Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters in this oneshot… especially for those whose wishes reveal their hearts. A nod of recognition is bent towards Rumiko Takahashi for her creative prowess.
Author's Note: This will make a whole lot more sense if you are aware of a couple very pertinent facts. Koi is a shortened version of koibito, a Japanese term of endearment which roughly translates as either 'lover' or 'beloved'. Since koi is also a fish of considerable prominence in Japanese culture, I am cheerfully incorporating the wordplay this suggests.
Dedication: Without the persistent influence of the always incomparable and nigh unpronounceable Fenikkusuken, I would 1) not know there is a Tanabata Festival in Japan every summer, 2) not know how this annual Star Festival is observed, and 3) not be writing more canon fluff. Be it on your head, minx. ׃׃twinkle׃׃
This oneshot was originally posted to Live Journal on June 10, 2007.
"This way; through here," urged Kagome as she reached back to catch Inuyasha's hand. "We're nearly there!" she promised, eyes glowing with excitement.
Inuyasha allowed himself to be drawn through the slow-moving crowd of festival-goers, putting up just enough resistance to make sure Kagome didn't let go. If she thought she needed to keep hold of him to prevent him from bolting, he wasn't about to disabuse her of the notion. "Keh. I can see that for myself," he grumbled to hide the smile quirking at the corners of his lips.
A park near the Higurashi family's shrine was designated for the annual summer celebration of Tanabata, its grounds transformed by a jumble of bright booths and colorful canopies. For a moment, Inuyasha just stared. The evening was lit by myriad lights and the air was heavy with enticing smells. Reaching up with his free hand, the hanyou tugged absently at the bandana that hid his ears from view, wishing he could free them—there were so many interesting sounds just begging to be followed.
Kagome eagerly led the way into the very heart of the hubbub, and for once Inuyasha didn't feel every eye turning to follow his progress. His fire-rat was actually almost unremarkable compared to the gay colors that swirled around them. With so many decked out in whimsically-patterned, celebratory yukata, the red-clad figure blended effortlessly into the festive flow of humanity.
"What do you want to do first, Inuyasha?"
"I dunno," admitted the hanyou, turning in a slow circle to take in the possibilities. Musicians played under a temporary pavilion. Barkers lured the idle into games of chance. Merchants hawked their wares. The hiss of steam and sizzle of meat drew the hungry. "Eat?" he asked hopefully.
"Why am I not surprised?" Kagome teased with a smile before craning her neck. "There's lots of good food stands," she murmured to herself, then brightened when she spotted the one she wanted. "Follow me," she beckoned, leading the way through the crowd.
Lines had been strung overhead from every possible peak and corner so that they crisscrossed the walkways, anchoring a dancing array of decorations. Paper lanterns glowed softly, and fluttering streamers rippled in the breeze, tickling passers-by. There were banners and origami figures and wind socks. Ambitious vendors had suspended whimsical displays of paper fans and parasols, silken scarves and painted masks. Even the park's trees had been called into service, for Inuyasha could see hundreds of narrow strips of paper dangling from branches.
He hovered protectively at Kagome's elbow as she pushed her way towards a bustling food stall. She hesitated for a moment when a tall man cut across their path. He wore a wide-brimmed hat and carried a bundle of bamboo sticks propped over one shoulder, fat paper goldfish dangling from strings at the end of each pole. Just as he came alongside the couple, the stranger pivoted on his heel, sending the fluttering school of fish directly into Inuyasha's face. The hanyou's eyes widened in surprise as he tried to bat away the offending critters, cutting several 'fishing lines' with his claws. The peddler gave his own startled exclamation, dropping his wares with a noisome clatter.
Kagome quickly came to Inuyasha's rescue, unwinding strings, straightening the bandana, and freeing the hanyou from his temporary entanglement. The flow of foot traffic parted around their little tableau as the festival peddlar dropped to his knees, snatching up bamboo poles as he begged for forgiveness in disjointed phrases. "So sorry… My fault… Didn't see… Clumsy of me…"
"There's no harm done," Kagome reassured the young man as he got back to his feet, then sighed, "Oh dear," when her eyes fell on the cluster of severed fish that hung from his hand. She saw amusement dance through unusual green eyes as he pushed his hat back and considered the couple.
"Don't worry, miss. These are easily mended," he smiled, shouldering his bundle of sticks again. "In fact, why don't you take one?" he urged, pressing one of the speckled fish into her hands. He smiled down at Kagome with such warmth that Inuyasha bristled and pushed himself forward, but before the hanyou could speak, the peddler bowed and turned. "Enjoy the festival," he called over his shoulder before melting into the crowds, his long, red ponytail swaying in his wake.
