Lonely Places in the Wilds
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Inuyasha.
A deep wind sounded hauntingly through the eaves of the small cabin, and Kagome looked up from the fire and sighed, feeling unaccountably lonely as the years piled atop more years poked harshly at her, for some reason, more fiercely this night than usual.
She looked around the small cabin nostalgically and her mind took her back centuries to a time when she'd spent many a night in a cabin much like this – only surrounded by friends and those she cared for, rather than alone, as she was now.
It was a wonder she hadn't already gone mad with the isolation she lived with, her only companion being her own voice, as it were. But then again... this had been her choice, after all, even if it was really the only one left to her.
When she'd been cast back into her time and the well had taken Inuyasha away, she'd prayed and cried and cursed, hoping that the well would open and allow her to go back. She was no longer suited to a life in modern times, and if nothing else, that time after she'd been brought back had showed her that. But unfortunately, the well had never reopened, and she'd been forced to make her way in a world she no longer understood.
Atop that, more problems became apparent as the years passed by, when her family aged around her... and she did not follow suit. As time went on, she became little more than a prisoner at the shrine, unable to leave for fear of someone realizing that she wasn't aging. And so she watched her grandfather, and then her mother, succumb to time as it had become apparent that she never would.
It wasn't until Souta was getting close to his own death that they broke the taboo they'd seemingly had about speaking of her situation, and it was decided that she would take her portion of their inheritance – and move far, far away, to a place that was akin to that past that she missed so much. And so, she'd kept her eye out for a good place in the far north of Japan's wilds, and when a large piece of property came for sale, she bought it, and had a small cabin built there. On the day that Souta passed away, she said goodbye to the shrine, to the Goshinboku, and took herself and her few belongings and left, never to return.
She'd lived in her cabin for a year, now, and in all that time, she hadn't seen another living thing besides the animals she shared this last bit of wilderness with. It was beginning to eat at her...
Another gust of wind, and she sighed, wiping tears from her face she hadn't even realized had fallen and stood up to step outside to her porch, where she had stored a cord's worth of wood to bring more inside. It was very cold, snow laying thickly over everything, but beautiful, with the stars shining brightly above her head in a manner so heartrendingly reminiscent of the past. With no towns or people near, there was no light pollution to speak of, and she could almost convince herself that she was still back in Sengoku Jidai, and that if she waited long enough, in would come a taijiya, a lecherous monk, a baby kitsune, and a grouchy hanyou to sit around the fire and warm themselves with affectionate smiles for her.
But it would never happen, because she was trapped, hundreds of years away from that past, alone in a world that she had become an anachronism in. And she was afraid that someday, when there was no more wilderness to hide in, when humans had conquered the entire planet and taken all the secret, wild places and smoothed them over with concrete and glass, that she would herself be captured and taken, only to disappear into the depths of some laboratory as a scientific oddity.
Certainly, such an end was still centuries away, because there were still many places in the world that had never seen the touch of man, but... since she didn't seem to have an expiration date, no doubt that time would eventually come. Of course, she sighed again as she grabbed several chunks of wood in now thoroughly chilled arms and went back inside to stack them neatly near the fireplace, by then she might not even notice, having gone insane from the lack of contact with others. Humans were, after all, social creatures. It was just that in her circumstances, having any meaningful contact with any others was an impossible dream.
She stepped back outside to take up more wood to bring inside, wanting to have the large fireplace fully stocked so that she wouldn't have to come outside again, for she was fully aware that the cold would only deepen as the night did, and it was already plenty cold outside. She could only be thankful for the impulse that had her changing the normal setup of a Japanese style cabin – instead of the small firepit that would have sat in the middle of the floor, she'd had a large, western style fireplace built in along one wall. It worked better for her needs, such as boiling water for her bath, heating the hut, and even cooking was easier with the larger fire.
Stepping out once more to grab one more armful, she stopped as the slight sound of movement in the trees and bushes surrounding her home caught her attention, and she waited breathlessly to see what animal would step out of the darkness. She was so desperate for the contact with something living that even animals were longingly watched. At times, she almost wished she could be that deer or the fox that would wander through the clearing around her cabin, just so she could have the companionship of other deer or fox.
