The Looking Glass Has Broken
Just A Starving Writer
Part: Complete Oneshot
Summary: Magical wells are subject to the whims of fate. So is life. So is love.
Author's Plea: I've been tinkering with this one for way too long. I give up. This is as good as it's getting. Enjoy if you can.
Disclaimer: Standard disclaimer applies. Poem at the beginning and end are excerpts from "If" by Rudyard Kipling.
"...watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools..."
"What are you going to do now that your duty here is done, Kagome-sama?"
"I don't know... I mean, I miss my family, but I'll miss you if I'm with them. I only hope the well will let me visit you..."
"Maybe it will."
"Yeah, Kagome, I bet it will!"
"Thank you Shippou. I think you're right."
The miko smiled warmly at the kit while the half demon just snorted. The demon lord simply observed. They were tired, he could tell, more exhausted than they'd ever been, and instead of expounding on their obvious weakness, he could only feel slight annoyance and a deeper feeling of calm that might have been gratitude in a different being.
Naraku was dead. The damned jewel was reassembled and in the questionable protection of the miko's bosom. Naraku was dead, the jewel was completed, and these two feats had been accomplished largely by human hands. It might have been enlightening, but he was more inclined to think it was circumstance.
Any further introspection was brought to a halt by the sudden tenseness that he sensed in the miko. She'd been exhausted but overly joyous only moments before but current inspection showed her standing still with her hand fisted above her heart. Her eyes were an unreadable mixture of despair and denial.
Though he had rarely cared to acknowledge her when he'd first seen her, the long week of compromise and warfare had shown him a human of such ridiculous complexities that he had decided to leave her well enough alone. Even now that they had all played their part in the Shikon battle he had no care to spend more time than warranted in her presence.
Even given how little he thought on her, he knew enough of her to know that he had not seen this particular expression on her features even once, not even while fighting for her life. It was enough to make him tense in preparation for something truly awful. He followed her line of sight to see what within the field they had entered had captured her attention in such a way.
The grass was trampled where it was not burned. The trees surrounding the clearing showed signs of distress in parts. A battle, and perhaps a resulting fire, had destroyed the land.
And in the center of it all was what would have looked to be the remains of a bonfire if the wood remaining wasn't so squared and even.
His inspection was broken, again by the miko, who gasped pitifully before running toward the wreckage with desperation spelled in every line of her body. She was upon the mess within an instant and ashes dusted the air as she dug. He was almost surprised when he lost sight of her, but his quick memory reminded him of a well the miko had spoken of in the past. Though he had previously cared not for the importance of such a structure, it was obvious now that he had underestimated how much it meant to her.
The other members of his half brother's group were running toward the girl, but he remained still. Through the shouts of concern and panicked questions he could hear the miko from inside the well.
"Home..." she was murmuring in a frenzied fashion, and he knew without witnessing it that she was digging at the bottom of the well.
"Home..." she was wailing brokenly as her tired hands fought to continue digging despite what was sure to be a swiftly growing ache.
"Home..." she was sobbing as the hanyou pulled her from the dark depths, covered in dirt and ashes and tears.
It occurred to him that he'd never seen a being so broken, not even as they met their death at his hands. Despite his efficiency at killing, he'd never managed to hurt a being as thoroughly as the miko looked at that moment.
Without a word to the distracted group, he took his leave and continued passed the clearing and towards the village where his ward waited. It would do no good to get involved in the matter, he decided.
It was nothing that interested him.
It wasn't until six months later that he came upon the well and its miko again. With the nuisance that was Naraku removed, he had been free to go back to his former duties but not without changes. His ward, though obedient, was not prone to keeping still and had expressed interest in learning the miko trade. Though it was not a course he was particularly fond of, he couldn't find fault in a trial session to see how she fared in basic healing techniques.
He had escorted the young girl to the village she had sheltered in during the final confrontation with Naraku only to find a steady stream of villagers trekking into the forest in the direction of the ruined well. Neither the elderly miko nor the foolish miko were in sight, so he followed the pull of the foolish miko's scent only to end up at the scene of a massive, village-wide building project.
Trees that had been felled during whatever skirmish had destroyed the well were now being hewn into boards to rebuild the structure. The village men were removing bark, cleaving the trunks into more manageable pieces, and squaring them for the construction, while the village women were keeping the men hydrated and fed. Even the children and elderly were put to work, as errand runners and rope makers.
