Title: Summer - Up in Smoke
Universe: Alternate Universe
Rating: Y (adult themes & language)
Warnings: Light cursing
Word Length: 2,550
Summary: Leaf by leaf and page by page, throw this book away.
Author's Note: It is highly recommended that you listen to the songs on which these chapters are based. Links are available at the author's notes entry for this piece on my LJ.
Disclaimer: The Inuyasha concept, storyline, and characters are copyright Rumiko Takahashi and Viz Media
"Smoke" © 1997 Ben Folds, Anna Goldman (Ben Folds Five)
Kagome gave a content sigh. "Don't you just love this view?"
Sesshoumaru glanced at her from the corner of his eye, wondering if he should truthfully answer such a loaded question. She was referring, of course, to the scene before them: the sun setting over the ocean, a soft summer breeze wafting past, carrying the scent of salt to their noses. It was indeed lovely, a relaxing way to spend a lazy evening.
"Hm," he replied, turning his attention back to the sunset. A myriad of reds, pinks, and yellows crisscrossed the sky, reflecting against the clouds. The air was still around them, the only sound the crash of waves against the shore further down the beach. They'd lucked out, coming across this secluded little patch of sand a few weeks before. They could enjoy the beach in relative peace, the noisy families and tourists further down the shoreline.
Three months had passed since that moment in his office, since she'd shoved that book in his face and told him to write out his sorrows. It did prove to be a turning point in their tenuous relationship, but not as he expected (and feared). She'd resumed her routine of sharing lunch with him in his office, steadily drawing his interest to the outside world once more. They discussed everything under the sun, it seemed, except for two important points: their past, and their present.
When he'd finished with the database, the hospital begged him to stay on for another project. He'd never admit it, but the fact that Kagome was still there certainly aided the ease of making that decision.
They had lunch together almost every day, and occasionally went for walks in the afternoon, but their relationship – as such – never progressed beyond that. There was a lot left unsaid, but Sesshoumaru didn't feel up to meeting that challenge just yet. Trying to document the cycle of emotional trauma that was his life was exhausting enough, and sometimes he wondered what good reliving any of it would do for him.
He was glad she didn't press him for information, because he felt like enough of an idiot doing this little exercise in private.
And sometimes, there were moments like this, when they were alone, together, sitting in amiable silence, when it was all worth it. Slowly but surely, it seemed like his heart was growing once again, reawakening after being buried under doubt and regret for so long. It was nice, he decided; having a tangible object to separate and contain all that misery was nice.
"I can't believe the summer is almost over," Kagome said, interjecting into his thoughts once again.
"Hm," he mused.
He inclined his head toward her. She was leaning back against the wooden gate beside him, her legs stretched out in front of her, ankles crossed demurely. She was wearing a simple skirt and top, her hair drifting free around her shoulders. She was the picture of contentment, and he wondered…how long had it taken her to work through the dark corners of her past?
She turned her head, catching his surprised gaze, giving him a small smile. "We should build a fire," she suggested. She sat up, glancing around for driftwood. Her eyes lit up as she spotted some in the distance, and she was off before he had a chance to say anything. A small smile played on his lips as he watched the sway of her hips when she moved away, focused on her new mission.
He pulled his book from the inside pocket of his jacket and turned it over in his hands. She'd asked him to bring it along tonight, and he wondered if she was finally going to want to read it. He wasn't so sure he was ready to share any of these thoughts and memories with another person, but given the choice, he was glad it would be her. It seemed their friendship had picked up right where it left off back in high school, and he was grateful for that.
He'd missed her more than he'd realized.
She brought the pile of wood back to him, digging a pit in the sand and busying herself with building the fire. She seemed inordinately proud of her creation, giving a whoop of joy when she managed to light it – and only it – successfully. He watched her the entire time with an impassive gaze, letting her innate happiness settle over him.
She burrowed beside him once again, kicking off her shoes and propping her feet near the fire. "Much better," she commented.
He smiled, letting his eyes drift towards the heavens. This was the calmest he'd felt in a long time, and he only wanted to continue enjoying it. The stars were beginning to come out, twinkling at him from overhead.
