Disclaimer: Inuyasha characters belong to Rumiko Takahashi. Other characters are property of Kidoairaku.
Rating: PG-13: for language and just in case
Summary: [Sess/Kag] What if Sesshoumaru was the one that met Kagome on the other side of the well?
A/N: Sorry; this isn't as long as the previous chapter. ;; Took me long enough to get it out, too, huh? I'm thinking about revising this story as well. I keep wanting to read from the beginning to present, but I can't even sit through the first chapter without getting bored…so, maybe revision is in order. Thanks so much for the ongoing support; I really LOVE all of it. =) Also thinking about changing the pen name (again). sigh Oh well. At least I got this out before school started…
Chapter Fifteen: Tear-Bearer
June 2004—August 2004
A span of one and a half days had passed since they first encountered the taijiya, and the month was drawing to a looming close. The night of the new moon would bring a new month…in addition to the mark for his lordship. They would take their leave, but when the departure would take place he had not decided. It would be soon, though…as soon as possible.
The day was bright and balmy, its perfection marred only by the dark overcast of pregnant storm clouds. Their presence seemed to put an ominous leash on the sun's radiance, which, for now, bathed all in cool, comforting light. The light was fickle, though; ergo, shadows stalked under the reign of the impending storm.
"…Jeez. You'd think you could at least try to acknowledge my existence."
He predicted the storm would be fierce, if brief. It was just one of those days when the weather could not permit itself to be very unscrupulous. It was with a somewhat absent mind that he hoped for a clear evening the next night.
"Please? Just be a little more courteous?"
How was Rin faring back at…home? Was he really thinking of his estate as 'home' now?
"For God's sake, Sesshoumaru! We've even BATHED toge—"
Kagome was met with a firm and insisting hand over her mouth, as well as a flat, somewhat irritated glare. Which was perfectly understandable, she supposed, revamping over what she'd just said… She attempted to pry his fingers off her face, and, upon meeting blatant failure, pleaded as convincingly as she could with pathetic whimpers and whiny stomps.
His fingers lifted free, and she sighed melodramatically, shooting him a half-hearted glare. The demon, however, trained his focus on the passers-by, who seemed to enjoy stopping to stare at him and his would-be companion. The stupid twit of a girl just seemed to have a mortal aversion to keeping her damned mouth shut. He wondered if anything productive had ever come out of those well-shaped lips of hers.
He shook his head in silent denial. The cursed bond would have to be severed, destroyed, obliterated, and otherwise annihilated from every aspect of life, which included his memory. Perhaps, he would also consider the permanent execution of Inuyasha's priestess—someone he was certain he'd killed at one point…
Oh well, no matter. He would not lie to himself. The total truth of the matter was the girl did have a pleasant mouth, if nothing else. She was, by no means, an unpleasant-looking creature, so he allowed himself this one admission. It would do no harm.
"C'mon…I wanted you to come with me!" Kagome's small, slender hand took hold of his wrist and dragged him across the village, past the silently gawking exterminators and into the threshold of the resident shrine.
As soon as he entered, he could feel the unease creeping into him. A shrine? Why, of all places, would the infernal girl want to go to a shrine? Perhaps, it was just the knowledge that he was a demon, or that he had never truly paid any mind to the gods…either way, some kind of niggling discomfiture always managed to worm its way into his person.
Damn those shrines.
Sesshoumaru tugged on his arrested wrist, successfully pulling his companion backwards as a tremor ran through his body. Warmth pulsed through him.
"Ow! What was that for?" Kagome balked at the frown twisting his mouth and gave one of her own. "Something wrong?
Heat exploded where she touched him…beat after beat of incredible warmth just bursting from her fingertips. Was it really her?
The demon opened his mouth as if to say something—to rebuke her, or demand what was going on—but nothing came out. What could he say? Her power—if that's what it really was—left him stranded in nothingness, calm. It was relaxing to be around her. In fact, all his previous unease seemed to have melted away.
"Are you okay, Sesshoumaru?" Her voice broke him of his stupor like a child's foot to still water. She pulled insistently at his hand. "Can we go? I have something to show you!"
Shaking his head, he snapped back to conscious thought as best he could, turning to her a half-mocking, half-peeved glare. "What could you possibly have to show me that I have not already seen?"
