Heck if I know how to categorize this story, let alone name it (Don't be surprised if I change the name). I think of it as angst/humor and friendship with implied future romance (as to whether or not one of them may have had something in the way of unrequited feelings for the other long ago...I shall leave that open to iterpretation). Yes, I'm afraid I'm back to the existential angst again. I'm sorry. This was written for the ebony-silks challenge last summer, Tequila sunrise; I've been fussing over it ever since. It's full of train-of-thought passages and meandering metaphors, and an ending that is probably too sappy and overdone for its own good. All I can say is it is how it wanted to be.
Also, Sesshoumaru's portrayal is probably questionable, but in my defense, it's been many years and he's been through a lot.
Also, he may be drunk.
The man looked up from his glass.
"You're drunk," she repeated.
The man breathed dusty laughter. "I'm not nearly drunk yet," he countered pleasantly, finishing his glass off. Kagome could only stand and stare as he motioned the bartender over and politely requested another scotch.
It was true. He didn't look drunk yet. His clothes were neat, except for his open shirt collar. His hands were steady; his words perfectly enunciated. He wore his hair up in a messy ponytail, disheveled bangs falling over eyes of antique gold, but all that did was make him look a little bit sleepy. Not drunk.
But the twelve empty shot glasses in front of him told a different story.
"I can't believe this," she said. "I run into you here, in the future—after five hundred years—and I find you in a bar drinking yourself to death."
"And I cannot believe that you are still alive," Sesshoumaru said, giving a nod of thanks to the bartender as he passed him his drink. "So I suppose that makes us even." He took a delicate sip, closing his eyes as if it were fine wine he was savoring.
Kagome blinked, feeling so disoriented it was almost dizzying. Seeing him here was too surreal. Too unreal. "That's not the same at all," she said finally, finding her voice again.
"Isn't it?" he asked mildly.
"No." Her brows furrowed. "Me being here makes perfect sense. This is when I am from in the first place. I just used to travel back to the past. But you being here—here getting wasted in a crummy bar—that's totally out of character. That doesn't make any sense at all."
"Careful, priestess," he chided with a playful lilt, taking another sip. "Keep talking about things like time travel, and everyone will think you are the one who is drunk."
"I don't drink."
"Says the woman standing in a bar," he replied, arching one elegant brow.
"I'm only in here because I sensed you!"
Sesshoumaru shrugged and turned away. Kagome frowned and slid into the seat next to him.
She really had just been passing by, until she'd felt his youki. When she did she ran straight inside without a thought, the chance to see someone from the past—anyone—sending her heart skipping in a way that it hadn't in so, so long. But it had nearly stuttered to a stop when she saw what he was doing.
"So, what's the special occasion?" she said in as casual a voice as she could. Avoiding his eyes, she picked up one of the empty cups littering the table and gave it a dirty look.
He had the grace to look confused. "Occasion?"
"Why else would someone be getting themselves drunk on a Monday night?"
"I'm not drunk," he corrected, draining a third of the glass in one swallow. She turned her glare on him.
"Right. And I'm not a reincarnated priestess."
"You aren't?" He touched his claws to his chest in exaggerated surprise.
"Oh, great, you've finally developed a sense of humor," she muttered.
"I have always had an excellent and highly unappreciated sense of humor," he said with mild affront. "Ahh, but where have my manners gone? Would you care for something?" He nodded to the wall of bottles behind them.
"I don't drink."
He smiled an empty-eyed smile. "Neither do I."
The air around her was thick and sour with alcohol and she suddenly wanted to claw her way through it until she was back on the street where she'd started. She suddenly wished she'd never found him. Why had she come in? It would be better to have believed her fierce old enemy dead than see that hollow look in his eyes. The Sesshoumaru she'd known would rather have been dead.
Though, the Sesshoumaru she'd known would rather have slain her than sat with her. Maybe being drunk made him more approachable? It had certainly made him more talkative. He was quite the affable drunk.
Or maybe it's because they weren't enemies any more, she realized. All their battles were long ago, all the enmity gone. What was there left to fight over? No more swords, no more hated half-brothers. They were the only ones left.
Sesshoumaru set his glass on the table with a soft chink and Kagome realized with a start that it was already empty.
"What do you carry in terms of whiskey?" he asked, all grace and poise.
The small man behind the counter ran his eyes over the spread of glassware decorating it and Kagome could see him mentally tallying things up. "I'm sorry, sir," the bartender said cautiously. "I think maybe you've had enough."
"You're quite right," Sesshoumaru said, placing his palms on the counter and rising to his feet. He withdrew a generous tip from his wallet and gave the bartender his highest compliments, and then he turned and strode out the door, leaving her sitting beside an empty chair. He didn't even look back at her.
Suddenly she was on her feet and stumbling out the door. "Wait!" she cried, shoving through the crowd. He didn't slow down but she doggedly trotted after him. "Wait, please! Where can I find you? I mean, shouldn't we…shouldn't we exchange numbers or something? We could…we could talk sometime, we could…" She trailed off. The youkai didn't stop at any of the parked cars lining the street, nor did he head toward any of the stores. He just kept walking. "Where are you going?"
"To a quaint little establishment I have yet to visit tonight," he said briskly.
"…You're going to drink more?" Her voice rose to an incredulous squeak.