He felt her hand on his. "I see you brought the book," she said quietly.
His attention focused on his lap, where their hands were resting casually. He released his hold on the book and cupped his palm around hers. "Do you want to read it?" he murmured.
She opened her hand slightly, reaching out to lace her fingers through his. "No."
He continued to gaze at their hands, now interlocked, and wondered if she knew what she was doing to him. Warmth spread from her touch, rising up his arm, pooling over his chest and torso. His heart was beating steadily in his chest, his breath rising and falling in an even pattern, but he was hyper-aware: of her, of himself, of exactly what they were doing.
"Then why did you ask me to bring it?" he inquired.
"To finish the therapy."
His brow creased at this unexpected answer; he looked at her with suspicion. "What do you mean?" he asked slowly, carefully.
Her gaze, which had been steady on the fire since the beginning of this conversation, met his. "I mean, now we're going to burn the book."
"What?!" The shocked word was ripped from his throat before he realized it. He yanked his hand out of her grip and once again picked up his book.
She rummaged around in her belongings and withdrew a similar, slim volume, showing it to him with exaggerated interest. "We're going to burn these books, as a symbol of finally separating ourselves from our sorrow," she explained.
He could only stare at her dumbly, his eyes moving from her face – so calm, so determined – to her hands, where she held her own book. "You have one, too?" he finally choked, wanting to hit himself for voicing such a stupid, obvious question.
"We all have a book of regrets, no?" she asked, letting the question float off. She opened the covers of her volume, letting the pages flutter in the breeze. "It's hard to believe a lifetime of sorrow can be contained in such a small book."
He eyed her with skepticism as she gave him a sheepish smile. "I couldn't very well ask you to do this alone," she said. "You aren't the only one running away from pain. If I was going to hold you up to some impossible standard, it's only fair to hold myself to it as well."
With a resolute breath, she reached forward, ripping out a random page and balling it in her fist. "This is what you do," she told him, her voice quiet and serious. "You tear the pages out and throw them in the fire. You let go of the pain, the hurt, the resentment." She threw the paper into the fire, the flames shooting up greedily over the addition. "It's all smoke…it's all gone."
He sat forward, opening his book with care, thumbing through its pages. "So the first step was to get it out of the system…" he mused, letting his eyes run over the careful script that marked his memories.
"…and the last step is to let it go completely," she surmised, touching his arm once again. "Think of it as the ultimate catharsis."
"Hmph," he grunted. He wasn't entirely sure he liked this idea. It had been absolute hell, going through all this, writing it down in painstaking detail, and now she was telling him he couldn't even keep the record of it?
She continued to tear pages out of her book, throwing them into the fire. "Leaf by leaf, and page by page, throw this book away," she sighed, her voice breaking as she chanted. "All the sadness…all the rage…throw this book away."
Emotions tumbled through him as he watched her. He could tell she was struggling to control herself, but apparently she was reliving her past traumas now, letting them go one last time. It was awe-inspiring…and scary as hell…and all the same, comforting. She was allowing herself to be vulnerable in his presence, and that meant she trusted him a great deal.
She looked at him then, tears glistening on her cheeks. "Come on, Sess," she said, brushing her fingers under one eye. "Let it go."
His gaze slid from her face to the fire, his grip on his book tightening. "I don't think I can," he said, his voice strained.
She nodded. "I know how you feel," she said. "When you've been holding on to it for so long, you start wondering: what, if anything, can fill that void in your life?" Her arms curled around her torso, and for a moment, she was sixteen again, lonely and scared and lost.
She looked up again, taking a cover in each hand and wrenching her book apart, the two halves fluttering in protest. She chucked one of them into the fire, a sob escaping as she did so. "It's hard to let go, but we must," she insisted, facing him with an imploring gaze.
He gave her a short nod, shaking fingers grasping one of the pages of his book, pulling it from the binding with care. It was a lesser incident, something he felt safe with letting go. He crunched the paper in his hands, throwing it onto the growing, glowing fire.
"Which one was that?" she asked, glancing down at his book.
