Three years after the starlit void spat them both out and the river between time dried up, the well yawns before her.
It’s cold and empty and dead in a way that Kagome remembers it being her whole life. Another dimension whispers within the shrine that hides it, like stepping into some corner of a broken world—but a different dimension is not a different time, and at the end of the day, time and space (are interconnected) are two very different things. She leans over the wooden frame, the roughness of it biting into her palms, and she searches the stagnant darkness for any trace of the magic that would open up for her back then, only to cruelly cut her off right at the height of her addiction.
“I want to see him again,” she confesses to the black bottom. It feels like a secret, like a sin, like a broken promise.
Him again him again him again echoes back at her from below. Hollow and mocking, devoid of pity.
The well does not open again.
Shortly after, she trades Tokyo for Nagoya to pursue her university diploma, and the colorful buzz of a new city is as familiar as homesickness. Kagome moves into an apartment with a lovely view of the neon lights at night. It reminds her of starlit skies on the open road five hundred years in the past.
She sleeps with her curtains drawn.
In the modern world, miko are not mystical and fantastical warriors battling the forces of evil. They are remnants of a world long gone, repurposed into decorations during festivals and ceremonies performed by people who lack the hum of holy power in their bones. Now, it is just college-age girls looking for an interesting summer job who don a sacred ensemble of red and white, looking every bit like children wearing their mother’s clothes.
Reluctant as Kagome is participate in the pretending, she has rent to pay (and nothing else in her life has ever made this much sense). Reluctantly, she dons the familiar red-white ensemble (holy at the top, blood-stained at the bottom). Reluctantly, she gets herself hired by a shrine that needs the extra hands (the Inu-Jinja, actually—and in another era, she would be laughing herself sick at his indignant scowl).
It doesn’t help her forget, but it keeps her busy. She cleans the shrine and dances the kagura during ceremonies and chats with the other girls. She studies for her classes without interruption, pays her rent, makes friends and goes out with them. The memories slip to the back of her mind. For a while, it works.
The full moon is cresting the horizon, bright and bulbous and white as a bleached bone, on the first night of kannazuki (the godless month), and she and a few others have been asked to stay behind late to clean the altar. They are emerging into the cool, crisp night, shadows deep and violet across the holy grounds, when Kagome feels a prickle on the back of her neck. A sensation she knows too well, has in the past (five-hundred years in the past) always brought a great rush of relief. Her breath stills in her lungs, heart thundering in her ears, the flow of time seeming to shatter at her frozen feet as the other girls (silly schoolgirls, wannabe-miko) trot past her, too engaged in their conversation about boys and movie dates to notice that she has separated from them.
Dizzy, Kagome raises her head. A silhouette perches on the curl of the shrine’s roof, tucked into the darkness, stark against the moonlight. She feels drunk as she stumbles towards it, ignoring the bright chatter behind her turning to worried calls of “Kagome-chan? Kagome-chan, where are you—”
Her geta clack as she stumbles back up the steps, clears the tamagaki fence, heart in her throat, it can’t be—
The face that peers down at her is the one she knows, the one she’s dreamed of every night, who lives behind her eyelids and smiles for her when she feels alone. All the features are in the right place, from the grumpy scowl to the lovely olive of his complexion to the crinkle between his brows when he furrows them in confusion. It’s him, it’s him, it’s Inuyasha, but—
Golden eyes do not brighten at the sight of her, warm and liquid honey—these eyes are lurid green, neon-bright and toxic and cutting. Thick lashes that remind her of the times when his youkai blood ran a little too strong, gaze clouding and stripes burning across the curve of his cheekbones. And indeed, there are stripes there, but they cut clean and dark copper instead of livid, jagged purple. Hair curls around his shoulders and no farther, mottled and smoky grey-brown rather than long and liquid-silver. His ears don’t rest atop his head, furry and twitching and soft enough to tempt, but instead knife out on either side of his head in elfin points.
The stranger-who-is-not-Inuyasha narrows his eyes, lips curling around a single milky fang. “Can you... see me?”
“It was a little over a century ago,” Shippo tells her, sadly.
The sun is burning bright and autumn-sharp above them, spearing through foliage in pale lances. Fiery shadows cast by the canopy dip into the stillness of the nearby lake. Kagome’s knuckles are white around the fabric of her skirt. Around them, people ignore the nip in the air as they prowl the park, the laughter of children mixing with the slow, smoky chatter of young couples holding hands. No glances are spared for the odd pair on the bench, peering down at their own watery reflections.
Shippo is no different than the other youkai that have survived this long—a creature displaced, existing in a world that no longer welcomes him. He looks young enough to anyone who glances his way, face agelessly smooth, but no one would mistake him for younger than she is now, and there are faint lines creasing just under his verdigris eyes that hint at a lifetime that’s stretched a little too-long. His coppery hair has grown long, half of it pulled back into the high tail she is familiar with while the rest spills down his back (just like how Inuyasha’s used to) in an auburn river.
Kagome swallows at the lump in her throat. “How?”
On anyone else, the look he cast her might have seemed flat and scornful. But there is a deep sorrow of his own hiding behind his eyes. “Old age, Kagome. He just... got too old.”
