Continuing Tales

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 34 of 42

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Tales from the House of the Moon

"A song for all of those
who shot and missed."

- Propaghandi, "Showdown"


You will be remembered.

And that was that.

Kagome listened to his voice as she replayed it, over and over, in her head. It was so peculiar; she should have trembled at those words, for they were the most intimate that she had ever heard him say, but instead she was merely calm.

His claws were still tantalizingly tangled in her hair, his lips just a waver in resolve away from her skin, and though Kagome could feel her heart hammer wildly in her chest as it begged for more, for some reason it seemed far away. It seemed like a habit that she just couldn't be bothered to break.

She was cold. The rain had plastered her clothes to her body, making them chilled and heavy, and she had to keep blinking so that her eyes would not be filled with water. Oddly enough, she wasn't going to cry.

Which was strange, Kagome reflected, because she should be crying. His breath ghosted hotly over the shell of her ear, and Kagome wondered, smiling a little, if he truly realized the scope of what he had just said to her.

Probably not, she decided.

Story of our lives.

Perhaps he had only meant to comfort her in his strange way, but also, in his own strange way, he had given her his words to pry open and find the meaning inside, though such a thing wasn't always kindness; she could never be certain of what he truly meant.

The words that he spoke, the words beneath the words, were so tiny, so small -

He had promised more to her than just his memories. He had promised that she could decide her fate. He had promised that she could go on and he would not stop her. He had promised to trust that she would succeed.

He had promised not to intervene.

Which, of course, was how it should be, because he was never a part of this story, and she shouldn't have dragged him into it in the first place, and it would be so presumptuous to think he would even want to help her at all. Even if he did, this was an offer that required only pity to make.

She didn't want his pity, and she didn't want to say anything that might guilt him into another choice that he would regret, and she was so tired of regrets.

Kagome felt the past slip through her veins, beneath her skin, as much a part of her as her blood.

There had always been... choices... to make, but she had never really felt as though there were any real choices, because all the options were so dismal that she could only pick one and desperately hope that it was correct. Since that first moment, when she tumbled down the well at the age of fifteen, she had been swept along, making the best of things, sometimes stumbling beneath the force, sometimes knocked off her feet with the strength of it, and then -

- when it had stopped, she found that she had forgotten how to walk forward.

Always, always, she cast her gaze back, always behind, waiting for the future to happen to her again, but of course, when she found herself in the place she wanted to be, everyone she needed had all walked forward while she was looking back, and left her behind. All her hope, all her unfulfilled love had arrested her, stopped her in her tracks, and in the end it had just been Kagome - good, kind, selfless Kagome - who was alone in the middle of the road, her head turned to the path behind, cradling her regrets in her hands.

Well. That was not exactly the truth. She was not entirely alone.

A shuddering breath ran through her.

If this had truly been a fairytale, Kagome thought to herself, she would have stayed with Inuyasha. If this had truly been a fairytale, she would still be well-loved, pure and beautiful and happy.

If this had truly been a fairytale, Sesshoumaru would have never lost the little girl that followed him on bare, dirty feet. If this had truly been a fairytale, he would still be dark and fierce and content with conquest and the power he held.

But she was alone, and he was still dark, but that darkness was deeper now, and he was restless, full of an endless ennui that she had never seen in him before Rin had died. And still the difference between them was that she had stumbled upon Inuyasha, had tumbled into the jewel, into fate by accident, but he had chosen Rin.

He had no one to blame but himself, and Kagome had no one to blame at all.

Kagome heard herself give another sharp little laugh.

No, this was how things would be. Whatever he chose - to give her his strength or to cut himself free - would be of his own volition. She would never ask; she would never desire his pity.

Kagome swallowed, tasting the rain in her head.

She felt sad, in a detached sort of way, because even if he had wanted her, she could never have been with him. It was too dangerous to stay here, too dangerous to open herself, too dangerous for both of them to turn in place and remember how to step forward again.

This is all out of my hands now, she thought.

Her fingers were moving, floating up until they hovered achingly close to his beautiful hair - his stupid, stupid pretty hair, she remembered suddenly, the memory brimming with what could have been either laughter or tears - but with a very immediate pang she stopped and forced her hand back to her side. Biting her lip, she pulled away just a little.

Sesshoumaru immediately released her, though she thought he might have let his fingers linger in her hair a moment longer than necessary, and she drew back so that she could see his face in the damp, dim light. He was looking at her with that same fierce scowl, the one he wore when he found the world displeasing, though she thought he might have appeared slightly more discontented that usual. It was probably just her imagination, though.

She smiled at him.

"I'm going to change my clothes and say goodbye," she said. "Then we can go."

He stared at her.

She just smiled back, because, really, what else was there to do?

Sesshoumaru, for his part, was still feeling slightly muzzy from her proximity, and whatever he had expected her to say, it had not been that. Their words had twisted him up into impossible knots and he wasn't certain that he could undo himself in time to respond. For a moment his brain coughed and sputtered as he struggled to catch up to her.

"Go?" he finally said, sounding stupid even to his own ears; the fog that seemed to shroud him made his voice too loud.

But Kagome merely nodded. Little rain droplets cascaded down from her hair, though the rain that filled the night between them was fading.

"Mm-hm," she said. "I'm ready now."

Sesshoumaru blinked.

He was on the verge of opening his mouth again and asking her what, exactly, she was ready for, but she did not give him a chance to do so. Instead she simply rose to her feet and walked calmly to where her backpack sat, in relative dryness, beneath a tree. She didn't seem to notice - or care - that the rain had soaked through her garments, and the cloth she wore had become tantalizingly translucent.