"Honestly, priestess, you treat me as if I am some sort of boozehound. In case you still have failed to notice, I am not drunk."
"You act like some sort of boozehound!" she hissed. "And you are drunk!"
"I assure you, I am quite wretchedly sober," he said, his voice as lightweight and lifeless as dead leaves. "Perhaps it is you who are drunk," he added, "if your senses are so addled that you cannot discern this."
"Stop saying that," she said, "I told you I don't—" She cut off as he disappeared from view, descending down a set of stairs cut into the street. For a moment she stood there, gaping. Then she threw up her hands and followed him.
Despite the dingy location, this actually seemed like a slightly classier place than the last one. It didn't smell as bad, at least. Sesshoumaru was already sitting at the polished counter placing his order and Kagome stalked right up and took a seat next to him. The youkai didn't miss a beat. "I'll have your best whiskey, and the lady will have a tequila sunrise," he told the bartender, nodding towards Kagome.
Kagome scowled. "I don't drink."
"Don't worry, it's for me."
She dropped her forehead to the countertop. "Great. I'm an enabler now. Thanks so much."
"You are most welcome," he replied.
She had a sudden urge to pull on her own hair.
The sound of glass setting down in front of her made her lift her head again. She found herself looking at a tall, bizarrely colorful drink. At the top it was a sunny yellow, deepening to orange as it went down and finishing as an unsettling shade of red. It smelled vaguely citrusy.
A long-fingered hand appeared before her vision and neatly slid the glass out of her counter-space and into his, joining the whiskey already sitting in front of him. The youkai picked it up and tilted his head, regarding the liquid colors with unreadable eyes.
"Why did you pick out this one?" she found herself asking.
"It seemed like something you would order," he shrugged. "I myself am not fond of these fruity cocktails." He then lifted the glass to his lips and took a deep, slow draught of it. The layer of yellow-gold began to thin.
"What do you mean something I would order? I don't drink, remember?"
He paused and eyed her. The gold and orange were both drained away. His eyes slid from hers and studied the blood-red bottom of his cup.
"You seem like the type to enjoy sunrises," he murmured, and drank it down.
Kagome fell silent.
She didn't know how long she spent struggling to understand the meaning of his strange, shadow-edged words, if there was any meaning to be had, but when she turned to him again she found he had not only finished his second drink but already acquired and finished two more. He was starting on his fifth.
She had a sudden urge to pull on his hair.
"Is this what you do every night? Is this what the mighty Lord Sesshoumaru has become?" she accused. "An alcoholic? A drunkard?"
"Of course not," he scoffed. "I despise alcohol. Drinking is a filthy habit."
Kagome put her face in her hands and tried very hard not to scream.
After a minute without speaking she peered between her fingers at him. His current glass (The sixth? The seventh?) was half gone now. It glinted in the dim light of the bar, and she was struck by the thought that the whiskey was the same color as his eyes. The comparison made her ill. His eyes should be like a winter morning, she secretly thought, or like sunlight on a silver blade, or even a chilling wolf yellow. Anything but cheap liquor.
It was time to change tactics. "That stuff kills brain cells," she persisted. "They've done studies, you know. People have permanent memory loss from doing what you're doing."
He held his glass up in an imaginary toast. "That, my fair priestess, is the idea."
Kagome frowned deeper. "You're going to kill yourself."
"If only I could be so lucky," he murmured, tipping his head back for a long swallow. When the cup was drained he set it down and got up. Paying the bill, he made to walk away just as before. Kagome scrambled from her seat and left alongside him.
As they stepped onto the street she suddenly found a hand around her throat. But his grasp was loose, almost casual. Unthreatening. It felt more like someone grabbing her shoulder, the way a human would, except that he wasn't human and he didn't have such human mannerisms. Without even thinking he had reached for the place that came most natural to him.
"Why do you follow me?" he asked, regarding her with a sort of absent curiosity, as if he had no particular interest in the answer.
Why am I? she wondered.
"We're the only ones left," is what came out of her mouth.
His eyes were suddenly terribly old and inhuman.
"Yes," he said, letting go of her throat, "we are."
Turning away, he continued gliding down the street as if nothing had happened. Without a thought Kagome jogged up to him again.
"I do not require a babysitter, priestess," he tossed over his shoulder.
"Seems to me like I'm a dog-sitter," she retorted, keeping pace.
Sesshoumaru huffed. "And you complain about my sense of humor."
He made no effort to drive her off again, and they continued down the sidewalk in an almost companionable silence. The crowds were beginning to thin at this late hour and she had the chance to observe him properly this time, studying the youkai in disguise as he mingled amongst mankind.
She noticed he took care not to walk directly under the streetlights, and she saw why: every time the edge of the light caught him his pupils flashed, throwing the light back. Human eyes didn't do that.
Human eyes didn't have a tapetum lucidum.
It was a detail probably no one would have noticed, but he took care to hide it anyway. Along with his filed-down claws, his heavy-makeup, and the deliberate way his hair pulled back to cover the tips of his ears.
He went to so much trouble, but it was a wonder to Kagome that anyone could mistake him for human at all.