"A time I took the blame," he said simply, watching as the smoke rose above the flames.
"Keep going," she urged, grabbing fistfuls of paper and ripping them out. "What about this one?"
He brought her hand close enough to read the words. "A dark evening," he said, his eyes running over the painstaking script. "When my mother died."
Silently, she handed him the papers. It was his memory, his choice, to hold or to let go. He hesitated, his resentment at his mother's death and his father's disappearance pounding against his temples for one final, tense moment. In a rush of heat, he balled the pages up and threw them at the fire, releasing his anger and frustration all in one fell swoop.
He gasped heavily as he watched the papers burn, fresh tears pulsating behind his eyes. He hadn't cried since he was three years old. He'd hidden all of his emotions from that young age, never wanting to let others know when he was afraid or vulnerable, never wanting to be hurt as deeply as he had been then.
"Let it out," Kagome said softly, linking her hands on his left shoulder, letting her head fall against his right. "It's okay, Sess. You're going to be okay."
He squeezed his eyes shut, still resistant. Emotional agony flowed over him, overwhelming his defenses, beating him into submission. There was a reason he never wanted to face this shit – it had been hard enough the first time around.
Rebellious tears trickled from under his eyelids, cool against his cheeks. He held himself perfectly still in her half-embrace, determined not to cry out or sob uncontrollably. His eyes burned with the unshed grief, but he held fast.
Kagome began to stroke his hair lightly, rocking gently against him. "All the sadness, all the rage – throw it all away," she soothed. "No one will ever know the reasons for these tears, so let them out, Sesshoumaru."
He exhaled sharply, his eyes snapping open, tears flooding his cheeks as the internal dam broke. He let her hold him, comfort him, and his heart filled with unadorned love for her.
Time slipped by unmarked. They continued to pitch parts of their books into the fire, until there were only two measly pages left between his covers. He'd long since dried his tears, but this secret was the most difficult one to let go.
"We each have one left," he said tonelessly, letting his pieces lay in the sand in front of him.
She sighed, putting her torn cover next to his. "So we do," she murmured. "What's your biggest regret?"
He picked up the book. "This is the time we didn't speak for years," he remarked as he laid it in the fire bed.
She squeezed his hand, picking up what was left of her book. "Here is the secret no one will ever know," she said solemnly. "I never told anybody what happened that day."
He looked into her eyes, seeing the hope for his agreement reflected there. "Neither did I," he replied. "Not even Inuyasha."
She closed her eyes and smiled, flipping the board into the fire. "Thank you," she whispered.
He returned the smile, tucking an errant lock of hair behind her ear. "You're welcome."
She stood up, bringing a handful of sand above the fire. "One last thing," she declared, motioning for him to follow her lead. He picked himself up, brushing the sand from his clothes, nodding for her to continue.
She took a deep breath, releasing the sand into the fire. "Those who say the past is not dead can stop and smell the smoke," she declared harshly.
The fire roared, the flames reaching up towards her, cracking and hissing from the blast of sand. He caught her as she instinctively shifted back, holding her fast in his arms. She leaned against him, her hands settling over his at her waist, tucking her head beneath his chin.
"Thank you, Sesshoumaru," she whispered. "Thank you for going with me, for not rebuking me, for understanding my pain. You were the only one, you know." When he didn't immediately reply, she glanced up, shifting around to face him. "And thank you, for finally allowing me to thank you properly."
His heart twisted as he stared down at her, her expression soft and grateful. All he could think about—all he could imagine – was kissing her. For as long as he'd known her, his pride and honor had kept him in check. She was not his, she had never been his. But in this moment, with the past behind them, with these new emotions brimming over –
He pressed his lips to hers, one hand moving up the length of her back, soothing away the surprised shiver that ran down her spine. He touched her cheek, her neck, sliding his fingers through her hair, finally doing what he'd wanted to do all those years ago.
"What was that for?" she breathed as he pulled away.
Now that he was touching her, he couldn't stop. "For everything you've done for me," he replied, resting his forehead against hers. "You're all I ever wanted."