Perhaps this is how it's always gone: Once there was a girl.

Only that's too long ago, nothing left but wandering ghosts, now.

Nothing left but a mockery of flesh, cracked and careworn around the edges, blowing wisps of itself away in the passing wind. Inconsequential. The shinidamachuu claw at it with their little needle-sharp talons, fluttering their little moth-wings against her skin and covering her with fine dust.

They're trying to save her, Kikyou reflects, bemused. These shinidamachuu have been with her since the beginning, not like that big beast that she can command; these creatures have begun to think for themselves, to think what's best for her. Misguided.

Once there was a girl, no, an old woman. She swallowed a fly, swallowed a girl, swallowed a sword and was swallowed in turn. Like the little Russian dolls, though you've never seen those. Like Rome conquering Greece, though you haven't been dead long enough to know about that either.

Everything in Kikyou's world crumbles to dust crumbles to ash. Her own bones and blood, chiefly risen to the air, her sister turned withered and gray, her love turned to indifference, her child reincarnation's innocence lost. Even her shikigami are starting to look dog-eared, no reflection on her fixation, she tells herself.

The passing wind in her sails would always die away, but now this gale is too strong, she will rip and tatter.

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down. Just like kagome-kagome.

"I am the devourer, here," Kikyou asserts. "Forgive me."

Forgiven. Only I wonder if you will be so gracious, waking up in the belly of the beast, returned to the womb and devoured by it. How many cultures have this tale!

"Forgive me for disturbing an immortal soul. I knew not what I did."

Want to know how to become immortal? I'm afraid the only way I know is through dying. It's probably too late for you. Ahh, I miss my body, but yours could almost make me forget.

A surge of life pounds through Kikyou's body, causing mock-blood to flow, flesh to tingle, face to flush, lips to swell. Unrestful. 'Enough,' she wants to say, but she cannot deny how much the baser parts of her have longed for this feeling.

"Not like this," is all she manages to choke out.

Even when the sensation ceases, she can feel the void it has left behind, shaped like so many fingerprints, and dissipating like fog breathed on glass.

Dust to dust.

The fairy-dust of the shinidamachuu crumbles away from her.

Soul to soul.

They have stopped scrabbling at her, given up on their Kikyou and this dangerous soul locked in a lovers' embrace, though unbleeding bird scrapes remain.

Kikyou's fingers caress over her lips, over the delicate cartilage of her nose, brush past the softness of her jaw, down to her breasts, a lingering moment there, then touching her navel, like the hand of a somnambulist.

It has been so long.

Just as her fingertips reach the downy expanse of hair hidden under her hakama, Kikyou seems to come to. "I am the devourer. Forgive me."

-

He is a vessel carved out and filled one too many times. Like a gourd that can hold deadly poison, and still wash clean, Kohaku has retained his innocence even after everything Naraku has poured into him.

But he's easy, too easy to fill.

The first time his lips trespass on hers, she knows it isn't him. That look in his eyes, matching the tone of the voice in her head, and the fierce purity of the shard in his back. The little mumbles against her skin that are not what a child would say.

Midoriko lights a fire inside her, and Kikyou allows herself to be devoured. Kohaku awakens in ashes.

He doesn't know.

"He's still only a child."

It's not too late to be loved. It's not too late to be touched, even if you are intangible. Have you never asked why we say prayers in praise of the mist?

"Because the mist needs to be loved, or it will swell with rage and devour us all."

Why does the mist, obviously an otherworldly thing, linger here so? What does it seek, why should it tarry? Why should it resist the wind and be torn apart, rather than leaving the world of the living?

Do you not long to feel the hard rock and soft soil beneath your feet? Do you not long to feel him claim you, with my pulse beating beneath his skin?

No, you want a thing which is no longer there. I can't give the mist what it really wants, but I can offer a prayer to it.

"Cruel spirit, to use a lady so."

I died childless, afraid of the touch of another. I have had a very long time to think on this.

Kisses prickle at the almost-living flesh of her neck, and Kikyou sighs. Who's using whom, who's devouring whom, it doesn't matter anymore. More than her own reincarnation, more than anyone else, Midoriko knows her soul, and knows the forbidden salve for her wounds.

Giving in has gotten easier since she died.

The shinidamachuu vanish into the mist, scorned.