Miroku Tsujitani didn’t believe in ghosts.
He didn’t believe in a lot of things. He was very much of the conviction that unless it was visible, or evidenced, or tested, it didn’t exist. As deputy in the small town of Horaijima, it was his job to look at the facts and only the facts.
The fact was that the badges in front of his face looked very real, and very legitimate.
“You’re…from the FBI.” He tried desperately hard not to make it sound like a question, and for a brief moment thought he had succeeded. Of course, that was when the woman in front of him narrowed her magenta eyes to slits, hellfire practically spitting from them.
“Special Crimes Unit,” the woman confirmed, tone icy. “I’m Special Agent Sango Houko, and this is my partner, Special Agent Kagome Higurashi.”
The thing was that Miroku could believe without a doubt that Sango Houko was FBI. There was a ferocity in her stance and shrewdness in her gaze that practically screamed it. The woman was a sight to behold, even in jeans and a dark brown leather jacket. Regardless of the dress code, she practically oozed federal agent. Her partner, on the other hand, did not. She was petite in virtually every way, with long black hair and bangs that nearly hid her eyes. She wasn’t even looking at him, choosing instead to stare blankly at the ramshackle cabin everyone was circled around.
Yeah, there was no way. The forest green camisole sweater wasn’t exactly helping the woman’s look either.
“How is this a federal crime?” he asked, even though it was only half of what he wanted to say. There’s such a thing as a Special Crimes Unit?
“It’s all approved,” was all Agent Houko stated. “Feel free to call your superior.” She sounded so sure, bored of the conversation rather than aggressive. It made Miroku both extremely hot under the collar and irritated. He had always loved a woman in charge but this… Was maybe more than he could handle.
“If you don’t mind waiting here,” he suggested, not waiting for a response before turning away from the police tape to get some privacy. He signaled to his best officer, Hachi, and stepped as far away as he dared. Behind him, he heard the two women murmuring amongst themselves. Tapping into his contacts to get to the sheriff’s line, he frowned when the screen froze before vibrating. He was getting a call. Miroku shouldn’t have been so surprised it was his boss.
“Sherriff,” he greeted. Even his tone was resigned.
“Two spooks will be coming to the crime scene,” Sherriff Mushin Fujimoto grumbled. “Let them in.”
“Spooks? Really?” Miroku snorted. “That’s CIA. These are feds. You should know better.”
The old man paused on the other end of the line and the next words out of his mouth were careful, like for the first time in his long life he was choosing them with care. “I do know better, but I still think I’m right.” Another pause filtered through the line as Miroku frowned, trying to process what the hell that meant. “Let them in.”
The line went dead.
“If he’s drinking again, I swear to god,” Miroku sighed, sliding the phone back into his pocket. Great, just another thing to deal with. Whatever. If federal agents wanted to crawl around their crime scene and take it over, Miroku wasn’t going to be an ass about it. Cooperation was key and while he still had serious doubts about the woman in the green, oversized sweater, it was clear this wasn’t his place to judge.
He approached the crime scene tape, Hachi raising a skeptical eyebrow at him as he studied the two women. They were standing incredibly close to one another, whispering. When the magenta-eyed one noticed his approach, she abruptly stopped, hand tugging at the other’s sweater.
“All clear?” she asked, as if she didn’t know better. Miroku was no idiot.
“All clear. Sorry for the wait, Agent Houko.”
“No harm done, and please, call me Sango.” She gestured towards her friend. “And this is Kagome. We’re pretty informal in our unit.”
“Your FBI unit,” Miroku couldn’t help but add, compelled.
The narrowed gaze was back, but within a second it disappeared and Sango shook her head, almost ruefully. “Yeah. Mind taking us to the warehouse?”
“Sure, it’s a bit of a climb. Not a lot of useable land in these woods. Too much rolling forest. The warehouse used to be part of a logging operation until a few decades ago.”
“What happened?” To Miroku’s surprise, the voice wasn’t soft. It was also unfamiliar. The deputy looked over at Kagome, who was walking beside her partner and climbing the steep hill with ease. Despite her fragile appearance – and the way she was clearly focused on the ground rather than the world around her – there was a sort of assertiveness there he wouldn’t have guessed at.
“The money ran out,” he answered slowly. “I wasn’t even born yet but back then, the town’s only real funding came from this forest that surrounds us. Everything would be logged here and then prepared for transport. There used to be a railway connection not too far away, but a bridge crumbled somewhere and when they reworked the tracks, Horaijima was no longer a part of the route. Transport cost too much, and the money disappeared.”
“We only just passed through the town on the way over, but it seems to be thriving.” There was a smirk curling around the words; Miroku didn’t understand why. Like there was a hidden joke Sango had buried in there, if only he could read the twinkle in her eye.
Which, speaking of, damn. And that mouth?
“It’s an old, old town.” Miroku forced himself to look away, to look towards where they were going. “We mostly get a lot of that small-town tourism thing. The forest has tons and tons of hiking trails, and camp sites galore. That’s ignoring the whole haunted tours thing our commerce board has been pushing since that stuff became popular.”
Miroku couldn’t help but stare at the magenta-eyed woman, at the cool assertiveness of her expression on top of the blasé remark. “Why? Are ghost tours popular where you come from?”
Sango snorted but to his surprise – yet again – it was Kagome who answered.
“No.” Finally, the woman tore her gaze from the ground to meet his. Her eyes were dark: almost unfathomably so, like there was no differentiation between iris and pupil. “Your town is just seriously full of spirits.”
Kagome thought she was going insane.
Not for the first time, oh no. That ship had long since sailed, years and years ago. Insanity was, in many ways, like an old friend. The cloak and familiarity of it was warm, but the anxiety that presented itself along with it less so.
Five weeks. Five weeks since their last assignment, when Kagome was attacked from behind and slammed into a concrete post. The resulting blackout was expected, as well as the concussion.
The lack of ghosts, however, was disconcerting. That was why, in many ways, Kagome thought she was going insane. Because it had taken over ten years to grow accustomed to this life, of being able to see the spirits of the dead intermingling with those of the living. Not every second of every day, but often. The hairs on the back of her neck would stand up and gooseflesh would spread across her arms like wildfire.
And then there would be the cold. She was always so goddamn cold.
It was almost like putting on a new pair of glasses, where suddenly the vision she had before now included a new filter, something that allowed her to see ghosts. Sometimes there were ghosts that sought her out: to talk, to scream, to cry. Sometimes there were ghosts who simply drifted, unable to leave but never to come back to the land of the living.
And then there were the cryptic messages.
But all of this had been gone from her for five whole weeks. At first, Kagome had thought of it like a mini-vacation. Now, it felt like a part of her was missing. Incomplete. Fired from a job that she hadn’t even wanted, only to realize that maybe she needed it after all.
All Kagome seemed to receive now were whispers and smoke. Tendrils that never formed, a sigh that uttered no words. It was maddening. She could feel them, all around her. Yet she couldn’t make contact, no matter how hard she tried.
Sango knew all about it. Kagome would feel badly about broadcasting her frustration so openly, but the empath was going to know no matter how hard she shielded. Sango was one of the strongest empathy psychics ever recorded by the Special Crimes Unit. There were few shields that kept her out, and if she really tried to break through more often than not the woman could. That level of power made most of the SCU agents wary of her, even though all of them had powers in their own right.
It never bothered Kagome. She saw the dead. There were no such things as secrets with them.
Still, she had to keep an open mind. Kagome took a deep breath and closed her eyes. The warehouse that they were standing in disappeared into spotted blackness behind her lids. Focus. She had to focus.
A few feet away from her, Sango was talking with that deputy – Miroku, she believed. A nice enough guy, apparently. Sango didn’t call out any of his bullshit, so that meant any negative feelings he had towards them had been minor at worst. Then again, Kagome’s own comment about the whole spirits are everywhere definitely made him wary of her, in particular. More wary.
People tended to know she was different. A side effect of being a medium, apparently.
Christ, she needed to focus, not dwell on her insecurities.
She took another long, deep breath. Blocked the sounds of the real world out. She had practiced this hundreds – if not thousands – of times. This was what her training was for. But as she stood within the warehouse, the smell of damp sawdust tickling her nose, she knew it wasn’t happening. There was no gooseflesh crawling along her skin, no hairs standing on end.
All there was in the cavernous room were whispers. Snatches of conversation, of hushed cries and swallowed rage.
How come there’s no—
—for as long as you—
Tick. Tick. Tick.
—sation to be—
It didn’t take a genius to recognize the worry in Sango’s voice. The empath probably felt her growing desperation. “I’m fine.”
Sango raised a brow at her. “Did you see anyone?”
“Then you’re not fine,” the woman stated, not unkindly.