However, it was no great surprise when their destination turned out to be another bar. The counter was full so they sat at a table, and as Sesshoumaru ordered their (his) drinks Kagome traced her finger along the coaster and thought about his question. Why was she following him? Hadn't she regretted finding him? But even as she thought it she realized it was no longer true, if it ever had been. She didn't like seeing him like this, but she liked seeing him.
Which made no sense because in the past they'd hardly known each other and hardly liked each other. But now it was like they were united by a kind of…mutual respect? Yes, that was it. Now that they were just old acquaintances, she respected her old adversary. She even wished him well. There was almost a sense of…of camaraderie about it.
Why, she mused, he was the only one alive who truly knew the secrets of her past, which meant he knew her better than anyone else in the world, which meant he must be her very best friend.
Her chest felt funny.
"Does anyone know what you are?" she asked.
"You do. Or are you so tipsy you have forgotten?" Sesshoumaru said with amusement.
She rolled her eyes, knowing she'd been due for another smart remark on her supposed inebriation. "I mean, does anyone else?"
Sesshoumaru reached out to his side and plucked his drinks from the waitress' tray as she arrived. Whiskey and tequila again. The youkai paused and took a sunny-tinged sip. "I suppose not," he finally answered.
That means I'm his best friend too, she realized, growing dizzy again.
Kagome's chest twisted as he reached for the whiskey, the tequila having vanished alarmingly fast. Her scowl returned full-force. "Exactly how much have you had tonight?"
"In which bar?"
"In all of them!"
Sesshoumaru pondered this, eyes creasing in thought. "Around thirty bottles; give or take."
"Thirty bottles?" she squeaked, her voice cracking. She stared at him in mute horror. "You can't possibly have drunk that much—that's more liquor than you've got blood in your whole body!"
"You forget that this isn't my real body," he said, flashing her a cheeky grin. With fangs. "My real body has an awful lot of blood." He swirled his glass. "And it can hold an awful lot of booze."
Kagome wasn't quite sure how the physics of that worked, but it didn't matter. Three glasses was a lot, three bottles was suicide, and thirty…? On impulse she reached to snatch away his drink but with one smooth movement he shifted it to his other hand and downed it.
"Why are you doing this to yourself?" She searched his eyes for answers, but it was impossible to read such shadowed irises. "What happened to you?"
"Nothing," he said with a smile that didn't reach his whiskey-hue eyes. "Nothing at all." He paused and took a quiet sip. "And you, dear priestess?" he asked. "What happened to you?"
Kagome sat back in her seat. "Nothing," she said quietly, and the words sounded hollow even to her. "Nothing at all." She suddenly didn't feel like talking anymore.
Sesshoumaru finished his drink, and then another. And then another. She lost track of how long they sat there, he drinking his poison, she standing silent vigil. She even lost track of how many he had. He kept ordering different drinks: gin, vodka, rum, warm sake, wines that were centuries old, just like him. They all blurred together to her. She suspected they all blurred together for him. Merging together into one long, hazy burn of alcohol.
He always ordered her the same tequila.
She never drank it.
At long last, Sesshoumaru got up. Kagome pushed herself up with a sigh as he paid the bill and thanked their host, wondering how many bars they would go to next, how many he had been to already. How long before he drank Tokyo dry.
The air was cool and slightly damp as they stepped onto the road again, the orange glow of streetlamps puddling around them on the shiny black concrete. Sesshoumaru stopped underneath the lamp and looked up into it, blinking against the glare.
"Sesshoumaru?" she said. "Your eyes...you shouldn't, um...you know?" She trailed off, wanting to caution him that his eyeshine was dangerously visible, but not wanting to draw outside attention to the eerie white glow reflecting off his pupils.
Sesshoumaru turned towards her, eyes returning to normal, and blinked again. Then again.
"You know," he said, sounding vaguely relieved, "I think I may be drunk."
He fell forward.
Kagome dove under him. "No kidding," she grunted, struggling under his weight. Good lord, did he have the same mass as his true form too? The youkai hadn't fully lost his feet, but his balance was shot and he was swaying in slow-motion. Kagome propped herself under him and tried to keep them both from stumbling to the pavement. Her shoulders were already burning.
"I can't let you drive home like this." His blood-alcohol levels had to be way, waaaay off the charts. And friends don't let friends drive drunk, right? "Where do you live?"
"Do I live?" He studied the streetlights in search of an answer. "That is a very good question."
"I mean, where's your home?" she said, panicking slightly. The taiyoukai tilted precariously and her knees gave an unpleasant twinge as she held him straight. His long snowy hairs started coming loose from their tie and draped all over her, tickling her nose.
Sesshoumaru squinted harder at the night air, oblivious to her struggles. "I own a small apartment, I suppose." He didn't sound very confident about it.
"I'll take you there."
Sesshoumaru frowned. "No, that won't do." He blinked, looking increasingly unfocused. "I think it may be on fire."
"…You think it's on fire."
"I may have set the fire," he admitted.
Kagome tried to slap her forehead but the movement made both of them lurch. By the time they were stable and upright again they'd shifted positions and the hollow of her shoulder had become a chin-rest. His breath warmed her neck. He suddenly felt very breakable, like if she let him fall to the ground he could shatter.
"I'll take you to my place," she said, realizing there were no other options. She couldn't just leave him out on the street like this. "Come on, my car is just back down the road."