And in the middle of the clamor and noise was the foolish young miko, her forehead smeared with dirt and her hands occupied with a shovel. She was leaning on the tool as she spoke with the older miko, but she stopped when she caught his eye and acknowledged his ward running toward her.
The child and the miko embraced, though he noticed the older girl kept her hands away from his ward. When he approached at a less rushed pace, she greeted him warmly with a bow but kept her hands behind her back or, when the fidgeting got to be too much for her, she picked up her fallen tool and occupied herself with gripping it.
It took very little time to work out an arrangement between the two mikos regarding the training and education of Rin. After the details were worked out, he saw no need to spend additional time amidst so many humans. There was no reason to stay, and every reason to remove himself from their presence.
However, he did not find himself unduly surprised when, at the edge of the clearing, fingers gripped his empty sleeve and a quiet voice spoke his name.
"I…" the young miko started while a blush stained her cheeks and she wrung her hands timidly. "…I just wanted to tell you thank you for all you did with Naraku. We wouldn't have won or even survived without you."
"I also wanted to apologize for not telling you sooner, but with the well and all… I'm sorry."
He was surprised she would bother apologizing. After all, he needed her apology even less than he needed to be thanked for his actions in regards to Naraku. All had been done because it had to be done, and he would have been a fool to try to escape it.
Still, that she had felt compelled to say such things made him more confident that his ward would be provided for adequately for the duration of her training. There was only one problem.
"Bandage your hands, miko. This Sesshoumaru can smell the sickness beginning to inhabit them. If you continue as you are, you will fail in your efforts. Do not be so foolish."
Her eyes were wide as she stared at him with obvious disbelief. He turned up his nose before turning away secure in the knowledge that she would take steps to correct the situation.
As a result of his ward training with the mikos, the taiyoukai found himself visiting the village more frequently. Even so, it was three months before he came across the younger miko again.
She was again in the clearing that contained the well, but this time there were no others. Logs and half finished timbers were scattered about, but the efforts towards rebuilding had obviously been abandoned for several weeks. The miko was kneeling beside a rough replica of the original well, deep into a mantra of some sort and focused whole heartedly on the rough-hewn wood in front of her.
He could sense her innate power pulsing into a powerful crescendo before she rose and, without the slightest hesitation, jumped into the well. Despite whatever spell she had just attempted, there didn't seem to be any difference in the well, and the sound of her hitting the bottom with a thud only verified that.
Her voice drifted to him then. She was mumbling as she climbed up a knotted rope that was staked to the outside of the well.
"Maybe the seal in reverse with the blessing and purification…"
He permitted himself only a moment of inspection. The girl was thinner, but there was a certain wiry strength in her that hadn't quite been there before. Her movements were hurried, frantic, yet practiced. She'd obviously been continuing this strange regimen for longer than he'd originally thought.
The miko had resumed her position from before, crouched in front of the well as her powers flowed around her. He didn't wait to see if it would work. It wasn't his concern.
A month later, he again found himself with the young miko. His regular check-up on his ward had come at the same time as one of the village's traditional festivals. Rin had pleaded with him to stay the night, and he'd only agreed because he had no pressing duties. However, he drew the line at being near the drunken revelers and instead drifted on the outskirts of the village.
It hadn't been intentional, but he'd ended up at the well regardless. Instead of being with the rest of her brethren, the miko was sitting solemnly on the lip of the structure peering into its dark depths without seeming to see any of it. He could tell by the salty tinge in her scent that there had been tears. He could tell by the watery ring around her wide eyes that there would be more.
"Inuyasha isn't here, you know," she stated quietly, though he'd been almost certain there was no way she could know of his presence.
"Hn," he responded.
"He left to help Miroku and Sango get started rebuilding her village. They were going to stay, but… well, this isn't their life. It isn't their fault the well was destroyed, so I don't see why they should continue to be punished for it. And Inuyasha… I think he needed to get away from me for awhile."
Her statements were hollow and brittle with emotion long suppressed. He was reminded of the first time, of her digging wildly in the dirt of the ruined well. He wondered idly if her hands still carried any reminders.