Miroku frowned heavily. “See anyone?”
Sango waved a dismissive hand at him. “Ghosts.”
“Ghosts,” he repeated.
“This place is screaming at me,” Sango said, shaking her head. “Even with my shields.”
Kagome was far more worried about the deputy standing just behind her, looking rather horrified. After working together for so long, she knew without a doubt that Sango would have only said it if she thought the man could handle it. The expression on his face wasn’t really selling that she’d been right this time. “He doesn’t look so happy.”
“He’s more open-minded than he thinks,” Sango murmured, almost distractedly as she took in the warehouse. “Just give him a minute.”
“I’ll need more than a minute to digest that a branch of the FB-fucking-I has — what? — a ghost hunting specialty?”
“Psychic abilities,” Kagome tried, forcing a smile. It didn’t usually work, but she always pulled it out regardless.
“Holy shit,” he whispered. “You are spooks.”
Sango grimaced and turned on him. “Really?”
The derisiveness in her tone made the deputy flinch and then promptly look embarrassed. He cleared his throat and seemed to pull himself together, one inch at a time. “I don’t believe in ghosts,” he said finally, almost ruefully. “Sorry.”
“Give it another day,” Sango answered shortly, magenta eyes narrowed. “And stop talking. I need to focus.”
“On what?” he pressed, but all Sango did was send him a glare and he fell silent. Kagome always admired that about her.
A shiver travelled up her spine suddenly and Kagome hugged herself, still and waiting. Her being cold wasn’t always a warning that the spirits were opening up to her. That had been the hardest shock of all, those past few weeks. It seemed like in the old warehouse the shiver should have meant something. Kagome could feel ghostly impressions everywhere. The whispers were still in her ears, begging to be properly heard.
—is how it all en—
—these reports weren’t filed—
Kagome closed her eyes and then opened them, once more. Nothing.
“A demon was engulfed here,” Sango murmured, voice taking on a sort of faded quality that only ever happened when she was going under, her shields mostly lifted and mind focused on what was around her. Sango could never open her shields fully; like a grenade, her empathy would look into every crevice and pore, tearing up human minds. Kagome had never seen it before, but she had heard about it. Sango’s early days at the SCU were nearly stuff of legends. “Blood splatters on the far wall, but the death happened right here. Centre of the room.”
Kagome joined her, noticing that Miroku was standing far back with wide and wary eyes. “And?” she asked.
“There’s so much evil here,” Sango murmured. “Corruption. It’s new and shiny, like oil all over the walls.” She bent down slowly to touch the floor and grimaced. “The demon didn’t know it was coming.”
“Abandoned warehouse in the middle of a forest… How did she not see it coming?” Kagome asked.
But that was an answer even Sango couldn’t truly answer. “I need to go deeper,” she declared, voice almost hushed. “There’s too much haze.” Haze meaning a myriad of emotions that were all so powerful they conflicted, messing the auras up until they all blended. Kagome didn’t understand it herself, but Sango had a way of narrowing down on those emotions. It simply meant Kagome had to protect her, watch her. Call her out, if needed.
“You need to leave the room,” Kagome told Miroku then, kneeling onto the ground of the warehouse. “I’ll let you know when—”
“I’m not leaving,” Miroku shot back. “This is my crime scene until you can prove federal jurisdiction. I’m not leaving you alone in here.”
“The evidence has been gathered, Deputy,” Kagome argued. “We can’t do any damage to the scene and you’ll only tamper with ours.”
“Your evidence?” he demanded.
Sango gave a weak sort of laugh. “It’s fine. He can stay. His signal is a pretty weak broadcast compared to all of this.”
“What are you—?”
But Kagome paid no mind to him. “Still, it’s one more thing for you to worry about, and he’ll feel it. We don’t know how he’ll react. That signal could get stronger.”
Her partner’s lips tightened. “We’ll have to take that chance.”
Kagome glared at Miroku. “Go stand at the far wall, at least. And don’t talk. No matter what happens, don’t open your mouth. Don’t open the doors. Don’t do anything.”
As the deputy processed that, Sango chuckled. “You’re starting to scare him.”
“Good,” Kagome muttered. “I can barely babysit the dead. The living are infinitely worse.” Eyeing Miroku one last time, she realized the situation was as good as it was going to get. “Alright, whenever you’re ready.”
Kagome froze, feeling like lightning had just zapped down her spine. That whisper had been stronger, like someone was right at her ear. Beside her, Sango let out a shaky exhale and Kagome had to shake herself, had to focus on her partner instead. No matter what the spirits were trying to talk to her about, it couldn’t matter now.
Sango swore quietly, her hands near clawing into the ground. “So much fear,” she whispered, squeezing her eyes tight. “He took his time.”
“Doing what?” The questions helped, or at least Sango said they did. They kept her grounded, or some sort of semblance of it. It made whatever she was focusing on blur just a little, just enough to not get lost in a sea of emotions that could take her over. Crime scenes and battlegrounds were always the worst, always the most dangerous.
“Engulfing her.” Sango hissed a little, tilted her head and then shook it. “He took his time because—”
She hesitated, so Kagome leaned closer, careful not to touch. In her own mind, a grotesque discomfort slithered inside. She knew from experience that this was excess from Sango’s powers, her empathy needing to leak or risk explosion. Kagome imagined her mental shields, coating them. “Because why?”
“Power,” Sango whispered, the word dragging out. “More of it. Discard and regain. Discard and— Here.”
Sango let out a shaky breath. “Shit, he is. A part of him.”
And that discomfort in her mind grew to fear. Big, heavy and black. It buzzed like insects, battering at her shields. Kagome took a breath, remembering her training. Yet, something else was happening. The whispers of the spirits grew stronger, whirling around Kagome’s head like they, too, were desperate to get in. She kept her shields firmly shut, locked and forgotten. She could tell just by looking at Sango that her partner was diving in too deep. Kagome would have to force her to pull back soon.
“Holy shit, what—” But that was Miroku and Kagome glared at him and lifted a finger to her lips, praying that he would stay silent. She mouthed shut up, but Sango groaned then and a fresh wave of horror enveloped her.
“Sango, pull back,” Kagome commanded.
“No, I need to find out. He’s never—” Sango hissed. “He’s never left a piece of himself. Forgotten.”
“Don’t go deeper,” she begged. “You’re already too strong.” The insects of fear were battering, relentless and terrifying on her shields. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched as Miroku slid down the wall to sit. He didn’t utter a word.
Sango grinned, but it would have looked more appropriate if it was bloody. It had that sort of viciousness in it; a predator about to pounce. “I’ll be fine.”
“Then talk to me,” Kagome urged.
“It’s…” Shakily, Sango lifted a hand to point towards a corner of the room. “There. Darkness. So dark, Kagome, get it.”
“I’m not leaving you,” she argued. “Pull back and we’ll get it to—”
“No.” Sango shook her head, almost violently. “It’s hiding. It’s organic. It knows we’re here. I can’t stun it for that much longer.”
Organic? A piece of living demon, how was that even possible? Kagome swallowed hard. “Don’t go deeper.”
Sango nodded in acquiescence and Kagome frowned but headed the way she pointed. Every muscle in her body complained at the movement, the entirety of her so exhausted. The fear was still trying to leech itself in and the whispers were worse. So much worse.
She looked and looked and looked, and Sango groaned a little in what sounded like pain. Kagome knelt to the floor, looking underneath the steel tabletop that lined the wall. There was nothing. Nothing but some empty crates, a box, a—
“Kagome,” Sango pleaded.
“I don’t know where.” And that was the sound of desperation. How much longer could Sango hold out? “Just pull back, I’ll find it. Pull back!”
“No,” Sango gritted out and then she chuckled, harsh little jabs of laughter. “I’ll force it out.”
“Don’t you dare!” Kagome yelled but it was too late. Much too late.
Sango cried out, fierce and spiteful, and Kagome felt it like a tidal wave, crashing. But unlike the fear and the buzzing and the whispers, this was Sango’s determination and will. Her own empathic drive leaking throughout the room, pulsing on every surface. Come out, come out, it demanded and there. There.
Tucked in a corner, Kagome saw something move. She lifted her cardigan just enough to find her belt and the clipped pouch that held her taser. She got it ready and made a lunge for the dark mass, pushing aside a crate to see—
Kagome pushed back, up, staggering—
No time, there was no time, she was shoved, lifted—
Everything shook, heat surrounded her and she screamed, flying.
Pain, and then—
Sango rubbed at her eyes and groaned, trying to breathe through the horrific stabbing pain in her skull. The misery within the hospital was palpable. Sango always tried to avoid them, whenever possible. Not an option today, but Sango had known from the first moment of striking fear that came out of Kagome – so sharp and metallic it bulleted through the miasma of emotions she’d already been deep in – that it would end this way.