She breathes in deep, shutting her eyelids to keep the burn of tears back. The darkness is ruby-warm against her eyes. If only she could drown in it.
“He was a daiyoukai’s son,” Shippo goes on, voice soft, “but he was half-human, too. It... he actually lived a lot longer than most hanyou do.”
But he didn’t make it. Didn’t endure the whole five-hundred years that separated them, a wide and insurmountable chasm. He tried to build a bridge across the yawning expanse of it, only to fall in before he could reach the other side.
Her eyes feel sticky and hot as they flutter back open. Shippo is blurry in her periphery, his face downturned to observe the fold of his hands in his lap. Kitsune, they say, gain their ninth tail when they reach their thousandth birthday, and mystic powers bloom in their veins like sticky-ripe sakura blossoms that let them rival the gods. Only the most powerful get there, edging towards the millennium milestone with greedily-stretched hands, seeking infinity. Shippo is only halfway there, though—five magnificent tails spill from his back in a plush curtain, coiling behind him in a volume of creamy-softness. The fur tickles at her arms, as though they’re reaching out to wrap her in his comfort, but any onlooker will be unable to see this symptom of his true nature.
“...I met him fifty years ago,” Shippo explains, and immediately Kagome wants to burst out laughing until her eyes burn wet, because even now—even now!, cradled in the comfort of her own era—everything always goes back to “fifty years ago”, doesn’t it? Inuyasha’s seal at Kikyo’s hands and Kikyo’s death at Naraku’s hands and Naraku’s birth at Onigumo’s hands and it all goes back to fifty years ago.
Or five-hundred-and-fifty years ago, now.
Suddenly, Shippo’s eyes turn sharp. “Kagome. He’s not Inuyasha.”
A bitter smile breaks across her face, then. She knows, perhaps better than anyone, what he means by that. Because she was Kikyo once, the soul currently caged within her own ribs once confined by a different face and a different skeleton—but that was before Kikyo passed from this world, before Kagome emerged crying from her mother’s womb. From the moment this heart began to beat within this flesh, she stopped being Kikyo. And the same is true with him, this perfect stranger, with the same face and the same cadence in his voice and the same fangs in his smile.
“You should be careful.” Worry paints his face. She hates the sight of it. “He... he might hurt you.”
“What?” she says, because that’s the most ridiculous thing she’s ever heard. Inuyasha has only deliberately raised his claws against her once, when they first met, and he didn’t know enough not to hate her. And this is a different person, sure—a different body and different bones and different skin—but underneath, it’s the same soul, right?
Shadows gather beneath Shippo’s eyes. It makes his eyes look lurid in comparison. “He’s a youkai, Kagome. They aren’t kind to humans, even now. Especially not now.”
Because youkai exist on the fringes, now. Because the forests have gone quiet and the mountains have gone still and youkai are near extinction, now. Because it was humanity who drove them there.
“You’ve always been kind to me,” she says, even though it was a different time, a different era, a different life.
“Because I know humans, and I know you. He doesn’t.”
“Then he will.”
“Kagome,” Shippo says with a sudden but sharp softness, and then she’s surprised to find the firmness of his hands on her shoulders, his face pressing against the boundary of her personal space and verdigris eyes bright beneath the shadow of his auburn fringe, “don’t do this to yourself.”
“You know what.”
“...okay. Okay, I won’t.”
A moment passes, and she worries, almost, that he doesn’t believe her. But then a sigh leaves him, his shoulders drooping, and he releases her. “Good.”
Kagome smiles, thankful that his nose isn’t keen like Inuyasha’s was. Shippo, it seems, isn’t able to smell the cloying bitterness of the lie as it stains her mouth from the inside out.
He’s not a hanyou. She knew that the moment she came near him, felt it in the air as his presence whispered against her skin like a secret. The youki that rolls off him is powerful and proud, unfettered by the touch of mortal blood in his veins.
The irony almost kills her. When they first met, all Inuyasha cared about was using the Shikon Jewel to purge the humanity from his being—but when they parted ways, he had finally settled comfortably into his skin, felt at ease within his bones, and the prospect of giving up either half had lost all its appeal. If he saw himself now, with the cool glitter in poison-green eyes and the twist in his fanged smile, he would probably be dismayed, furious. If Inuyasha met the person who now holds his soul, he would probably try to deliver some sense into his skull with a well-aimed fist.
“Hanyou,” not-Inuyasha repeats, wrinkling his nose as though the notion were unpleasant.
Yes. Inuyasha would not get along with this man. Not at all.
He’s not a hanyou—but he’s a mutt in his own right, evidently. After some prodding, he tells her of the fate that befell the yorozoku, their once-great numbers dwindling and the threat of extinction pressing against their throats like an executioner’s blade. Mankind pressed and squeezed at their territory until very little blood was left to pass on to future generations. Soon it became a question of preservation, of how far they were willing to go in order to maintain their lineage.
Some packs were stringent in their belief that the bloodlines remain pure, because they would rather die out all at once than a slow demise as their heritage was lost to and subsumed by other bloodlines. Others, however, went a different route.