It wasn't until nearly a full minute after she had passed into the trees that he gathered his wits enough to wrench himself away, and wretchedly, Sesshoumaru closed his eyes and tried to remember her exact words.

We can go, she had said. I'm ready now.

He felt something shift, sharp, jagged edges pushing against him.

Slowly he stood and began to wring the water from his sleeves, comb it from his hair, but his mind wasn't really on the task at hand. Instead, he replayed her voice over and over in his head, and each time he did he liked her tone less and less. She had sounded... calm. Collected. Just a few moments before he could hear a quavering, bittersweet note beneath her question - will you forget me? - but that had not been present when she had pulled away.

It disturbed him.

She was going to say her goodbyes. She wanted to go to Edo now. Not tomorrow, but now, because she was ready to fight, which meant that she was ready to die.

The thought shouldn't have left him with such an ache in his chest.

Abruptly, Sesshoumaru shook himself. Weak, he thought with a sudden surge of anger, and the ache inside him flickered. He swallowed hard, forced it down, felt it disconnect from him and float out into the night.

This is the way things are, he thought. But no, not that.

This is the way things ought to be.

Slowly, his fingers slid through his hair, letting the rain fall from him as he wondered why he felt so heavy. He'd always told himself that she might die, might be suddenly pulled out of this world and into the next, so obviously he was perfectly fine with the idea. The only difference now was that she had accepted the possibility as well, and so now she would be able to fight. So really, this was a good development, he concluded distantly, not a poor one.

Why didn't it seem like that, then?

With measured steps he walked to the gleaming pile of metal and bone that was his armor and began dismantling it. As he tugged each piece slowly and deliberately into place he struggled to ignore the strange impulse to drop everything, to dig his heels in and refuse to take her anywhere. It was a stupid impulse; after all, it was he who had decreed that they would leave for the end of their journey the following morning. This was simply a slight change in plans.

It was even a good change, Sesshoumaru decided mildly, since it would allow him to return home slightly sooner. That was a comforting thought, surely. He would go home, and Kagome would go on to do whatever duties she had to perform; whether she lived or died in the execution of those duties was of no consequence to him. After all, he was only here to keep her safe from his own enemies as she trained; he was not responsible for anything else.

Besides, it wasn't inevitable that she would die. He had said that himself, hadn't he? There was nothing in the story that dictated it be so.

- but there was something she had said, wasn't there? Not about dying, but about something else, and the world was spinning a little too fast, on the edge of control. If he wasn't careful he was going to stumble, was going to fail, and something was very, very wrong -

There was a noise behind him, the gentle mutter of a footfall on wet leaves, and Sesshoumaru turned to see Kagome standing across the clearing in her miko outfit. The thick cloth she wore was still dry, and her damp hair was pulled back as best she could manage. There were little tendrils escaping, though; little imperfections, everywhere.

The ghost of pain flared in him for a moment before he quashed it ruthlessly and felt nothing again.

He was silent as Kagome glanced down at her feet and seemed to shuffle in place without actually doing so before looking up and smiling too brightly.

"I'm going to the shrine," she said. "Are you going to be here when I get back?"

The sense of wrongness, of angles in the world where there should be none, grew sharper, more pronounced. Curtly, Sesshoumaru shook his head. "I will come with you," he said. "We will leave from there."

For a second she seemed slightly taken aback, but her confusion passed and was gone, replaced by her brittle smile once more, replaced by the shutting of the door behind her eyes, leaving him abandoned outside.

He saw her nod before she turned toward the shrine and began to walk. Sesshoumaru followed.

There was a cold anticipation in the pit of his gut, and he kept waiting for her to turn her head, to look behind her one last time, and yet she never did. She just kept walking, through the dark and damp, her eyes straight ahead, feeling her way when she could not see. High above, rain collected on leaves, grew into fat drops, and pattered down. He listened to it falling all around them.

The rain had petered out to a drizzle by the time they reached the shrine steps, but lightening still flickered in the sky. Sesshoumaru stopped at the base of the stairs.

Already five steps up with one foot poised on the next, Kagome turned and gave him a curious glance. For a moment there was a question on her tongue, but instead she just smiled at him and turned back to the steep climb. If he came with her, he came with her. If he didn't, he didn't.

Kagome let her eyes fall on the steps beneath her feet as she slowly made her way to the top. In the depths of her head, she could hear little phrases, disconnected and meaningless, tumble over one another, important thoughts begging to be born before -

That was all - just before.

I'm going to die, aren't I?

She reached the top of the steps as another flash of lightening illuminated the courtyard in front of her. The wet alabaster stone looked eerie in the sudden light, but she crossed it anyway, to Fuyu's hut.

Fuyu and Kazuo were both there. The old miko was kneeling next to the cooking fire while across from her and further away from the flame, the threadbare samurai lounged wearily. Kagome thought, distantly, that it was amazing how tired he appeared all the time. In the long angry shadows of the stormy night, he looked like a corpse.

On the other hand, Fuyu gazed at her from where she sat, not bothering to turn her head from her contemplation of the flames. The old woman was just as intense as ever, and, just as she had done the very first day they met, Fuyu pinned her with those bright, painful eyes that Kagome knew would never waver.

Kagome wished she could be more like Fuyu. Kagome wished that she could stare the world in the face without flinching…

It was Kazuo who spoke first, dropping his voice into the fire-filled silence.

"You are going," he said mildly. It wasn't a question, simply an utterance of fact.

Kagome nodded. "It's time," she said. She thought, for a moment, that there was something else she should tell him, but nothing came to her so she simply caught her breath before closing her mouth a little awkwardly. Maybe there was nothing else, or maybe he heard it all, in the words beneath the words, the ones that she didn't say and couldn't even hear herself.