"What the hell was that?" muttered Inuyasha, golden eyes still snapping over the young man's forwardness with Kagome.
A gentling hand touched the hanyou's forearm. "Koi," Kagome murmured, a smile in her voice. Inuyasha froze, eyes widening. Did she just call me…? He turned his head slowly, giving Kagome a cautious look. She had just finished fastening the paper goldfish at her waist with what was left of its string, and met his questioning gaze with a bright smile. "Koi for the children—simple toys. They're very popular."
"Keh," Inuyasha floundered, trying to gather his wits. "I thought you said this was a star festival."
"It is," concurred Kagome as she stood up on tiptoe, trying to regain her bearings. "There are lots of different symbols that are associated with Tanabata, though. It's just… tradition," she said with a shrug. "Come on; let's get you something to eat."
As they waited in line, Inuyasha searched the vague childhood recollections he kept dear. He was sure his mother had brought him to similar festivals when he was small. "This is still a big deal then—Tanabata? Why all the fuss?"
"Sure," Kagome nodded. "There's a legend about two stars who fell in love. They spent so much time together that they neglected their duties, so as punishment they were separated." Pointing up into the sky to demonstrate, Kagome continued the tale. "They were placed on opposite sides of the Milky Way, and only come together once each year—tonight."
Inuyasha's eyebrows shot up. "So… let me get this straight. Two people on different sides of an impossible distance are brought together, and people throw this big party every year for them."
"You have to admit it's kind of romantic. I mean it's not the sort of thing that happens very often."
Inuyasha gave her a bland look. "Yeah, right. I guess it would be pretty rare."
They carried their food to relatively quiet corner, claiming a low rock for a seat. As Kagome was laying out their selections, she bit her lip. "I forgot napkins. I'll be right back." Inuyasha kept his eyes fixed on her dark head as she darted towards the food stall, then wended her way back to him. She looked pretty in the new yukata her mother had given her for the occasion—a hazy concoction of rippling blues with a scattering of water lilies near its hem. As the hanyou watched her approach, a movement caught his eyes. It had to be a trick of the light, but Inuyasha thought he could see the goldfish moving among the lily pads decorating the fabric. Orange and gold and white and cream—they darted in and out with a flicker of tails and fins.
Kagome's cheeks warmed as she walked towards Inuyasha with growing self-consciousness. He always looked out for her safety, but at the moment he was staring with such intensity that she found it unsettling. Halting a couple paces away, she felt her stomach do a little flip when golden eyes seemed to trace the line of her hip with fascination. "What is it, Inuyasha?" Kagome asked uncertainly.
"Koi," he answered huskily, and Kagome's breath hitched. Ignoring the young woman's furious blush, Inuyasha got to his feet, and circled her slowly. He tipped his head in confusion, then asked. "What happened to the koi?"
Blinking in surprise, Kagome touched the paper fish she'd been given earlier. "This one?"
"No," he replied, brow furrowed in concentration. "I was sure I saw fish on your yukata—swimming in the lilies."
"Really?" Kagome said, turning this way and that and looking down at herself. "There aren't any fish on this yukata, Inuyasha. There never were."
Inuyasha frowned and shifted uncomfortably. "Kagome, do you sense anything strange?" he asked.
She simply shook her head. "Strange how?"
"It's probably nothing," he sighed, then brightened as Kagome called his attention back to the food, handing him a skewer of fish-shaped dumplings.
"Well, I don't sense any shards, if that's what you mean," Kagome remarked. "And we've never seen any signs of youkai in my era. Let's just try to enjoy ourselves, okay?"
Inuyasha nodded his agreement and prepared to sample the dumplings only to stare in bewilderment at his empty skewer. "You finished them already?" Kagome asked in surprise. "Did you like them?" At Inuyasha's blank look, the young woman just giggled and passed him another serving. "Pay attention this time," she advised with a wink.
Although he did his best to ignore his gut instinct, Inuyasha couldn't shake the feeling that they were being watched, and as the evening wore on, he became convinced of it. At first, the odd occurrences could be written off as coincidental, but as the mischief escalated, Inuyasha couldn't ignore the fact that someone was playing pranks on him. A net filled with fish-shaped plushies came loose from its moorings just as Inuyasha walked underneath, bringing down the whole lot onto the hanyou's head. When Kagome bought herself a paper fan with a red and white carp on it, it grimaced and crossed its eyes at Inuyasha. At the ring-toss booth, the targets, which were painted with the ubiquitous carp, ducked and dodged his throws. Every time they passed a paper lantern with a koi painted on it, the fish would turn its head and wink. It always comes back to those damned koi. Inuyasha was developing a tick.