He tells her that wolf hanyou are not as uncommon as they used to be, that unions between youkai and humans are seen more as an act of pragmatism nowadays (“Some of ‘em are just defeatist, though,” he adds with a sniff). He tells her about the wolves who took youkai partners beyond their packs—hybrids between kitsune and tanuki and the human-shaped and whatever else was close enough that they could procreate. Then, with a roguish sparkle in his eyes, he tells her about the inu-youkai, the minor ones who weren’t so arrogant and pompous that they would turn away a less-than-favorable bedpartner.
“‘Specially since a lot of ‘em liked seeing the wolves beg,” he explains, flashing his fangs. His smirk looks more like Kouga’s than Inuyasha’s. “The yoro’ve always criticized the inu for being too ‘domesticated’, but now they’re the ones who have the last laugh.”
That makes Kagome arch a brow. “Does that mean there are still inu-youkai around?”
A snicker leaves him as he leans back, pillowing his head in the fold of his arms. He doesn’t wear long, draping sleeves—the point of his elbows jut out against the indigo sky. “You literally work at Nagoya’s dog shrine. What do you think?”
She frowns. “It’s called the Inu-Jinja because of Inuhime-no-kami.”
“Tch. She wasn’t actually a goddess, stupid.”
“Eeyup.” The wolfdogs laughs again. It’s a mocking sound. “Humans’re always making assumptions about the supernatural. If you’re stronger than them, you’re either someone’s god or someone’s devil—and there’s no in-between.”
“I see,” she says (she wants to ask So which are you? but, luckily, she thinks better of it).
She dreams, sometimes, that the well did open up for her that day. That she plunged deep into its starlit darkness, felt the centuries ripple backwards, felt the rush of magic in her ears as she descended through the time-space continuum one last time—
But this time, when she claws her way to the surface, breathes in bright lungfuls of shining sunlight, Inuyasha isn’t waiting for her.
Instead, the wolfdog (not-Inuyasha) has his elbows propped up against the wooden well-frame, his chin perched carelessly on his knuckles, one brow arched high in a silent question. Boredom paints his face, but at the sight of her, his mouth curls into a smirk and his fangs flash between his lips and the green in his eyes is acidic as it burns into her.
“Took you long enough,” he says, just as her heart starts to sink—
Kagome wakes to city noise battering her curtains.
Silence hangs thick, deepens the violet shadows as they mark up this holy space for their own pleasure. He hasn’t made any move to speak, yet, and neither has she.
Kagome fidgets awkwardly as she observes him from her place on the ground. Arms folded carelessly behind his head, one knee jutting in the air at an angle incongruous with the way his body curves into the dip of the shrine’s roof. Despite herself, she thinks back to all the times when Inuyasha would lounge in the tree branches, dappled by verdant shadow, pretending for all the world to be carefree and languid. Something hurts, even though it’s her own fault.
Inuyasha’s voice revisits suddenly, bitter words of being only half, only half, both at once and not really either. The wolfdog voiced no such sentiments, yet she can’t help but wonder—
“Is it lonely?” she blurts, and then immediately claps her hand over her mouth, regretting it.
But he’s already heard, one eye cracking open to peer at her lazily. “Hn?”
Guess it’s... too late to take it back. Kagome lowers her hands, biting her lip. “Being half of one and half of the other. Is... Is it lonely?”
His brows pinch, and shame swims in her gut. It’s a presumptuous question, built on the assumption that there’s any lingering sameness between the man before her now and the one she used to know. He isn’t Inuyasha any more than she is Kikyo, and it’s wrong to keep making these comparisons.
Suddenly, she feels guilty for all the times she cursed him for chasing Kikyo’s shadow. Banishing a ghost is hard enough on its own, but when they’re alive and well and sitting right in front of you...
The wolfdog snorts, settling back down. “Well, not gonna lie and say the purebloods don’t give me shit... but I’m not the only one like me, and we get along alright—for the most part.”
“Oh,” she says, and her insides turn to honey with relief. “Okay.”
“Oi.” He sits up, suddenly, and frowns down at her. “What’re you smiling for?”
She just smiles wider. “I’m glad you’re not lonely.”
His eyes (green, not gold) narrow. “The hell is wrong with you?”
“Can’t I just be glad?” she retorts, but there’s no heat in it.
He stares at her for a long, long moment before blinking once and muttering, “Crazy bitch.” Then he’s gone before she can say anything else.
It’s easy to forget sometimes, that she’s talking with someone else. Similarities leap out from seemingly nowhere at times (his powerful limbs and his nose scrunching when he scowls and the way he snorts his annoyance), and they ache. But he is different in more ways than he is similar (he hates the color red and brashness doesn’t burn in his bones and there’s a wry, thoughtful caution in the way he speaks), more unfamiliar than familiar, and somehow that hurts even more.
Maybe she should have listened to Shippo.
“What about you?”
Kagome blinks up at him, perched on the roof’s curve, taupe-hued locks licking at the toffee stripes on his cheeks. Hatsumode has just reached its end, the night crisp and the air tasting clean with the promise of snow. There’s a heavy down coat weighing on her shoulders, a curtain of modernity concealing her miko garb. “What about me what?”
She blinks. “Why would I be?”
“Because you’re a miko,” he scoffs. “A real one. You’re the real deal surrounded by a bunch of idiots playing dress-up. You’re from a dying bloodline, same as me—only you don’t have a bunch of other real miko around.”