Either way, he simply nodded.

Kagome turned to Fuyu, who seemed to watch her guardedly.

"Are you ready?" the old miko asked after a long moment. The question hung in the air.

That's not a good question, Kagome thought mistily. Ready for what? But she needed to be ready for anything, so she just nodded, because she had been here too long, Sesshoumaru had been away too long, and who knew how many people had died in Edo? She had to be ready now, even if she wasn't.

Then she saw Fuyu sigh, and for the briefest of moments Kagome thought her face was filled with a sorrowful resignation, a bone-shattering surrender to her melancholy thoughts.

"What," the old woman said softly, "will your youkai do without you, girl?"

The sound of the rain picking up filled the small hut.

Kagome swayed. Fuyu had sounded tired, so sad. But perhaps more importantly - because of what consequence is sadness? - she was old and cynical, which, in the right light, could pass for wisdom.

Kagome could feel something building in her, an epiphany so sour she itched to open her head and pour it out. In the space of a breath it suddenly flashed bright, like lightening in her brain, and everything was illuminated.

Very slowly, very quietly, Kagome thought, It doesn't matter what he'll do. I am the young hero. I have journeyed a great distance, have studied under my master, and now I return to my origin to fulfill my destiny.

And then she thought, This is a fairytale.

Because that was the story, but that wasn't all of it, and Kagome thought: stories don't mention wooden spoons and twenty straight days of fish and rice. In stories, when people get sick, they never ooze or scream or go blue and cold with shock. In stories, the hero never wakes up from nightmares, doesn't drink away all his memories, doesn't try but fail anyway.

And then she thought: characters aren't people, so none of that is important, to a story.

And she thought: I am not important.

She almost laughed.

She was so much more important and worth so much less than she had thought, because Kagome didn't matter, only the destiny she had to fulfill. So there was no need for her to feel anything at all. The heroine was necessary; Kagome wasn't. And it had always been like that.

Fuyu was still waiting for an answer, and Kagome realized that there wasn't an answer - no important answer, anyway. It didn't matter what Sesshoumaru would do, because the story would end, and so would they. The world would not stand still for them, no matter how badly she wanted it to, and so there was only one answer to give, because it had always been the truth.

Gently, Kagome shook her head, and murmured quietly, "He's not mine."

She could almost feel a strange swell of emotion in the room, but it wasn't a necessary part of what she had to do, so Kagome merely unshouldered her backpack and set it next to her. Then she unslung her bow and slipped her wakazashi from beneath her obi before lowering herself to her knees.

In the quiet of the room, she placed her weapons in front of her and bowed low, her forehead touching the ground.

"I am humbly grateful for your kind indulgence," she said. Her voice was clear and steady. "Thank you very much for training me."

There was only silence after her offering of thanks, and behind her eyelids she could see it stretch out almost languidly, a fragile peace, just like the peace in her heart. Kagome waited for a moment, listening to herself breath, before she straightened.

Kazuo was sitting up, and Fuyu had turned toward her. Slowly, reverently, Kagome slid her weapons into place and pulled her backpack over her shoulders.

Her fingers seemed weak, twigs wrapped in her dried-leaf skin.

She stood.

In the light of the cookfire, Kazuo's eyes glittered oddly.

"When you come back," he said suddenly, "you will drink with me."

Far away, there was a little stab of pain in her heart, and in her head she heard the faint whispers of another voice -

- when you come back, I will tell you then, come back, I will, when you, I will tell, when you come -

- but it was nothing of importance.

Kagome smiled and nodded before bowing low at the waist. Then she straightened and nodded at each of them.

There seemed to be a mist in her brain, and both of them were painted against the blue night in tones of orange and red. They looked sick and ill, and in her chest she felt the flutter of what might have been sadness, but she was just a heroine now so it meant nothing.

She smiled at each of them again, and then, on feet that seemed to float through the ground, she turned toward the door.


She stopped.

It was Fuyu who had said it. Kagome blinked slowly, trying to process the old woman's words, but they were too loud, too flat in the mist, and she couldn't quite understand what was happening. Distantly, Kagome felt her brow draw down in a light, curious puzzlement, and she cast a glance back over her shoulder.

The old woman's back was hunched, and the look she gave Kagome was one that was hard to recognize but easy to know. Here eyes were hunted.

There was a long pause, and there were words floating in and out, between them, but Kagome couldn't hear them any more, because they weren't important, but oh, she wished, lightly, absently, that they were.

Then, without warning, the old woman broke her gaze and turned toward the fire.

"Don't break," she said, voice flat and hollow, her eyes fixed on the dancing of the flame in front of her.

For a moment the heroine was speechless, was Kagome again, and she hurt, but the future would meet her whether she wanted it or not, so she had no choice.

I can't break, she thought. Heroines don't.

And really, there was no guarantee that she would live long enough to even crack.

Kagome nodded her head once, sharply, and then turned away from them and walked out the door into the rain.

She was never certain how she got across the courtyard or down the steps - nothing seemed real, and she was high on adrenaline and sleeplessness - but Sesshoumaru was waiting for her when she arrived.

Her steps came to a stop, and she looked at him in the dimmest of light; she couldn't see his face, only his form, but that was of no importance.

"Okay," she said to him.

He didn't reply.

Instead she saw him, just blackness on blackness, silently turn and kneel. After a moment her trembling, breathless hands found him in the dark.

Then Sesshoumaru scooped her up and took off into the sky.