A bomb. A goddamn bomb.
He knew they were on his trail. They were getting closer.
It hadn’t been a large one, at least. More of a taunt and threat than any kind of action. He still thought he was invincible, still ahead of them by leaps and bounds.
Sango was going to kill that bastard, come hell or high water.
“Here.” The words were soft and unbelievably kind. Sango was surprised, but also not. Deputy Miroku Tsujitani had been an open book from the first moment they spoke. What had happened at the warehouse though, before the bomb had gone off— Well, she was surprised he wanted to even look at her face, never mind talk to her.
A few ibuprofen tablets and a small bottle of water were given to her. Sango nodded her thanks and greedily chugged them down. They would do nothing for her psychic pain, but she had cracked her head pretty hard on the ground from the blast. At least it could help with that. Wincing, she licked her dry lips and attempted conversation. Miroku felt torn between hysteria and denial. “Where’s Hachi?”
“Making sure everything is wrapped up at the scene. I’ll meet him later at the station.”
Made sense. Sango tried to imagine any sort of timeline for them, getting out of this hospital and then getting back to the case, depending on how Kagome felt. She’d been able to see her briefly but the deeper into the hospital she went, the worse it was. At least her partner understood it.
“Any news?” Miroku asked, finally deciding to sit down beside her. Denial it was.
Sango nodded. “She’s okay, thank god. The steel slab she was on took most of the blast. She’s hit her head badly, will be bruised and has some cuts, but otherwise that’s it.” Laughing a little, Sango nearly choked on her words. “A concussion at worst. It’s a fucking miracle.”
Miroku hesitated and Sango could see it in his big blue eyes the hesitation there. “Was it? Or…was it something else?”
Snorting, Sango shook her head. “An actual one. We’re psychics, not comic book superheroes.”
“Ah.” Miroku looked uneasy, but he was broadcasting a fear of offending, rather than disdain for her and Kagome. With her shields shot to hell and back, Sango couldn’t block the emotions from leaking in even if she tried. “What exactly—” He cut himself off with a shake of his head.
As much as she didn’t want to have this conversation, Sango knew it was a necessary one. She also knew that Miroku was as fragile as he was ever going to be, and the open-mindedness that came with it was vital for their needs. Steeling herself as best as she could, Sango nudged him with her shoulder. “Just ask. Try simple and we’ll work our way up.”
Miroku blew out a long, heavy breath. “What powers do you have, exactly?”
“I’m an empath,” Sango replied. No matter how many times she’d given the speech before – either hurried and harsh, or slow and coaxing – it never got easier to explain. “Which basically means I’m fine-tuned to emotions. There are different kinds of empaths but I specifically can feel the emotions of others and of objects.”
“So you could tell if I’m angry, even if I’m not showing it?”
“Angry,” Sango agreed, “and I could probably tell where that anger was directed towards. Every empath has a different level of ability: some of us can only get surface thoughts, others can feel the emotions of people they’re close to, even if they’re not in the same country.”
Miroku sighed but his blue eyes were far from unkind. “Where do you fall in that range?”
“On the stronger side,” Sango stated, letting the lie roll off her tongue like it always did. There was never any point of letting him know the true extent of her powers, of the fact that Sango had been writing and re-writing the rules on empathy ever since she had joined the Special Crimes Unit and was tested.
Whether he believed her or not, Miroku simply nodded. “And your partner?”
“Kagome… Kagome’s a medium. She can see the dead and usually she can communicate with them, too.”
Miroku shivered. “Like have conversations with them?”
“Depends on the spirit.” Sango shrugged. “Honestly, mediumistic abilities are the hardest to parse through. The experience is different for almost every medium out there. Some have actual spirit guides. Others can see spirits like actual ghosts, wandering the streets.”
“So the more powerful you are, the better you can see them?”
“The easier you can communicate with them,” she countered. “It’s different than my ability. Most psychic abilities have their own kind of scale.”
“That’s—” Miroku laughed, self-deprecating. “How does that even work?”
Smiling wryly, Sango gave her usual answer. “Energy. Or at least, that’s what some of the most prominent scientists in the field are theorizing. Specifically, electromagnetic energy. Since both humans and demons have the potential for psychic capabilities, and our genetic coding is so vastly different, they’ve suggested that it has to be an external influence on our systems that’s causing such an evolutionary change.”
Miroku hummed. “Science wasn’t exactly my strong point in school.”
“Mine either,” Sango admitted, wry. “The past several years have been a crash course. But think of your brain like a radio. Radios pick up electromagnetic waves that cause the electrons in its antennae to vibrate. The radio then extracts the audio signals from those waves and plays them. The brain picks up information and processes it; that’s simple, right? Now think about it like energy: every living thing on this planet has an electromagnetic field, even if we’re forced to go down to a subatomic level. Some objects are even able to absorb that energy. So when we think about psychics, what if their brains are just able to tap into those fields? The earth sends out electromagnetic energy like radio waves, waiting to be picked up. Psychics just happen to have stronger antennae than the average person, and are able to process this information in whichever manner their brain allows for it.”
There was a long moment of silence, followed by a heavy sigh from the deputy beside her. “I know what you said makes sense but it’s a lot to process.”
“Well, buck up,” Sango replied, seeing her friend come down the hall with a nurse at her side. “Regardless of what you think, Kagome and I are here and we can catch this killer. We need you on our side.”
“I can still be on your side.” The deputy clearly hadn’t seen Kagome, his blue eyes boring holes into her. It looked like he was trying to prove himself, like his disbelief wasn’t a downfall. Sango knew this bothered him more than he let on; before today, fact and fiction were clear and divisive lines. But she also knew that people consciously or unconsciously determined what an acceptable risk was and more often than not, the psychics were seen as unfortunate tragedies if things went bad. Guess they couldn’t read minds after all, if they got shot.
Letting out a long breath, Sango turned away and headed towards her partner. Kagome felt…perplexed. A weird sort of emotion, a swirl that wasn’t all that familiar to Sango. They’d been partnered for years and this emotion that rolled off of her friend was strange, alien. “Are you okay?” she asked, unable to keep the worry from her tone. Professionalism had never been a problem until she had met Kagome.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Kagome answered, giving a small smile. Her eyes slid in a rush to some point over her shoulder and Sango frowned, following it only to see Miroku slowly getting up from the waiting room chair.
“How’s your head?” she pressed, edging closer.
“It’s been worse,” Kagome admitted with a laugh. “But it’s been better, too. I’m honestly okay,” she reassured, holding Sango’s hand for a brief moment. It was a gesture and Sango gratefully took it, letting her powers shift and flow between them. Whatever emotion Kagome had felt walking down the hallway was gone, replaced by fondness and amusement and a low-level of contentedness. Her shields were surprisingly strong and Sango nearly sighed with the relief of it wrapping around her. Her headache became nothing more than a dull throb, the screaming of emotions more like muted shouting in another room.
A side effect of their bond, built over years together. While Kagome would never be an empath, and Sango would never be a medium, the two of them could connect, sharing energy between them like a circuit. It was, in part, why their partnership was so perfect, why they could never lie to each other.
“Did you want to go back to the motel?” Sango asked, but Kagome was already shaking her head, determination flowing through her.
“No, we need to see what survived the blast, if that organic matter is still there.”
“We can rush it through the lab,” Sango agreed. “See if it’s our guy.”
Kagome grimaced, and for a flash of a second, irritation swept through her like a tidal wave, crashing hard before swelling away. Sango frowned but her partner shook her head firmly, dark brown eyes pleading.
Fine. Sango could wait.
“I’m going to head back to the station,” Miroku announced, breaking their little bubble. When Sango’s shields had been nothing more than tatters, she hadn’t been able to help noticing Miroku in every single moment. Now, with Kagome’s shields helpfully wrapped around her like a blanket, she’d forgotten to pay attention at all. “Hachi says the crime scene techs have something for us. I’m going to check it out; I can send you details if you want to give me your number.”
Sango squeezed Kagome’s hand, raising a brow at her and getting a responding quirk of lips. “No,” she said finally, “we’re going to come with you. We want to check out whatever it is.”
To his credit, Miroku only opened his mouth before shutting it with a click. His blue eyes practically scanned Kagome from head-to-toe, and even though he vehemently disagreed, the deputy said nothing. “Fine. Need the address?”
“No, we’re good,” Kagome replied, as kind as ever. “Thank you though.”
Miroku eyed their linked hands for a second and for the briefest moment, Sango felt a sharp pang of jealousy. It was dulled, more of a nudge against Kagome’s temporary shields than anything else, but it was there. “You drive,” was all he said, pointing at Sango before turning around.