She thinks about that, about her fellow shrine maidens (silly schoolgirls, wannabe-miko) who don’t take their duties half as seriously as Kikyo or Kaede or any other Sengoku-age holy person did. She thinks of the ceremonies performed by priests that lack holiness humming in their marrow, all hollow prayers and propriety for the sake of it. She thinks of a time when the weight of a bow in her hands was a familiar constant, when purifying power burned beneath her palms and surged through her veins. She thinks of a time when her strength used to well up from the inside like liquid steel, harden in her bones and web her ribcage, because there was a war to wage and people to protect and being a miko meant so much more than just cleaning out a shrine every night.
She thinks of Miroku-sama, with his jangling shakujou and sutras pinched between his fingers and prayer beads snaring his cursed hand. She thinks of Sango-chan, with her milky hiraikotsu hoisted over her shoulder and multitudes of hidden blades and poisons tucked under her armor. She thinks of Inuyasha, with Tessaiga’s great might contained within its sheath.
“Hm.” Kagome closes her eyes, letting their ghosts flicker behind her eyelids, vivid-bright and powerful, and all the steel in her ribs is rusted. “I guess... I am lonely, sometimes. But... not like that.”
“What’s that mean?”
Despite herself, she wants to smile at his confusion. “Dunno.”
“Crazy bitch,” he mutters.
When she opens her eyes again, he’s (just like Inuyasha, going, going, going—) gone.
“You’re being stupid,” Shippo tells her.
Kagome isn’t sure how he knows, how he found out, and isn’t quite sure she wants to. Not when his eyes seem to spear through her, bladed with disappointment. It feels as though the roles have been reversed—once, she was the one with disapproval in her eyes and chastisements on her tongue. Now, she’s the child being scolded by her elder.
She shrugs, and looks out at the horizon. Spring is due any day now, driving off the frost and restoring the world with its warming kiss. A season of growth and new beginnings (but she’s still chasing ghosts).
“He’s a different person,” Shippo says to the back of her head.
“Is that a bad thing?” she wonders.
“It depends on what you’re expecting.”
“Why the full moon?”
Above them, the silver disc sits high in the heavens, distant and lonely without any stars to act as its companions. In its solitude, it casts its watery rays down on the world, trying its best to battle the sickly orange haze rising from the city lights. Kagome remembers reading something about the widening distance between the earth and the moon, the slow divorce as gravity’s hold wanes little by little until, at last, they will part as strangers would (as she and the wolfdog will). Until she read that, she thought it was her imagination that the moon looked bigger in the Sengoku Period. Now, she’s not so sure.
The wolfdog regards her lazily, those green eyes turned pale beneath the moonlight. She could swear his hair was shorter when they met, but it’s hard to tell when he wears it up like that—he wears up almost all the time, now, like he’s making a physical effort in distinguishing himself from Inuyasha (or maybe she’s just reading too much into it).
“Why not?” he returns, shrugging.
“Only the full moon,” she murmurs. “Never the crescent moon, or the gibbous moon, or the new moon—”
She stops herself before she can go any further, and hastily banishes the memory from her mind (of a boy whose hair turned from mercury-silver to ink-black and back again) before it can burn bright enough to make her eyes water. Clearing her throat, she asks, “Why?”
“More light,” he says listlessly.
“You could come during the day.”
“Too many humans.”
Kagome blinks. “Do you... hate humans?”
“Duh,” comes the noncommittal reply.
It shouldn’t cut as deeply as it does—there was a time when Inuyasha’s voice dripped with far more disdain than that. But then, he isn’t Inuyasha, and who knows what lives inside his heart? Maybe he harbors a secret store of kindness that he’s trying his best to forget, but then again, maybe not.
He huffs at the look on her face. “Oi. Don’t look all offended and crap. I don’t mean anything by it.”
His annoyance sparks hers, and she’s folding her arms over her chest before nostalgia can catch up. “And how am I supposed to not be offended? I’m human too, in case you’ve forgotten!”
Annoyance turns to indignation, and he sits up fully to face her, leaning over the curve of the roof to melt her with an acid-green stare. There’s something of a victory in that—he’s always feigning nonchalance, and so it gives her a thrill when he finally sits up and looks at her. “Tch! Imagine you had to deal with a bunch of smelly youkai all the time, in their bright and noisy cities, their filth at every turn—bet you’d hate us right back.”
“I would not,” she retorts, though that does, admittedly, give her pause. Inuyasha used to complain about how loud and smelly Tokyo was, didn’t he?
“Would so, you liar. Anyone would.” He flashes a sardonic smile. “The hell you tryna prove, huh?”
That’s another difference between Inuyasha and the wolfdog—he smiles more easily, more readily. But those smiles are not always pleasant things. Rather than brief slips where contentment dares to show, they are too-sharp flashes of ice-white fangs that show when her curiosity presses up against some unspoken boundary. Sometimes there’s wry amusement threaded in, or sardonic laughter that rings silently in his eyes, but most often, they are a warning.
Normally, she ignores it, but tonight—
Tonight she has a midterm tomorrow that she should be at home studying for. Tonight she’s thinking about Shippo’s eyes, the aged wisdom behind them that never used to be there. Tonight the differences are jarring and too-much and she’s suddenly tired of playing pretend.