They flew on in silence for hours, though it was difficult to measure the passing of time as the night turned toward the dawn; it seemed that all of Japan was under grey skies tonight, and Kagome wished that this lovely bit of symbolism had survived the years and the transcriptions into the story that she had read. She might have brought a raincoat, if she had known.

She was tired, too. She hadn't had any sleep since the previous morning, and adrenaline would only carry her so far. If she was going to do the job she had to do, and if she had to do it now, then sleep was a good idea and so for most of the trip Kagome dozed with her head on Sesshoumaru's shoulder.

Meanwhile Sesshoumaru was trying to sort through the threads of turmoil in his head, which was odd since everything was actually very simple.

Send Kagome to Edo. Go home. Kill everyone. Get on with life.

See? Simple.

I have no obligation. No obligation, no obligation, no obligation, he thought, over and over. That he felt as though he had an obligation did not mean that he actually had one. It meant he was simply not in his right mind at the moment.

And there was still that damnable feeling, curled up in the recesses of his head, that something was amiss.

Sesshoumaru ignored it, and raced on.

The sun was hidden, but he guessed it was just past midday when the smell of the village - unwashed human, sewage, and yes sickness all over - slammed into him, like a wall. He would have coughed were he not clenching his teeth and keeping a tight grip on himself. Sesshoumaru scowled.

Kagome was still sleeping on him. It was the third time she had fallen asleep on him, he noted, and he was indifferently disappointed to say that the first two times had been markedly more pleasant. Sesshoumaru also thought, in a vaguely distracted way, that she was awfully trusting for a creature who had, without warning, shut him out of herself.

She was leaving though. He could not find it in him to be petulant.

Her slender, well muscled legs were warm beneath his hands. Gingerly, he jostled her.

Kagome immediately came to life. "Mm?" she said drowsily. He felt the weight of her head leave his shoulder.

"We have arrived," he said curtly. With strange detachment he found himself wishing that she were already gone, that leaving was already over. He wished that he didn't have to actually walk away.

Kagome did not appear to take issue with his abrupt tone. Instead she simply said "thank you" and slid from his back to the ground.

The road was wet and slippery - the compact dirt was slathered in a thin film of mud - and the sky above was a dirty grey that made him itch to sweep the clouds away from the sun. He watched dispassionately as Kagome scrubbed the sleep out of her eyes and adjusted her belongings.

Finally she looked up at him.

Sesshoumaru swayed, a sense of vertigo sending him reeling inside his head.

He had been so close to falling into her just a few hours ago, and now that the time for that - for everything between them - had passed, he ached all over. His head ached, his groin ached, his stomach ached, his fingers ached, and she wasn't helping, didn't seem to notice it at all, which was wrong, wrong, wrong because she was the only person who knew him.

But Kagome was still smiling innocently, as if everything was fine.

For a brief moment, Sesshoumaru gave in and shut his eyes.

This is fine. This is fine. This is how it should be. Fine, fine, fine -

God, yes, all right, okay, it was fine, but it also wasn't and he wanted, irrationally, to reach out and shake her back into the scared, sensual woman he wanted, the wise girl that he knew so well, because this creature in front of him was so flat and dull, so not-Kagome that he felt as though she were already dead.

Sharp shattered edges grated over his insides, and Sesshoumaru strained to hear her say the right words, except he had no idea what the right words were.

He opened his eyes as, in front of him, she shifted from foot to foot. There was no distance any more, not at all, and he strove to keep his face blank, to keep emotion from his eyes, and tried to shut her out as thoroughly as she had him.

She seemed to be waiting for him to do something.

But there was nothing to do, nothing to say, because, even if she lived - and she might, he whispered to himself - there was too much between them to pick up where they had left off, and if she died - and she might not, oh please she might not - anything more would leave things unfinished, frayed and incomplete, just another hole that would never be filled.

And so Sesshoumaru said nothing. Instead, he fixed his eyes on the dirty grey horizon and walked right past her without a word.

Kagome swallowed as he brushed by - the cool, damp silk of his sleeve ghosted over the back of her hand as he passed - but perhaps it was best that he said nothing to her. She was just a burden to him, had been all along, really. If she had been wiser, he would still be secure and stable, right where he belonged. He was merely washing his hands of her, and so there couldn't be a final, fond farewell.

None of this was important.

Kagome closed her eyes.

Against her will, she felt a tickle at the back of her throat that seemed dangerously like the beginning of the descent into despair, and she would have been alarmed if she hadn't known, didn't accept the way things had to be. There was no point in her caring, so she didn't...

He was behind her. His back was probably to hers, both of them acknowledging that this last moment was unimportant. They were over, and that was the way it was.

The end.

But -


Silence crashed in.

All around the air grew thick, and Kagome realized that she had spoken without meaning to do so, had not imagined her voice, had not simply entertained the idea of tasting his name one last time.

Over and over his name whispered and repeated inside her head, like snow falling heavily from branches into the stillness, like pebbles tumbling down a mountainside.

She could feel him waiting. At the edge of her mind, Kagome thought she could hear the breath that he had trapped in his lungs at the sound of his name on her lips.

But no, now was not the time to want, or need, or care, or -

"Sesshoumaru," she said, staring at the road in front of her, her own words startling her. With a detachment that slowly dissolved with each word, she listened to herself speak.

"Sesshoumaru, promise me that you'll not lose everything," Kagome said, heart numbly twisting and tossing in her chest. "Promise me that you'll win."

She didn't care, right? She didn't care, it didn't matter, she didn't care -

She heard him snort, a strange noise that she had not expected to hear from him again, but she knew exactly what he meant by it, and, unbidden, a small, amused smile surfaced.

A smile.