What she wasn't expecting was for a dog to pad into the open area from under the trees, then sit down and stare back at her as though he were studying her. There were no other people for miles, and she couldn't figure out what a dog was doing so far into the mountains like this. And one who looked as well-groomed and pristine as this one did.
He was silver, and large, about the size of a Great Dane, with long ears and thick, silky fur that practically sparkled in the dim light of a billion stars. But the thing that made her knees weak and tears come to her eyes again was his brilliant gold eyes. She hadn't seen eyes like that in her entire life except on two beings she'd once known – Inuyasha, and his full youkai older half-brother, Sesshoumaru.
No longer even noticing the cold, she held the dog's gaze and forced her voice through a tight throat. "You can come in if you like – I'm sure the heat would feel good." Her voice cracked from long disuse, but she knew the dog heard and understood her, and after a moment of staring at her with calm golden eyes, it stood and padded over and up the three steps before pushing through the door. Oddly, or perhaps not, he stopped and used his body to hold the door open for her, and with a smile, Kagome moved inside and set her last bit of wood in its place just as the dog pushed the door closed behind her.
Neatly stacking the wood with the rest, Kagome turned around to look at the dog – and stilled, frozen in shock as her eyes lit on something much different than the dog he had just been moments ago. Stunned, she simply stared, completely unable to move or even speak as she stared unblinkingly at someone she had never thought to see again.
"Priestess," came his deep, silky baritone, and Kagome shivered, just as she always had back in that distant past whenever they'd come upon this particular being and she'd heard him speak.
"S-Sesshoumaru," she finally managed to whisper through a throat tight with shock. And indeed, it was. Sesshoumaru, in all his pristine glory, exactly as he'd been the last time she'd seen him, almost six hundred years before. Still wearing his armor and even the same clothing, she may as well have been all those years back in time for all the difference he showed. He didn't even really look any older.
"I had not expected to ever see anyone I had once known again," he said calmly, still watching her with those unfathomable golden eyes. "I had thought I was the last."
Though it was a statement, hidden in his words was a very large question, and Kagome knew it. She nodded. "I had also not expected to see anyone I knew... from back then." She shook herself out of her shock and gestured at his armor. "Would you like to take that off and get comfortable?" she asked. "It is... a long story."
He inclined his head after a moment more of studying her, and within seconds, he'd removed the armor and his swords and set them aside on a low chest at her nod. With a swirl of white silk, he seated himself before the fire.
"Do you have a house out here on the mountain?" she found herself asking as she moved closer and also took a seat, turned to face him rather than the fire as her contact-starved heart and soul drank him in hungrily.
"No. There is no house. I live here, because it is the last place where I can be free. But I have never bothered with building a dwelling such as this." He looked around at its cozy simplicity. "Though perhaps... I should have. It is... agreeable to be in out of the cold."
"Oh," she breathed, looking at him as his gaze turned back to her. After a moment of his intensity, however, she looked down at her own fidgeting fingers, and sighed, barely audibly. "I understand. I, also, don't fit in the human world anymore. That's why I'm here."
"You look the same."
She knew what he meant.
"Yeah. Time has left me behind, I guess you could say. I don't know why, only that it has. I obviously couldn't stay around other people like this, so... but the truth is," she said softly, exhaling sadly, "living in the world you came from ruined me for this one, anyway. When... when I could no longer go back, I felt cheated. I didn't fit in here anymore, you see, and so I was angry at kami for condemning me to this life indefinitely, with no escape, no way out, and no one to share my banishment with. It's been... hard."
"You weren't from my world at all, then," he said calmly, taking that fact in with surprising equanimity. "It must have been the influence of the Shikon no Tama that drew you to my world."
"It was." She blinked up at him after a moment. "Would you tell me? What happened after I was gone, I mean?"
Gold eyes flashed sideways to glance at her; after a moment, his gaze returned to the fire. "The monk and slayer married and had a family. Inuyasha hoped and prayed for several years that you would return, but eventually, he realized that the well would not reopen. Eventually, he also married and had a family. He died about three hundred years ago. After that, I was alone. There were no more daiyoukai, and very few youkai. The lesser youkai were completely gone. As the humans began taking over more and more land, I withdrew from the world and kept only to the wilds. Eventually, I found myself here."