When they finally reached where she'd parked it, Kagome was about ready to collapse. And so was he. "Could you…could you lean on the car for a minute?" she managed, trying to wrangle her keys out of her pocket with her arm halfway pinned to her side.
Sesshoumaru whirled off her in one liquid movement. He landed several paces away, balancing lightly on the balls of his feet…looking like the next strong breeze would topple him over. Kagome heaved a sigh. Of course he couldn't just do as she said. Stubborn dog.
"Aha! Here they are!" she cheered, holding up the object of her search.
Sesshoumaru eyed the keys in her hand. Then his gaze dropped down to the pocket of the battered jeans they had come from. "Priestess," he said, in the severe, frosted voice she was most familiar with, and for one hopeful moment she thought maybe he'd sobered up. "You are not wearing the skirt."
She blinked rapidly. "What?"
"We cannot possibly do battle with you dressed like this," he said gravely.
"You are supposed to be wearing that funny little skirt." He held his claws half an inch apart. "The little one."
"My god, you're delirious," she muttered, a flush creeping up her neck. "I need to get you home." She unlocked the passenger door and held it open for him.
He ignored it. "A miniscule…miniskirt," he continued with enthusiasm, rolling the words around in his mouth like he was tasting them. "Minute. Miniature. Diminutive."
Her cheeks flamed. "Oh, for—it wasn't that tiny!"
"Tinier," he agreed. Sesshoumaru suddenly laughed, the sound rusty and dusty as it echoed down the empty road.
"You—I—gah! Why are we talking about my skirt?"
"Because you are not wearing it."
"That doesn't—! I mean, why on earth does it matter?" She gave his linen-clad chest a poke. "You're not exactly dressed the same either, you know."
The laughter stopped. Wordlessly, his hand lifted up and plucked at the front of his shirt. He studied the machine-woven fabric as if he didn't recognize it, and yet, at the same time, there was something empty and awful in his eyes that told her he did.
"No," he said finally, fingering the rough cloth. "I am not."
"It's not a bad look, though," she quickly assured him, wishing she could take back her words. She had the terrible thought that he looked like someone had died, and the someone had been him. "Really. You look fine. But you need to get in the car now, okay?"
He lifted his head like it was too heavy. "No battles?"
"No battles," she said gently.
"No skirt?" he added.
She gave his shoulder a pat. "I outgrew it."
Sesshoumaru gave a slow blink. "That has not stopped you from wearing it before."
Kagome moaned into her hands. "For the love of god, please just get in the car."
And without a word, he did.
Kagome blinked, scarcely able to believe it. That was almost too easy. She blinked again. Wait a second—
Kagome dashed around to the driver's side, throwing open the door.
"You're not driving," she told him, glaring at the taiyoukai who'd slid right past his seat and into hers.
"Surely you do not intend to," he replied, raising an eyebrow. "It is illegal for humans to drive while inebriated."
"Ahhh!" she cried, stomping her feet. "I'm not drunk! You are! You!"
"I am," Sesshoumaru readily agreed. "But I am not human, so it is perfectly legal."
"That is horrible logic, and you're not driving my car!" she repeated. "Besides, you can't do the driving, you don't know where I live."
"Do you live?"
The question hit her like a breath of midnight frost. "O-Of course I do," she stammered.
"Is it nice?" he asked.
Kagome leaned on the open door and let out a shaky, shivery breath. "It's wonderful. Are you going to let me drive my car or not?"
"I am glad you are alive," Sesshoumaru mused aloud, as if he were talking to himself. "I always liked you."
Kagome gawked at him like he'd just sprouted puppy ears. "You tried to kill me," she reminded him. "Repeatedly."
"That doesn't mean I disliked you," he insisted. "The whole 'killing thing' was never personal, you understand. I tried to kill a lot of people." A pause. "I did kill a lot of people," he amended. "But not you."
"Of course," she nodded, humoring him. Oh lord. He wasn't delirious; he was delusional!
"Such a vexing thing you were. It was quite…quite…" He stopped talking and stared at the floor of her car, as if he had dropped his next word and expected to find it lying between the pedals. His pupils were hugely dilated.
"Aggravating?" she offered helpfully. "Infuriating? Rage-inducing?"
"Refreshing," he finished.
Kagome was stunned into silence.
Without a word of explanation the taiyoukai slid back into the passenger seat.
Kagome got in the car and drove.
She watched him through the rear view mirror as she navigated the night roads. He stared out the side window, sagging against it. Silent. Streetlights cast eerie colors across his face, the dull gleam of them sliding across his eyes. Then he closed them, and his breathing slowed. She wondered if he'd fallen asleep.
"Am I still conscious?" he said out of nowhere.
"Damn," he sighed.
"You've completely lost it, you know that?" she said, shaking her head.
"Yes," he murmured, closing his eyes again. "Completely lost."
Quiet reigned for a few minutes. "Well, then you're just lucky I've got a soft spot for lost dogs," she joked as she came to a stop at a traffic light, despite being the only ones on the road. "Even the stupid ones."
A dry, papery sound escaped his throat. After a minute she realized he was chuckling.
The light changed and she continued home.
"Sorry about the mess," she apologized. She wished she'd had time to tidy up before bringing him in, but if he noticed the clutter he made no comment.
