun trying. He went back to sleep with strategies dancing merrily through his feline mind.

xXx

The sky was not the same.

It was one of the first things Kakashi noticed, because a ninja must always look underneath the underneath and that involved up as well as down even if there was only a clear sky above you, hemmed in by buildings that were too tall, too rectangular and lit like fireworks, swallowing the horizon.

The stars were all wrong, arranged in haphazard clumps instead of constellations, oddly dim because the city itself was a sea of multicolored light.

He wasn't shocked. He dealt in the unexpected, the strange, the horrible. But he was surprised to find himself unsettled, and feeling oddly alone.

At least the city could not fully obliterate the innate tranquility of the shrine grounds. Kakashi decided he did not want to venture out into the city so soon without information, therefore he would have to make do with the tree, which looked solid, strangely familiar, and was tall enough to offer a good view of the surroundings.

Touching down lightly on a sturdy branch, he took a deep breath of the night air and immediately regretted it. The smell was not new, still the same mixture of fried food, garbage, and fuel with a vague undertone of smoke, but it was uncomfortably intense all of a sudden. He wondered how long it would take him to get used to a smell this acrid. It would probably be a few days until his sensitive nose adjusted; until then, he would have to live with the smell coating his taste buds.

He was in a large, sprawling city, he could already tell that much. The earth was nearly bent under the weight of huge buildings, and already hundreds of thousands of sleeping people were manifesting as a shimmer of chakra at the edge of his awareness. Large vehicles thundered through the streets, translating as a faint vibration in the wood beneath his feet.

He adjusted his position for a better view at the main house. There had been a well-fed cat in the shed and the gravel was freshly raked so he knew someone had to live there, but he could only sense them if he concentrated, and even then the impressions were oddly muffled.

The windows were unlit, but the shadows within were curious little shapes and towards the back of the house a second floor window was ajar.

Kakashi had never believed in making things harder than they had to be.

However, he hadn't expected it to be quite this easy. The wall was easily scaled, one well-calculated leap bringing the window sill in reach of his gloved hand, followed by a twist of his torso that propelled him further up, then back down to a precarious landing on the narrow sill. Carefully, he pushed the window inward with one finger, taking care not to make a sound. He moved into the room like smoke, taking note of the odd tingle of power that ran over his skin like water and filing it away for further examination.

A poorly executed seal, no doubt, but why would someone attempt to seal a room like this? It was a child's room, but the clothes and shoes strewn haphazardly about belonged to an adult. There was a desk, and, hidden away in the corner, a narrow bed, outlined in patches of watery moonlight.

A girl was lying in the bed, glowing gently.

She was deeply asleep, her chest rising and falling with deep, even breaths, which was probably why he was taken by surprise as she suddenly opened her eyes to stare right at him.

"Would you please put the fire out already?" she muttered. "It tickles."

xXx

In her sleep, Kagome stirred.

Someone was banging a tambourine right next to her bed and it was giving her a headache. She opened her mouth to give them a piece of her mind, reconsidering when she saw it was a half-naked Hojo with brightly colored feathers in his hair.

"Ah, it's only you," she mumbled, and went back to sleep thinking how strange it was that even with no shirt on, he still managed to bore her to tears.

The next time she was jolted awake by the smell of smoke.

Hojo was still there, dancing around the bed dressed as a medicine man, waving polaroids at her and chanting unintelligibly. As far as Kagome could tell through a haze of righteous indignance, most of them depicted Ayumi and himself in various stages of debauchery.

Kagome frowned at him. It wasn't enough that after years of nearly canine devotion he had suddenly performed an ninety degree turn and shacked up with her best friend, now he had to rub her face in it too. So what if she had spent years fleeing from his well-meaning gifts and his movie invitations? That didn't mean she'd given him leave to fall in love with someone else now, did it? Especially if that someone was her best friend.

One of her best friends.

A good friend she hadn't called in over a month.

A girl who got enough sleep and had better hair than her.

Whatever.

The point was that Kagome felt cheated and she told Hojo so but he only grinned at her and sang louder.

On her bed, the flames danced. Kagome glared at them, and then at Hojo.

Really, even if he wanted a fire, he shouldn't have made it on her blanket. What was wrong with the carpet? She told him to put it out and went back to sleep, promising herself that next time, she would dream of something interesting.

Time passed.