Kagome watched him go with a smile. “He’s a little dramatic.”
“And stubborn,” Sango sighed. She could at least appreciate the view of him walking away. The uniform was oddly tight in all the right areas. “He won’t commit.”
“You know as well as I do that one psychic experience doesn’t necessarily break down the tunnel vision,” her friend chided. “He seems nice, though.”
Sango sighed again. She had a feeling she’d be doing it a lot. “Yeah.”
Together, they walked out of the hospital and into the nearby parking lot. It wasn’t until Sango got to the driver’s side that they let go of each other and Kagome waited, watching, making sure she was okay.
“I’m good,” Sango conceded, wincing only a little as her powers got that tiny bit stronger. “We’ll pick up coffee on the way, that’ll help.”
“You’re the only person I know that says caffeine in any way helps the psychic healing process,” Kagome laughed, buckling into the passenger side. “Are you okay, though? I should have asked.”
“Just a little empty on batteries, but I’ll be fine. You and I both know we don’t have a lot of time.” The admission was a grim one, but a fact nonetheless.
“Yeah, we—” Kagome paused, shut her eyes for a second and then laughed. “Sorry. I’m okay.”
She felt…strange. Different. That odd and horrible feeling from before was back. Sango tried not to dwell on it and started the car, leading them out of the parking lot and towards the police station. They had passed in on the way to the hospital, when Sango was chasing the ambulance with Kagome inside of it. Between the two of them, they had ground rules. A partnership like theirs – with psychic powers that were naturally invasive no matter how well one shielded – meant that they needed them. The best intentions were useless. Which was why they promised to never lie to each other, but they would back off if someone wasn’t ready to say something. Clearly, Kagome had something to say, but Sango was torn as to whether to mention it or not.
Kagome tilted her head to glance at the rear-view mirror. It was enough to catch Sango’s attention, but before she could say anything her partner groaned. “I look horrible.”
“What?” Sango asked, confused. Kagome seemed to search the rear-view a bit longer, but she slumped back over to her side, defeated. “What are you talking about? You were just in the hospital because you survived an explosion.”
“A miracle,” she commented lightly, and Sango narrowed her eyes, remembering when those same words came out of her own mouth. The problem was, when Kagome said it, it didn’t sound as realistic.
“What happened at the scene? What am I missing?” Maybe this was what Kagome was edgy about. Maybe something had happened, something that she didn’t know how to explain. That could account for the feelings radiating off of her, nervous and confused but not afraid. Perplexed.
Kagome rubbed at her face. “Not much. I went to get the organic matter and I saw it, briefly. But… Well, when we were in the warehouse, the spirits were trying to talk to me. I couldn’t—I couldn’t hear them properly, not with how my head’s been. They were just whispers or cut-off sentences. I didn’t see anything.”
“They warned you,” Sango guessed and her partner grimaced, tilting to look back into the mirror before nodding.
“Tried to, anyways. But you know how it is. It doesn’t always make sense. All I could hear was this whisper of a tick. Erratic. Clearly a voice and not something mechanical. It didn’t sound like a bomb. I didn’t realize until I actually saw it.”
For a moment, they were quiet, Sango trying to process it all. Kagome’s powers always seemed far more muddled than her own. It made Sango, at times, jealous. Mediumistic abilities were often shrouded in riddles or games, the dead unable to think in the same way as the living. Kagome had once said that it was because of the veil, because of the other plane of existence, where things that happened there didn’t necessarily happen in the world of the living. Even science couldn’t touch it.
“I don’t know how I managed to not die,” Kagome said finally, words heavy. It was only now that the slow slinking of fear oozed out of her, wrapping itself around them in the car. “I guess I jumped but I don’t—”
Sango took her eyes off the road, realizing that Kagome was once again looking in that rear-view mirror. It made her want to tear it out. “You’re fine,” she reminded her friend gently, reaching over to squeeze her hand. “We’re still here.”
Kagome nodded and closed her eyes, looking for all the world like she wanted to have a nap.
“I can still take you to the motel.”
“No,” Kagome answered. “I’m okay, really. My head doesn’t even really hurt. Or, it hurts just as much as the rest of my body.”
Sango held back a sigh but really, she didn’t want to complain. With everything that had happened today, a fight with her partner wasn’t exactly on the list. When Kagome looked at the rear-view mirror for the fifth time, however, Sango was more than a little suspicious. There was no one following them; the road was empty. But she knew Kagome, better than virtually anyone else in her life. Kagome’s emotions were like a favourite playlist, something easily accessible. Their frequencies just aligned, and while Sango was extremely strong in her ability, it was Kagome that made them work so well. She was strong and steady, despite her fragile look.
But right now, there was something tremulous in her emotions, in the way she held herself.
“Kagome,” Sango said, as gentle as she had ever been. The interruption startled the black-haired woman, made her blink almost owlishly at her. “What’s wrong?”
At first, Sango knew she was going to lie. Her mouth opened, caught, and then she shut it again, clearly thinking ahead. There was no point in lying to an empath. “My abilities are back.”
“Shit, really?” Sango asked. “The hit to the head?”
“Probably,” Kagome allowed. Her dark brown eyes skittered back to the rear-view mirror before looking away.
“You should be happy.” It was a question, just as much as it was a statement. The past few weeks had been hell for the medium, lost without the one thing she never wanted in the first place.
“I am. I– I am,” she reaffirmed, but her tone was off. The way she said it sounded almost defensive, when Sango wasn’t even remotely aggressive. “It’s good that they’re back. Not that I was useless before but–” She cut herself off and Sango was torn between watching the road and staring at her friend. This was weird. This was beyond psychic ability weird. Kagome was clearly not in a trance – which was the only way to describe what it seemed like when she was communicating with spirits – but these stutters in her sentences were almost like the medium was having a conversation with someone else.
Someone Sango couldn’t see.
“Kagome,” she tried again. “What’s happening?”
The woman’s swallow was audible. “I think… I think my abilities have shifted a little.”
Kagome winced. “There’s less of a veil, now. Less of a distinction between our world and theirs. At least to me. The spirits are more…solid. Like they’re really here. I thought— Yes, I thought one of them was actually alive until a nurse walked right through— Oh, shut up, will you? My name is Kagome. Ka-go-me!”
Her partner groaned and buried her head in her hands.
Sango spared a glance in the rear-view mirror but saw absolutely nothing. “There’s a spirit in the car with us.”
Kagome nodded. “He was there, at the warehouse. I heard— He was the one that was trying to warn me but that was before— I told you I couldn’t hear you properly!”
“He sounds like a dick,” Sango stated. She glared into the mirror for good measure, just in case.
“It gets worse,” Kagome sighed, and the sound of it was weak. Sango had seen the woman at her worst, at her most exhausted. This… This was something else entirely. “He was murdered a long time ago. Like…centuries ago. And the thing that killed him? There’s a good chance it’s the same monster that killed the woman in the warehouse.”
Sango blinked and then immediately pulled over onto the side of the road. She made the distinct effort to put the car in park and to turn on the emergency lights. Done, she turned to her friend and looked at her. Really looked at her. “Kagome, that’s not—”
“Possible?” The medium laughed but it was far from happy. “He’s not lying, Sango. Spirits can’t lie. They can evade, they can riddle, or they can be vague, annoying inconveniences. But they can’t lie.”
“Who is he?” It seemed like the only question that made any sense.
“Inuyasha,” Kagome breathed. “His name is Inuyasha.”
All Kagome had wanted was to leave the hospital.
Hospitals were terrible things, at least to psychics. No matter what kind of power you had, the energy of the building was overwhelming. The sheer volume of thoughts and feelings, the hum of electricity, the wandering dead up and down the halls. It was hell to even the least powerful of psychics and while Kagome was no Sango when it came to strength, she wasn’t a lightweight in her category either.
Meditation typically helped. It was something that she had had to practice, over and over, for months and even years. Sometimes, Kagome still couldn’t get it right, couldn’t sink down into that headspace to simply be. It was easier now, over time, but the atmosphere of the hospital was oppressing and Kagome kept her eyes closed and her breathing even out of sheer, blinding willpower.
In hindsight, she should have kept her eyes open.
“Who the fuck are you?”
Startling out of her meditation, Kagome nearly leapt off the bed. Training had her instantly reaching for her holster where a taser or gun would be waiting, but neither were on her. It took a second to locate him, there on the chair that was closest to her bed, the one Sango had been sitting on for a while when the empath could stand it.
How had this guy snuck in?
“Who are you?” Kagome shot back, edging as much as she could towards the other side of her mattress. He was closest to the door so she would have to fight her way out. He was lean but his clothes hid most of body. Any muscle or bulk would be hidden.