She transferred Sesshoumaru to the couch and he collapsed onto it like he might never get up again. She stared at him, wondering what to do. It felt strange bringing him into her apartment. He was large and horribly out of place amongst her normal, ordinary things, even with his human getup on. Which was rapidly coming apart.
Frowning, she went into the bathroom and came back with a wet washcloth.
"You're going to get makeup all over my cushions," she explained to him, unexpectedly embarrassed as she dabbed away the last of his cover-up. There, she thought, looking at the markings etched across his pale skin. That's better.
She sat down in the chair and watched him, sprawled motionless across her sofa, hair spilling everywhere.
"You're going to have such a hangover," she told him, not knowing what else to say.
Minutes passed. No answer. He looked like he was asleep but he probably wasn't. Actually, he looked kind of dead but he hopefully wasn't.
Thoughts of alcohol poisoning and liver failure flooding her brain, she reached over and gave him a poke. His eyes opened.
"Are you okay?"
He shut them.
Kagome scowled and gave him a second poke. "I asked you a question."
"I gave you an answer," he said without opening them again.
"I think I liked you better back when you were evil. Now you're just impossible." She sighed and rested her chin on her hands. "Remind me why I'm helping you again?"
"You have a foolish affection for sunrises." His eyes slid open but were completely unfocused. "No. You have a foolish affection for lost dogs." They shut again. "You are foolish."
"Gee, thanks. I'm glad to know my efforts are appreciated."
"Your efforts are foolish."
"I get it, I get it!" She pressed a hand to her temples. "Are you quite through?"
"No." The youkai frowned, lips down-turned. "Yes. No." He slung an arm over his eyes. A few rivulets of hair slid off the sofa onto the floor. She thought he looked like elegant chaos. "Your efforts…are wasted."
"Trying to help someone is never a wasted effort," she said quietly.
"Such foolish sentiments…are…foolish."
"Then I guess I'm a fool," she softly said, standing up with a sigh. "But at least I'm trying. Listen…I need some sleep. Are you going to be all right? Can I get you anything?"
He lay there, limp and listless and lifeless. Kagome sighed again and turned away.
"Do you have anything to drink?"
Kagome stopped dead in her tracks. "By drink," she said lowly, "you had better mean water." There was something very tight and ragged rising in her chest, like a kind of friction or pressure, and she had struggle to get the words out around it.
"Only if by water," drifted his quiet voice, sounding like it echoed from somewhere very far away, "…you mean wine."
And the thing inside her exploded.
"You," Kagome breathed, whirling to face him. "You! How…how dare you!" Practically incoherent, she pointed a shaking finger at him, building momentum. "How dare a former enemy of mine end up like this! How dare you disrespect us both by wrecking yourself! How dare you still be alive, just for…just for me to see you this way!" She had no idea why it made her so angry, but she wanted to shake him, kick him, shoot some arrows at him, anything to snap him out of this. He hadn't even moved the arm from over his eyes, and this only made her madder—how dare he ignore her!
Unable to stop herself, she stomped over and smacked him.
"Listen to me!" she shouted, fisting her hands. "You're better than this! You're stronger than this! You're the strongest person I ever fought, the strongest person in the world, and how dare you forget that!" Her face was wet, she suddenly realized. Was she crying? When was the last time she allowed herself to cry?
"How dare you just give up!" she finished, voice breaking and bleeding over the words.
Breathing raggedly, she tried to blink her eyes clear. Sesshoumaru was watching her, saying nothing, and the burn of humiliation stung her throat. Whatever it was that set off her outburst was gone and now she was emptied out. But rather than feeling entirely hollow, it was like something had unwound inside her chest, loosened. It felt funny and unfamiliar. A release.
"I saved her on this day," Sesshoumaru suddenly said.
Her eyes snapped to his. He was looking away, staring off into nothingness.
"This day," he repeated, tonelessly. "I saved her. She was dead." And she realized, then, that he was answering her very first question of the night. What's the special occasion? "She thought, so foolishly, that she was saving me."
"What happened to her?" Kagome asked softly. She didn't have to ask whom he meant. She knew.
He was quiet for a long minute. "She died again." Something very raw moved behind his eyes. "She was very young," he continued, lowly, and in that moment he looked so terribly, terribly old. "Even for a human."
Tears filled her eyes again. Reaching over, she covered his hand with her own and squeezed.
"Five hundred years to the day, to be precise," he added. He breathed a dark, mocking laugh. "How else should one celebrate such an occasion?"
Kagome didn't say anything. There was nothing she could say. She squeezed his hand harder.
So very many things made sense now. The burned apartment. The alcohol. The endless sea of bars. First in his grief and rage, he'd destroyed everything he owned.
Then, when that failed, he had taken up the bottle and tried to destroy himself.
How else was one to handle five hundred years of mourning all compressed into one day?
Sesshoumaru breathed a quiet sigh and closed his eyes. Some of the tension seemed to leave his frame. She wondered if it had helped him to let it out, after sealing it inside himself for so many centuries. She suspected she was the first person he had ever told. The thought was strangely moving.
They were still holding hands.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly after awhile. "I didn't mean to yell at you."
"Do not be stupid. Of course you did. Taking back things you mean is…foolish."
A smile tugged the corner of her mouth. "Okay, I did mean it."