She understood why – there were no more truly wild places anymore, save for here – every other part of Japan had been tamed and filled with humans.
Nodding, her fingers twisted in her lap as she offered to make tea, and then set about doing so when he nodded agreeably.
"How..." her voice faded away for a moment, as if she was unsure about her question, and Sesshoumaru looked at her.
She stopped what she was doing, her hands slowly falling back into her lap, and then she shook her head with a sigh, and Sesshoumaru's gaze was drawn to her face, which was half-hidden by her hair as she stared down at her hands; he could scent the tears.
"How do you stand the loneliness, Sesshoumaru?" she finally asked softly, her voice hitching. It was obvious to the daiyoukai in that moment that something intrinsic within the miko was dying, some part of her that could not stand to be so isolated, so separated from any others. And he could understand her pain – because he shared it.
It was silent for a few minutes as he looked back over the centuries and the loneliness that he'd endured. When he'd first met this miko, he'd been alone for most of his life and hadn't been bothered by that fact. It had been a state he'd sought – after all, one didn't need companions on a quest for Supreme Conquest. Jaken didn't count, for he was no kind of company. But as time went on, and the youkai began to die away, he came to the realization that he was already at the pinnacle, because there was no one else left that could challenge him. And yet, what had he gained?
Nothing. He was unknown, no longer a Lord, he was just as much forgotten as all other youkai and magical creatures. He had been banished to the realm of myth and legend. And so he had merely endured the years, for... what else was there?
And then... as he'd wandered the mountains, following the game as it were, he'd come across a teasing hint of a scent that he hadn't come across in almost six hundred years. The scent of someone... someone that knew him. Someone that he knew.
There was no way he could have stayed away.
"I have endured the years in this manner," he began finally, snapping her attention to him from where it had drifted to the fire, "because there was no other choice. But it is not something that I have enjoyed. If there is one thing these endless years have taught me, it is that even I need another." He turned his gaze on her from where it had also been fixed on the fire, and she almost gasped at the flicker of sadness and loneliness in those golden eyes that had always before seemed so invulnerable to everything. "When I caught your scent on the wind, I could not believe that what I was scenting was correct. After all, you were merely human, with a human's short lifespan. I knew this. But still, I could not stay away. I had to come. I had to be sure."
In his eyes she could see the things that he wasn't saying. That he had needed that contact... needed it badly enough that he came, even thinking that he had to be wrong. But that he had recognized her scent? She was stunned.
"You remembered my scent after all these years?" she whispered, eyes wide and somehow defenseless – and more welcome in that defenselessness than she would have ever guessed.
He didn't even blink. "In all my years, there have only been two humans whose scents I have never forgotten – yours, and Rin's. Rin..." he turned away once more, that sadness flashing in his eyes again, "Rin was precious to me. No matter how many centuries pass, I will never forget the scent of a child that became, in all ways, like my own child. She has been the only child I thought I would ever have. You... you were different. Enemy first, you became a..." he hesitated, a slight frown creasing his brow for a bare instant before smoothing again, "fascination. You were unlike any human I'd ever known, save Rin – and Rin was a child, a child whose extraordinary differences I excused as being due to being raised by myself rather than other humans." Humor flashed for a moment in those shadowed eyes as they flicked towards her for a moment. "You would doubtless say that opinion was merely hubris on my part. But you... there were no mitigating circumstances. You were raised by humans – and yet, you were not like them. I could not understand that, and there were so many times that I wondered if perhaps you were not actually human, but something else, simply disguised as a human. There was no denying, however, that your scent was that of a human – though death never tainted that scent, now that I come to think about it."
She blinked. "Wow," she said blankly. "That's the most I've heard you talk since that time you tried to attack Inuyasha to get the Tessaiga when we were with Totosai."
"You may say that I have had almost six centuries for the need to speak to another, to one who knows who and what I am with no need for pretense, to build up. I am a taciturn being, miko. But I am not mute, nor do I desire to be."
It grew silent once more as Kagome finished making the tea and handed the daiyoukai his cup. She was careful to try to avoid touching him, as she remembered that he was not overly fond of his space being breached; she almost jumped when he went out of his way to negate her actions and touch her, instead. Her eyes flew up to his questioningly.