Kagome steps back, dizzy, and tries to remember which century she’s in. “Right. Uh... Okay. I think I’m gonna head out—goodnight.”
“Wh— That’s it?”
“I’m tired,” she says.
It hits her, only after she says that, just how true that is. Exhaustion is a leaden weight pressing against her throat, her collar bone fracturing against the pressure of it. Her bones are groaning and her soul is at her feet and she wonders, fleetingly, how in the hell she’s still standing upright.
Shippo was right. This was stupid. I shouldn’t have done this. God, I’m such an idiot.
“Hey, I didn’t say you smelled bad!” he calls after her.
A memory surfaces—the weight of Inuyasha’s head against her thighs, hair pooling around his head in a tangled midnight halo. Sweat glistening upon his brow and sticking his bangs to his face. Shallow breath warm through the fabric of her skirt, onyx eyes half-lidded and muzzy with poison-fever. Somewhere between conscious and not as he rasps, “I lied.”
“Goodnight,” she grinds out. Her geta clack loudly as she descends the stairs.
There’s a brisk whisper of movement, sharp as a snap of silk blowing in a fierce wind—and then, suddenly, he stands in front of her. She nearly plows right into him, thanking only the sharp battle reflexes she developed at fifteen to keep her from crashing right into his broad chest.
It’s the first time she’s seen him this close, his full height leveled against her without the shrine roof lifting him high above her head and making him into some untouchable silhouette that she could never reach no matter how much she strains. Up close, the similarities in his features are a jarring thing, so fierce and striking they could break her if she dares to make contact with them. To her irrational disappointment, she discovers that he’s wearing something dark green that offsets his lurid eyes (not burning red and coarse and comfortable around her shoulders, those times when Inuyasha would lend her his protective robes). She’s tiny beneath his shadow, an entire head and a half over her. His gaze cuts down the length of his nose, derision in the downward tilt of his chin as he glowers.
“The hell do you want from me, miko?”
Blinking, Kagome steps back. The distance between them immediately fills with darkness and moonlight. “Want?”
“Why do you keep doing this?” he demands with a voice that is all frost and not warmth.
Because she used to leap between centuries through a starlit path, and there was a wish-granting Jewel that she shattered and pieced back together and wished out of existence, and there was a boy with hair the color of stardust who she first met sleeping against a tree—
Because she keeps hoping to see a ghost, and is disappointed every time the living answers her call.
“I... I don’t know anymore.”
Hurt and rage get tangled together between her ribs, and her tears blur his image at the edges. “And what about you, huh? Why do you keep coming back?”
He answers her with a flash of fangs, and nothing more. Figures. It’s been six months since she caught him that fateful night, a phantom given flesh, and in all that time he hasn’t dared to tell her anything about himself. He hasn’t dared to tell her anything that makes him himself.
“I don’t know what I was expecting,” Kagome mutters.
“What was that?”
“I said goodnight,” she says, and brushes past him.
The acid green (not gold) of his gaze continues to haunt her shoulder blades, an acerbic kiss, but this time, he has neither the will nor the courage to stop her.
Summer’s golden heartbeat thumps strong and loud. Kagome closes her eyes as its warmth rains down from above, kisses her skin until her face is flushed and her blood burns beneath its touch. Muggy heat presses against her cheeks like a sloppy kiss. The darkness behind her eyelids is a bright, pulsing thing, scarlet as the still-living heart beating inside her chest.
Her lashes stripe her vision as she glances to her side. “If you’re going to say something, say it.”
Shippo’s verdigris gaze is tactfully downturned in a way that is neither condemnation nor condonement. The lake presses against the shore as though trying to break free of its boundaries. The summer sky hangs stagnant in its reflective surface, clouds rolling lazily across the stillness. He has a bulrush pinched between his fingers, turning it in his hands as though it were a foreign thing—as though foreign things can exist, now, to five-century-old beings.
The bulrush’s tip accidentally grazes the water. Thin ripples bloom from the impact and disrupt the image.
“I think you’re playing a dangerous game, and I think I know you well enough that nothing I say is going to stop you.”
Something quivers treacherously behind Kagome’s ribs. Her breath hitches, and her skirt feels fleecy and flimsy against her clenched fingers. “I just want to move on already.”
“This isn’t the way to do it, Kagome.”
“Then what is? What am I supposed to do?”
He looks up at her, something hollow and tired in his eyes.
It hits her, suddenly as a swift punch to the gut, that he is the unluckier of them. She was cut off completely, forced to watch the wreckage shift and collapse from afar—but he was the one who choked on the dust that got kicked up in the aftermath. He’s the one who survived this long, the one who had to watch as, one by one, they are flickered out like dying stars. Sango-chan and Miroku-sama and even Inuyasha, in the end.
Her eyes water, and she claps a hand over her mouth to keep from sobbing. “God, Shippo-chan—I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, Kagome. For me, it was... a long time ago. I’ve had my chance to grieve. It’s... It’s okay.”
Even though he says that, though, he drops the bulrush into the water, lets it just float there, stagnant, without a current to push it along and take it somewhere else. Somewhere better. It just stays there, stuck. Going nowhere in a hurry.