The final indignity came in a booth which boasted its own koi pond—a stainless steel watering trough filled with multi-colored goldfish. The barker handed Inuyasha a shallow dipper and challenged him to catch a fish for his lady. The hanyou eyed the flimsy net skeptically, but Kagome's hopeful look had him rolling up his sleeves. Crouching down, he assessed his potential targets. The streaked and spotted koi moved lazily through the water, fanned tails fluttering decoratively as they described slow circles in their tank. This shouldn't take long. Choosing a calico, Inuyasha stealthily lowered his dipper towards his prey. The reaction was instantaneous, fish scattering every which way.
So that's how it is, is it? Eyes sharpening, Inuyasha set aside caution in favor of speed. With a quick, sure plunge he scooped up his intended catch. Kagome squealed excitedly, only to groan in sympathy when the fish wriggled and flipped, tearing the tiny net and dropping back into the water. Holding out his hand for another dipper, Inuyasha narrowed his eyes at the koi. Oh no you don't! He'd been taunted by fish all evening, and it was payback time.
Two more nets ripped in quick succession and Kagome was ready to give up the chase, but Inuyasha remained determined. She smiled apologetically at the cheerful old man who ran the booth, pulling out the coins needed to pay for another dipper—which is why she missed what happened next. The cheeky, calico koi bobbed its head up out of the water, raised one fin in an insulting gesture, and spit water in the hanyou's eye. Inuyasha saw red. With a growl, he lunged.
Kagome screamed when the water slopped up over the sides of the tub, scooting backwards to spare her yukata. The attendant grabbed the hanyou by the scruff of his neck and hauled him backwards. "You all right there, young man?" he shouted, bug-eyed with concern. One at a time, three smug carp released their grip on Inuyasha's forelocks to drop innocuously back into the tank. "Did ya fall in?" the barker asked solicitously.
"Yeah, old man," mumbled the hanyou sulkily. "I fell in."
"I think we'd better head home," Kagome announced, prying the last dipper from Inuyasha's grip. "I apologize for the disturbance," she added sweetly to the old man, who waved off her concern.
"Happens all the time, little lady. The stories I could tell," he said with a chuckle. "If you're leaving, be sure to make a wish before you go," he added.
"We will. Thank you," Kagome promised, tugging Inuyasha's sleeve and leading him away. She cast a sidelong glance at the fuming hanyou, but decided against asking him what had happened.
Stopping in the space between two tents, Kagome dug out a handkerchief and tried to dry Inuyasha off, but he didn't suffer her fussing for long. "I've been wet before, Kagome. Just leave it." Catching her eye, he added in gentler tones, "We don't have to go yet if you want to stay."
She smiled. "I'm ready to go. In fact, I'd planned to leave before the fireworks get started. I don't think you'd enjoy them from here because of the noise, but we should still be able to see them from the roof at home, if you're willing to give me a boost…" she trailed off hopefully.
"Yeah, okay," Inuyasha agreed gruffly, then remembered. "What did the old man mean about making a wish before we go?"
"It's another Tanabata tradition," Kagome explained, pointing towards all the slips of paper he'd noticed earlier. "You write a wish on the paper and hang it from the tree branches. If it doesn't rain tonight, the wishes come true."
Inuyasha lifted his face towards the night sky and inhaled deeply. "It ain't gonna rain," he decided, giving Kagome an expectant look.
"Make your wish a good one then," encouraged the young woman. They walked over to one of the many small tables that had been set up under the trees along the edges of the fairgrounds. A pair of old women smiled in welcome and offered them each a pen, indicating they could choose whatever paper they liked from those strewn across the tabletop. Inuyasha waited until Kagome had chosen a pink strip before plucking a red one for himself.
"What kind of wishes are we supposed to make?" Inuyasha asked once they'd stepped aside to let others make their selections.
"Oh, all kinds, any kind," Kagome hedged with darkening cheeks.
Confused by her fluster, Inuyasha listened in on some of the conversations going on around them. A mother was helping her son spell out a prayer for good penmanship, which seemed like a waste of a perfectly good wish to him. A glance at the papers already swaying overhead revealed a variety of hopes—good crops, long lives, healthy children, true love. One group of girls was gossiping about whose names they would put on their papers this year, and Inuyasha figured he'd discovered the source of Kagome's embarrassment. Keh. I get it.
