This story is based off of my experiences living in a Japanese community in the outskirts of Tokyo for the past 4 years. While much of what I've seen and what I've lived has been positive, there is certainly a dark side of life here - just as I believe is hinted at existing in the feudal era in Inuyasha. I hope you have enjoyed this exploration of the theme, and a rather under-noticed and under-appreciated pairing. It has truly set my writing skills to the task. Thanks to Vivian, my betafish and friend as always.
Full Summary (&disclaimer)
The feudal era may have passed on, and the youkai have been all but fully extinguished, but dangers still pulse deep beneath the cement covering the Kanto plain. In a city where the winds blow too strong for birds to cling onto telephone wires, what happens to old souls who find that fate is too much for their hearts to bear? Not A/U, Sess/Rin. Dark themes. Violence (some sexual), underage romantic relationship, implied character death. Not for young readers. You've been warned.
Bird on a wire
May 29, 2004
There had been no air conditioning on the train. The JR corporation had apparently deemed it premature to turn the fans back on, even with the recent heat wave that had blanketed the city. Cutthroat measures, Sesshoumaru had thought with grudging respect, and let his aura flare as tightly around him as he could without allowing it to visibly manifest. This action was usually enough to fill humans with unfamiliar dread, to repel them, to make them cower in fear - but inside the train car, it did nothing. There wasn't even room to place a foot fully on the floor, much less to bend backward. There were simply too many people. The air inside the train was thick with the human's breaths, tempered with rotting pieces of food behind teeth that hadn't been washed away, stale alcohol and dried sweat on the jackets of suits, and the complicated and wearying fumes of the machine. His arms were fixed to his sides as unbalanced men bumped against him, rubbing arms as the train rattled along noisily on the track.
Sesshoumaru had stood still. Calm, even, on the surface.
Even as his senses, stretched to their limit, failed him, and he began to hallucinate.
She's here, they told him. She's here. She's here.
His business partner was waiting for him on the platform, his polished Italian leather shoes toeing the yellow line that demarcated the queue for Car #6. He looked the better part of a clever, fifty-year old businessman, standing head and shoulders above the other passengers in his crisply tailored suit, with shiny glass lenses over his eyes and unusually well-coiffed and thick black hair.
Appearances, though, were deceiving.
The platform was crowded before the doors had opened, and then the passengers spilled out like juice from a cut tomato, running in all directions and filling up all the gaps between tightly standing lines of customers in transit. Sesshoumaru exited the car and approached him with a measured gait and affected coolness. Already the air from within the train was mixing with that of the inner city, only slightly less stale and metal-tinted.
"Kodagawa," he said.
"Sesshoumaru," returned the man, approaching. Had he been human, he would have been too far away for his voice to reach his partner. But then, he was not human, and the voice did reach. "Did you have a nice ride? I did; I always do. The train is one of my favorite human inventions. Perhaps you managed to find a seat?"
The man waved it off. "It was a good exercise, though, you must admit. After all, wasn't that your first time to ride a train since before the war? Reminds you a bit of the good old days, doesn't it?"
"In the good old days," said Sesshoumaru stiffly, "humans were at least cultured enough to remove their shoes when they entered the car."
"There are things to be said for the new ways, too."
Sesshoumaru began to walk toward the exit. His business partner waddled after him, voice edging on chiding.
"Come, now. I can tell from your silence that you must disagree, and I won't have it! Even you must be impressed by the most recent technological advances, the stunning displays of power that overcome even our own innate-"
"In the better days," Sesshoumaru interrupted, his voice low, "humans were content to ride on horses."
"And let me assume that in the best of days, humans bowed to youkai and were ruled over with an iron fist?"
Sesshoumaru looked at him in the way that one might look at a colony of ants before stepping on its queen.
"That," he said, voice cool, "has not changed. It is just more subtly done."