“I asked first,” the man snapped, irritated.
“You’re in my room.”
Kagome bit her lower lip and considered. He seemed agitated but not violent. There didn’t appear to be any weapons on him, though his clothing was…odd. Very old looking, like he wasn’t—
“Hey, wench! I asked you a question.”
“You don’t get to talk to me that way,” Kagome stated, trying to keep her voice calm. If he was violent or armed, it wouldn’t do her any good to provoke him. “I’ll tell you but you need to calm down.”
The man shot her a disgruntled look, mouthing the words ‘calm down’ like they were foreign. He didn’t argue though, or say anything else. He looked at her expectantly and it gave Kagome a full second to finally take him in. Silver hair with ears that were canine in looks, golden eyes and clawed fingers; he clearly had demonic heritage, though his strengths weren’t overly visible.
Kagome let out a long breath before taking the plunge. “My name is Kagome. Who are you?”
The man narrowed his eyes, his scowl deepening before he shrugged sharply. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It does to me.”
A snort. “Inuyasha.”
“It’s nice to meet you.”
“Uh-huh,” he grunted.
Before she could ask another question, a nurse bustled into the room with a pleasant smile plastered on his face. He held a clipboard in hand, which he checked for only a moment before asking, “Ms. Higurashi?”
“You’re all good to go,” the nurse told her kindly. “I just want to get your blood pressure once more before you’re on your way, if you don’t mind.”
Kagome wondered why they always took it but she simply nodded. The easiness of the moment was completely shattered seconds later, when the nurse came right to her bedside and lifted the chair out of the way.
The chair that Inuyasha was on.
Inuyasha didn’t move so much as he changed, the nurse passing through him as he went from supposedly sitting to standing.
Inuyasha was a ghost.
Kagome could feel her heart rate exploding, so she took a deep breath and tried to slow it. Not letting her mind think of all the possibilities, she glared at the bedsheets while the nurse came back and got ready.
The first reading came back a little high.
The second reading was still high, but better than before. It was enough to leave, anyways, so the nurse promised to give her a few minutes to change before coming back to bring her out. The moment he left, Kagome jumped off the bed and got right into Inuyasha’s face. “You’re dead.”
“Great observational skills,” Inuyasha snarked, crossing his arms. “I thought you were supposed to be better at this shit.”
“Better?” Kagome reeled at the implication. She felt compelled to demand clarification because there was absolutely no way he was referring to her abilities. “At what?”
The ghost scowled at her, but at this point it seemed more like a default expression. His eyes were golden and intense, something that only a real living human could show off. Ghosts weren’t supposed to be this real looking, this—this solid. It was almost like if Kagome reached out, she could touch him and her hand would be stopped rather than passing right through.
You didn’t touch ghosts, though. Unwritten rules, or at least, Kagome thought so. Other mediums all agreed and those few who had done it – accidentally or on purpose – all said the same thing: the energy fizzle was intense and the ghost rarely ever appeared to them again.
The guy seemed rude but he was a ghost with unfinished business, still roaming the earth. That meant Kagome could help him. Touching was a no-go, no matter how real he looked.
“You’re a medium, aren’t you? That’s the right word?”
The questions jarred Kagome from her thoughts, distracting her with their directness. “Yeah, yes. I am.”
“Then how the fuck come you didn’t realize I was a ghost?” Inuyasha scoffed again. “You didn’t even hear me in that fucking warehouse and now look at us.”
“That was you whispering in my ear,” Kagome realized, the knowledge creeping in. “You were trying to warn me about the bomb.”
“I was warning you. You ignored me.”
“I wasn’t ignoring you,” she corrected. “My powers were… Weak, for a bit. I had an accident. They seem to be—” Well, back wasn’t necessarily the right word. If Inuyasha was a ghost, then that meant Kagome’s powers had to have changed. She had never before seen ghosts in such a way, like they were just as solid as the living.
Her therapist was going to have a field day.
“Why are you here?” Kagome asked instead, trying to distract herself. There were too many questions that needed answers, and during the middle of a murder investigation was not the time.
“Can’t be answer else.” Inuyasha shrugged. “I try to leave, and I do, but eventually I end up back here again.”
That made Kagome frown. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Wench, I’m dead. I have no fucking clue.”
“How long?” Kagome pressed, gentling her voice. “Have you been dead, I mean.”
If the question took the ghost by surprise, he didn’t show it. His face remained a mask of displeasure and irritation, his scowl near permanent. “You think I can keep track?”
“Just—” She bit back her sigh. “I’m trying to understand.”
Inuyasha’s jaw clenched, but he answered. “A long fucking time. Centuries.”
“Did I stutter?”
He was annoying for a ghost. Kagome was used to dealing with spirits that were easily distracted, not all there or simply stubborn. This was a whole new level.
Through the closed door of her room, a commotion could be heard, dragging her gaze away from Inuyasha’s scowl. It was only then she realized that the nurse would be coming back shortly to take her to reception. She needed to get ready quickly. “Turn around or go away,” she demanded, rushing over to the bag Sango had dropped off for her.
“What? What for?” Inuyasha asked. His voice had become extra gravelly with his confusion.
“I need to change,” Kagome hissed.
“I’m a ghost.”
“You don’t look like one,” she shot back. “So turn or go. I don’t care. This is weird enough already.”
“You’re weird enough already,” Inuyasha muttered darkly.
Kagome rolled her eyes and changed as quickly as possible, throwing her hair up into a ponytail like it could hide the horror it had just gone through. She could feel the ends on the left side all singed, the hair fragile. There was no saving it.
“If you had just listened to me, you could have avoided the bomb altogether.”
Snarky. That was the ghost’s default state it seemed. Kagome tried not to groan. “I was attacked a month ago, hit to the head.” She tugged on the oversized cardigan until it felt like it was covering her enough, even though it wouldn’t do anything to chase out the cold. “I mostly lost my powers. I could still sense spirits but I couldn’t communicate with them.”
“You seemed to be trying hard enough.”
“I was.” Her insistence wasn’t necessary, but there was something about the way that Inuyasha goaded her that made her want to scream. Where the hell was the nurse? She was ready to go, to disappear from the hospital and never come back.
“You hear me now though,” Inuyasha stated, his golden eyes narrowing like he could see right through her if he tried hard enough.
“Well, if I knew all it would take to get my powers back was another big hit to the head, I might have done that a while ago.” Kagome glared at the doorway. “Although I wouldn’t have asked for this.”
Kagome spared a glance his way before focusing back to the exit. “You look real even though you’re a ghost. Normally, any spirits I talk to look…very much like you would expect a ghost to look like.”
Inuyasha grunted and she didn’t have the first clue on what that meant.
Maybe the nurse was side-tracked by something. Would she be able to go to reception and sign out herself? Tapping her fingers on the bed, she asked a question for the sake of distraction. “Why were you at the warehouse anyways?”
Kagome huffed. “At the warehouse, you were there and now you’re here. Ghosts only exist for unfinished business, good or bad, and they’re always bound. It could be a person, a place or an item. So which is it?”
Inuyasha frowned at her. “Bound?”
She nodded absently. “Until your business is resolved or you let go. Sometimes those things are one and the same.” Taking advantage of the momentary silence, Kagome debated if it was better to just leave and hope that they could pull up her paperwork without issue. She’d been in enough hospitals to know that that wasn’t always the case, and leaving a room when you weren’t supposed to could cause bigger issues than just staying and waiting.
Inuyasha’s sudden movement caught her eye and it was only then Kagome realized the ghost hadn’t answered her. Frowning, she thought back to her question. “Inuyasha?”
“What?” the ghost growled out.
“Why are you here?” The words were spoken softly, carefully. Little jagged puzzle pieces started to whirl in her mind, desperate to click together.
“I can’t leave,” he snapped. “Just like before.”
“The hospital?” she asked, even though she knew the answer. It couldn’t have been the hospital. He had been at the warehouse. He had been trying to warn her.
“No, to him.” Kagome could feel her chest pause mid-inhale, knowledge making the puzzle pieces slide into their final places. “It’s always been him.”
“The one who made the bomb,” Inuyasha answered, sneering at her stupidity. “He left a piece of himself, remember? It was the only reason I could get away, even for just a moment.”
The one who made the bomb. The one Kagome and Sango had been chasing for years.
“How do you know him?” Kagome asked. She knew her voice sounded weak, but there was nothing she could do about it. Shrieking alarms blared in her mind.
For a second, the scowl disappeared. It was replaced by something far, far worse: acceptance. “He killed me.”
He killed Inuyasha… And Inuyasha had died centuries ago—
“Are we all good?” called out the familiar nurse’s voice, the door opening just a crack.
Following him down the hallway was like walking through a fog.