She doesn’t see him, the next full moon—but she hears him.
When the night has grown cold with solitude and midnight has slipped away and she decides that she isn’t going to wait any longer, the howl slices through the air. It is a long and chilling sound that resonates through the darkness as though trying to harmonize with it. She closes her eyes, lets it thump around inside her chest until the sharpness in the vibration threatens to cut (like a sword forged from a mighty fang, one that cleaves the unseen, through monsters and dimensions and magic gemstones, and everything but time—).
It’s not a dog’s howl. There’s a wildness in it that reminds her of the power that once whispered through the land, before the forests were cleared and cities broke the horizon (wind in her ears as she clung to broad shoulders, another body’s warmth around her arms).
It’s not a wolf’s howl. There’s a tameness in it that reminds her of the cities that she once considered her home, because it was where she must return to at the end of the day (awkward navigation and undisguised wonder at observing what she always thought mundane).
It’s both and neither and something else entirely. Something new and familiar at the same time. Something... unique. And yet, all she can think of—
Kagome touches her cheek. Her fingertips come away wet.
“Why were you crying?”
The moon is not full—a sliver of it is lost to the incoming darkness, and its imperfection hangs against the twilit heavens with a heavy anticipation. Kagome turns, peering up at the roof, waiting for his silhouette to emerge from the sharp angle of it.
“Oi. Down here.”
Blinking, she looks over at the entrance. He’s sitting on the steps, legs crossed haphazardly over one another and his elbow perching on his knee, cheek pressed lazily against his knuckle. Shadows spill deep around him, clothe him in a haunting darkness, and the stripes on his cheek glow against his skin like hot coals set in a wooden frame. When she sees him, his brows arch in silent exasperation.
A frown tugs at her mouth as she walks over to him, her geta clicking against the paved path. “This is a surprise. You never show up before nightfall.”
“You gonna answer my question?”
Claws wink as he jabs an accusing finger in her direction. “You. Tears. The hell?”
She tries not to think about the way Inuyasha’s expression would shift quicksilver-fast when she cried. “Does it bother you?”
“No,” he replies automatically, but it doesn’t quite sound like the truth.
This was a mistake. She knows that now. This was all stupid and reckless and dangerous and she should have never done this—but she’s already halfway down the rabbit hole, the blackness rushing dizzyingly past her, and there’s nothing she can use to climb her way back out. All she can do now is just keep falling down.
“Who am I to you?”
“Who am I to you? What am I?”
Silence stifles as he only stares at her. His expression is one of silent contemplation, and it looks startlingly foreign on his (on Inuyasha’s—) face. Those poisonous green (not gold) eyes shimmer at her through his lashes, all tapetum lucidem and inhuman luminescence. His ears (don’t sit snow-white and furry-soft atop his scalp) knife out from either side of his face. Smoky grey-brown hair (not stardust silver) spills around his shoulders. Stripes burn dark amber as they slice clean across his cheekbones.
The longer he stares at her, the more the differences become starker, until she feels humiliatingly stupid for missing them before. It gets to the point where her blood burns beneath her skin, and she starts wishing he would look anywhere else.
Finally—fangs flash between his lips, white and cold. “I could ask you the same thing.”
Exhaustion floods her, a soul-deep weariness that has her skeleton threatening to collapse in on itself. She shakes her head, turning away, brings her hands to her face. The scarlet flush of her shame burns against her palms, what was she thinking, Shippo was right—
“But to answer you’re question: I think you’re a crazy bitch.”
Kagome nearly trips over her geta as she spins back around. All she catches of him is a dark blur at the edges of her periphery—and then he’s gone (because he isn’t Inuyasha, and he didn’t come here for her).
“If he hurts you, I’ll kill him,” Shippo informs her matter-of-factly. “I don’t care whose soul he has in him.”
Autumn nips again at summer’s vivid beauty. Sleepy clouds drift across a wispy sky. With each passing day, the sunlight is becoming crisper, buttery yellow losing its vibrance little by little. Kagome sits next to him the grass, his tails spilling heavy cream around them. She peers up at the rustling canopies above them, color slowly devouring the foliage until only fire remains. Gold bleeding from green.
“No you won’t.”
“Murder him. No questions. I mean it.”
Somewhere in the distance, children’s laughter rings boisterous through the air. She remembers when the man next to her was just a little boy who grinned wide and toothy and beautifully proud as he showed her his latest picture, all smearing crayon wax and bright, sloppy colors.
All of a sudden, she’s crashed into his shoulders, her face buried into his shirt and her eyes burning wet. It amazes her how real he is.
“Ah—K-Kagome d-don’t cry! I was just—”
“I’m glad I met you again,” she murmurs.
Shippo tenses against her, surprised—but then, slowly, his arms come to drape her shoulders like a childhood comfort, and he’s warm and solid in a way dreams only wish they could be.
“Yeah. Me too.”
Kagome wakes to rustling cloth and the whisper of movement in her apartment.
Moonlight pools watery silver through the part in curtains that she’s always kept drawn tight in the past—it is chased by the city’s sickly neon glower (how she could have ever once compared those lights to Sengoku starlight is beyond her, now). Modernity’s cacophony drifts in lethargically from the opened window. The breeze that climbs in smells of smog and steel and stifling staleness.