Still, it didn't explain why she was suddenly telling him more information than he'd ever wanted.
"You must think I'm pretty weak," she said with forced nonchalance. "I mean, here I am, again, crying over a well."
A tear escaped her eye and trailed slowly down her cheek. He followed its course with only slight disinterest.
"The funny thing is, I've actually never been stronger. I was never quite as weak as I thought I was, or at least not after the first few weeks, but it's only now that I've really built up stamina and muscle. And my powers…" She slowly brought her hands up in front of her face. Seemingly without effort, her hands began to glow pink. "How wasteful is it that I can only now control them, now that there is nothing to do?"
She dropped her hands into her lap.
"What am I supposed to do?" she whispered quietly.
He stared, unrelentingly and without pity. The miko bore it, her shoulders squaring despite her obvious weariness. Eyes locked, she seemed to be looking for her future within him. Her next words only proved this assumption.
"Tell me what to do."
He stared for a moment longer before he broke his gaze and turned back towards the village.
Even so, he couldn't stop himself from giving the girl some sort of instruction.
"You are not done, miko. There is still more."
Not waiting to see how she took this bit of knowledge, he took to the air.
Whatever the miko did with his words was her business.
He did not see the miko in the coming months. Her departure from the village that had sheltered her over the years was only known to him long after she'd left.
"She said she missed traveling. She wanted to help people, to take her mind off the well," he overheard the old miko telling his half-brother on one of his visits to check on the status of his ward.
"She could 'a told me," the hanyou grumbled, obviously discontent at finding the woman missing. "She's gonna get herself killed."
"Kagome is stronger than ye think, Inuyasha," the old miko responded. "Besides, I believe Fate has something planned for her. She cannot die quite yet."
"Hmph. I still think she's an idiot for going alone."
Sesshoumaru did not listen any further. The young miko did not concern him. Instead he checked on his ward before continuing on. If he kept his ears open for mentions of the woman, it was only because he wanted to be aware of events that might affect Rin.
Still… he could not deny that part of him, the same part that had granted her advice when she seemed to so desperately need it, was almost proud.
There were mentions of the mysterious miko everywhere. Criminals feared her, villagers praised her. Human and youkai alike knew of the strange woman with the gentle heart. His travels were continuously besieged by those wanting to know if he'd seen her.
The miko was causing more trouble with her absence than if she were assaulting him in person.
It was a long year before he saw her again. A nuisance was reported in the northern part of his lands, and his trip to take care of the issue was hounded by rumors of miko sightings. When he arrived at the supposed location of the trouble, it was to a gruesome sight.
There were survivors, but they were few and far between. A sort of shell shocked expression graced every last face. Ash was everywhere. The entire clearing looked to have been coated with the assistance of a volcano, but he knew better.
There, in the center of the mayhem, was the young miko.
She was occupied bandaging her leg, so he was granted the opportunity to study her. There were more than a few differences between this woman and the girl that had defeated Naraku. Her attire had changed, and she now seemed to prefer an outfit reminiscent of Hakudoshi. The legs of her pants had been shortened to mid calf and allowed to billow slightly. It allowed freedom of movement – a fighting outfit, he realized. Her long hair, tied into a rough knot at the base of her neck, seemed to follow this same reasoning. A quiver was strapped to her back and a rather nice bow lay at her feet. Her long sleeves had been tied back, revealing long arms littered with scars. Idly, he wondered why she didn't heal them with her miko energy. If even half the stories he'd heard about her were true, she could heal almost any injury without leaving a mark. It begged the question of why she let her own marks remain.
She finished tying her bandage, and, with some effort, stood and looked around the ash coated clearing.
"Hey! Everyone who is left! I just want you to know that you were spared because you have good hearts. You are all better than this. Go home. Be with your friends and families. If you cause trouble again, I will find you. Understand?"
The youkai were all paying rapt attention to the woman. When she was done with her speech, they all nodded with full conviction before running off. Soon, all that was left was settling ash, the miko, and the demon lord.
"Sesshoumaru," she said in greeting, even before he was within view. As acknowledgment, he merely strode forward.
"I didn't mean to do your job," she continued as she crouched to pick up her bow. "I was in the area, and I had several requests to see what could be done."
"Hn. There was no need to get involved. This Sesshoumaru is capable of attending to his own lands."