Sesshoumaru observed the station as they walked out from the escalator to the heart of the station. He collected himself in the only way he knew how, grasping onto a sense of place that grounded him in the rushing fog of time. Little stalls of bento lunches sat beside bagel shops that sat beside convenient stores, miniaturized but filled with harsh, luminescent white-yellow light. And in spite of this the station felt like it were less a building than some perverted form of nature; the mouth of a gigantic cave with far too flat a floor. Sesshoumaru could hear a single bird swooping above his head, searching for a place to land among rafters, trapped inside the station as if within a massive cage. It was determined to remain in the sky and yet it seemed did not have a place in it any longer. Thinking of it in this way, the thought filled him with annoyance. At this rate, who knew if there would even be birds at all in another century?
A girl bumped into him quite suddenly, shoving his briefcase against his leg, and without apology tottered off in her oversize heels. He flicked his chin at her in annoyance.
"I have to say," interrupted his business partner. "You do seem more hostile than usual today, letting out the fangs and all."
Sesshoumaru's annoyance doubled. He lowered his voice as if to make it seem as though it had halved.
"Inugami have sharper senses than other, lesser demons, and this… place…. pains my senses."
"That O.L. who bumped into you smelled just fine to me; she had a lovely floral perfume… Or perhaps it was not your sense of smell but your sense of touch that was ignited? Don't tell me that dogs sense pain more sharply than other youkai!" exclaimed Kodagawa, evidently not overlooking the slight to his own supernatural prowess. He continued, "If a puny human bumping into you could cause this much discomfort, I don't know how you got through those feudal wars. Surely it's not something else bothering you?"
A brief glimpse of the girl on the train roared to the front of his mind, but it was blurry, vague, almost unformed. A hallucination. He forcibly suppressed the troubling image and lied smoothly.
"My father's retainer got into a traffic accident after lunch today. I've been on the edge of lateness for the entire day as a result."
The other youkai chuckled. "Jaken's still around, then? If I know him, it was less of an accident than an act of revenge. To a biker, perhaps? He would find their hectic driving threatening…"
They passed through the gates, allowing their phones to glance off of screens as they walked. "Let us cease this chatter and conduct our business," Sesshoumaru suggested, his tone deceptively mild as he slipped his phone back into his pocket.
It had been over fifty years since he and the man had interacted, much less in a business context. The lesser youkai obviously did not seem to know the difference between the expression of barely concealed loathing that was on Sesshoumaru's face and the one that Sesshoumaru gifted on all of his other business partners and rivals alike.
"Yes, business," agreed Kodagawa. He had a brashness to him that was unsuited for a youkai of rank. He chatted exuberantly about profit margins and completely lost himself in carrying zeros and ones as Kodagawa's driver met them for the short journey to their restaurant. Even once they had concluded their meal, he did not realize that his cell phone had been completely silent for two hours, nor did he realize that he had been slowly growing drunk and saying preposterous things without receiving any censure.
But then, he was a fool.
"Well done, well done, honorable Sesshoumaru-sama," wailed Jaken from the driver's seat of the short limo. Even disguised as a human, he was as Sesshoumaru had implied: still short enough to require a booster seat (and a bit of straining of the neck) in order to see through the windshield. "Everything went as you planned! The office of Kodagawa Corporation was raided forty minutes ago. Our insider has indicated that charges of tax fraud will be levied by the end of the business week."
Sesshoumaru acknowledged this with silence as they left behind the restaurant in the rear view and moved swiftly on to the highway, on the way to the second meeting of the evening.
He carefully poured crystallized water from a chilled decanter, and his invisible claws made a comforting, ringing noise as they touched the cut-crystal glass. Power, the musical note seemed to tell him. That it had come form his pure strength against a delicate symbol of prestige and success only deepened his pleasure in the beauty. This was one of his favorite thoughts, though there had been a time when it had nearly been usurped by another…
No more of these thoughts tonight.
"What is next on the itinerary?" he asked drolly.
"Ahhh, yes, my lord. This lowly Jaken will deliver you to the Park Hyatt Hotel in just under five minutes." They rolled to a stop at a traffic light with manufactured-perfect control. The engine hummed beneath the hood. Sesshoumaru could hear every single click of the gears, the whirs of fans, the snaps of electricity as they passed through circuits. Power, he thought again, focusing himself as Jaken spoke. "Both Satou-san of Marubeni and Botashi-san of Daimatsu are awaiting the very good news of your meeting with Kodagawa-san. It would be my greatest pleasure to alert the concierge on your behalf to open your table at The Lotus Room."
