It had been foolish of him to come here. He saw that now. He'd been such a fool. Of course, she'd look for him. He had assumed she wouldn't but he should have known better. She'd look for him and eventually she'd find him here. It was inevitable. He sighed heavily. Maybe a part of him had wanted to be found.
Should he turn around now and reveal the grand transformation?
When she last saw him, he'd been halfway between his human form and this one. Surely she'd be shocked. Not just by how much he'd changed, but who he'd changed into. And if his past memories were correct, she'd know who he looked like. Who he'd transformed into...
He turned, even though he didn't want to and the gasp came. The gasp he'd been dreading since the memories of his life past surfaced.
She exhaled, breathing out one word behind it. "Sesshoumaru..."
If he'd been human, he wouldn't have heard it but he wasn't human, was he? A part of him hoped that she wouldn't just see the form he'd changed into. A part of him hoped she'd see beyond the surface. A part of him hoped she could still see Satoshi in him but she didn't and he was disappointed by it, disappointed and vaguely angry.
'What did I expect? She's only human...'
The thought came before he could stop it. He gritted his teeth, and hardened his heart, turning around to face the sky. If that was all she could see – well then -- he wouldn't waste his time or hers trying to convince her otherwise. Doing so would be pointless and only humans dallied with lost causes.
"What have you done with Satoshi?"
He didn't answer her because the obvious answer was he hadn't done anything with him, because Satoshi was him and he was Satoshi.
"Answer me! What have you done with him!?"
Silence enveloped her and he could tell by how hard her heart was beating that she was very nervous and afraid, terrified even.
"LIAR! Release him! Release him now or I'll force you out myself!"
"Release him?" he asked, truly and honestly surprised by the statement and the vehemence in her voice when she said it.
"Quit playing around and state your terms, Sesshoumaru!"
If his heart hadn't been so heavy, he would have laughed. So, she was speaking to him as if he was a vengeful ghost, hoping to expel "Sesshoumaru's" presence by way of a traditional exorcism? When he thought about it long enough it was almost funny and his lips formed into a ghost of a smile that was just noticeable enough for her to see it.
"Damn you," she cursed under her breath as she dug into her pocket, thinking he was mocking her.
His eyes narrowed dangerously and the smile abruptly faded. He didn't want to fight her because he knew this time it wouldn't end in a stalemate as it had before. She'd gotten lucky that night because he was in-between youkai and human. He'd come into his power since then and though he was only a reincarnation and his humanity wasn't entirely purged as of yet, but if they fought he knew he'd win and she'd lose, and he didn't want it to come to that.
He appeared in front of her faster than she could blink, his hand grasping her thin wrist as she was pulling it from out of her pocket. He held her fast, but not hard, putting just enough pressure on her to let her know he was serious.
"Your salt won't work on me anymore, Kagome," he said, his tone gentle but cold. "Neither will your charms or your prayers. There's no ghost to exorcise. No curse to break. There's only me... leave, before you get hurt."
Her lip trembled and he could smell the tears before they hit her cheek.
"Give him back to me," she whispered, her voice dripping with two years of raw, unspent emotion.
She was shivering and whether it was from the cold or her own sorrow, he couldn't really guess. Most likely it was a combination of both. There was a long awkward pause that followed. She stared up at him. He looked down at her, still holding her wrist in his hand as he shook his head sadly.
"There's nothing to give back. I may look different but I'm still here," he said quietly, his voice somehow sonorous, despite the softness of his tone.
But if you're too blind to see that... whispered the last ghost of his humanity before it died a lamentably disgraceful death. Humans really were foolish. Without further thought or hesitation, he picked her up and took her back to the inn. The moment her feet touched ground, she skittered away from him, breathing in and out so heavily that her mouth looked like a chimney. He allowed for a few seconds of silence, just in case she got her second wind. He could use more threats and incoherent accusations in his empty life. She didn't say a word, preferring to gulp air like it was going out of style. He stepped towards her. She froze but didn't move back. He took another and another, until he was right in front of her. She backed away a bit then, but he was faster than her. Before she could try anything, he placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.