She raises her head. Green eyes shine through the gloom.
Anyone else might have startled, or screamed, or grabbed the thing nearest to them and use it as a bludgeoning weapon. But Inuyasha always said she was borderline stupid in her bravery, and she just blinks blearily, somehow too tired and wide awake all at once. “You followed me home.”
The (her) wolfdog tilts his head to one side, the smile on his face perhaps the closest thing to Inuyasha she’s seen in a long, long time. “Problem?”
Her head feels somewhere between too heavy and too light as she sits up. “It’s a little creepy, y’know.”
He’s crouched at the end of her bed with his legs crossed placidly in a mockery of obedience, silhouetted by the moonlight that feathers through the curtains. It silvers the edges of his mottled hair, traces shadows along the curvature of his familiar features. Stripes and elfin ears. Full-blooded youkai.
Mischief widens in his smile. For the first time, his flashing fangs aren’t a threat. “Least I don’t drool in my sleep.”
“You’re a jerk.”
“Maybe by human standards.”
“Why are you here?” she asks, but she thinks she already knows the answer.
There is inhuman grace in the way he stalks across her mattress, the whisper of his clothes against her comforter like a secret pressed to a lover’s ear. Youki hums beneath his skin, powerful and proud (and unfettered by the touch of mortal blood). He leans over her, the hairs rising on the back of her neck as his breath fans across her cheek, “C’mon, miko. You don’t feed a dog unless you intend to tame it.”
“You’re not a dog,” she says, heart pounding.
“Half of me is.”
And that’s true. That’s true no matter what lifetime he’s in, it seems. Before, the other half was human, nobility beating strong and lovely and scarlet inside his chest despite his constant attempts to deny it. Now, the other half is all untameable wilderness, a remnant of a world that no one remembers. Now, he is a creature displaced.
They’re rather alike, in that way.
He smells of pine and wilderness, of Sengoku forests before they were all chopped down. She breathes in shakily. “What if I tell you to leave?”
“You won’t,” he laughs.
There are stripes on his wrist—slim, razor-thin marks that curve dark copper across his skin. They remind her of the cavernous skeleton where Sesshomaru and Inuyasha fought for the first time, flashing claws and rumbling snarls and luminous poison (green, like the wolfdog’s eyes) that melted bone. Sesshomaru’s lightning-fast blows, coldly merciless. And Inuyasha, gripping a yet-untransformed Tessaiga, fangs bared and eyes fierce, “You should shut up and let me protect you!”
Something aches, deep in her breast. She blinks hard to banish the image. “I could purify you, if I wanted to.”
“But you don’t.”
A thumb traces the curve of her cheek, and she wonders if a tear has slipped through. She opens her eyes, lashes striping her vision. Brown hair (not silver). Green gaze (not gold). Triumph in his smirk.
“You want me.” His voice is deep. It’s not a question.
Kagome cups the sharp width of his face. He’s all lovely angles and silky olive skin, the cutting curve of his jaw against her wrists. Cheekbones firm beneath her fingertips, a warm flush against her palms, the tickle of hair against her knuckles. Against him, her complexion is a pale and wan thing, as though she were no more than an apparition pressing stark against reality. Those damning youkai markings are concealed beneath her hands.
Same face, a different person. But he’s warm and solid in a way dreams only wish they could be
She’s already jumped down the rabbit hole—and it’s too late to climb back out. All she can do now is just—
He doesn’t kiss her through the whole exchange—maybe because he knows she isn’t ready, or maybe because he just doesn’t care for the intimacy of it. He isn’t gentle like Inuyasha was, doesn’t hold her with any kind of worshiping reverence, which doesn’t surprise her in the slightest. He is all teeth and claws and no understanding of how to hold back, so by the end of it, bruises throb beneath her skin and little beads of crimson well up from all the places he pricked her. She’ll have marks on her for weeks as evidence of his claim.
The moon is setting on the horizon, the sheets tangling silkily around them. He has an arm slung haphazardly over her shoulders, the warmth radiating off his skin an unwelcome comfort. Her head is tucked into the curve of his throat, his breath slow and steady against her temple, but she knows he’s not asleep. She can feel him watching her, eyes half-lidded, sour-apple green shadowed by thick lashes.
It occurs to her, quite suddenly, that she doesn’t know his name. Only knows him as the wolfdog, as not-Inuyasha, and that is not fair.
“What’s your name?” she murmurs into his collarbone.
Amusement rumbles in his throat. She can’t tell if it’s laughter or a growl. “Tell me yours first.”
That startles her. “You don’t know?”
“How the hell can I? You never told me.”
Something in her aches, at that. It’s irrational, she knows, and yet some part of her—some stupid, hopeless part of her thought (prayed) he would recognize (know) her. This is the second lifetime where they have crossed paths, gotten tangled up in each other, half-willingly and half not, and yet—
“I’m Kagome,” she says. Kagome, not Kikyo. I’m Kagome, and you’re not Inuyasha, you are—
“Nice to meet you, Kagome.” It comes out a little sardonic, but there’s something genuine buried deep underneath it.
Then he leans forward, breath warm and forest-scented against the shell of her ear, soft lips and sharp-tipped fangs, and returns the favor.