A stray beam of moonlight tickled her face. She rubbed her cheek against the pillow and suddenly her skin was tingling all over.

There was a strange presence in her room. This was not exactly a bad thing - many of her more pleasant dreams started out like that and progressed to such things as the shedding of many clothes followed by stimulating and sweaty exercise.

Finally, she thought, arching luxuriously into the feeling.

A faint new scent hovered in the air, pine and grass and fresh spring leaves. It reminded Kagome of the Sengoku Jidai and for a moment she thought of Inuyasha, but the familiar ache was worn thin by use and therefore fleeting. What remained was the comforting aroma of the forest, and beneath it, barely discernible, the ozone prickle of youki.

If she hadn't been firmly asleep Kagome might have been frightened. Real youkai were dangerous after all, whereas dream youkai were promising in ways a shirtless Hojo could never manage, no matter how many feathers he stuck in his hair.

Kagome bit her lip and risked a small anticipatory glance through lowered lashes.

At first there was a blur, which solidified into a man. Rather unmistakably too, Kagome thought happily.

Of course it was hard to say anything definite by squinting at his crotch while trying to appear asleep, but Kagome was pretty sure that he was male, although his pants were drab and baggy. Still, his shoulders were broad, his hips narrow and he appeared to have long legs. So far so good.

However, she soon realized with a twinge of disappointment that he was not exactly youkai-like. Further careful squinting led her to believe that he was indeed as far removed from a youkai as it was possible to be -- unless there was a race of David Bowie-shaped youkai she had yet to meet, all of them lost in the Land of the Eighties.

Kagome was starting to feel frustrated with herself. Honestly, how hard could it be to conjure up a decent sex object in one's dreams? She didn't even need to be creative -- Sesshoumaru would have been perfectly suited provided he was naked and kept his mouth shut, and Kouga was always prancing about half-naked anyway, so no effort whatsoever would have been involved there. But no, her subconscious had to go and try something new, and look what happened.

Seriously, why did this kind of thing always happen to her?

Even for a dream apparition he was peculiar. A dark mask covered the lower half of his face and a broad headband sat askew on his silver hair, effectively obscuring one of his eyes. And as if that weren't enough he wore the ugliest para-military clothing she had ever seen. And he wore sandals without any socks, and his pants were too short. If he and his fashion sense were indeed a product of her brain, she clearly needed to be shot.

But peculiar as he was, he was quite plainly the only source of youki in the room. It was rather more youki than she'd first thought, too, and as very real dread started to trickle icily down her spine it suddenly dawned on Kagome that this might be no dream after all.

"Good evening," said the youkai in a pleasant voice.

Kagome frowned blearily at him. "Any chance that I'm still asleep and you're actually good-looking in disguise?"

He didn't dignify that with a reply. Instead, he merely watched her -- looking, if anything, even more sleepy than she felt. And terribly bored.

His youki, however, was another story. It filled the room, nearly suffocating in its intensity.

Kagome inched closer to the edge of the bed, trying to look nonchalant and probably failing. "That headband is very... 1986," she remarked weakly. "And I suppose puke green is the new black or you wouldn't be wearing so much of it, right?"

He smiled. The nuances of his smile were swallowed by the mask, but the faint impression of thin and curling shadows was somehow worse than an outright display of teeth would have been. Kagome became aware that she had started to sweat through her nightgown with fluffy dogs on it, and also that he could probably smell the change in her scent.

This was bad. A regular youkai would have insulted her choice of sleeping attire by now, called her 'miko' or 'wench' or perhaps mentioned a harem and tried to impress her with the size of his weapon. A regular youkai would have worn lipstick or at least eyeliner and his hair longer.

This one however seemed bent on confusing her. He must have been in her room for at least a few minutes and not even one mention of inferior humans had passed his lips. He seemed content to just stand there, looking odd and smiling in a way that made the hairs on her neck stand up.

Kagome straightened her shoulders. It was time to do something.

Her fingers dug into the mattress as she leaned forward, eyes flashing. Or at least she hoped they were flashing -- her eyelids felt rather like lead, and the dark circles underneath usually made her look slightly panda-like. She decided she would at least try to be a menacing panda.

"Are-- are you trying to frighten me?" she demanded with false bravado. "B-because if you are, I'll have to let you know that it's working."

Well. That hadn't come out quite right.