Alarmed, Kagome inhaled sharply, fought to suppress it. Smiles were not allowed, because no one cared if the heroine was happy or amused or sad -

- she heard the sound of breathing -

She was dizzy, so dizzy, and she dimly registered the fluttering of her eyelids as she struggled for the control that only came from refusing to struggle.

Don't start missing him now, she thought fiercely. Don't think things will be different just because you want them to be. This has already happened, this is destiny, this has already happened, this is fate, this has already happened, this is done -

But even as she thought these things she knew she was slipping. Her serenity, her enlightenment wavered, and though she knew that grasping for it would only end in it slipping further away she could not help but try.

You don't regret anything, she told herself, knowing that any moment now it would all hit her, you have his memories and that is enough. Enough!

He had to be gone, she had to make him leave before she lost it.

When she was certain her voice was neutral, meant nothing, betrayed nothing, she spoke.

"Goodbye," she said.

The end.

But -

It seemed that he remained there, behind her, for a very long time, and Kagome knew that even though she was on the road to Edo, on the road to where she would end, she also knew that roads always went both ways - but people weren't supposed to look back, so no power in the world could transform the direction of the path she had to tread -

"Kagome," he said.

Kagome could not reply, could not turn around. She could only stand and listen to the tiny heartbeat -

- the sound of waiting -

The breeze picked up, rustled his silk haori, his silken hair.

She heard herself breathing.

And then -

"Like the morning," he said at last.

- it all came tumbling down.

"You smell like morning to me."

And then he was gone.


Kagome stood in the middle of the road, perfectly still, for a very long time, her peace and resolve irrevocably shattered, all her revelation gone with his words.

Like morning, she thought.

Like morning.

She trembled.

God, it was so stupid how his withholding of that one answer had assumed such importance, and now that his secret was finally shared, there was nothing left. Everything had been done.

She could not turn. She knew, intellectually, that he was gone, and yet she could still see him in her head, standing poised and pristine in the middle of the muddy path that went both ways. In her mind's eye, she could still see the soft liquid fall of his hair, the shine of his clothes, the perfect boredom of the beautiful face that hid him from her. And yet perhaps the memory of him that remained was more truthful than the hole in the world she knew she would see if she turned around.

Because, really, it was never his absence that had made him unreachable.

She thought all her regrets had disappeared when she had accepted her fate, but that was wrong, so wrong. There seemed to be something lodged at the back of her mouth, as though all her unsaid words had crawled out of the darkness of her heart and into her throat, begging to be voiced before she reached breathlessness, reached voicelessness, reached nothingness.

Eyes wide and unseeing, Kagome stared at the ground, to which all things returned, and, filled with trembling, awestruck horror, she thought: Is this how a life ends?

It just stops

At the base of her throat was a knot so huge that she could not breathe, could not even cry around it. It hurt.

She was an idiot. She hadn't been enlightened, hadn't accepted her fate at all, and yes, yes, she wanted him to fight with her, wanted him to choose to be with her in the heat of battle - not out of pity or mercy, but because he cared, just like she cared for him. But maybe he didn't care at all, and that was even worse than pity.

She had to go on without him, even though she found the idea so, so frightening.

Miserably, Kagome studied the mud beneath her shoes and wondered why she was so lost. She used to jump right into battle, not caring for the consequences or for her own wellbeing, always trying to help her friends, always putting her life on the line for strangers that she didn't even know - where had that fearless girl gone? What had happened to her between then and now?

I want a happy ending, she realized suddenly. Haven't I earned a goddamn happy ending yet? I don't want to fight, because if I die then I'll never find one.

But, really, she knew that no such thing existed, so even if she didn't fight, even if she didn't die, even if she waited forever, she still wouldn't find one.

There is no happy ending for me.

Angrily, Kagome clenched her fists.

God, she wished she was in a story. If she were a character in a story, she might get it right for once. She was supposed to be good and strong, noble and kind, without doubt or sadness, but that was never how it had been.

Her arrows sometimes missed, she hurt people, was needy and dependent, and the only thing she had ever really been good at was holding the hero up when he faltered, and in the end she hadn't even been allowed to do that. At best, she was just a supporting character.

Somewhere in the distance, over the horizon, thunder mumbled feebly to itself.

Kagome squeezed her fists tighter and felt the skin pull across the backs of her fingers.

Then she blinked.

For a moment she didn't move, but then, slowly, as if she were afraid of startling herself, Kagome let her hands float up to her face and stared at them.

Shining white scar tissue stared back at her.

Dazedly she unfolded her fingers, and she felt as if she were seeing her own hands for the first time: every nail was cracked and broken, each fleshy ridge was tough and calloused, and scars slipped and slid over the skin, pooled in hollows, gleaming silver.

The wakazashi weighed heavily at her hip.

After a moment Kagome let her hands fall. Of its own accord her left hand settled lightly on the hilt of her sword.

Ah, she thought.

She was standing in the middle of the road to Edo. She knew that she could glance back, right now. She could turn her gaze to the path behind, over her shoulder, and wait for her destiny to meet her; she was good at that. She'd had a lot of practice.

But she didn't have to. And maybe she wasn't a very good heroine, but she wasn't just a supporting character, either.

Kagome smiled.

Then she slowly tilted her head back, gazed up at the grey sky as it settled in between the damp branches above her, and, face to the clouds, stepped forward.

Strange how easy it was. She lowered her chin and looked forward, setting a brisk pace.

There were no sounds around her - the air was heavy and almost oily, and no wind stirred the leaves above. In the trees the birds were silent.

Perhaps another storm was coming, Kagome thought idly. She hoped it would hold off until she finished her battle.

She walked onward.