"I know. I just… well, I needed something to do, okay?"
Her eyes were brighter, he realized, but the weariness remained. She looked exhausted, more tired than any being he had ever seen. A slightly putrid odor told him some bit of sickness haunted her, but he knew she'd probably ignored it in favor of continuing her wandering. If she didn't rest soon, she would soon find herself unable to move.
"You are ill, miko."
She tilted her head in enquiry but otherwise did not respond.
"Your foolishness will kill you if you continue as such."
She smiled then, softly and remorsefully.
"You know, I'm not so sure I can die. And I'm not sure if I like that prospect or not."
And without another word, she sunk to the ground with exhaustion. In her last few moments of consciousness, he met her gaze and frowned. She only smiled back, that same disturbing smile, before fading into unconsciousness. Almost immediately, a pink glow began to emanate from her crumpled body – protection, he guessed, while she was unable to fight back.
He wasn't interested, but he was curious. When he left the ash covered clearing, he had the glowing miko in tow.
He didn't take her to his home because that would have been improper on several levels. Instead, he left her in the care of a healer in a human village that accepted him with wary respect. He only checked on her during her convalescence twice – both when she was otherwise occupied and did not seem to notice his presence. The villagers doted on her, he noticed, and their overall impression of him even seemed boosted from his affiliation with the miko. His name, previously whispered or said fearfully, was now spoken with a respectful tone.
He wasn't sure quite to think about this unintended side effect.
She recovered faster than he had thought possible, and left the village only after healing all major and minor injuries present and saying a blessing over the crops. There was little doubt in his mind that she would continue to wear herself down and would be put in the same predicament in only a matter of time.
It was with some contrition that he accepted responsibility for the woman. Even if it was as she expected, even if she could not die, her continued well-being seemed to fall on his shoulders. She'd become his responsibility the minute he'd told her there was more yet to do as she cried silently at the well. Perhaps he'd taken her as a liability when he'd first accepted Inuyasha's assistance in killing Naraku.
Perhaps she'd been his all along.
That uncomfortable notion burned in the back of his mind as he changed his usual patrol pattern to better track the miko's travels. It wouldn't do for her to be aware of his interest, but it wasn't long before he heard whispers that he was following her for a variety of reasons, very few even remotely close to the truth.
Even so, even though he followed, he still did not see her again for five months.
"You know…" she started with a taunting grin. "They say we're lovers. Some of the more prejudiced villagers won't even acknowledge me because they disapprove of our 'relationship'."
That she'd heard the same rumors he had was expected; her teasing tone when telling him wasn't.
"I appreciate you looking out for me – if that is what you're doing; I could be wrong – but don't feel like you have to sacrifice your good name just to keep me alive. I'm not worth it."
Sadness clung to her like a second skin. It didn't fit her, and he didn't like it.
"The opinions of the ignorant do not affect this Sesshoumaru," he stated.
She smiled then, small but honest, and it lit up her features in a way he hadn't seen before. With light, hesitant steps, she approached him.
"Thank you," she whispered before lifting herself onto her toes and quickly placing a kiss on his cheek. Without another word, she turned and walked off.
A routine was set for the next few years. She wandered; he followed a few days behind her. Every few weeks they would meet, share a few words, and she would leave him with a kiss on his cheek. He never responded to her affection but neither did he attempt to stop it.
It was a routine that neither seemed in any hurry to change. The interaction seemed to make her happy and less likely to over work herself, thus he was in the mind to continue as they were as long as it worked.
Even so, three years after starting the routine, it was broken.
"I saw Miroku and Sango yesterday," she said as tears streamed down her cheeks. "They have children now. They seem happy. They are happy."
He said nothing.
"Is it so wrong to wish that I could be happy, too?"
He remained silent. With a soft breath, not quite a sigh, he walked forward and took a seat next to her. No further words were shared. She silently cried, and he silently sat. Though they were not touching, he still felt her presence. It seemed the same to her, as she slowly but surely recovered from her fit of self pity.
"I'm sorry," she whispered softly once her tears were done. "I know I'm being silly."
He still said nothing, but she seemed to understand all the same.
"Thank you," she whispered again as she placed another kiss on his cheek, this time lingering longer than before.
He continued to feel it long after he'd left.
