Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters in this pleasant little story universe... especially for the one who's bound to discover that 'faint heart never won fair lady'. A nod of recognition is bent towards Rumiko Takahashi for her creative prowess.
Author's Note: This is going to be a small story with small chapters, mostly written for the prompts at inuyasha et al, a Live Journal community that celebrates minor characters and alternate pairings. Updates will be bi-weekly at best, since that's their contest schedule. This romance is not in a hurry, and neither am I. Consider yourself warned! ::wink::
This oneshot was originally posted to Live Journal on August 2, 2010.
Head Over Heels
Their remote village was famous... even legendary. Everyone in Japan knew about the tribe of demon slayers who lived high in the mountains. Of course, they didn't actually slay demons anymore; peace had been established between the two populations for nearly two centuries. Still, the taijiya were acknowledged as the world's foremost experts on demonkind. Records that had once been used to train exterminators were now used to foster greater understanding and respect.
Kohaku loved their mountain home, tucked away though it was from many modern conveniences. He loved the ever-changing mists that trickled through the forests in autumn, the still hush of snow that piled up to the eaves in winter, and the shy woodland flowers that peeped through the leaf mold in springtime. But this was summer, and summers in Midori were something else.
Every year, their village was opened to guests who came to learn more about the old ways. Kids with spiritual powers had summer camp. Fighting monks tested their mettle against young demons who were eager to prove their superiority. Old women taught herb lore, and old men traded tales that grew more fantastic with every pass of the sake bottle. They even got their share of tourists. Curiosity seekers and photographers snuck in all the time, hoping to catch a glimpse of an otherworldly people who were powerful, mysterious, and often beautiful.
For the most part, Kohaku kept to himself during the busy season, watching the excitement from the sidelines, but in the year that he turned nine, he received his first challenge. Every summer, some newcomer would get it into their head that the fastest way to impress their peers was to defeat a local. Up until now, Sango had defended their clan's long and proud history, and Kohaku really wished it had stayed that way.
"You can choose first," offered his opponent magnanimously.
"Thanks," he muttered glumly. Knees wobbling, he jumped from stone to stone, picking his way towards the two big rocks that jutted from the middle of a swiftly-rushing river. It was a favorite sparring place for the monks, and the only reason it wasn't technically off-limits for Kohaku was because his parents knew he'd never go near it. He couldn't swim.
Taking his position on the upstream rock, Kohaku turned wide, brown eyes on the camper who was itching for a fight, automatically assessing the older boy's stance, reach, and balance. Physically, his challenger had the advantage, for Kohaku was small for his age; but size wasn't everything.
"You ready?" taunted the boy whose name he didn't even know.
Raising a makeshift bamboo staff, Kohaku gave a quick nod. He wasn't particularly worried. He could fight; they all could. Taijiya children were taught the basics right along with potty-training, and most could handle a staff by the time they could handle their chopsticks. However, that didn't mean Kohaku liked fighting. So he resorted to an old gambit for avoiding conflict; he ended the fight before it could properly begin.
The boy never knew what hit him. With one thrust Kohaku had him off balance, and in the next instant, he swept his opponent's feet out from under him, sending him ass over teakettle into the river. A cheer sounded, and Kohaku turned to see his twelve-year-old sister walking along the riverbank. Sango raised her fist victoriously and grinned at him, and he gave her a crooked little smile in return. For a moment, his attention was caught by the person next to her. That must be the new girl Father was talking about. She's a miko... or will be. Something about her seemed familiar.
Meanwhile, his vanquished rival managed to swim back to his rock and was struggling to pull himself out of the river. Kohaku leapt lightly to the second stone and knelt, extending his hand. "No hard feelings?" he offered politely.
"Think again," he sneered as he took Kohaku's hand, then used the grip to jerk the younger boy off his feet. With a yelp of surprise, the taijiya pitched into the river.
Icy panic coursed through Kohaku as the current spun him away. His eyes, ears, and nose filled with water, and he couldn't remember which way was up. Light and dark spun crazily, and his heart pounded so fast, he thought it might burst. It seemed to go on forever; then suddenly, he bumped into something, and he was jerked upwards by his hair.
"Gotcha!" triumphantly exclaimed a girl's voice.
Coughing and sputtering, Kohaku clung desperately to his savior, but she firmly turned him around and wrapped her arm around his slim shoulders, keeping him afloat. "I've got you," she promised. "Don't panic, you'll pull us both down!"
There was not much else Kohaku could do, so as he heaved air into his aching lungs, he latched onto that one arm and tried to relax. The river was still carrying them downstream, but she expertly cut across the current, aiming for shore. When her feet scraped the bottom, she dragged him to his feet and supported him through a clumsy scramble onto one of the big boulders that lined the rushing river. "Are you hurt anywhere?" she asked kindly as she lowered him onto the sun-baked stone.
Kohaku dumbly shook his head. What had happened—or almost happened—was only just sinking in, and he drew up his legs and hunched his shoulders miserably. Freckles stood out against his pale face, and he began trembling uncontrollably. She dropped down beside him and slipped her arm around his shoulders for comfort. "I saw what that other guy did... such a cheap trick," she remarked indignantly. "You were great, and he was a total jerk."
"Th-thank you," he managed weakly.
"When Sango hollered that you couldn't swim, I was furious! It all happened pretty fast, but I told her I would definitely reach you in time. And I was right!" She bent her head to catch his eye. "Your name's Kohaku?"
"I'm Kagome." The girl gave him a small squeeze and chatted on. "Sango'll probably be along any minute. I'm pretty sure she's beating the tar out of the idiot who dumped you into the water."
He cracked a tiny smile. Yeah, that's Sango, all right. Her temper was cataclysmic. "She'll come," he acknowledged quietly. To be honest, he was surprised she hadn't found them yet. Peering blankly at their surroundings, he murmured, "We went pretty far."
"Yep! This river's deep... and fast. I'm just glad there weren't any rapids."
"Those start around that bend," he revealed, pointing towards the spot where the water disappeared behind a stand of trees.
"Really? Wow... just in time, huh?" Kagome replied with a shaky laugh.
That's when Kohaku noticed how rattled she sounded, and he stole a glance at her face. With her free hand, she distractedly pulled at her bangs, tousling them so they fluffed out as they dried. The rest of her long, black hair was plastered to her back, and once more, he thought there was something familiar about her face. "Have you been here before?" he asked curiously.
"Nope. This is my first time, though I'm not sure I should have come here at all," she replied with a wan smile. "That old miko has been giving me all kinds of tests, and I'm horrible at everything."
"Father's mentioned you," Kohaku offered. "He said Kaede-baba thinks you're something special."
"He told you that?"
The boy shrugged. "I hear stuff."
"So you're an eavesdropper?" Kagome asked lightly.
"Not on purpose," he defended. "People sometimes forget I'm there."
"Well... I'm glad someone thinks I'm special," she said with a sigh. "I certainly don't feel like it. The other girls are way more advanced than me."
Kohaku solemnly studied Kagome's face. She obviously had courage, which was essential. The rest of what she lacked could be learned. "Do you want to improve?" he asked.
"Then we'll teach you," he said simply. "It's what my people do, and we're very good at it."
Kagome's next smile was slower in coming, but it was braver, brighter, and maybe just a little bit beautiful. It turned his ears pink. Perhaps it was gratitude. Perhaps it was fate. Who can say what teaches the heart to soar? In any event, on that momentous day, at the tender age of nine, Kohaku Yamauchi fell in love.
End Note: This oneshot was written for the Live Journal community inuyasha(underscore)et(underscore)al and their prompt for Week #11—Kindness. 1,393 words.