She puffed her cheeks impatiently—"Just come on!"—and yanked him towards their destination.
Submitting graciously to the adamant girl, he shuffled along behind her—if one so graceful could really shuffle—taking time to study the shrine. Simplicity was its name, constructed mostly of the local cedars—plain, but sturdy. Although the shrine itself was compact, its housing filled the place with emptiness; no less than twenty paces covered the distance between the closest wall and the centerpiece—the tribute to whatever cause these silly humans worshipped. As he ducked under hanging strings of dried flowers, Sesshoumaru mulled amusedly over the idea of having temples built to honor himself.
A ghost of a smirk glanced off his lips before he gave a quiet sigh. Flattering as that would be, it would only prove him more vain and arrogant than he already was, and, despite the fact that he accepted those traits as commonplace among the aristocracy, he preferred to keep what humbled honor he still had left.
He completely turned his shoulder at the idea. He did not need a temple to pay respect to his spirit. He had enough respect for himself to last a lifetime, although the same could probably not be said of his godforsaken counterpart. Where was she taking him, anyway? Thirty feet was not ample enough space to explore what was beyond his sight. He hadn't been exaggerating when he'd accused her of not having anything to show him.
An abrupt stop soon introduced them to a fenced-off area, the feature presentation of the shrine. Smooth stakes of dark wood stood strung through with off-white rope, keeping onlookers back from the small memorial. Offerings of dried and fresh flowers cascaded over a wooden dais, on top of which an engraved tomb sat pensively. The lack of wind and weather preserved the stone flawlessly, allowing it to look as new as it did the day it was carved.
Kagome studied the grave with scrutinizing eyes. "I wanted to ask about this," she murmured absently. "It feels…special."
Sesshoumaru snorted at her choice of words. Special, indeed. There was nothing out of the ordinary with this particular burial site—only that it was evidently given high praise for some inane reason or another. He didn't much care why it was unique enough for worship; it was his guess that another one of those misconstrued folk tales rooted from this particular death.
He shifted from one foot to the other.
More than one body was buried here; Tenseiga told him that much. He looked to the headstone. Only one name was worshipped?
"There's a pull to this place," his companion stated firmly. Kagome grasped the jewel about her neck, something that would probably turn into a nervous habit in time. It calls to me…
Fragments of what had been human souls drifted around the shrine like scattered pieces of dust—faint, but there, swirling in the empty space. For the souls to shatter in such a way…the physical lives had been tragic at one point or another. The spirits could not bring themselves to leave this world completely, and lingered…
She turned to him. "What do you think of it, Sesshoumaru?"
He spared her a glance before resting his eyes on the name, so reverently immortalized in stone. Tear-bearer…?
"Ah! Kagome-san! Sesshoumaru-sama!"
Kohaku, the young taijiya who'd been their primary care provider for the time they'd spent there, jogged up from the back entrance, his face coated in a thin layer of sweat. In his hands, he held a kusari-gama, and Sesshoumaru suddenly recognized it as one of the weapons that had been held before them in the forest. The child had been one of the group that had attacked…
"Kohaku-kun!" Kagome greeted warmly.
The endearment was not lost on either of the men. Kohaku gave something of a blush before reaching back to rub his neck. The demon lord cocked an eyebrow, amused by her quick-to-befriend nature.
"Were you just out practicing?" she continued, gesturing toward his weapon.
He nodded and adjusted the chain in his hands. "I saw you walk in, so I wondered what you were doing in the shrine." As if remembering a rule, he hastily set the chain and sickle aside, kneeling down with his hands together, in reverence of the Tear-bearer.
Kagome shifted awkwardly on the side, unsure of what to do. Finally, when the exterminator rose, she relaxed and smiled at him. "Could you tell me about this, Kohaku-kun?" She indicated the grave.
His dark, chocolate-colored eyes flicked from her to her companion, as if suddenly suspicious. "What do you want to know?"
Even to Sesshoumaru's ears, the question sounded on the hostile side.
"Um…" The girl looked to Sesshoumaru for guidance, a little hint, maybe. He stared at her blankly. "Why is it so special?"