Another two years passed following the previous routine when it was broken again. This time, it was his intent to do so, though not entirely by his own will.
"What is it? What's wrong?" she asked as soon as he approached. He wondered how she could tell just by looking at him that he bore bad news.
"The elder miko has died."
The woman sat suddenly, shock written over her countenance.
"Kaede…" she murmured. He let her be for a few long moments, adjusting to the loss.
"Her death leaves her village unprotected," he finally stated when he decided the miko could hear it.
She merely turned her eyes up to look at him. Her spoken question wasn't even necessary.
"You want me to return to the village?"
"Hn. It is your responsibility."
She nodded idly, looking at her hands but not seeming to see anything.
"Yes, I suppose it is," she said quietly. Her shoulders drooped wearily before she straightened, preparing for this new duty.
"Will you take me there?"
They said nothing on the trip, and she only quietly stated her thanks when they arrived. She was distracted by the change and perhaps that was why she didn't give him the customary kiss on the cheek.
He told himself it didn't matter, but he felt bereft regardless.
A benefit to her new stationary location was that he was able to visit more frequently. Even so, he wouldn't have done so had she not given him reason to do so. As it was, she had taken over his ward's training, thereby giving him an excellent excuse.
"Rin is doing wonderfully," the miko said as they walked down the well traveled trail to the well. "As usual. I've never seen someone so energetic and focused."
She smiled softly.
"But you already know that. That's not why you're here, is it?"
He said nothing, but allowed his gaze to check her for injuries when she sat on the lip of the wooden structure. Scars from her past still littered her arms and what he could see of her legs, but she otherwise seemed more robust and healthier than he could ever remember seeing her. Her new placement seemed to be suiting her well.
She met his gaze once he was done with his assessment, but otherwise remained silent. Without invitation, he joined her on the lip of the well. There was more than a foot of space between them, but he still felt her warmth.
It was several moments before the miko sighed and began filling the silence with details about what she had been teaching his ward. He listened, giving no indication that he actually heard anything she said. Still, when he stood to leave, her hand reached out to grab his and her lips found his cheek.
"You rarely speak," she mumbled, still on her tiptoes, her words puffing on his cheekbone. He fought the inclination to move his head.
"Words are not necessary," he responded back, his tone softer than he'd ever remembered using before.
"Hm… Maybe… Still a greeting would be nice." She stepped back, taking her warmth and presence with her.
"You were greeted," he stated.
"You greet a friend with their name, not their rank or position. My name isn't Miko." She walked away then, back to the village.
A year of visits showed both the miko and his former ward blossoming. Where Rin was blossoming into an adult woman, Sesshoumaru was more content to watch the miko, never aging but maturing all the same.
Miko… Kagome. He'd refrained from using her name for the first few visits after her chastisement, but it wasn't long until the name came from his lips unbidden. There were moments he found his mouth forming the familiar syllables at strange times – this was usually when he knew it was time for a visit.
After many months of using her name sparingly, she seemed to have grown accustomed to his regard. She smiled each time and seemed to relax into his presence.
But this time… this time she seemed tense.
"I'm not sure if you are aware," she said hesitantly. "…but Rin seems to have attracted the interest of one of our traveling merchants. The young man has made a decent living for himself and is prepared to settle in the village should she accept his proposal of marriage."
This surprised him but not unduly. He'd always known the child would quickly become a woman and would have to live as such.
"I admit, I was worried," the miko continued. "Rin has never really shown interest in men before, but I've seen her interactions with Higurashi-san. I honestly believe them to be in love."
Love was not a necessity for a successful marriage – he'd seen too many times love ruining a marriage. Still, something about this proposed union seemed destined.
The miko smiled again, this time brighter.
"Yes. It's only fitting, isn't it? It may all be a coincidence, but part of me knows that Rin is my ancestor."
He nodded idly, and her earlier anxiety seemed to have been washed away with his response. She took hold of his hand and abruptly turned back toward the village.
"Well then, I guess we have to plan a wedding…"
A blush blossomed on her cheeks. She quickly spoke of other things, but he couldn't see more than the pink slowly fading from her skin.
Time was calculated in terms of trips to the village.
There were always changes. Under Kagome's protection the village grew at an astounding rate, becoming a hub of transportation and trade. Authority figures were exchanged, new markets emerged, styles changed. Villagers that had known him passed on while villagers that only knew of him doubted his power.