The youkai let out a surprised chuckle, confusing her further. She had expected him to sound evil when he laughed, possibly even insane and here he went and disappointed her yet again. She knew evil laughter when she heard it, and this wasn't it.

"Well? Are you?" she insisted testily. There was a cold, hard knot of anxiety in her stomach that she couldn't seem to shake, and it was even more annoying than it was surprising. Here she'd spent her last few years at home cultivating apathy and denial, and the moment a youkai appeared in her bedroom she regressed to adrenaline city. It didn't seem fair.

"Actually no," he returned. "I was meaning to ask for directions. I'm... lost."

Kagome gaped at him. "You're lost. And you just happened to stumble into my room?"

"I can be amazingly clumsy," he replied placidly. "Besides, I was fleeing from your cat."

"Your nose is growing."

He gave her a strange look. "It is?"

She waved a hand magnanimously. "Never mind. Before we tackle the question of how you managed to stumble up two stories and through my locked window, let's just begin by recalling how you came to skulk over the shrine grounds at night in the first place, okay?"

He shrugged. "Of course. But I would like to ask you something first. You are aware that you glow in your sleep and there is a rather strange well in your shed?"

The blood drained from her face as she finally, irrevocably realized that he was definitely not a dream and she was sitting in bed unarmed; her practice bow was under the bed, gathering dust, hopelessly out of reach for someone who had to compete with youkai speed.

"I see," he said after a long minute. He wasn't looking so ridiculous now, painted in fear and moonlight and the ghostly haze of his youki.

He could kill her any minute now and she might not even see him coming.

"Who sent you?" Kagome burst out. "And how did you know it was in the shed? We were careful! And I haven't been there for years!"

"I come from the other side," Kakashi replied, watching her dispassionately. "And now I am lost," he added. His task appeared to be turning into a long-term mission in uncharted territory; creating ties to the natives was one of the first textbook moves. Encountering this particular girl might have been a stroke of luck, he thought, since so far she had been a fountain of information without even opening her mouth. She was obviously sensitive to his chakra or she would have never woken up from what he'd made sure was a perfectly deep sleep, and she knew something about the nature of the well.

Just now, the expression on her face had gone from fear to compassion to a strange, desperate anger, and suddenly he knew without a doubt that she was sympathetic to him even if he didn't know why. He relaxed. As angry and confused as she seemed now, he could still work with her compassion, mold and twist it until it served his purposes.

Kakashi turned a pleasantly blank face to the girl who was now trembling, whether from fury or something else he couldn't quite tell.

"If you're not here to kill me sit down," she told him tightly. "And start at the beginning."

Kakashi looked into her large, frightened eyes and tried to decide how much truth he should weave into the lies. She was afraid, yes, but she also looked to be the meddlesome type, well-intentioned and foolhardy. The type a good general would send first into the breach to draw enemy fire so the seasoned sodiers would be free to attack. And he must be growing sentimental in his old age, because he suddenly knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he did not want her involved.

"I am not the only one who came through," he finally said, with just a touch of drama. "Something else passed through the well before I did, something dangerous."

xXx

He did not start at the beginning, which involved a long and bloody history of intrigue and forbidden jutsus and clan secrets, none of which were his to tell. But he did tell her of his mission, and of entering the well on his world only to find himself hurled through some sort of portal into her own. He took care to leave out the more gruesome details of his experience.

"Have you lost the trail now?" Kagome wanted to know. The idea of an alien vampiric blob of slime slithering its way through the Tokyo canalization was... quite funny actually. Of course, once the initial hilarity had faded and she was finally able to wipe the tears away and stop giggling, a girl with a strong sense of civic duty couldn't help worrying at least a little.

Kakashi had no trouble remaining completely serious. "No, there's still an echo outside the grounds," he said, "but it's weaker than I thought. I'm not sure why that is."

Chewing on her lower lip, Kagome shrugged. "I can't feel anything."

"It was here," he said evenly. "And you are still alive only because it was in a hurry."

Her slim eyebrows drew together in a delicate frown. There was a fleeting memory of spidery darkness and hollow mirrors and something barely human with a void behind its eyes. Kagome felt a chill spread through her.

"But what is it?" she demanded. "You haven't really told me anything so far. Well, only that it's... blobby. And slimy. And possibly green." She tried to assume a solemn expression by pressing her twitching lips together but failed miserably. "Don't look at me like that," she muttered. "It's your fault. You didn't have to mention the blobbiness."