"Foolish," he said again in a murmur. It came out sounding almost like an endearment. "So very foolish…"
She got the feeling the alcohol wasn't out of his system yet.
"Okaaay, I think you need some sleep too," she said, giving his hand a last pat before standing. Stretching her achy muscles, she walked out into the hall, only to return a moment later with a quilt and pillow from the linen closet. He gave her a wary look as she approached with them.
"Just humor me, okay?" she said wryly, knowing that if he were sober he'd surely be telling her that big manly youkai like him don't need silly human blankets. He didn't resist though as she slid the pillow under his head, nor as she spread the blanket over him and tucked it into the couch cushions. Smoothing the blanket with her hands, she stood quietly for a minute. Lost in thought. Then she blushed, realizing what she was doing, and stepped back to leave.
"Why are you doing this?" Sesshoumaru asked, in a moment of sudden lucidity.
"Because I'm your best friend," she answered.
His eyes narrowed, growing shuttered. "I do not have any friends," he said, ice in every word.
She smiled. "But out of all the friends you don't have, I'm the very best, right?"
Surprise crossed his face. Something unreadable flickered in his eyes.
"So you are," he said quietly.
She smiled wider.
"Good night, old dog," she said, turning the light off on her way out. "I'm glad you're alive, too."
Kagome jolted awake all at once. Glancing at the clock, she saw it was hardly even dawn. The night's events were chasing through her mind, swatting at her thoughts with giant white paws, and with a sigh she pushed back the covers. She knew there would be no getting back to sleep.
Getting up, she padded quietly down the hall to check on her guest and—
Oh… she thought, dismay lancing through her. Kagome sagged against the doorframe.
The couch was empty. The quilt was folded neatly over the back, the pillow set atop it.
He was gone.
Something inside her wilted. She'd known he wouldn't stay. This was Sesshoumaru, after all. She'd known when she went to bed that he'd likely be gone by the time she woke, exiting her life as suddenly as he'd dropped back into it. But while she wasn't surprised, she couldn't help feeling a surge of painful disappointment.
Unable to keep looking at the empty sofa, she backed out of the room. Kagome shook her head. She needed to snap out of this, needed to clear her head—before she let these feelings drag her down. She needed coffee. Now. She needed coffee so badly she could already smell it.
Kagome frowned and sniffed again.
Heart beating faster, she turned and made for the kitchen, running down the carpeted hall.
She rounded the corner, and there he was.
Sesshoumaru did not acknowledge her arrival. If he even noticed it. He sat in her kitchen chair, a cup of untouched coffee steaming in front of him, staring out the window. Watching the sun rise over Tokyo.
She wondered what he saw. Standing there, watching him watch the dawn, she found that she had been wrong: his eyes didn't look like whiskey at all. And the tequila sunrise looked nothing like a rising sun.
His eyes were like the sunrise. His eyes that had seen a thousand, thousand, thousand rising suns before. Did they stop being beautiful if you saw enough of them? Did they blur together? Merging together into one long, hazy burn of days. When was the last time he had enjoyed a sunrise?
When was the last time she had?
Sesshoumaru shut his eyes and when they opened again they were red like the bottom of his tequila sunrise, and the bottom of the sunrise was like a dying sun bleeding across the sky. Raw. Immense. Burning out. And though she had always found violence in a youkai's gaze whenever it went that telltale red, she saw that he didn't look angry at all. He seemed…weary. Tired.
So inhumanly tired.
And Kagome began to understand that the day of Rin's passing represented more than the loss of a loved one. It was the loss of everything. His old life had ended the day Rin's did; it marked the first change in many as civilization began to reshape the world, as time moved on without him, faster and faster. Changes he could fight till his claws wore down. Changes that finally wore him down.
Sesshoumaru was living a life of pretend, and it was barely livable. Walking around like a human, hiding his true self behind a lie. Day after day after day, until he couldn't stand it any more—and again the day after that. How many centuries had it been since he was free to wear his own face outside?
Sesshoumaru's whole world was gone, and in a way, so was he. No, he wasn't just mourning Rin.
He was mourning himself.
"Mind if I join you?" she interrupted.
Sesshoumaru closed his eyes again and they reopened as their normal sunny-gold. He politely inclined his head. Kagome took a seat opposite him at the tiny table.
The taiyoukai sat stiffly, his discomfort evident in the rigid line of his shoulders. He didn't seem to know what to do with himself. The silence drew out between them and she realized he was waiting for her to say something. Waiting for her judgment, perhaps.
"How are you feeling?" she asked.
"Several hundred years older than I actually am," he said dryly, plucking his cup of coffee off the table. He sniffed it, grimacing slightly—the coffee was black. Muttering under his breath, he added, "I think I may never drink again."
"Serves you right, you boozehound," she said, the corner of her mouth twisting in a small grin.
A gravely chuckle rumbled from his chest. The tension was suddenly gone from the room, and she could see him relaxing in his chair. Pleased, she rested her arms on the table and held back a laugh as he attempted to drink the coffee again, obviously repulsed by the bitter smell. "There's milk in the fridge you know," she offered. "And sugar on the counter."
"I intend to burn a hole in my stomach," he replied with stoic dignity. "It shall distract me from the burning in my head."