There was an almost cynical look on his face as he returned her gaze. "The same goes for touch. All of these things – scent, sight, touch, and conversation – they are things that prove to me that I am still alive. Something I had almost begun to doubt these last centuries. In some corner of my mind, I had begun to think that perhaps I had died, and that this wretched loneliness was my own personal... hell. Your presence relieves me of that concern."
Taking a sip of her own tea in order to give herself a moment to take it all in, she set her cup back down gently, and then without even realizing it, her next question popped out, urgent and uncontrolled.
Two words, and yet, Sesshoumaru knew exactly what she was asking. What would he do now? Would he take his leave of her after sipping tea and talking for a time, and go back into anonymity? And from the look on her face she feared that would indeed be his response.
She couldn't have been more wrong.
"I have been alone long enough. You have been alone long enough. I will stay with you. Since we are both here, there is no reason for either of us to be alone any longer, is there?" he asked, his voice deepening on the last words, and Kagome shivered as it rolled over her; his voice had always been an actual tactile pleasure - one she'd never thought to ever hear again.
Unable to stop them, Kagome didn't even try to wipe the tears away, simply allowing them to flow as they willed as all the grief, fear, loneliness and pain began to drain away. And shockingly, or maybe not, after the things he'd just finished telling her about his own need to feel another being after so long alone, Sesshoumaru set his own cup of tea aside and gently lifted her into his lap, pressing her to his chest and simply allowing her to cry all the years and the losses away.
"Really?" she finally asked softly, her voice muffled by his chest. But he heard her and answered her need.
"Yes. I am not willing to give up the companionship to be found with you. You know who I am. You know what I am. You were part of that past, the past we both-" he looked around at the – mostly – traditional Japanese cabin, though he had to admit, the way she'd changed the traditional firepit was more efficient and better at warming the two rooms of the cozy home she'd built, "-obviously miss and wish we could return to. If we are the last, is it not logical that we would stay together?"
He felt her nod and, just like he always had everything else, he engaged her with no hesitation, running a clawed hand gently through her long raven locks in a comforting manner, as though he'd had years of practice doing just these same things. Kagome couldn't believe how much more open he seemed – at least, towards her. But then she thought about his life... as bad as things had been for her this last eighty-some years since the well had closed, it had been much, much worse for him. Because it hadn't been a mere eighty years for him – it had been almost six hundred, and he had been totally alone for more than half that time, unlike she herself, who, up until Souta had passed a year ago, had at least had some family to turn to.
She shuddered. She would have long since gone mad, and without even thinking about it, she wrapped her arms around the inuyoukai's waist and held to him – an action that precipitated a contented rumbling from the male that had her smiling just slightly.
"It must have been terrible to be alone for so long," she finally said, looking up at him as she pulled away a little. She had to admit, it felt a bit awkward to be sitting in Sesshoumaru's lap – but not as awkward as she would have thought it would be.
He looked pensive as he met her eyes. "If I had known that there was someone still left, it would have been easier to bear the centuries. What made it the most difficult, was thinking that I was the last."
Immediately, a cold, terrifying feeling of panic and fear clenched hard in her belly at his words, and she gasped slightly as she took in the terrible truth that hid behind his mild words.
"I don't think I could have survived it for so many years," she said in a small voice, her face pale. "The weight of all it all... I was already losing my mind," she trailed off, utterly unable to even verbalize the concept. It was just too terrible. "You are far stronger than me," she finished, her voice brought low by the feelings that the idea engendered in her.
"Strength... can only endure so much, little miko," he returned, his voice almost a whisper, and it was then that Kagome knew exactly why he seemed so open and even touchy-feely. Almost three hundred years of being the last... a human would have gone mad within a few years. This was as close as Sesshoumaru would get to being desperate for the presence, the touch, of another.
"Kagome. Call me Kagome," she offered after a moment, smiling shyly.
As he inclined his head, she couldn't help but think of the changes that would come into her life, because now there was another where once there had only been one. But that thought was soon pushed away as she basked in the simple joy to be found just sitting next to another person with a hot cup of tea and a roaring fire before you.
It was a pleasure she'd never thought to have again – and one Sesshoumaru hadn't had in centuries, and it was all the more cherished for that fact.
After all, it's those who have gone without, that seem to treasure what's given the most.