"It used to be a girl, before she died," Kakashi said, putting an abrupt end to Kagome's amusement. In fact, she looked even more stricken than the news warranted. "What's left of her should be barely human now," he added, watching her reaction carefully. "It must have changed some more since it came through, it might even have abandoned its body entirely."

"You know, I think I might have... sensed it," Kagome muttered. It was hard to admit to supernatural powers in front of a complete stranger, even if he'd seen her glow in her sleep. But he was leaning so familiarly against her desk, as if he belonged there, and she had to admit that the darkness invited such confessions.

"It was gone quickly, so what I got was really vague. I thought I was dreaming. Now that I think about it, it actually felt a bit like Kanna, and I--" she broke off, biting her lip.

He glanced over, but a passing cloud had obscured the moon and it was too dark to read his expression. When he spoke it was a long while later, and his voice was smooth and dark, compassionate but not so much as to be stifling.

"Kanna?"

His voice carried the tone of someone who had seen horrible things and survived them, someone who could understand. It was warm and inviting and suddenly Kagome wanted to spill it all, tell him her whole life story in one long, breathless, liberating rush, but beneath the layers of warmth and wisdom, barely discernible, there was a tiny sliver of cold calculation, a practiced edge. It was the voice of a man who would do anything for information.

Kagome realized she had been leaning towards him and drew back, feeling cold all of a sudden.

"No one special," she said airily. "Just a little girl I used to know."

Kakashi looked down at her hands, now clenched around the fabric of her blanket. "I see," he said into the hostile silence. And he did.

But Kagome didn't know that and so she lifted her chin with a tiny, mutinous jerk and said, "I'm sure." And then, with false cheer, "You'll probably want to have a look around the city soon. We'll have to get you some new clothes tomorrow. Oh, and you'll have to lose the mask. It's not allowed to walk around with your face covered."

Kakashi just looked at her.

"I'm serious," she said. "You can't keep it on."

He shifted and his slouch grew more pronounced. "I understand," he said calmly. "I assume you will need to pay for the clothing?"

Kagome blinked. "Er, yes. It doesn't exactly grow on trees."

"You are very generous," he said, ignoring her barb. "I will try to find a way to return the money as soon as possible."

Kagome softened a little. He was a long way from home on a dangerous mission in a world he did not know anything about and here she was, grousing at him because he'd tried to find out things.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to be like that. You must be worried," she added, ignoring the fact that he looked quite comfortable slouching against her desk, "and uneasy, and confused, and a thousand other things I can't even begin to imagine, and I--"

"Not overmuch," Kakashi interjected smoothly, "but I am thankful for your concern." That last was said politely, with perfect form even if it looked strange coming from a David Bowie lookalike with a mask, but nevertheless Kagome got the impression he was laughing at her.

Well, she was a good person, she thought huffily. She knew how to turn the other cheek.

"You're welcome to stay at our home for as long as you like," she said therefore, ignoring him. "You should probably stay in my room until morning if it doesn't bother you to sleep on the floor. I'd rather not explain you to my family in the middle of the night," she added a touch apologetically. "My grandfather would try to stick ofudas on you, and that's not exactly good for his blood pressure. Besides, people would try to show you their Playstation and rub your ears and feed you, and we don't want that. Not at--" she peered at the alarm clock that blinked neon blue on the bedside table, "half past two in the morning."

She glowered at him. "You're so lucky tomorrow's Sunday."

Kakashi, who had no idea what she was trying to tell him, nodded anyway.

"Of course," he said agreeably, immediately demonstrating his goodwill by sliding into a sitting position with his back propped up against the desk drawers. If he looked a little like someone placating a lunatic while doing it, both of them refrained from mentioning it.

"Well," Kagome muttered, still grouchy but also relieved. "Good night then." She was rather sure she wouldn't sleep a wink with his presence crowding her childhood room, but at least he was settled in for the night. She rolled over so her back was to him, drawing the blanket up to her chin.

What a strange girl, Kakashi thought, willing his muscles to relax against their wooden support. "Good night," he said aloud.

Slowly, the silence grew comfortable. The setting moon was slowly sinking below the trees, leaving the room dark and cool, when the girl's sleepy voice drew Kakashi out of his thoughts.

"Do you think you have a chance to catch it?"

He kept his voice light. "There are always ways," he replied carefully and a little cheesily. It would not do for her to take him too seriously.