The thing about Kagome’s power was that there was a method to it. She wasn’t always in the veil, for lack of a better phrase. She wasn’t always able to actively communicate with ghosts. Outside the veil, she would sense them, see shimmers. In the veil was like walking into an old-fashioned movie: muted colours, a sort of muffling of sound from the real world, and then the ghosts who were transparent but there. It took effort. Not only that, but there were signs. Her body reacted to the shift in energy, like the hairs on the back of her neck standing up, or goosebumps covering her arms. Kagome always knew. She knew when she was in the place between worlds, when there was a ghost nearby or if something was haunted.
But right in that moment?
She had no idea. Kagome had spoken to Inuyasha and assumed he was real—
Kagome gave a bitter laugh. Well, at least she had her powers back.
In a daze, she finished up what the nurse needed at reception before following his directions to go to the waiting room. The entire time, Inuyasha hovered near her, a looming presence that made her skin tingle. It wasn’t the same as the usual warning signs, but maybe this was a new adaptation of her powers.
Shit, Kagome needed to tell Sango before her partner figured it out on her own. They didn’t keep secrets from each other and this was a very big secret. The only problem was that Miroku was there, in the waiting room along with Sango when Kagome found them. Right away, she could tell her partner was able to sense something was wrong but Kagome pushed it down, reached out instead to help.
Kagome could hear Sango’s little sigh as their fingers intertwined, her shields wrapping around the empath like she knew they would. It was with that offering that Sango knew to wait, that Kagome would answer her questions as soon as the deputy was out of their way.
That brought them to now.
Now, she was sitting in the car, trying to swallow past the lump in her throat. Sango believed her – of course she would believe her – because they were partners, and this was what they did. But even Kagome knew that this case was strange, much stranger than the dozens before it. It was like the moment they got into Horaijima, everything flipped upside down.
She didn’t want to look at the rear-view mirror again, if only to ignore Inuyasha’s scowling face.
“So how does it…work then?” Sango asked tentatively. “How is he even in this car?”
The question made sense. A lot of people didn’t realize but even hauntings weren’t like the way they depicted in the movies. Ghosts weren’t able to actively interact with the world. They moved through it, untouched. It was like…a skipping of planes, almost. A flicker of them leaving one room and entering the other. There and then gone. They couldn’t sit on things like chairs. Only a ghost with extreme strength and energy could move objects, shake walls, and other things ghost hunters liked to rave about.
This. This wasn’t like that.
Inuyasha wasn’t leaving her side and it appeared that he couldn’t. He was also, apparently, sitting rather competently for a ghost.
“Are you gonna answer her?” Inuyasha barked from the backseat. “Because I’d really like to know myself.”
Kagome tried not to flinch. “He’s different than other ghosts. I see him differently,” she replied, trying to keep her voice level. “He’s solid, almost like he’s real. His voice is the same as if you’re speaking to me. I’m not—I’m not in any kind of trance, and the usual signs that I’m looking through the veil aren’t there.” No goosebumps. No hair standing on the back of her neck.
The coldness was there, but Kagome hadn’t ever remembered a time when she was warm.
“Are there other ghosts, too?” Sango asked. Perversely, Kagome wished she had a moment of the empath’s abilities, a moment to feel exactly what Sango felt. Was she justified? Was she over- or underreacting?
“I feel them but I can’t tell, really. Could have been because it was the hospital but—He’s different.”
“So I’m special, then,” Inuyasha growled out and Kagome couldn’t help but twist in her seat to look at him directly. It was almost as shocking as it had been in her hospital room: he was simply there. Real-looking, even though he wasn’t.
“In a matter of speaking, yes,” she told him. “I’ve been a medium almost my entire life and I’ve never experienced a connection with a ghost like you.” Kagome shifted back around to turn her attention to her partner. Sango was glaring into the rear-view mirror like it had personally offended her. Kagome was grateful for her beyond words. “He thinks he’s special.”
Sango snorted. “Uh-huh. That’s what all the boys say. So what do we do, now? We’ll have to call the boss. Sooner or later, he’ll find out and then we’ll both be in trouble.”
“Let’s work the case like we planned,” Kagome stated. She nodded firmly to herself once the words were out, like the affirmation could settle into each body movement. “My powers are back and even though they’re different, they’re not dangerous.”
“They could be,” Sango pointed out. “What if it’s not just him? What if he isn’t special and more ghosts come to you?”
“What if I’m not special?” Inuyasha repeated, horrified. Kagome didn’t have to turn around to know that the scowl was back in full force. “To hell with that. There are no other ghosts.”
“No other ghosts yet,” Kagome corrected him. “But I could feel that the hospital was full of them. Maybe I just didn’t notice because I assumed they were living, or maybe you are the only exception…” The possibilities started to spin out, more and more stressing, until Sango reached over the console to grab her arm.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go to the motel?” she asked.
Kagome considered it – really considered it, unlike at the hospital. A part of her thought it would be the smart thing to do. Being alone in the motel could allow her some time to feel out her powers, to assess the extent of the changes. But thinking about doing that was terrifying, and this case couldn’t wait. Sango and Kagome had already risked so much for it and this was the first time in a while they had found anything remotely useful.
No. She would see this through.
“I’m sure,” Kagome answered finally.
“Okay,” Sango said, “but at the first sign of trouble, you tell me and I’ll get you out.”
The conviction was enough to bring a smile to her face. She nodded and they drove the rest of the way to the police station in silence. Even Inuyasha was quiet, though he never left. While they ordered coffee in a drive-thru, the ghost remained studiously silent, scowling out the window. Kagome wondered, not for the first time, what it would be like to be a ghost. To be trapped and to watch the world go by.
Unsurprisingly, when Kagome asked the question to them directly, they never really answered.
The police station sat in a beige building at the intersection of two busy walking streets. It was on the corner so Sango grumbled as she pulled around to the back of the building for parking. She chugged at her coffee and grimaced, probably at how hot it was. “How many people do you think are in there?” the empath asked, her magenta eyes focused on the building before them.
“A couple dozen, probably.” Honesty was the best policy and besides, Sango was asking because she needed to prepare herself and her shields. Knowing the number of people didn’t really help, but it was a way for the empath to brace against what may be coming. “If it gets too much, we can take the files back to our motel. I’m sure Miroku would come.”
Sango snorted, but whatever joke there was, Kagome didn’t understand. “Yeah, okay. Ready?”
“Ready,” Kagome affirmed, just as an errant thought caught her attention. She looked towards the back seat, but Inuyasha was gone. Where had he—?
Outside. Kagome could make out the red robes through the glass, as well as his bright hair that looked completely white in the sunshine. “Actually, I need a couple of minutes.”
Sango raised a brow, but Kagome simply pushed her feelings outwards and let her partner figure out the rest. “Want me to wait?” she asked eventually, taking a casual sip of her coffee. It was like she was trying very hard not to be overprotective, and doing a terrible job of it.
“No, I’m good. You get sorted inside, let them know I’m coming. I’ll meet you in five, ten minutes.”
“You know what to do if you need me.”
Kagome smiled and got out of the car. It took Sango only a couple minutes to climb the stairs and get around to the front of the building. Inuyasha was still standing beside the car, unmoving and unhappy. His scowl appeared to be a permanent feature. “You’re still here,” she opened with, going for light and easy. Ghosts had never really hung around this long, not unless Kagome was doing something important for them – like finding their body, for one.
That case still gave her nightmares.
Inuyasha blinked slowly at her, as if he had to remember what he was doing. Why did he feel the need to blink as a ghost, or was the action just so deeply engrained? The scowl, if anything, got deeper. “What?”
“You’re still here, following me.” Kagome waved her hand between them. “You’ve already saved my life and you know I’m fine. Why are you still here?”
“Maybe you should have stayed with the healer,” Inuyasha grumbled, arms crossing against his chest. If someone could describe the action as angry, then that was exactly how it looked. “You’ve lost your head.”
“I’m fine,” Kagome told him, just like she told her partner. It wasn’t even a lie, at this point. “And I’m going to catch our killer—your killer.”
“By all means.” He glared at her with those golden eyes.
Kagome was clearly missing something and while she didn’t feel bad, exactly, her headache still existed. It was a dull throb, like the way her head felt a day before a storm, right behind her eyes. “Why are you still here?”
“I told you, wench: I can’t leave.”
“Because you’re tied to your killer, I know.” Kagome rubbed at her temples. She should have accepted the ibuprofen they offered her at the hospital. “Were you planning on staying with me until it was done?”
“No, but I don’t get a fucking choice in the matter.” Inuyasha splayed his arms wide, face scrunched up in distaste. “I’m stuck.”
