Inuyasha's Forest was not always named such; naturally, there had been a time before Inuyasha, and for a long time the woods had simply been the woods, with no name and no life to them.
It had been Kaede that christened the woods, albeit inadvertently. She spent so much time walking there, watching him, waiting to feel something. Hate. Or sorrow. Or even (God forbid) pity. Anything but this great terrible nothing she felt whenever she saw the rest of the villagers or her sister's grave.
She went so often she began to associate the hanyou and the forest as one and the same, a great twisted wood with so many large trees that it nearly blocked out the light. One day a villager stopped her as she trekked down the muddy path that led away from the trees. He'd asked her where she'd been and she said, Inuyasha's Forest, without thinking.
It has been called that ever since.
Kaede had never had very outstanding miko abilities. But that was okay, because Kikyou did, and Kikyou had come first, so no one would have noticed Kaede even if she did. She hadn't been any good at bandaging up men with herbs and linen, either, because she had had neither the head nor the stomach for it.
Kikyou taught her archery instead, which she practiced diligently while her sister erected barriers and purified youkai and constructed a reputation. Her sister praised her for what she called a knack,' a natural gift, a talent. And Kaede had been ecstatic.
It was only a week after she lost her eye that she tried to shoot again; every arrow went wild, her attempts more feeble than the first time she'd handled a bow. She'd thrown down her arrows in disgust and felt, strangely, like crying, which she had not done since her sister's cremation. She would have, but her ruined eye couldn't do that anymore.
She kept practicing, but she never quite managed to close the gap again.
Kikyou had always been more like a mother than a sister to Kaede, and more like a teacher than a mother, and she'd never been a very good teacher to begin with. She was the sort of person who, once she knew something, felt it was obvious. It was a failing of hers, her inability to explain herself (though few to none people ever questioned her). And so, though Kikyou told her why the thief was in the cave and the hanyou was in the forest, she never really understood.
Kikyou had taught her to not be proud, but not very well. The first time Kaede managed to bandage a man without running out of the hut to heave into the garden, she'd felt self-assured, smug even. She'd already been to Kikyou's grave and boasted about her abilities before she remembered, halfway back to her house, that she was acting in a manner unsightly of miko.
Later, when the man died because she'd used the wrong herb on his injuries, the family had accepted that he had been beyond help and thanked her profusely. She bit her tongue to keep from shouting that it wasn't that he couldn't be saved, but rather she couldn't save him.
She folded the corners of the ugly secret-truth and stuffed it into her heart until she felt like crying, until she felt like her failure was scraping away at her; then, and until then, did she walk the mud-path into the forest - Inuyasha's forest - to visit her most precious enemy.
It wasn't that she hated Inuyasha. Not exactly.
He'd taken everything away from her: her family, her eye, her future; he'd carved out a space in her village that no one could fill, so it had been delegated to her.
Kaede had been set up to fail. She knew everyone expected her to fail, but they also expected her to try her utmost to live up to her dead-gone-ghost sister. Failing is very hard work.
She sat down in the grass, curled her toes into the dirt and leaned back until she was propping herself up with her elbows to keep the dirt off her back. Inuyasha had taken everything away from her, certainly, but it wasn't as though he had it. Rather, it had stolen away from them both; gone up in flame, and her grudge along with it.
When Kaede talked, it was usually to Inuyasha.
She'd thought herself mad when she first did it, but he'd just looked so... bored, hanging there. He looked neither peaceful nor relaxed - anxiousness and impatience is what she read on his face. His ears where rigid, alert, and it was all these things combined that made him an almost-corpse to her; not breathing, not moving, certainly not dreaming, but living nonetheless.
So she talked to him, because she believed he listened even if he didn't hear her; because here, alone in the wood and brush, in the forest that let nothing in nor out save the mud path that she alone traversed, she felt hidden from the natural world; because, when she laid her sins out before a betrayer, she felt somehow purged.
She would never understand why someone would want to go to the pure to be absolved.
Do you ever feel, she muttered at length, pulling up blades of grass and curling them around her fingers, as if the reason you were born - your whole purpose - was to be bad so that someone else could look better by comparison?
She waited on baited breath for the answer that would not come, then she smiled and smoothed the folds out of her lap.
I see; that was a stupid question.
Kaede felt she was caught in a perpetual state of transition - she had not been orphaned all at once, but rather by degrees. Her father, first, then her mother, and finally Kikyou had gone, like a prolonged game of dominoes. She had not learned how to shoot a bow all at once, but rather the gap between the mark and her shot closed so gradually she scarcely noticed. She was not the sort to count a year by seasons, but rather by days, so that fifteen crept up on the eight-year-old as the days warmed and the leaves returned to Inuyasha's Forest.
Kaede felt she had never accomplished anything, because Kikyou had already accomplished everything, and that she'd always been almost beautiful, almost a sister, almost a miko, and now she'd always be almost a woman.
Kaede was the sort of girl that was sad she'd been born a girl. She watched the other young women in the village enviously - they seemed to have a sureness in themselves, in their identity, and she coveted that. She could never revel in her femininity; she was to remain forever untouched, unaffected, like a virgin field.
Or barren, for all the difference it would make, she thought bitterly.
One day she snuck out of the village while she was in such a mood, when the trees were budding and the unions were being announced, and followed the muddy trail out to Inuyasha's Forest. Even the wood, so afflicted with youki that is seeped into the bark of the trees, had not escaped the grip of spring. Flowers were on the trail, squished into the mud; birds were singing; the whole forest was bursting at the seams with new and renewed life, and at the very center of it all was Inuyasha, pinned under perpetual youth.
Kaede stopped in front of him and looked at the slight creases on his face that gave away his usual frown. She looked at the way his hair was matted in places, how his clothes were faded and sun-bleached, how his fingernails were in need of cleaning. She wasn't sure how long she stood there, just noticing things she never had before and thinking of things she never had before, like how much he looked like he needed a good bowl of thick stew. Like how much she wanted to be the one to give it to him.
Like how there was one thing, at least, that she could do that her sister could not.
Later, Kaede would say that she was struck by a sudden sort of madness, but at the moment it had felt like enlightenment. Perhaps they were one and the same.
I want to feel something, God dammit, she murmured, whether in speech or her head she would never know, and it made no difference to her audience. She caught hold of his forearms and pulled herself up, balanced herself by pushing against the tree trunk with her feet, clung to his shoulders to keep from falling off, and kissed him.
He was still warm. Somehow, she'd always knew he would be.
She wondered, were his heart unburdened by the arrow, if it might beat faster for her.
Her muscles were starting to ache and she relaxed, slumped against him, and slid/fell backwards onto the grass. Blowing out and sitting up, one wrist bent back behind her and acting like a kick stand for her body weight, she tucked a few strands of hair behind her ear and looked lazily up at him.
I suspect, she said, purgatory must be a lot like living a life stuck in transition.