"But you've been at it for so long," she whispered. "Don't you ever... I don't know, lose hope? Get sick of it or something?"

She sounded young and inexplicably wretched, and he did not want to dwell on why that might be. He let his head fall back against the edge of the desk, eyes closed. Damn, but he was tired. "It's only been a few weeks," he said gently. "I don't give up that easily."

"What do you mean?" she asked, sounding puzzled. "It was months ago."

His eye snapped open. "Excuse me?"

"When it came through? I remember, because it was right after my birthday."

Kakashi felt the world tilt and slip away.

Everyone I loved is dead. A lie. He'd been such an idiot, and now he had no time.

No time at all.

He turned, flexed, and leapt out of the window, barely hearing the girl's hushed cry of "Wait! What are you doing?"

The shed door was stuck so he ripped it off its hinges. Two steps and he was vaulting over the lip of the well, falling, falling...

... hitting the ground hard, knee slamming into the beaten earth.

No. He must have done something wrong.

One gravity-defying jump later he was back on the surface, staring down into the dark mouth of the well. Maybe it had been the wrong trajectory? Again, he leapt up and let himself fall.

Nothing. Only dry earth under his palms and the muffled tick of the clock in his ears, precious seconds trickling like sand through his fingers.

Damn it. It was no use. He wouldn't lose control over something so minor. He had a mission still.

This time he climbed out of the well, fingers digging holes into the rock. He could see the girl, still dressed in her pajamas, peering worriedly down at him from above. As he pulled himself up and vaulted lightly over the edge he saw that she was barefoot and breathing hard. He pictured her thundering down the stairs in pursuit of him and wondered how she had managed not to wake her family.

She was searching his eyes. "It didn't work," she whispered sadly.

He got the feeling that she was talking to herself rather than him. "No," he replied. Her compassion was strangely soothing.

Hesitantly Kagome laid a hand on his forearm, feeling the steely tension in him as corded muscles leapt under her touch.

"There's nothing you can do," she said softly, wondering how it could hurt so much to say it aloud.

And still he just stood there, poised for... something. He probably didn't know himself.

"I've tried this for five years," she whispered. "I was here nearly every day, you know. I had this large yellow backpack, and I always brought it with me because if it worked Inuyasha would want ramen, and Shippo would want his sweets and--" She shook her head, smiling wryly as he finally turned his head to look blankly down at her. "I can't even count how many times I twisted an ankle or pulled a muscle, but I always came back. And then, one day, I just-- I just didn't anymore. I cried for a week and was a vegetable for one whole month after that."

Slowly, the tension beneath her fingertips loosened. His look lost that frightening intensity, too, and his whole body folded subtly into what she was coming to recognize as his unthreatening slouch.

"So, how does the well work?" he asked calmly.

She shrugged painfully. "I have no idea. It's magical. I think it pretty much does what it wants."

"Is that so," he murmured. At least he'd stopped himself from counting the seconds, he thought. There really didn't seem to be any point, and Hatake Kakashi didn't waste his time on pointless pursuits.

His feet felt like lead, nailing him to the ground.

With one last pat the girl removed her hand from his arm and stepped back. "What's your name?" she asked. "I'd call you Burglar-kun but it just wouldn't feel right anymore."

"Hatake Kakashi," he said flatly.

She gave a little bow and smiled up at him. "I'm Kagome," she said. "So, Hatake-san, what do you say we go back and try to get some sleep? My family will be out in force in the morning, and unlike us they're going to be rested and raring to go."

"Go where?"

"Er, nowhere." Her hand fluttered helplessly in an attempt to illustrate. "Just, you know, in general."

He pasted an answering smile on his face. "Of course," he murmured. "It was inconsiderate of me to keep you awake so long."

"Not at all," Kagome said. "Actually, I think it was exciting." And then she gave a little frown and didn't say anything else until they were back in the comforting darkness of her room and she had settled into the bed.

Kakashi walked to the far wall, sliding into a seated position amongst scattered articles of clothing.

"Sleep well, Hatake-san," Kagome whispered, pulling the covers up to her chin.

He stretched out his legs, settling more comfortably against the wall. "You can call me Kakashi."

"Okay then. Sleep well, Kakashi-kun," she replied, a trace of girlish giggle in her voice.

He sighed. "Good night, Kagome."

For the rest of the night he stared into the darkness, listening to her even breathing.