Kagome smiles around the wetness in her eyes, and tries to mean it when she says, “Nice to meet you.”
She dreams of the oni-witch who revived Kikyo. She dreams of soil stolen from Inuyasha’s grave. Of an unholy amalgam of clay and necromancy. Of horror and joy surging in her heart as he stumbles on unsteady legs. His eyes are cloudy (gold) when he opens them the first time, gazes at her with bleary recognition. She dreams of grasping his hands, his shoulders, presses her mouth to his—everything is cold.
When she finally pulls away, her lips scalded with the taste of ashes and long-lost love, his mouth is moving. He’s slow with the torpor of waking, but he’s trying to say something—
A hairline crack breaks diagonally across his face.
Panic eclipses joy. Another opens over his left eye, travels down the olive length of his throat and then dips into his robes. More split across his wrists as he reaches up to tentatively brush the pad of a too-cold thumb across her cheek. She can see the blooming fractures trace their way jaggedly down the length of his arms beneath his sleeves. Wisps of his soul start leaking out in bright, silvery streams. He smiles, soft and sweet as a parting—a piece falls out from his cheekbone and clatters hollowly to the ground.
She grabs frantically at his face, tight and feverish and desperate to stop the breakage from spreading. There’s no warmth in him, just lifeless and jagged pieces that bite into the delicacy of her flesh. Her wrists weep hot scarlet and her blood traces rivulets across his clay-skin, and it hurtshurtshurts, but she won’t let go, she can’t, she just got him back—
Kagome, Inuyasha says, his gaze liquid with her sadness, stop it, idiot, what are you doing, you’re fucking hurting yourself, why won’t you just let go?
She opens her eyes to the milky glow of dawn. It spears between the part in her curtains, hollow and mocking as the echo of her voice in Bone Eater’s Well (him again him again him again). Her sheets are twisted haphazardly around her waist, she’s painted in her own exhausted soreness, and there’s a salty crust in her eyes from unshed tears that dried on her lashes.
It’s her first time seeing him in daylight. The differences are stark, his silhouette blurred around the edges as he lingers on the pane of her window. She catches him glancing over his shoulder—only to hastily look away.
When she blinks, he’s (just like Inuyasha, going, going, going—) gone.
“Have you met the others?” Kagome asks.
Kannazuki (the godless month) is nearing its mythical end. Gold ripples through the canopies now, with lovely vermillion and fire-rat crimson chasing eagerly at its heels, barely any green remaining. Silver clouds mute the sunlight, cast the world in a gritty greyness that makes her eyes water. Distant rain whispers a promise to bring down a cold and biting shower. There’s a scarf wrapped hastily around her neck, but her face is numb from the cold, her nose burning pink and her ears quickly following.
Shippo frowns at the question, seeming to think about that, then shakes his head. “Only him. Sango and Miroku are probably taking their time—hell, maybe they’re timing it so they end up the same age and they can fall in love all over again.”
That thought should make her smile (and she does), but it also fills her with a bitter sorrow. The idea of having to wait...
But even then, they wouldn’t be the same people. They wouldn’t be the womanizing monk and the passionate slayer—the man with a cursed hand and the girl with a youkai-bone boomerang. They wouldn’t be the people who gave her so much strength, and they wouldn’t be hers. They wouldn’t belong to her any more than the wolfdog does (all she’s doing is borrowing him).
A brisk breeze plays with the length of her hair—she’d allowed it to grow out as an experiment, but when she looked in the mirror this morning, Kikyo stared back at her, and she wants to cut it as soon as she can. No one in their right mind wants to be someone else’s ghost.
“Why do you think he showed up so soon, then?”
Shippo arches a brow at her, as though he’s genuinely surprised she doesn’t know. “He wanted to see you again, Kagome. That’s all he ever wanted.”
But Inuyasha didn’t make it. Didn’t endure the whole five-hundred years that separated them, a wide and insurmountable chasm. He tried to build a bridge across the yawning expanse of it, only to fall in before he could reach the other side.
So this—this was his solution, then? His answer? Part of her wants to laugh, and part of her wants to cry, but she does neither. Just looks at the leaves, vibrant gold and burning green. She suddenly can’t decide which color looks better.
“Is that right.”
Over a year has passed since she first spied his silhouette on the Inu-Jinja’s curling roof, and Inuyasha’s face is starting to blur at the edges (there’s still too much clarity, she dares not ponder how long until his watermark fades entirely from her soul), and the wolfdog has tentatively begun to let himself get close. Presently, he’s pretending to not be reading her textbook over her shoulder, when he suddenly asks, “What was his name?”
“You know who.”
Her gaze darts to his familiar-but-not face, trying to calm the strangled quickening of her heartbeat. She wonders how he knows, how he found out, how much he’s pieced together on his own. She wonders if he knows that the ghost haunting her lives within his face and inside his flesh and trapped behind his skeleton.
“Inuyasha,” she says, tastes his name. It’s been a long time since she said it aloud. It still feels sweet and nostalgic on her tongue.
He snorts. “Shit name.”
“It’s a lovely name.”
“Meh. Mine’s better.”
Kagome isn’t sure what to say to that, so she just smiles, and hopes nothing broken shows.