Pulling back and looking deeply into her eyes, he searched them one last time for a sign of recognition. A sign of anything, but he only found fear and confusion. So, this was how it was.
"There's nothing for you here. Go home," he commanded, before turning around and walking back towards the forest.
He stopped a few paces away from her, his eyes searching the forest in front of him. It called. It had always called but he'd never fully listened because he was afraid. Ever since he was a child, he'd always felt more at home in the forest. He never knew why and there was a part of him that feared it, afraid of how strong the pull was. Now he understood. He was afraid because he denied what he was. Beyond the messy facts of him being a reincarnation, he was also youkai. His humanity -- it had never really existed. It was a disguise to hide behind until his mind was ready for the truth. His kind had hidden in the shadows for so long. No more, for him anyway.
Humans questioned why things happened to them. Youkai accepted.
He accepted it all now.
No point in trying to suss out what it all meant.
There was no point in looking back.
There was no turning back.
There was a sword and a girl and a jewel and a young woman he'd loved, and all were apart of the past. The youkai named Sesshoumaru was long dead. So was the little girl. The sword had been forgotten and lost. The jewel had disappeared and the young woman... she was as much a part of the past as the rest of them and they were all easily left behind. He, Satoshi, was here now. He was alive and though he looked like someone else, he was still himself. The circumstances that had made Sesshoumaru hadn't made him. They weren't the same, nor would they ever be. He had thought if anyone could have understood that, Kagome would have. She'd been the reflection of someone else before.
But he was wrong and she was unbearably human.
And in accepting what he really was, he knew what the last step was, the final transformation which he'd been putting off subconsciously. Closing his eyes, he willed himself to turn, to change into his true form. It was by no means very easy, nor was it hard. Letting the tight control he'd gradually gained over the last two years fade, he let go.
In a flash of light, Satoshi was gone and in his place was a gigantic white dog. It took an enormously deep breath, and without a sound it tensed before taking to the skies in a single, effortless leap.
He didn't look back at the girl he'd left behind. He didn't stay to see her eyes widen as he flew away into the night. But most importantly, he didn't see her step forward and he didn't hear the slight exhalation of breath before his name slipped from her lips in a question.
Four days passed and he hadn't gone home. He'd spent the entire time in the forest though he'd only spent a night in his true form. He didn't really do anything, per se, just wandered aimlessly which suited him fine because at the moment, he wasn't too fond of goals. Sooner or later, he supposed he'd have to figure something out; where to go or what to do, but for the moment...
While in the forest, he'd done a lot of thinking. He'd stayed in one place too long again. It wasn't to say that he didn't like it here anymore, it was just... this place was too full of memories. Too much of the past lingered and he'd had enough of the past. It was time to move on. This decided, he returned to the inn.
He would leave. Where he'd go hadn't occurred to him and it didn't much matter. Only the fact of his departure did.
It was early evening. The sun was just going down and he admired its fading beauty as its light filtered in through the shoji that led outside to the veranda. He'd opened the rain doors that enclosed the veranda for this specific reason. Normally, he'd leave them closed until it became warmer, but as this was his last day here he wanted to see the sun set one more time through his doors.
It occurred to him that he should be packing right now, but he really didn't have that much to begin with. He stood and opened the shoji, gazing outside. The snow that covered the fields just outside his room was turning a pleasant lavender color. He smiled inwardly then and turned around, greeting old Hana just as she entered his room. After two years of this, she wasn't shocked anymore. Neither was he. About a year ago, he'd stopped relying solely on sight to sense things. More often, he'd rely on his other senses, in particular his sense of smell as it was the most acute and accurate sense he had.
The old woman smiled serenely, intertwining her gnarled, old hands behind her back as she looked up at him with a sharp look in her eye. She looked over the room and seeing the inordinate amount of disarray, that glint became a bit harder.
She shook her head sadly, and sighed. "So, you're leaving us then?"
He paused for a moment and then nodded. This was as much of an answer as he felt like giving and she understood.
"I have my reasons."
"Ah. I see. You're no longer happy here?"
"Hmm. Have you found other opportunities elsewhere?"