Of course he was stuck, he was a ghost caught in limbo. Kagome already knew this, already knew that he was tied to—
Groaning, Kagome turned towards the rental car and gently rested her face on the metal frame. This wasn’t happening. How could she be so dumb? It was so, so obvious. Blindingly obvious. No wonder the ghost thought she was an idiot.
“The explosion,” she murmured, mostly to herself but figured Inuyasha probably heard anyways. “It was you saving me, wasn’t it? I didn’t jump. You pushed me.”
“You didn’t hear my fucking warnings,” Inuyasha growled. “What else was I supposed to do? Let you blow up like the rest of them?”
“You touched me.”
“Yeah, well, when you’ve been dead long enough you’ve got time to focus on shit like that.”
“Like sitting down on real objects.”
At that, Kagome looked up to blearily find his face. There was no longer a scowl in his expression, though it seemed a little lost. “What?”
“Not that. I’ve never been able to do that.”
Kagome took a deep inhale. “When could you start sitting on things?”
The ghost shrugged. “When you were in bed, with the healers. You were unconscious and your partner was—” He waved a hand irritably. “I don’t know.”
Okay. Kagome could work through this. It was basic training and Kagome was good with working from the basics. “The energy of the explosion was significant. If you touched me just as my powers were trying to protect me, when the bomb was starting to explode—” The transfer could have been enough to connect them psychically. It wasn’t unheard of in their division, though usually it was between two psychics rather than a medium and a ghost. “You’re tied to me now, not your killer.”
Inuyasha grunted. Kagome couldn’t tell if that was good or bad news for him. For her, it was an inconvenience at worst. Inuyasha’s presence would be distracting, but she had the benefit of not suffering her usual symptoms while speaking with ghosts. It shouldn’t be too difficult to continue on with the case, and if Inuyasha had been killed by their target—
“You can help us,” Kagome stated, though it was more of a plea. “Help my partner and I track this monster down. We kill him and then you’re free. You could move on.”
“Even tied to you?”
Kagome nodded. “He’s the reason you’re still on this earth, not me.”
“Fine, whatever,” Inuyasha replied, arms crossing yet again. “But I don’t know what I can help you with. I died a long time ago.”
“Anything you can tell us would help,” Kagome pressed, as earnest as she could be. “I’ve only been able to connect with a handful of his victims but none of them were able to say much more than the—” She cut herself off. Inuyasha probably knew all about the pain inflicted.
“I wasn’t like the others,” Inuyasha growled.
The ghost huffed and turned away slightly, body tilted towards the sun. Whether he was intentionally seeking out the light or not, Kagome would never know. Each ghost had their own quirk, just like humans. “I don’t remember when I died. No dates or time or whatever. We didn’t—We didn’t count days like you do now.”
“That’s fine. How—”
“It’s not fine,” Inuyasha snapped, and there it was: the first trace of anger. Much like the other ghosts who were murdered by their target, the unjustness of it all made them vulnerable and volatile. “Nothing about this is fine. I want him dead. I want to watch as he’s dismantled piece-by-fucking-piece and then when he’s here, stuck with me, I’m going to destroy him.”
That wasn’t how it worked, but Kagome knew better than to argue. “I’ll help you.”
“No one has ever been able to help me,” Inuyasha growled. “Nothing has ever worked. Everyone who has tried against him has failed.”
Kagome shrugged and went for honesty. “You’ve met Sango. You felt her power, right, in the warehouse? She never fails. Her and I? We never fail, Inuyasha. We won’t fail on this either.”
The ghost pressed his lips together, jaw clenched. His gaze was intent, like he could assess her very soul from the veil. She held firm, reminding herself over and over that Inuyasha was dead. He wasn’t real and he couldn’t kill her, not unless she let down her shields.
“I was the first,” Inuyasha said slowly, each word like a dangerous knife digging into soft flesh. “The first person he killed. And all I remember is being betrayed.”
Miroku really wanted to go home.
His shift was long over, but that didn’t mean shit when there was a local murder and two feds on his doorstep. The sheriff was being—well, his usual self, which meant Miroku was doing the brunt of the work. Before this little murder, he wouldn’t have minded. The biggest issues their little town faced was disorderly conduct or the odd domestic dispute. It wasn’t gunshots, or major drug trades, or murder.
But Miroku didn’t sign on to do the easy work. He had gotten used to it, sure, but that wasn’t what made him want to be a cop. He wanted to help people. He wanted to do the right thing. With that in mind, he took a deep breath and waved the local M.E. away.
Sango entered just as he was exhaling. Of course.
“What have we got?” she asked, no nonsense and all business. Miroku wanted to appreciate that about her, but he couldn’t get his mind to think past she’s a psychic. That label didn’t necessarily lend itself well to ‘no nonsense.’
“This is all they could pull from the scene post-explosion,” Miroku answered automatically, pointing towards a tray of heavily damaged and burnt flesh. He pretended it was just badly cooked meat that didn’t once belong to either a human or demon. “They’ve run some preliminary tests but we’re limited on the data we have. As far as they can confirm, it’s organic matter.”
“Helpful,” Sango muttered under her breath, but a second later her shoulders dropped and she made an effort to look at him. “Can we at least confirm whether it was human or demonic?”
Miroku grimaced. “Well, that’s the problem. They’re running the tests again. Initial reports stated that the flesh was a mixture of both.”
“A half-demon,” Sango stated, but Miroku was already shaking his head.
“No, and that’s why it’s a problem. When they run the tests, they always pull in a batch – different sample sizes from an area, as long as the evidence is large enough. It’s to ensure the data is reported as conclusive. They ran three tests on the organic matter: two came back as demonic DNA, while the other one came back human. Not as a half-breed, but as completely separate DNAs.”
It didn’t make sense. Miroku was still boggling. He had never heard of anything like that before. It made him want to poke and prod at the matter on the table, but on the other hand the thought made him sick to his stomach. Had their killer pulled a Frankenstein and attached pieces of mismatched flesh to a bomb?
He expected Sango to look just as confused and horrified as he did, but if anything, her shoulders fell more. Miroku wasn’t an empath – he was pretty sure that’s what she called herself – but he knew what relief looked like on a person’s body. That was relief.
She had her phone out, fingers flying on the screen before pocketing it. “Alright, this is good. We’re here for the right guy.”
“This right—” Miroku was unable to finish that statement as the door opened once more, letting a tired-looking Kagome inside.
“Sorry,” the agent apologized. “What’s going on?”
“It’s him.” Sango spoke the words with a gravitas that Miroku didn’t expect. She looked at her partner and Kagome pressed her lips together, nodding. “We’re close.”
“You mean it’s not a lab mistake?” the deputy asked. “This is the evidence you were looking for?”
“Basically,” Sango answered. “We’ve been hunting down a killer for the last few years, connected to at least twenty murders that we know of.”
Miroku raised his eyebrows, surprised, but it was Kagome’s reaction that startled him even more. The girl turned sharply to the right, her face wincing hard before she repeated, “That we know of.”
“You think there are more?” he questioned.
Sango nudged her partner before answering for her. “Without a doubt.” She grabbed her phone again before waving it. “I’m going to make a few calls, get this properly on the books so your sheriff doesn’t have a fit. I’ll be right back.”
She left the room before Miroku even had time to suggest they head towards his office first. With a shrug, he turned to Kagome, wondering if he would ever be able to see the woman as something other than fragile. She was just so small, and her sweaters engulfed her to make it seem even worse. Special Crimes Unit or not, Kagome didn’t seem like an agent in any way.
“We can head to my office, if you’d like,” the deputy suggested, gesturing towards the door. “The M.E. is probably going to yell at me soon anyways.”
“Sure.” Kagome smiled at him but she quickly turned her face away, lips pursing.
Miroku didn’t know her well – didn’t know either of the federal agents well – but the woman before him seemed so much harder to understand than her partner. He led them out but couldn’t help but sneak glances Kagome’s way, taking in the way she constantly fidgeted, the way she opened her mouth to speak and then closed it again.
The moment they entered his office, Miroku closed the door and raised his eyebrows at her. “Are you okay?”
“What?” Kagome asked, confusion warring on her face. “Yeah, no, I’m fine.”
“You seem…” What was the right word? “Conflicted.”
Slowly, the woman’s lips curved upwards, more in a twitching motion like she didn’t mean to do it. A smile was inescapable though and it surprised Miroku when she laughed. “It’s been a long day.”
“No, obviously,” Miroku stated. A part of him wanted to retract his statement – she had almost been blown up, of course she was fidgeting – but the other part of him knew people. He knew how to talk to them, how to relate to them. Kagome was an enigma wrapped up in a black shroud, but he could get through to her too. “It seems like more than that though.”