Ten minutes later Kagome crested a hill and found the path sloping away into a field. Beyond the grass Edo hunkered down, clinging to the ground as if the whole village was afraid of falling off the world. Kagome hesitated for a moment at the top of the path, then quickly shucked her backpack from her shoulder and hid it behind some bushes. Then she checked her bow and quiver - full - and continued on.

This was the place she had seen the dark spirit feeding from people. The pile of corpses was gone, but their scent lingered, and the stench of sickness still hung in the air. Before, Kagome would have gagged, but it appeared that all that work she did for Fuyu had inured her to such things.

There was a small child playing in the dirt outside one of the sick-huts, and she looked up as Kagome approached. Before Kagome had a chance to smile reassuringly at the little girl the child gave a small scream and leapt to her feet.

Kagome stopped, startled.

What the - ?

A woman hurried out of the hut, took one look at the miko standing bewildered in the middle of the field, and scooped the child up and took off running in the opposite direction.

After a moment, Kagome heard some shouts in the distance, and then, at the edge of her consciousness, something cold and dark stirred, and she remembered the feel of the eyes that followed her when she fled to the west.

There were more people, mostly men, running down the path from the village, and Kagome was shocked to see that each man held a wicked-looking farm implement, and the scowls on their faces told her that they were not adverse to using them. Given that they were all staring at her, it was probably not a terribly large logical leap to assume that they were considering the benefits of using them on her.

That's not right, she thought, her bewilderment taking her away from herself. This wasn't how the story went, but, more importantly, she was here to help them.

Clearly, they did not think so, and despite herself, Kagome almost took a step backwards. Her bow and quiver on her back seemed heavy and awkward, and her wakazashi was small, and there were a lot of them. Their sullen silence rang loud in her ears.

Then the silence was broken by a murmuring in the crowd, and then, like waves, they parted.

The madoushi was strolling towards her, staff in hand, serene expression on her face. On either side of her, villagers turned and bowed deeply, and Kagome could almost feel the admiration and reverence rolling off them in waves.

Idiots, she thought with sudden ferocity. You complete idiots.

What would happen after she won? Would she be mobbed? Would she be able to explain? Would they even listen if she did?

Her stomach lurched.

In front of her the sorceress in miko's clothing stepped into the field beyond Edo and drifted to a stop. Behind her, Kagome could hear the crowd muttering excitedly to itself, and then a man detached himself from the gathering and approached the madoushi, his posture one of deference.

"Shina-sama," Kagome heard him say, "we will help defend - "

The sorceress waved her hand, silencing him, though she never lost her tranquil expression; she watched Kagome with eyes as still as the sky above, waiting for the storm.

Kagome stared back.

Suddenly, with a sharp movement, the sorceress drove her staff into the ground at her feet.

"Do not bring your evil here!" she shouted, her voice booming but queerly flat in the still air. Then the stillness cracked along its seams as she clapped her hands together and brought them to her chest, as if she really were a holy woman, gathering her pure power to oust the demon.

Kagome felt a strange sucking against her skin, as if the air were inhaling, and across the ground, down the trunks of the trees, out of the mouths of the crowd, from the sick-huts, from everywhere crept that horrid blackness, the malevolence that feasted on misery. It met itself behind the sorceress.

Could it feel her sadness? Could it taste it? Could it draw strength from her?

If you cannot fight, you must run, Kazuo had said, and if you cannot run, you must fight.

There was no mindless panic now. She had dangled high above the darkness of man, seen despair and death, witnessed fear of self and fear of life, and this black hatred was no longer a shock to her.

A little smile tugged at her lips. Was this what you intended to happen, Fuyu-sama, she thought, or is this just an unintended consequence of growing up?

She was not entirely without fear, though. A small pain registered dimly in her battle-sharpened brain, and Kagome glanced down to see her hand clenching the hilt of her sword so hard she was cutting off her own circulation. Slowly she eased her grip. The sword was part of her, Kazuo had said. It was just an extension of her.

Control was key. Control was everything.

Kagome took one deep, long breath.

The sorceress pulled her staff from the ground and gripped it tightly in her left hand, holding it out in front of her, parallel to the ground. Her right hand hovered in front of her face, fingertips pointed straight towards heaven.

Kagome's feet shifted of their own accord, planting her firmly against the ground, and she felt something in her spine stiffen, felt her shoulders square. Her jaw was set, and over and over inside her head she sang and echoed:

I will not break. I will not break. I will not break.

Then the madoushi smiled, sending Kagome's skin crawling - not because it was evil or cruel, but because it looked so kind - and suddenly there was no more time left as, like slow-motion lightning, the blackness drew together. It was massive, so massive, and so evil it was a wonder the people clustered behind the sorceress, at the edge of the village were not crushed by the weight, and then she saw it crest, high above them.

It shed its misty form, contracted, solidified, turned towards her -

- oh, shit -

- and struck.

Kagome ran.

It chased.

She remembered.

Don't think. Just... go.

So she did.

Her legs churned as she plowed through the grass, feeling it tug at her clothing, but she leaned into it, didn't let it slow her strides.

The thing loomed up on her right, still foggy, not quite there, not quite solid, not quite a target, and Kagome veered into it as it drew itself together. It drew away, fell back.

This is a weapon, Kagome thought.

The madoushi was using it as a weapon, and suddenly it was no different than a sword. If she could injure it, if she could 'deflect' it, then she could use that tiny slice of time to reach the sorceress. One good parry; that was all it would take.

Come get me, she thought. She was scared, but it was just a feeling, just a high thin note in her head. It had nothing to do with this battle.

She waited for the downstroke, for that one moment of opportunity.