"Did you find what you were looking for then?"
"I don't know..."
"Perhaps it found you..."
She took this in and was quiet for several minutes, content to watch him bustle around the room. And in watching him, she saw what it was he was trying to hide from her and from himself.
"You're running," she stated matter-of-factly.
He stiffened at her accusation, turning his best cold glare on her before going back to what he was doing. She wasn't intimidated in the least. Her laughter was quite ego bruising and he was sure the youkai he was a reincarnate of was rolling in his grave. He'd never stand for such an insult.
"It's because of that girl, I think. She came here looking for you, you know."
The old woman wasn't terribly surprised he didn't answer. She hadn't really expected him to, his kind were always closed lipped about their own affairs.
"Strange, a youkai that doesn't mind working for a human, much less sharing the same roof with one... more than one." She trailed off, rocking on her feet as she pondered her next words. "I'd have thought those businessmen would have run you off, but all it took was one human girl. Strange, indeed."
The wrinkles around her eyes lengthened as she slowly turned her gaze to him. Their eyes met. She had to give it to the boy, his face didn't reveal anything but again, that was so typical of his kind. Even if they were very young, like he was.
"Of course I knew. I wasn't born yesterday, you know," she replied, with a rusty kind of laugh in her voice.
"As if was hard to guess. I'm old. Not stupid. And I haven't lost my mind... yet," she chided, with another slow shake of her head. "Your kind is rare nowadays but once upon a time not all that uncommon in these parts. I seen my fair share in my youth; never met one quite like you, though."
He neatly folded a shirt into his bag, not looking at her as he said: "Is that so."
"Ah, indeed it is," she stated with another smile. "You sure you want to leave?"
"So it is," she said, nodding sorrowfully and as she exited the room, she stopped at the door and looked back at him. "You're sure you're not running?"
"Hmm, odd. That's what it looks like to me..." she said, with a solemn nod, her eyes piercing him with the earthy stillness and strength born from a lifetime's worth of struggles. "Well, I'll miss you, Saito-kun. Feel free to visit this old woman any time you please. Oh, and you left your coat outside again. You can pick it up at the front desk."
And with that, she bowed deeply and left him to his own devices. Her words bothered him. He tried not to think too hard about what she'd said, but he had to admit, what she'd said was true. In a way, he was running. He shook his head, not wanting to think about it. He wasn't running. He was leaving. There was a difference.
He went to the front desk and retrieved his coat, suffering Hana's chiding one last time.
He put his coat on.
Put the bag with his few earthly possessions over that.
Hana pushed a pair of gloves and a hat at him, insisting that he ought to think of the cold. He put them on just to please her. Next to last came a pair of sunglasses. He wasn't much for hiding what he'd become, but occasionally disguising himself made travel easier. The last thing he put on were his shoes, which he had left in a cubby near the front door. After slipping them on, he calmly strode out of the front door and closed it behind him for the last time.
He barely got three feet from the door when a scent assaulted him.
He didn't pause and he most certainly didn't look back.
Instead, she followed and when he didn't stop, she grabbed his sleeve and tugged it until he did. Rolling his eyes behind his glasses, he turned and faced her. The foolish girl stood in front of him in nothing but a pair of slippers and a quilted outer-coat over her yukata. She'd just bathed. Her scent was fresh and her hair was wet. She really was foolish. The dinner hour was over and true evening was setting in, and it was getting colder.
He felt no need to reply to such an obvious statement and would have turned to leave, but for her damned hand on his damned jacket. She had a real hold on it and it didn't look like she planned to let go. Sighing, he jerked his arm away from her hand and paused for a moment before slowly turning around.
And so he did.
She ran around and stood in front of him, looking him up and down as if searching for something. Without out any explanation, she pulled off his gloves and then his hat and his sunglasses. She even unraveled his hair, which he'd braided and wrapped around his neck like a scarf, partly to keep it dry and partly to make him look a bit more normal... at least on the surface. She stood there and stared at him without the things he used to subtly disguise himself. Her eyes darted back and forth, taking it all in and suddenly he found himself nervous. What was she playing at?