"Then you may take care of it."
Jaken's eyes watered in delight.
Sesshoumaru flicked his gaze out the window. From the corner of his eye, Sesshoumaru could see the morning edition of the Nikkei sitting on the pavement. It was lying at an odd angle, but he quickly skimmed the headlines and images. Of course his eyes landed on the date, which he had already known, but felt led to check all the same.
He took a long sip of water from his chilled glass, and placed it back into the velvet-lined drink holder just before the car began to move again.
He could see a train in the distance, crossing over a bridge with too many lights and signs clamoring for attention. The smog poured out around it in a swirling gray haze, each molecule drenching the air with its pungent, cloying scent. The sensory noise of it momentarily sickened him as he recalled the stale air of the rail car, and closed his eyes.
The hallucination refused to stay down in his mind, and Sesshoumaru would not lie to himself and allow himself a further loss of control. He accepted, though with difficulty, that something had plugged up his senses, and made them lie to him in the three minutes he had been forced to endure the trip in the train. He had sensed her, right down to the delicate touch of her fingers, soft as feathers as they brushed his back when she turned around to exit the train.
But of course she hadn't been there; she couldn't have been. She'd been dead for over four hundred years.
He would think nothing more of it. He had to ensure Kodagawa's downfall, after all - and it would be done tonight.
February 4, 2006
Rika was fourteen years old, and her mother was dead.
No one had told her that death would be like this - unconquerable, she'd known that, and final, certainly, but never unsurprising. In a way, it felt as if her mother had always been lying face down on the tatami mat in a pool of blood, like she was simply rejoining a destiny that had been hers long before Rika had even been born.
This did not make it hurt any less.
When Rika had come back from a quick run to the store for milk, she'd found the door to their one-room apartment unlocked and ajar. She had only to look inside before she saw her mother's body flat across the ground, and the blood pooling around her like the center of the Japanese flag. Rika had immediately collapsed on the ground, her knees slamming against the door frame hard enough to cause bruises. But she was already lost in a fit of pain.
The blur of hurt swept over her like a pitiless wind, stripping her of thought, of knowing even where she was. Of what anything mattered. She managed to crawl across the room to her mother's side, and took the limp hand in her own, crying out her mother's name. She knew it would do nothing, but it didn't matter.
It was some time before she could look at the body.
There was no hope for a hospital, a second chance at life: Her mother was not going to be getting up. Not ever again. The corpse's eyes were open, fixed in a stare at the opposite wall. The skin of her cheeks had cooled down, even though the rouge that she'd rubbed onto her cheekbones that morning hadn't had time to fade. The muscles on her face were slack, expressionless and Rika could only hope this meant that she hadn't endured any pain. It looked as if she'd just come back inside, having forgotten something on her way out when she'd been struck down by surprise. She was still in her thick, faux-fur-hooded overcoat with a black-lace mini-dress on underneath. Her tall black heels were still on her feet. The nails were painted red - a red that matched the stain that was now on Rika's hands, the edges of her white blouse, and her knees.
Seeing the blood on herself brought her back. The raw hurt was now overcome by an even stronger emotion. Fear.
The men who had attacked her mother were coming for her, too. She knew it. And for a fleeting moment she could imagine herself being ripped apart by them like dogs, her throat torn out and her body left by the root of a tree, to bake in the sun until her soul was evaporated into the sky like water.
The knock came on the door while Rika was getting ready for school, adjusting the fabric beneath her sailor's collar, making sure that it laid flat and clean against her breasts. Her mother's smell was sharp and pungent in the air, coppery and putrid even underneath the blanket she had been covered with so lovingly.
Rika was determined to be brave.
But she was not.