Kohaku considered for a moment, setting his thoughtful gaze on the tomb. "I can't answer that the way you like, I don't think. My sister knows a lot more about this than I do, actually, but she's away on a job." He looked at Kagome, as if gauging her reaction. "My father told me, though, that this is the grave of a woman who wandered to our village many years ago. She had some significance, though I don't remember what it was…maybe it was that she was a priestess? I'm not sure, but what I do know is, when she passed away, she gave this place her protection."
Kagome nodded and gazed wistfully at the grave. "She was a sad woman?"
His expression turned somber. "Her past was tragic."
They shared a moment of silence, a mutual kind of sympathy to the departed spirit.
"There are two."
The humans turned to look at the youkai. Kagome spoke first.
He repeated himself. "There are two buried here."
Two pairs of eyes settled expectantly on the taijiya, waiting for an explanation. He, however, seemed at something of a loss.
"Two?" he questioned. "No one's ever told me the story of two spirits in our shrine." The puzzlement showed clearly on his lightly freckled face.
Sesshoumaru set a hard stare on the boy, trying to decide whether he was lying. When no indication of such was found, though, he dismissed the subject as unimportant. Finding nothing more of interest here, the demon lord made to turn away, to get away from the unnerving holy place.
"Sesshoumaru-sama, if I may ask?"
He stopped mid-turn, signaling that his audience was granted.
Kohaku went on. "How do you know there are two…spirits?"
Would he divulge the secrets of his Tenseiga? No, let them think him to have an affinity for the dead; he would remain the mysterious Western Lord. "It is in my power."
Kohaku nodded, hesitantly. "Of course."
As he'd nearly reached the steps, Sesshoumaru felt a coolness abruptly pervade the air around them while he smothered the urge to shiver. Disturbingly enough, his first instinct was to find his human companion. His eyes swept back to the centerpiece.
Sure enough, he found her in something of a strange, potentially dangerous situation.
Did touching sacred graves pose a threat to their safety?
What he felt was like a backwash of emotions, crashing into one another, ebbing and flowing like the ocean's tides. A throbbing headache for anxiety, a quick flutter in his stomach for distress, the tense of muscles for resignation, and the unadulterated weightlessness of freedom. Each feeling burst inside him like it was his own, part of a brief, but very momentous, emotional slideshow. At his sides, his hands fisted in the rush of it all—changes and swings too sudden for his customarily stoic disposition. The aftereffect was a drunken sort of euphoria.
"Kagome?" Her name was punctuated with slight slur, making it roll of his tongue like the smooth taste of blood. Dear gods, he felt like…a human. He tried again, this time articulating each syllable clearly. "Kagome." There, much better. Sounded much more like himself.
He twisted to find her still connected with the smooth stone, leaning over the crude fence that separated the Tear-bearer from the rest of the shrine. Tears slithered down her cheeks and around a slightly parted mouth as her fingers lay splayed across the tomb. Her face was pulled down in such an expression of sympathetic despair that he almost felt an answering stab of pain. Almost.
She looked ridiculous there, her stomach straining against the ropes, her body stretched to reach the grave. All the while, the jewel around her neck glowed dimly, a muted testimony to the vast spiritual power that whipped around the girl's fingers.
A ring of mind-numbingly cold wind burst from her form, and as it passed through him, he felt as if he'd been dunked in ice water. The sensation sunk him into a lucid state of awareness; the world seemed suddenly brighter, viewed through a glass that lent a sparkle of clarity to all it engrossed. Fanning out above the grave, he saw the outline of a woman blossom and solidify.
The two women took a moment to study one another, both holding heavy gazes. They seemed a pair of mournful divine beings, too entangled in this human world to move beyond…too strangled by grief to let go.
Simultaneously, they turned to face him, as if all the world had disappeared and left him stranded in a void, empty and alone. The weight of their combined gazes sent him stumbling backwards and then, forward on his knees.
The woman behind the grave, her dark hair billowing around her like a serpentine cloud, reached out to him—a ghostly hand, pale and translucent. The look on her round face said more than words ever could…she looked so haunted…so regretful…so…murdered.
Unable to hold her stare, his eyes found Kagome's, but looking at her, he found no comfort. Her expression and the woman's were so in synch, mutual in their tragedy. That kind of look had no right to settle in the girl's face; that kind of emptiness buried her alive.
It was into her soulless eyes he stared when they spoke.