She was biting her lip, teasing it back and forth between her teeth which meant that she was thinking. She'd always done that when she was thinking. Stepping forward, she held one of his hands in hers. Turning it over, she examined it. Touched his skin with gentle, probing fingers, traced the contours of the stripes at his wrists with a thumb. And when she was done with that, she lightly ran her fingers through his hair. Tilting her head, she watched her own fingers brush through it, rolling the strands between her fingertips inquiringly. And when she tired of doing that, she tilted her head back to look at him. She'd always been so short compared to him, now she was even shorter.
Such a tiny thing.
She reached a hand up and touched his cheek. Her fingers were cold and she could barely reach. He bent down so she could. Fingers traced the stripes on his cheeks and just barely brushed the crescent moon on his forehead. The last thing she did was brush an index finger against the shell of his ear and she did it with a delighted little smile as she teased the pointed tip.
"I've always wanted to do that," she murmured softly, as if imparting a great secret and then she looked at him, her gaze seeming to measure something before coming to a decision. "Your markings are lighter."
"Your markings are lighter than his. Fainter. And you're not as big in your true form as he was, but still it's still impressive." She paused, and her face was grave when she next spoke. "You should have told me, Satoshi. Why... why didn't you?"
He was stunned and when he gathered his wits, he replied: "Why didn't you?"
"Why didn't I what?"
"I have his memories. I know."
Not knowing how to respond to that, she simply answered: "Oh."
"I didn't tell you for the same reason you didn't tell me."
There was a long, awkward silence where they both let that thought sink in. They hadn't trusted each other. They'd held their secrets in their heart, because they were too afraid to expose what they both felt ought to stay hidden.
He smiled faintly, and rested a hand on her head. "So, now you know," he said, smile fading into nothingness as his hand slipped from her head, mussing her hair in the process. He sighed and turned in preparation of his leaving. "Goodbye, Kagome."
And again, he did.
Impulsively, she grabbed his hand and squeezed it tight.
"I have to."
"No, you don't. Stay. Stay with me," she said brokenly, tears beginning to well in her eyes. "I just found you. It took me so long. And... I don't want to be left behind and I don't want to leave you behind. Just stay. Please. "
"It won't work. You know that. Someone always gets left behind."
She shook her head, tears flying off her face before turning to glass as they hit the cold air. "I don't care! I love you!"
She jumped up and wrapped her arms around his neck as best she could. And she didn't let go. In their time apart, she'd figured some things out. One of them was that when it came to love she'd always waited quietly, hoping the other person would admit things first because the pain of rejection was too acute. She'd suffered it before and this was the way she protected her heart. It was foolish and if she really wanted to be loved the way she thought she deserved then she'd have to put some kind of effort into it. She'd have to suffer the fights and the times like this, when trust was waning. But it could be rebuilt and in that two years she realized she'd thrown something away without even knowing it and maybe he'd done the same thing... and... and she just couldn't let him walk away without knowing it.
At first, he was too shocked to respond but gradually he relaxed, and his arms wrapped around her waist. He closed his eyes and held her close, reveling in her warmth and her scent for the first time since the change.
With a slight, secret smile, he nuzzled her cheek and whispered: "I love you too."
She choked out a sob of joy and wept the happiest tears she'd ever cried. When she finally calmed down, her voice was just even enough to whisper back: "I'm cold."
"Of course you are. You came out here in nothing but your yukata, silly woman."
He smoothly stepped back and took off his coat, draping it over her shoulders in a gentlemanly fashion. She clutched the coat tightly around her, looking up at him with absolute adoration. He saw then, what he'd missed before. She could see him. Really see him through all the changes, and what was more, she still loved him. She'd always loved him, always would. He scooped her up bridal style. She let out an indignant squeak.
He cut off any objections with six words: "I want to show you something."
His eyes sparkling, he launched into the air and in the blink of an eye he'd flown all the way to one of the lower peaks of Mount Iō-zan. He didn't dare brave the summit this time of year, especially with Kagome in tow. She wasn't wearing the right clothing already and it was terribly cold, but still, he wanted to show her the stars from the mountain. He tilted his head back and she mirrored his actions, letting out a pleased gasp at the sight of so many. The view was beautiful from almost anywhere on the peninsula but it was especially beautiful from the mountains.