She shot him an unimpressed look, strong enough that Miroku automatically raised his hands to placate, apologetic. “I’m fine, Deputy,” Kagome said then. “I know you want to be— Friends, I guess. Friendly. Sango said you were that kind of guy within the first minute we met you. But it’s better this way. You wouldn’t want to know the truth.”
Miroku crossed his arms and thought about it. He took in her battered face and the dark circles under her eyes. It was stupid, really, but the thought flashed into his mind unbidden before he could stop it. If she can handle it, I can too. “I promise you that I do,” was all he said instead, voice coaxing and gentle.
Her expression made him think that the tone was probably the wrong way to go about things, but the agent shook her head with something like exasperation. “Fine, but you don’t get to freak out.”
“I managed not to last time.”
Kagome’s lips twitched into a smile. “Barely.”
Miroku gestured for her to get on with it.
“There’s a ghost in here,” she said finally. Kagome didn’t put on any voice; there was nothing theatrical about the delivery. It was simple fact. “He’s been following me since the warehouse. Talking to me.” She made a face at some point to his left and rolled her eyes. “Mostly snarling at me.”
“A ghost?” Miroku looked in the direction she had been staring at but there was nothing. Absolutely nothing. No shimmering outline. No…ghostliness. What had he been expecting, really? He wasn’t a—a—
“He’s upset that you’re taller than him.” Within a second, Kagome went from faintly amused to full-on beaming, bright as anything.
That seemed, somehow, more impossible than the fact that she could see or talk to ghosts at all.
Kagome tried to ignore Sango’s worried looks the whole ride back to their motel, but it was hard to do so in such a small space. Cars weren’t really ideal for avoiding your psychic partner and with a ghost in the back, she felt almost claustrophobic.
“Is he still following you?” Sango asked finally, letting go of the steering wheel briefly to touch her arm. “The ghost.”
Kagome smiled wryly. “Yeah, so about that.”
“Nothing really,” Kagome assured her. “It was just our talk from earlier, before we went into the station. But I think we figured out some things, like why he’s still around.”
“I’m right here,” Inuyasha growled. Kagome didn’t need to look into the rear-view mirror to know that the ghost had his arms crossed with a scowl on his face. Default expression, indeed.
She chose to ignore him. “He’s the reason I’m still alive. He pushed me just before the blast, and the energy of it has somehow connected us.”
“Connected you?” Sango frowned, magenta eyes focused on the road as she indicated into a turn lane. “In what way?”
“He’s tied to me now, rather than his killer.”
“You mean our guy?”
Kagome nodded. “But here’s the thing: Inuyasha said he’s the first person our perp ever killed.”
“What?” The rental car was swung onto the side of the road.
Kagome clenched her jaw but forced her shoulders to relax. Behind her, Inuyasha was growling, pushing himself forward between their seats. “What the fuck is her problem?” he exclaimed, claws digging into the seat. Or, they would have been if he was alive.
“Kagome, why didn’t you say anything earlier?” Sango demanded, just as Inuyasha continued to yell, “Is she losing her mind?”
“I can’t answer both of you at the same time,” she tried calmly.
“Tell him to go away,” Sango said. “I need you here, focused on this. We have a real chance to take this guy down.”
“As if you’d even catch him,” Inuyasha snarled.
“This is what we do, I told you this,” Kagome sighed, but that just made the ghost turn to glare at her instead. “You agreed before.”
“No, I said nothing,” Inuyasha argued, “because no one has ever come close. He eliminates them, just like he almost eliminated you both a few hours ago.”
“What is he saying?” Sango asked. Kagome didn’t have to look at her partner to know she was upset, but there was nothing she could do about it. “Kagome, send him away.”
“There’s nothing I can do,” Kagome told her, shaking her head hard enough that her bangs swung into her eyes, stinging them. “We’re connected. It’s like a bond, tethering him to this world.”
“What?” Inuyasha snarled. “You said I was still tied with that—”
But Sango was talking too, louder if that could even be believed. “That’s not how your powers have ever worked before! He’s distracting you. Every five seconds you look at him or—or for him, I don’t know, I ca—”
“Enough,” Kagome begged. She pressed her hands to her eyes, trying to breathe. Beside her, Sango took a deep breath as well. Inuyasha didn’t make a sound. “Please, I can’t do this right now. I have a massive headache and it’s late and my powers are completely different than before. I have no idea what’s going on.”
When she opened her eyes again, Sango was staring at her and it was sad. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “That was shitty of me.”
“No, it’s fine.” Kagome sighed, tugging at the ends of her sweater. “I should have said something back at the station but it’s weird. I’m used to calling a spirit, or seeing them suddenly, and then once I have the information, they disappear on me. Or, they disappear before I have the details, it’s always—” She huffed out a breath. “Well, you know. But this is different. Inuyasha isn’t leaving and he looks real.”
“I am real.”
They were the first words out of his mouth that weren’t a little bit angry, edged with something vicious. Kagome twisted in her seat to stare into the back. Inuyasha was pressed on the far side, face nearly to the glass. He was gazing outside, but she couldn’t tell if he was hiding his emotions or simply tired of looking at her. “Sorry,” she breathed out. “I meant ‘alive.’”
Inuyasha grunted and still wouldn’t face her.
“You said he thinks he’s the first one our perp killed?” Sango asked, gentle where she hadn’t been before.
Kagome nodded. “And ghosts don’t lie. They omit, or give shitty riddles, but they never lie.”
“What’s he saying now?”
“He’s not talking at the moment.” Covering her face with her hands, she sighed once more. “If he’s the first person murdered at the hands of our killer, maybe we can get incite into motivation. Into why he’s been doing this. Somehow, Inuyasha has remained connected to him and ghosts don’t usually—” Last that long. Eventually, all ghosts ran out of energy though the stronger the ghost, the longer they existed for. Ultimately, ghosts disappeared, becoming little more than wisps of their former selves once the energy drained away. Unable to communicate. Unable to leave. Trapped. But Inuyasha was whole and solid and real, right there. His strength must have been extraordinary.
“Inuyasha can help.” Sango nodded, lips in a grim line. “We know our killer is like a weird version of a half-breed. Human DNA and demon DNA combined. We don’t know how, but maybe this holds the key as to why our killer has been able to survive for this long. Even demons can’t live for more than a few hundred years. Can Inuyasha tell us anything more?”
Kagome turned to look at him again but where he was once sitting was now empty. She frowned, startled, and twisted more until she could see outside the car windows. It wasn’t until she was almost in a panic that she realized he stood outside in her blind spot, several feet away. He was staring into the forest that ran alongside the road they were on. “I don’t think so,” she whispered eventually. “He’s… Away, for a bit.”
“Away?” Sango frowned. “I thought he couldn’t leave you, that was the point.”
“There will still be some rope,” Kagome answered, wondering just how far that distance extended to. “Like a ghost tied to a piece of jewelry could haunt an entire house, rather than just the room it was in.”
“You can ask him later then,” Sango sighed. “Did you want to call him into the car?”
“I probably should.” Kagome took off her seatbelt and climbed out of the sedan. Inuyasha didn’t even look at her. He was only a few feet away, but he seemed a little less solid than before. She blinked and narrowed her eyes, trying to get him into focus. Maybe she was more tired than she thought, or the headache was getting to her. Inuyasha normally looked far more…outlined. This was almost like he blurred at the edges, a watercolour painting. “Inuyasha?”
“What?” he snarled. There was the anger, again.
“We’re leaving for the motel. Did you want to…get back in?”
Inuyasha’s shoulders tensed. If Kagome didn’t know better, she could take the handful of steps needed to get close to him and touch them, feel the warmth under her fingers. It was a lie, but the thought was distracting.
“No,” the ghost answered eventually.
Kagome blinked. “No?”
“No.” He whirled around, golden eyes like a burning fire. “Or was that too hard to understand?”
There was a choice to make, and it was one Kagome didn’t feel she had the tools to decide with properly. She was too exhausted, too burnt out. Between the explosion, her headache, the change in her powers, Inuyasha’s distracting presence and Sango’s desperate draining of her shields…
Kagome was out. She had nothing left to give.
“Okay,” she said softly. Opening the car door, Kagome almost missed him muttering out, “It’s not like I won’t come back.” It wasn’t a placating comment to make her feel better. This was gritty and raw, hurting at the edges. It was an insult. It was her chaining him. Inuyasha was angry, like so many other ghosts in his position. Kagome understood that pain to an extent, but this seemed so, so much worse.
Sango raised a brow at her expression. “Is he in?”
“No, but you can go,” Kagome answered, taking another deep breath. She could get through this. A good night’s sleep would do her wonders. “It’s not like he won’t come back.”
The words hurt to say, but for some reason, it felt necessary for someone to hear them. Someone other than her.