"My little Maru-chan…you are my only regret…"
The words stirred some long, locked-away part of his soul, and he felt the proverbial tightening around his heart.
So familiar, yet so distant…My little Maru-chan…
The air swirled around them, and then, like a cloud of congealed mist, the woman of the grave dissipated, leaving only Kagome. Her lips moved, but the voice wasn't hers.
"My love, always."
He was shocked to the core. His reaction brought him to a sudden standstill, unsure of what to do, what to think… He watched as the tears flowed faster, and for an instant, he thought she might actually start sobbing. But no, her fingers finally came free of the tombstone, spreading instead to reach for him. He felt a pull and gave into it, straining on his knees to meet her hand.
Just before their fingers could touch, the jewel flashed like a bolt of lightning, and he drew back, shielding his eyes from the blinding light.
This voice he recognized as Kagome's. The horror in her tone rang sharp and piercing.
The light receded, sucking into itself entirely. It left his companion's body in an unmoving heap on the floor, and upon seeing it, he went cold, as if he'd lost all his blood, all too quickly.
Damn these human emotions!
The afterglow of the emotional backwash was fading, leaving his former, impassive self. He welcomed the change.
He scooped up the girl's body in his arms effortlessly.
With a slight nod to the flustered taijiya, he strode resolutely from the shrine and took to the skies, darkened with the onset of dusk. Explanations could come later.
He had oodles of time to think things over—to wonder why, especially, he was left conscious while the girl slept the rest of the day away. The Western Lord sat at her bedside, restricted from leaving by the wretched bond. As he idled there, somewhat uncomfortable and bored out of his mind, he contemplated one thing.
My love, always.
The phrase held him like a trapped victim. Whose words were those? Who would ever, ever utter such an endearment to him, of all beings? Were there really such big holes in his past? Was the Tear-bearer a lover at one point? When had he had time for a lover? How had he found a priestess who would accept him? A human priestess, no less…? When would he have EVER taken a human to bed?
Sesshoumaru moved to stand over his charge silently, watching as she twitched in her sleep. Had he not been in such a solemn state of mind, he would have found it amusing. As it was, though, he could not help the slight frustration resulting from his confusion.
What in seven hells was going on?
Shaking his head wearily, he stepped away from the bed and towards the expansive window. Through it, he watched the stars twinkle and shimmer. The sliver of moon that could be seen was quickly being overtaken by a veil of clouds, leaving the room dark, lit only by the weak light of stars.
Kagome's eyes fluttered open, and she entered full wakefulness from an empty, dreamless slumber. Her vision deftly adjusted, and she found herself staring at her companion's still form, gazing out at the night sky. Standing there, in the pure, inartificial light, he looked somehow different. She turned on her side to observe him.
Most times, the schoolgirl in her found him entirely too hard to approach. The way he walked…and talked, and the way he stood—the way he caught the light, even—just put him beyond her. Way out of her league. He was like…a god amongst them. Everything about him just screamed otherworldly.
Not for the first time since she'd fallen down that wretched well, she wanted to pinch herself. Was it too much to hope that all this was just some blissfully whacked-out dream?
Slowly, Sesshoumaru turned to her.
For once, Kagome didn't feel her breath hitch just at the sight of him. She didn't feel that girly skittishness that came when she was obviously around a very, very fine specimen of the male gender. For once, she didn't feel like she was the vulnerable one of the two of them. The starlight made him look…
His aura wasn't one of a domineering, apathetic, and endlessly powerful dog demon. He was suddenly a very lost, very powerless…person. Kagome considered this. Yes, a person. Not a human, mind you, but a person.
A needy one, at that.
Needy Sesshoumaru. She scoffed before wondering absently whether he'd ever been loved…where was his family?
Come to think of it…did he have a girlfriend?
Ooo…if he did, she was going to be in some deep shit somewhere along the line. Maybe she'll understand…? Her brow bowed in deep thought. Who am I kidding? There's no chick who'd stick around with this ice cube…maybe he's got a sentimental side? She gave him a quick once-over. Well…I guess there'd be some shallow enough…if they just wanted to…ahh… A coughing fit overtook her with enthusiasm.
The demon lord was at her side at an instant, looking down at her in consternation. Not that he would actually say anything.