They stood on the peak, staring at the sky which was a deep, rich blue, almost black. The stars stood out against this backdrop, twinkling merrily as if in blessing and at that very moment, the moon came out. And all the world was bathed in silver-blue light. For a moment, it almost seemed too surreal. Like a living wood block print by a master artisan, it was a stranded moment in time captured forever on a piece of parchment.
Then the wind blew and he could feel the one he love shiver under his fingertips. Drawing her closer, he rested his cheek on the top of her head, breathing in her scent. There was a profound amount of silence in his heart that mirrored the silence all around them. He looked out, taking in the landscape around him and marveling in its transient beauty, he couldn't help but notice how much it reminded him of the woman in his arms.
He was a demon and demons shouldn't love.
He knew this from his memories.
His eyes narrowed. He wouldn't be ruled by the past.
He would be free, unlike Sesshoumaru, who was bound by his position and his prejudices. Satoshi was free to love. Free to live life the way he saw fit.
But he still had doubts...
"How did you know?"
"Besides the markings and my size. How did you know it was me?"
She laughed, and he could feel her breath as it brushed across his skin. He was staring out into the distance, looking for things he couldn't, wouldn't, be able to find unless... Gently, she placed a hand on his cheek and guided his gaze to hers.
Looking him straight in the eye, she caressed his cheeks, his lips and she smiled as she said: "He never, ever would have called me by name. Even if he knew it."
She grew quiet again, allowing him to take that in. And when he did, his eyes pleaded for more, something deeper and far vaguer than such an obvious clue. She smiled again, her gaze focusing on his mouth, her thumb tracing the contour of his lip. Moving in closer, she gazed up at him with a mysterious, heavy lidded expression. He gazed back, opening and closing his eyes languidly. Something was building between them, he could feel it. Smell it. It was in the air and all around, and it was intoxicating.
Her skin was pale in the moonlight, making her appear ruthlessly fragile and mortal, yet still very beautiful. His forehead touched hers, and losing himself in her touch, he let himself, just for a moment, really feel. Her fingers grazed his cheeks, his ears. She ran them through his hair and behind his neck. Opening his eyes, he locked gazes with her and let the fire he'd long held back show through them. He let her see. Really see what lay inside. What he feared and sometimes loathed, but had all the same accepted. And though his emotions were subdued, he could feel them there and all he could feel right now was her and he wanted more but not before he heard what he needed to hear.
She knew this and with a silent exhalation, her cheek just grazing his as she whispered in his ear: "And he'd never look at me, not like that... never like that."
And then, she kissed him.
His soul was scorched to the core as the night overwhelmed him and truly... she was everything in that moment. The only thing. Her and the fire inside. It was like breathing for the first time and when they broke away, breathless, he knew that everything and nothing had changed.
She smiled up at him in the same innocent, shy way she always did after doing something like that. Such a paradox. It then came to his attention that she was shivering violently. The cold was too much for her. He hadn't noticed. He tucked her head underneath his chin, rubbing a hand up and down her back before heading back the way they came.
And when they landed back at the ryokan, he took her to her room and warmed her up the old fashioned way, with sighs and moans and trembling sensuous palpation.
Now he lay next to her, naked bodies intertwined as he held her close and listened to her breathing. His eyes were open and he stared unseeingly into space. Thought at this point was hard, because there were so many he couldn't find the energy to focus on a single one. There were questions of her past. Questions of his transformation and the youkai he was a reincarnate of. There were questions regarding the future, many, many questions of the future, what it would bring for both of them. Questions he wasn't looking forward to thinking about. Truth be told, he was afraid. He was afraid to ask those questions because he already knew in his heart what the answer would be.
Maybe, for now anyway, he should just be content and thinking that, he let those questions slip away and held his lover closer. His eyes slowly closed and he remembered what old Hana had asked him when he attempted to leave.
"Did you find what you were looking for then?"
Perhaps he had.
For the moment, that was the only answer he needed.