Uncapping his pen, he paused briefly to compose his thoughts. I'm tempted to wish that I never see another damned koi, he thought with a smirk, letting his eyes drift over towards Kagome. I wouldn't mind hearing it again, though, he realized. Shaking himself, he put pen to paper, and with bold strokes he made his wish.
Kagome fiddled with her pen and tried to hang onto the lightness of the festival atmosphere. Wishes were not easy things to make anymore. As a girl, she'd made many selfish ones, pinning her hopes to the trees and praying for clear skies. This wish can be a selfish wish. I don't have to take this wish so seriously. And yet… Inuyasha did say it won't rain tonight. With a heart that beat a little faster, she made her hopes known with a flourish.
"Now what?" Inuyasha asked when Kagome came back from returning their borrowed pens.
"We hang them from one of the trees," she instructed. "Just… make sure both our wishes can fit on the same branch," she added shyly.
Inuyasha searched her face. "Is that part of the tradition?"
Kagome simply smiled and nodded, holding out her paper slip towards him. "Can I read it?" he asked uncertainly.
Passing his own wish to her, he slowly read Kagome's neat row of kanji and his face bloomed into a smile. "That's good," he said with approval in both his eyes and his tone.
Blushing, Kagome returned Inuyasha's wish to him. "Yours too," she murmured, trying to cover her sudden bashfulness by looking for an empty branch within easy reach. There didn't seem to be any. "Can you find a spot?"
"I think I can manage," Inuyasha smirked and beckoned for her to follow him. Once they'd put some distance between themselves and the lantern lights, he crouched down. "Hop on," he urged.
Kagome stepped forward, but hesitated. "My new yukata," she said, indicating the constricting lines of her festival garb.
"Keh," Inuyasha muttered, then straightened. "Here, hold these," he said, placing the wishes back into Kagome's hand. Without further preamble, he scooped her into his arms and leapt lightly into the overhead branches. Springing from one limb to the next, he found what he was looking for and lowered Kagome carefully so she could set her feet next to his and steady herself against the trunk. Pointing to a convenient series of twigs just to her left, he gave her a hopeful look. "Will this work?"
"Perfectly," she whispered, then held out the red slip of paper to the hanyou. "You first?" she offered.
Choosing a sturdy little branch, Inuyasha gently looped the string ties of his wish over the first several sets of leaves, settling it where there would be no danger of its blowing away. "Now you," he urged. Kagome's pink wish soon joined his own, and for a few moments, the couple watched the papers twist and flutter in the breeze.
"Ready?" Kagome finally asked.
"Yeah," Inuyasha agreed. "Let's get you home." Lifting her back into his arms, he sprang down through the leafy canopy and continued cross-country, insisting he knew a shortcut back to the Shrine.
As the hanyou and his precious cargo disappeared into the distance, a lone figure stepped out from behind the row of tents at the edge of the festivities. He gazed after them for several long minutes, his whole body taut with longing. Tossing his hat aside and lowering the handful of remaining bamboo poles onto the ground, he walked slowly to the base of the tree Inuyasha had chosen. A coiled leap sent him upwards and he followed his nose to the perch from which the couple had hung their wishes. With a hand that trembled, the young peddler reached out and turned the red slip to read its wish. "Strength to protect the ones I care for." The red-haired young man swallowed hard, then reached to catch the fluttering pink paper. "A happy ending for those I love."
How like them. Tears blurred green eyes. How like them both. Their wishes say so much, but leave so much unspoken. With a quiet sigh, one claw-tipped hand slipped into an inner pocket and withdrew a third wish. Humming softly as he worked, the prank-loving kitsune carefully tied his length of turquoise paper so that it hung beside the others. Its heartfelt prayer a single word—"Reunion." Sitting on the limb with his knees pulled up tight against his chest, he prepared to stand guard over these fragile hopes until the morning sun fashioned them into promises.
End Notes: This oneshot was written for the Live Journal community iyfic(underscore)contest's special challenge for its 100th Week. The story prompt came in the form of FanArt—we had to write a story to fit the picture. To see Inuyasha vs. The Fish by Irishgirl982, go to http(colon)//www(dot)deviantart(dot)com/deviation/18858488/?qo90&qinuyasha&qhboost3Apopular+age(underscore)sigma3A24h+age(underscore)scale3A5
Tanabata is the summer Star Festival in Japan. According to legend, the lovely Orihime, the Weaver Star (Vega), fell in love with Hikoboshi, the Cowherd Star (Altair). The two began to spend all their time together, neglecting their own responsibilities, so as punishment they were separated onto opposite sides of the Amanogawa River (the Milky Way). The two are only permitted to meet once each year, on the seventh day of the seventh month—July 7.