A breath, in -

Her shoes bit into the carpet of grass beneath her, sending her flying across the field, and all the while she concentrated, focused, felt its cold-burning evil as it dissolved and reformed, rolling across the field.

- and out.

It was right behind her now, and then she could feel it, right there, felt it stretch and reach -

Kagome flung herself backwards

- into the thing -

- escaped the blow -

- her sword screamed out of the scabbard, whirling around -

- it wasn't solid any longer, had released its form, was just blackness moving in, and her lungs were filled with acid, with foul fog -

- she landed, twirled, ankle twisting, the turf tearing underneath her toes -

- pushed off -

- and ran.

The thing reared up, moved out and around her, but she twisted again, darting out into the field. The thing was trying to herd her into the forest, but there was no way she was going in there; if she was going to shoot it, she had to have a clear line of sight, and she was not going to let them take that away from her.

Have to get past it, she thought. Have to buy just a little bit of time.

She ran a wide arc, watched as the thing rolled in, cut her path sharply and ran past it, sword at ready, waiting to catch it when it was once again tangible.

She felt the thing heave, and then it was thin and translucent, just a faint black mist before she saw it draw together, further down the field, perfectly poised to cut her off again.

Cursing, Kagome pounded towards it, watched as it cut into her path, and veered away, towards the trees. The thing changed direction and tried to follow her, but she ran a tight loop and shot towards the village again -

- it tried to grab her, or slow her down, winding long, tendrils of fog around her body, waiting for the right moment to become solid -

- but she lashed out, and the thing recoiled from her blade, giving her the tiny moment she needed to run straight through the burning foulness. It stayed misty, maneuvered again, and it was just an evil spirit, not really a god, more like a ghost, but it seemed frightened of being injured.

Good, she thought.

She leapt forward again.

Again and again she tried to dart forward, tried to circumvent it, tried to trick it into making a wrong move, but it never did. It dodged and ducked, recoiled, but never did it make a mistake, never did leave an open path to the sorceress, and Kagome could hear the villagers cheering, and she wanted to scream. They were cheering on their own demise, and for a few moments anger spurred her forward.

It didn't last very long, though. Her lungs labored, trying to take in the sharp, jagged air.

The world became fuzzy. She was getting tired.

Desperately she ran, and her feet slipped on patches of mud, leapt of their own accord over rocks that her conscious brain barely acknowledged. Each landing shook her frame, but still she kept going, her feet pushing off from undulations of the landscape, launching her forward on burning muscles.

Thick locks of hair had escaped from their binding to plaster themselves to her sweat-soaked skin and her hakama clung to her legs, itching. The sound of gasping reached her ears, though it was hard to hear over the roar of blood.

She gripped her sword with both hands.

Still the darkness pursued her.


There was no way at all for her to win this without a huge gamble. Her entire training had been based around not taking gambles, had hammered into her brain the knowledge that if she didn't play it safe she wouldn't survive long enough to win, but she couldn't run forever.

The air was so thick with dead rain that she was drowning. Her clothes clung to her, and she was burning up. The circuits in her brain were shorting out, one by one.

She was going to have to charge the thing, was going to have to throw herself straight into it.

This had never been planned, but she couldn't run any more, so she had to fight, had to.

And suddenly both feet were slipping on the grass, skidding to a stop, tearing up the sod.

From far away, she felt her legs tremble.

Kagome whirled and faced the darkness.

It was coming for her. It was big and tireless and it sucked at her heart, wringing it dry, though there wasn't much left there for it to feed on.

The time had come to gamble, and she had to put everything at stake.

Kagome braced her legs, tightened her grip on her sword, and concentrated…

The world felt so bitter around her, inside her, that for a long moment she thought it wouldn't work, and then the blade flared to life, bright and holy, and her muscles jerked, slid beneath her skin.

She darted forward. There was yelling, many voices rising up, but she didn't pay any attention to them.

The blackness loomed.

I'm going to die, Kagome thought.

Tiny tears pricked her eyes. Angrily, she blinked them away, kept running, running, running -

Long black tendrils snaked out, surrounded her, embraced her in loving, diaphanous arms.

And then, so, so irrationally, so inappropriately, she thought, I hope I don't pee my pants when it kills me - that would be so embarrassing.

For a moment Kagome's world was silent, but then she laughed the saddest laugh she'd ever heard, felt the cruel freedom of letting go, of throwing everything into a single moment, and she flew forward to meet her destiny in the darkness -

- a familiar flash of light lanced across her path, slicing through the black mist, and she stumbled, slowed, felt the thing shriek in pain -

- and then she was free of it, the darkness streaming away, up and up, high into the sky, still shrieking its rage.

The yelling was louder now, was full of screaming. Feet stampeded, tears fell, and she could finally hear what they were saying, had heard it so many times in the past, and her heart locked itself in the back of her mouth.

She turned.

High above her, Sesshoumaru flowed across the sky, silver and white and brilliant and shining, and she thought, he always had to make a grand entrance, and then she thought, he left me.

This can't be real.

Everything that was Kagome - all her thoughts and fears, her heart and body, all her never-ending hope and long-cherished desires - held its breath, waited for him to disappear, he couldn't be real, but then she saw the darkness rear up and he surged into it, headlong. And then she heard him snarl, feral, vicious, and suddenly everything in her was ablaze.

There was shouting and panic in the village behind the sorceress, but Kagome didn't care about them any more. Instead, she turned and looked at the girl that had ruined the people who worshipped her, and tasted her fear.

The sorceress watched the battle in the air with horror, her eyes wide, her hands alighted on her cheeks.

She was scared, and it was good.

You'd better be.