"Sounds like a plan," Kagome laughed, pushing herself up from the table. "I'm going to make myself some coffee. Is there anything you need?"
The taiyoukai stared at her a moment, then seemed to give in to something and sighed. "Do you have any aspirin?" he asked, a vaguely self-deprecating expression crossing his face.
"It's in the medicine cabinet," she told him, waving towards the bathroom. Sesshoumaru got up and went to fetch it and Kagome busied herself setting up the coffee pot. The small, mindless tasks were soothing as she measured out the ground coffee and poured the water.
Moments later the pot fell from her hands and crashed to the floor, her eyes going wide. What did I just do?
"Wait!" she cried, racing down the hall. "Wait, Sesshoumaru, don't ! Don't open it!" She burst through the door at a run, but it was too late. Sesshoumaru stood in front of her sink, gazing into the mirrored cabinet. It hung wide open. Heart sinking, she watched him slowly run his eyes across the labels of her shame.
Valium. Sleep aids. Anti-depressants.
Row, after row of little orange bottles filled with little sterile white pills.
Wordlessly, he turned from the shelves of prescriptions to her. And in his solemn sunrise eyes, she saw at once that he could see right through her. He knew everything. The truth hung heavy between them without having to be voiced.
That maybe the person he remembered had been the type to enjoy sunrises, but the person who stood in her place now had somehow forgotten how. She had forgotten so many things.
That nothing had happened to her, nothing at all. Everyone else died, and she did not, and she still had not forgiven herself.
That no, Kagome did not live any more. Her days all blurred together, and the hot and hazy burn of them was unbearable.
That somehow, she had forgotten how strong she used to be. And when she had screamed at him for forgetting, for giving up, the truth—the truth—
—Was that maybe, she was really screaming at herself.
"I thought I was the only one left," she said in a broken whisper.
Sesshoumaru's eyes slid back to the mirrored cabinet. She couldn't tell if he was looking at the bottles or at his own reflection. "It seems we all have our vices," he said, his voice empty of all emotion.
Kagome stared at the floor, feeling the burn of tears in the backs of her eyes. She felt sick. She was such a hypocrite, berating him for being weak when she just as much a failure. Being bared open wide before him meant she was forced to see herself. She hated what she saw. She hated herself for giving up.
Sesshoumaru was watching her.
"Well," she said, her mouth dry. "Now you know."
He tilted his head, eyes unreadable.
"There is no shame…in being beyond help," he said at last, his gaze drifting back to the mirror.
She swiped her eyes angrily. "You're not beyond help."
He chuckled tiredly. "Still trying to save lost dogs?" When she didn't answer he shook his head, chuckling again. "My dear, foolish priestess. Do you never try to save yourself?"
The words struck her down and she found herself sinking to her knees on the floor. She…she had tried, at first…when had she stopped? What had happened? She gave up on herself when she would never have given up on someone else, never. From the moment he walked though her door she was ready to save the world again, convinced she could help him if she just gave it her all. Why was she so different? Why…am I waiting to be rescued?
"So willing to fight everyone's demons but your own," he murmured, interrupting her thoughts. The youkai tilted his head and studied her, a strange glint in his eyes. "I am a demon. Fight me."
"What?" she said, startled. "I'm not going to fight you."
"Fight me," he urged again, and his eyes said things she couldn't understand. Hungry things. Fight me and let us destroy each other, she imagined they told her. She couldn't look away from them. Fight me and let us be alive.
"I said no!" He was starting to scare her. It was like they were on the brink of something, dancing on a razor's edge. Which way would they fall?
She gave a small jump as he dropped to a crouch beside her, his nose practically right in her face. His eyes flicked over hers, searching for something. "No? You have fought me before. Have you forgotten how?" She leaned back till she bumped against the wall but he just leaned forward with her. Her heart gave a strange skip. "Have you forgotten how to fight, Kagome?"
The words reverberated through her, jarring her bones. Something surged in her chest.
"Have you forgotten how to fight, Kagome?" he intoned again, and for a moment his eyes were dark red suns, ready to swallow her.
Suddenly the thing inside her chest was a word, and the word had a voice, and Kagome opened her mouth and it spilled forth into the world and was alive.
"No," she said. Sesshoumaru's eyes lit with something, and she felt something light inside her too, burning fiercely. Like embers being stoked to life. "No!" she said again, stronger. Her hands fisted. "No, I haven't forgotten!"
His eyes burned into hers and it was like looking into the heart of the sun. Slowly, he smiled. "Good," he said.
Standing, he held out his hand to her. She looked at it, confused, then glanced up at him.
"There is no shame…in being beyond help," he repeated. "There is only shame…in not being as strong as you can be." His gaze met hers and she suddenly understood.
Eyes filled with wonder, she took his hand and he lifted her to her feet.
"You're trying to help me," she said in awe, barely able to believe it.
Sesshoumaru looked away. He suddenly seemed very small. Very alone. "Perhaps…" he began very quietly, then halted. "…Perhaps I have a softness for lost humans."
Silence hung between them, echoing with memories.
"Even the stupid ones?" she said.
The barest hint of a smile crossed his face. "Especially the stupid ones."
Then I must be lucky, she thought. She looked down at their joined hands, still reeling from the sudden strength she had just felt. It still burned in her, a fire she thought went out ages and ages ago. Was it really in her all along?