She waved a hand. "I'm fine, I'm fine. Don't mind me. Just…ah…choked." On a very naught thought…
An eyebrow quirked, but he seemed to accept this readily enough. Now that danger stood out of the way, and the window was just a distraction across the room, he had time to reflect on her. Did she remember any of it?
Just looking at her, he'd say no. Maybe it was all just beneath the surface, though? Maybe she was just pretending everything hadn't happened? He frowned. But he wanted to know what the hell had happened! It seemed, right now, that she wouldn't be of any service on that point.
Kagome barely caught the scowl that played over his mouth.
"Do you remember?" he demanded.
She shifted on the bed. "Remember…what?"
His sigh was nearly imperceptible.
A sudden thought struck her, and she froze. "You don't mean we…!" Looking down, she frantically made sure she was clothed. Relief flooded her upon finding that she was. She stiffened again. It was easy enough to put clothes back on her afterwards… "Sesshoumaru! Did you…?!"
Tension filled the line of his shoulders, and for a second, Kagome feared the worst. But no—"You would dare to assume that I…!"—everything was okay.
The girl let out a breath she hadn't known she was holding. "Thank the gods!"
Then, she allowed her attention to be swallowed by her companion again. Yes, there was definitely something wrong if he hadn't used her confusion to play out her grief. Kagome found herself firm in the belief that, had he been in his normal disposition, he would've answered with something like, "I did nothing you would not—or rather, did not—approve of." And then, he would go on with double entendres and the like, and give her some very stressful wordplay until he tired of it. Oh yes, he was feeling on the down side.
Kagome glanced up at her dog demon. He stood without his armor, looking much less intimidating than usual. Although the set of his shoulders was still impeccably rigid, there was an underlying sag to the way he stood. He was tired.
The inu-youkai find comfort and community in physical contact, whispered a voice through her mind.
Like dogs, her thoughts supplied. She considered, looked at him again, and made up her mind.
Sesshoumaru wasn't the only one surprised by the girl's brashness.
She got over it. "Come here," she repeated insistently.
He hesitated a moment before quietly sliding into the bed—forced to share his own bed!—as far away from her as he could get. With a frustrated huff, Kagome scooted over to him, balking for a split second before throwing an arm awkwardly over his waist. Moving to get more comfortable, she glared up at him.
"No funny stuff, okay?"
Not waiting for an answer, she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep before the hour was over.
The demon, however, lay awake, staring at the ceiling, unsure of what to think. Where had all the order in his life gone? The simplicity, the repetition…the functionality of it all had just seemed to fly out the window, disappearing to God knows where. His existence, all of a sudden, seemed so complicated. A missing past, an upcoming lordship, a fostered human child, a sword that could not kill, and most of all, a confusing girl who'd just popped out of a well and gotten metaphysically chained to his person.
The fates abhorred him!
A long-suffering sigh puffed out before he could stop it. He turned his tawny eyes to the heap of womanflesh attached to his side. Begone, he commanded silently. Away, foul creature. It was sadly surprising that she did not evaporate before his eyes.
What did come as something of an astonishment was the realization that he'd felt instantly better when she'd curled up to him. He reveled in the warmth of another body and felt himself relax. When she attempted to pull away in her sleep, he found himself frowning, turning on his side, and pulling her closer. To this she responded with a contented murmur before falling still again.
He blinked down at her. Perplexing chit, this one was. He ran his fingers through her thick hair until he hit a tangle, whereupon his finger gently tugged it loose.
My love, always…
He mused. Would it be so absurd to wonder if they had been…Kagome's words?
Yes, too absurd. Misguided assumption it was. Presumptuous folly. Impossible.
Sesshoumaru closed his eyes and released his viselike grip on the conscious realm. As he fell away to darkness, his last thought was, would it be so bad if they were Kagome's words?
A/N: Ahhh, so a little more is revealed. =) Who do you think the grave-chick was? Hopefully it's harder to figure out…but at this point, I'm a little doubtful. Made it too obvious. GAH! Oh well. Tell me: was our fluffy hero a OOC? Does he need tweaking? I like to think I'm keeping Kagome very IC, but if not, please let me know. =) Peachesall my love to the reviewers! Grudging handshake to the non-reviewers. LOL Until next time, friends!