High above, Sesshoumaru darted through the air, his sword just a dull blur against the grey clouds, just a brightness in the dark, and below him, in the late summer field, Kagome felt the story flowing past her, the under-current tugging her feet towards her destiny, pushing her towards the end, but he was here, here for her, and she didn't know why, and afterwards she could strangle him and beat him senseless, could hold him close, could pull him down into the grass with her, but right now - right now -

Now it was the time to make an afterwards.

Happy endings don't exist because the world keeps turning -

- the words burned across her brain, and she was already running, full tilt, target before her -

- but you don't have to have an ending -

- so far away, but he was here, and she gulped air, her heart thundering forward into the future -

- to be happy.

Whatever they could have afterwards, whatever dark, soft friendship, whatever bright camaraderie they could share was waiting for her, just beyond the end, but she had to step up and claim it, if she only dared.

She had never killed a human being before, but for the after that she wanted so desperately she thought she could kill a hundred of them.

It was selfish, not good or pure at all, but Kagome didn't care any longer. It was just the madoushi that blocked the after, and there was no shame in killing her.

Kagome wasn't going to wait around for the future any longer, wasn't even going to step forward meet it - she was going to take it.

Her opponent was still frozen in place, as if she couldn't take her eyes from the sight above her.

That's right, Kagome thought, just keep watching.

And the sorceress must have heard her footfalls, or seen her from the corner of her eye, but by the time she turned, by the time she stuck her hand up her sleeve, fingers frantically groping for a knife to throw, Kagome was upon her.

As though she were moving in glue, Kagome lifted her sword, angled the blade, leaned in, threw her weight behind it.

The madoushi shrieked, and Kagome stared her in the eye -

- and jerked away.

The sword caught, and she wanted to throw up.

She could feel it slip through muscle, could feel it hit bone, and the sorceress kept on screaming, but Kagome had missed her target, hadn't slid the sword through the girl's soft stomach like Kazuo had told her to. Instead, she had almost sliced clean through the girl's arm, and Kagome thought, desperately, that it was enough.

The sorceress only had to be in pain, incapacitated, for just a moment, because it only took a moment to seal the spirit, and - and - afterwards she would figure out what to do, would discover a way to keep the two apart, and yes, yes, yes it was fine, no need to turn and make another slice -

She rocketed past the screaming girl.

Kagome dropped the sword - there was no time to resheath it, she had so little time as it was - and she didn't even register her hands reaching to her shoulder, but suddenly her bow was in her grip, an arrow nocked and ready.

Kagome skidded to a stop, nearly broke her ankle, whirled, aimed.

She didn't want to hit Sesshoumaru, but time was short; she needed to trust that he would get out of the way. He was good at that.

She had one shot.

The thing solidified, quivered against the clouds.

- and then -

Pain. Throat. Lanced through, burned. Pain up, pain down, pain pain pain.

Kagome opened her mouth, gulped for air -

- couldn't breathe.

No, she thought.

Something rattled in her chest.

There was metal in her mouth, in her gagging tongue, but nothing came up.

She tried to heave.

More pain blossomed at the base of her throat, and she tried to gasp, but couldn't breathe, couldn't breathe, couldn't fucking breathe.

The skin of her chest was hot, damp, and now she couldn't taste anything at all, couldn't smell, couldn't breathe -

And so.

There was no way to win now, she could only draw, and there were so many people, and she wanted to say I'm sorry, and don't cry, and I wish -

No breath, no tears, couldn't sob anyway, could only scream his name in the panicked silence of her head, and now she truly only had one shot to get it right, had always only had one shot, had already missed so many times.

Some things in life can't be done over again. Especially the end.

The end.

The world was going grey, her brain was shrieking, and something broke inside her -

- and by her cheek her arrow burst into holy flames so bright it was as though she had drawn the sun from the sky and imprisoned it in her hands.

Like morning, she thought distantly while blackness crept in at the edge of her vision, but it couldn't fool her, couldn't trick her, because she could feel the real darkness high above where it burned a hole in the world.

This time, this one time, she would not fail, not because she was the heroine, not because it was her responsibility, but because it was for him.

Kagome aimed, and fired.

Even as high above as he was, Sesshoumaru had felt the heat of her power burning on the ground, could smell that bright smell, and it cut through the focused daze of the fight, jerked him out of the chase and the hunt.

Danger! his senses screamed, and he only had moment to get out of the way -

- he felt her release, and his heart slammed into the roof of his mouth -

- straining, he flipped backwards into the sky.

The burning arrow ripped through the air, and that black thing was dissolving, trying to escape, but there was no escape for it, not any more.

Sesshoumaru threw an arm over his face, flinched, saw the blaze of Kagome's purity light up the world behind his eyelids, and then his body jerked and the breath left his lungs as he was blasted backwards by the force of it.

He smelled burned silk, felt the free-floating malevolence of the thing disappear, and after a silent second he lowered his arm.

She hadn't sealed it.

It was simply gone.

Sesshoumaru hung in the air for a moment, stunned. Toukijin still burned in his hand; his claws dripped acid.

Damn, he thought.

And then, Damn!

She'd nearly killed him! Or grievously injured him, at the very least, and that simply would not do, not at all, and something bubbled in his chest. Swiftly, quietly it dawned on him that now was the time to start thinking of excuses, was time to compose himself before he landed, because it was ridiculous that he would come back just because of her, because he hadn't, obviously, he had plenty of good reasons -

- and he was just so goddamned relieved -

The stench of blood hit his nose.

The world slowed to an agonizing crawl.

And Sesshoumaru turned in the air just in time to see Kagome hit the ground, a dagger buried in her throat.

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 34 of 42

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