Sesshoumaru's soft, rumbling laughter drew her eyes back up to him. His shoulders shook with it. "You really are a fool," he murmured, almost fondly. "Letting your sorrows drown you even after they've been washed away. You haven't even realized, have you?"
"Haven't realized what?"
"That there is nothing weighting you down."
"What on earth are you talking about?"she said.
His eyes slanted towards her, their depths unreadable. They seemed to tell her she was missing something. Something obvious.
"You were the only one left," he said simply, "and now you are not."
And all at once her world turned over.
She wasn't the only one left.
She hadn't been from the moment she walked into his bar. And he was right, she was a fool, because she didn't even see it! She'd been drowning in loneliness for so long she didn't even realize when she could breathe again.
But all at once she could breathe, and she could see—she could see everything. And everything was suddenly different. She'd given in to being alone, given up on herself, but how could she wallow in solitude when she wasn't alone?
The strangest feeling of triumph filled her. Suddenly, it was all so simple.
All that was ever wrong with her was that she was alone.
And now she wasn't.
That meant there wasn't anything wrong with her at all.
There was nothing wrong with her.
Maybe there never had been. But that didn't matter now, what mattered was that there was nothing holding her under. There was nothing holding her back. Nothing to smother her or drown her or put out her light. Being alone had broken her but it couldn't anymore because she wasn't, and her own salvation was right in front of her at last, all she had to do was reach for it.
All she had to do was fight.
Not against him. With him.
Not against herself—like she'd done for far too long. For herself. Fight to have her life back again.
And if he thought she could win…if he thought she could…then there was nothing that could ever stop her.
Kagome laughed. Or was she crying? Did it even matter? There were tears in her eyes, but she was smiling, and she felt light, and free, and alive. Without the crushing loneliness, the shame, the hopelessness, there was simply Kagome. The old Kagome, Kagome the fighter, Kagome who lived and loved with all that she had. Kagome who was the type to enjoy sunrises and sunsets and everything in-between.
She knew she must be making a spectacle of herself because Sesshoumaru was giving her the oddest look, but his confusion only made her smile more, her cheeks growing wetter. His answer was there for him too, whether or not he saw it yet. He wanted to be a youkai again. With her, he could be.
They could be themselves again.
They could be themselves.
Her eyes landed on the mirrored cabinet and all at once Kagome was in motion, throwing it open, snatching up the bottles. One by one she tore off the caps and dumped them all into the toilet. Breathing heavily, she flushed them down, watching the pills swirl around the bowl before being sucked away, leaving her life forever.
"No more bottles," she said, meeting his gaze with hard eyes, "of any kind."
Something steely flashed behind his eyes. Something old, something she remembered from another age long ago. Rising to the challenge.
For a long minute he stared at her, the world seeming to hold its breath around him. Something vulnerable and unsure still wavered there in his gaze as well, not ready yet to leave. But it wasn't enough to dull the sharp edge of steel that resided there now.
At last, the taiyoukai gave a solemn nod. Then took her hand and closed his fingers around hers.
A resolution. A pact. A promise.
They were stronger than this once, and they would be stronger again. They could do this. They could save themselves.
And they each would each have to fight their own fight—because if they didn't fight then they'd already lost—but that didn't mean they had to do it alone. Maybe everyone needs a little help sometimes, but that was okay because they weren't beyond help.
We'll just have to save ourselves together.
"Come on," she said, pulling on his hand and leading him out of the bathroom.
Morning sunlight poured through the windows. It edged everything in amber light. Kagome found herself looking around her apartment as if noticing it for the first time. Everything looked new. Brighter. Or maybe it was her.
They stopped before the window and stood there, watching, as the world welcomed in the dawn. The sight of it filled her with hope.
"So what are you going to do now, you boozehound?" she asked finally as the sun rose over the skyline, turning to look at him.
Sesshoumaru shrugged his shoulders, leaning against the windowsill. The light gilded him. "Start looking for a new apartment, I suppose."
"Hm," she said with a small frown. "I hope you're okay with the couch. I don't think there's room for a cot."
He shot her a guarded look. The look of someone not sure to trust what they thought they were hearing. The look of someone not sure how to trust.
"Do you have anyplace else to stay?"
He slowly shook his head.
"Then you can crash here at my place," she said. "Just till you get back on your feet though!" she warned, shaking her finger. "After all," she added with a grin, "what are friends for?"
Sesshoumaru stared down at her and his expression didn't change but in his eyes—in his eyes something warmed. Soft, golden.
She knew living with him even on a temporary basis wouldn't be easy, but what good things in life were ever easy? Sometimes you had to take risks. They needed a change. They needed to change. It would be an adventure, and Kagome wasn't the sort to let an adventure pass by.
And it would be a grand adventure, she knew, with lots of battles ahead.
"I promise I'll keep you on your toes," she added.
"Hm," he said. Eyes gleaming. "Sounds…refreshing."
And she knew then that everything would be okay.
Maybe he could stop mourning himself because he was alive, and maybe she could stop mourning the past because she was in the present, and the future lay ahead of both of them, spreading bright and golden like a sunrise on the horizon. It was there, waiting for them if only they would look, and maybe, just maybe, it would be beautiful.