And still the miko remained. And still he visited.
He was there the day after she had been informed of the demon slayer's death during childbirth. He was there when she received the news about the houshi's illness. He was there immediately upon hearing that his own ward had left for the afterlife.
He sat quietly by her side while she wept over each and every departure.
The years passed, measured only by the miko's tears as all those she'd personally known passed on. She bore it all with tired shoulders, showing none of her own age and all of her pain and will.
"I don't think I can stay here much longer," she whispered to him after finding out her precious hanyou, his own half-brother, had died from a common infection.
"There's only death here. And the villagers… they know I'm not aging. It's not like it's hard to miss. I just… I don't want to get close to anyone anymore, they just leave. They all leave me."
She looked up to meet his gaze, her eyes bloodshot and pleading.
"You're the only one who won't leave me."
He knew then she was correct – this was not the place for her anymore. Just as he'd given her direction before, when she needed it most, he was ready to give her direction now.
It was two weeks before she was ready to leave, but he stayed the entire time. There wasn't anywhere else he felt like going.
Kagome infused her seemingly everlasting life into the halls of his home. She joined him for his travels, though such trips were growing shorter as the world around them changed.
Having never been in her presence for such extended amounts of time, he was slow to realize how easy it was to fold her into his life. She seemed to fit a spot he hadn't realized existed.
There were days when the weight of the years seemed to pull on her, when it was obvious her human mind was not intended for the burden of infinity. There were days when she was angry, furious, devastated at her extended life.
And then there was the day he finally accepted that perhaps she wasn't his burden. Instead, her burdens were meant to be shared with him.
And then, when diplomacy in a world that decreasingly believed in youkai was beginning to fail, he realized the sharing went both ways. She held him up as his kind left for safer lands, leaving him alone and surrounded by strangers.
There were days when the tension between them seemed to eat at their very souls. There were days when he could not force himself to look away from her neck, her lips. There were days when he knew her thoughts were the same.
And then, when he thought he knew everything he needed to know about Higurashi Kagome, she surprised him by ending the tension finally with a slow and burning kiss before taking his hand and leading him to her room. They didn't leave for a week, and then it was only to consolidate their belongings into one suite.
"Some would say we took too long to get here," she said with a tired smile one morning.
"Some would not know," he replied before pulling her into his embrace. He would not have been comfortable with this action before. He would have killed her had she tried this when their acquaintance was young.
But now… now that they were both older than anyone within an immeasurable distance, survivors of a battle that was now considered fantasy…
Now that there was very little left that mattered, he could admit that she mattered so very much.
Now he could admit he loved her.
She asked for very little from him, and it always made sense for him to grant her wishes.
So he complied when she asked him to spare a human who would become a great warrior, leading ningen to a time of prosperity. He obeyed when she asked him to leave his ancestral home and hide across the ocean in foreign lands so that no one would realize the strange beings in their midst. And, before they took off for an unknown life in the few places left untouched by the encroaching human civilization, he took her back to the village they had tied themselves to for so long.
The shrine and the well were a patch of woods inside a growing metropolis. She spoke with the shrine's keeper, gifted them with money to keep her former and future home alive. When she had finished playing her role as benevolent stranger, she joined him on the lip of the well.
"This is not the life I'd ever imagined for myself," she said with a sigh. "But… I don't think I'd care to change it."
She kissed him on the cheek just as she used to, years before.
"I couldn't live in the past because it wasn't my time. I couldn't live a normal life there because a normal life for me didn't belong there…"
He nodded in agreement, reaching over to grasp her hand with a hand he'd taken every measure to make look human. Blending in with the masses was becoming ever more important.
"As for the future… The future will come when it will. I only want to see it if you'll be at my side."
She stood and used their joined hands to pull him to his feet. As they walked off, joining the growing throng of villagers on the roads outside the shrine, their stance and attire bringing to those surrounding them questions that would quickly be forgotten.
The pair didn't see the flash as the well was enveloped in energy. They didn't feel the change as spells long woven kicked in. As they disappeared from civilization, they didn't know the path to the future was waiting.
They wouldn't have cared.
It was nothing that interested them. Not anymore.
"If you can wait and not be tired by waiting…"