She crossed the room and unlatched the window that led to the balcony and pushed it aside with trembling hands. She stared out at her clothes, still hung on dozens of pins, swirling on the plastic hanger. Beyond the balcony, just an arm reach away, was another apartment. Not an inch of sky hung in-between the balcony and the opposite building. There was not even enough space for a bird to break free.
She wished she could try.
The knocking came again; this time, it was accompanied by a voice.
"Rika-chan. Rika-chan, are you in there? Is everything okay?"
It was her landlord.
She cracked open the door. "Oya-san*," she said, forcing her voice out from her throat. It was hoarse from a night of crying, and cracked like the places where the walls met in her apartment. "Now is not a good time."
"Let me in, Rika-chan," said the woman. "I know what happened. You have nothing to hide."
Her words had been the only part of her that were polite in their stilted language. Startled, Rika stepped backward and let the door open. Her landlord moved into the room, and for the first time she did something very strange: she did not apologize for entering the space. Nor did she care for the dead, Rika realized, as the woman neatly stepped around the body and sat down beside the piled bedding against the wall. She brushed a fold off of her skirt with a dainty motion. A small piece of horror fell into place.
Rika had been expecting the men to come for her. But she should have known that they dealt at a much closer range.
"May I have some tea, Rika?" she asked.
"You're a good girl, aren't you?" asked the woman, sharply. Rika nodded, but the dread was only amplified inside her chest. She turned toward the counter and plugged in the electric kettle with trembling, awkward hands.
"Are you with them?" she found herself asking. "Or…"
"This whole neighborhood is 'with' them, Rika. What do you think it means to live in a Buraku*? We all look after each other here."
It took everything in her not to scream; to take out all her rage in tightly clenched fists. "How? How is this?"
"You are very young, so I will try to make this simple. In the western world, there is a saying, you know. 'A deal is a deal'," said the landlord into the thickly silent room. "Your mother had a contract, which she broke. Although it is perhaps regrettable, what happened to your mother this morning-"
"It was murder!"
"Was it?" interrupted the landlord. "Is it possible to murder a person with no registered birth certificate… with no evidence that they were meant to exist? Someone who has always lived off of others' kindness? Is it truly their right to say where their soul belongs; in their present body or in their future reincarnation's, when in this body, they are only a burden?"
Rika turned around, unable to bear it any longer. "But how does that it make it your right? I can't believe my, my mother would have agreed that you could kill her if she didn't… do whatever she needed to do. Why couldn't you just have let her find some other way to fulfill her debt? Surely there was something, anything-"
"Do you think she died out of anything but her own spite?" bit back the landlord, raising her voice, and her body, to her feet. "She would not have died had she not protested so violently. This is the consequence of fighting, Rika. Now what about you? Are you going to give me my tea or do you also not do as you are told?"
Rika was gripped with panic so strong that she felt her lungs giving in. "It's here! It's here," she said. Her voice was shrill. But she had somehow forced her body to stop shaking. She placed the teabag into the hot water and walked across the room to the landlord, careful to step over her mother's body, careful to keep her face composed as the rank smell entered her nose. Careful not to spill the tea. Careful not to touch the hands of her landlord as she passed it over.
The task was done. It was almost as if she had been passing over her life. She sat down across from the landlord, if only because her legs could no longer bear to hold her up.
"You may not be of age to work yet, but your mother's contract still stands, Rika. You understand that you'll have to take care of it now, and be a responsible daughter, don't you?"
Everything outside the apartment was still, and motionless, right up to the wall. And it was always still. The light hung heavily, thickly in the air. Rika wished there was someone, somewhere she could go to, someone who would care for her, but her mother was gone. And there had never been anyone else.
It was as if the wind was moving her body, pushing her forward. She could only hope to hold to her ground. And she would. She felt herself nodding.
"Good girl," said the landlord, and sipped the tea.
*Oya(-san) - respectful manner of addressing a landlord
*-san suffix is used to be polite, similar meaning to 'mr.' or 'ms.'
*-chan suffix is generally used for children or girls, sounds cute and affectionate
*Buraku - a neighborhood in which Burakumin, an impoverished 'hidden' underclass of Japanese people, have traditionally been forced to live. See wikipedia for more.