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Sense, Memory

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Most men have not seen the world divide,
Or seen, it did not open wide,
Or wide, they clung to the safer side.
But I have felt the sundering like a blade.
- Conversation at Tea, Galway Kinnell

***

1. Alone

Once again, you’re half-dead, half-buried, reaching for air and finally standing tall to see your losses piled before you. The sight makes you suddenly tired, a weariness that goes right past muscles and mind into skin, bones, blood, heart. You just move and keep moving until you reach the village that isn’t yours and the house that isn’t home. Kaede is there, not family but familiar, and you let her fuss over your wounds and then you go to sleep.

When you wake, the world has turned. The air is bland, colors faded like old silk. Even the Sun is dimmer than you remember, and throws no heat. The shadows stretch long across the grey fields, pointing east, and there is nothing now to hold you here, so you follow them, one careful step at a time.

The sun goes down, and the sun comes up, and the shadows stretch every way but home. You wander because you have nowhere to go. Eventually you settle on a distant mountain, where no one has ever heard of time travel, or magic jewels, or cursed voids — at least nowhere out of story, where such things belong.

In the end, you are forgotten, and that suits you down to your bones.

***

2. Footsteps

It is a cool day in late autumn when you finally see him perched on the edge of the cliff, the sunset making a halo of his red coat and white hair. For a bare instant your hunter’s mind calculates the difficulty of killing him before you rein it in. This is Inuyasha, you remember. You cannot kill Inuyasha, though he would certainly deserve it for being fool enough to stand like that against the light.

The sight of him chafes something raw and aching in your hollow belly. You wonder how he escaped on that terrible day, and where he has been since, and then you move on, leaving the questions behind you.

But you do not leave him behind. He is there the rest of that day, and the next, hovering at the edges of vision like a monstrous bloody butterfly. It is enough to drive anyone mad, and finally you crack and say so.

He leaps down from his tree, glaring. His throat is bare, though Tessaiga still hangs at his hip. “If you knew I was there, why didn’t you say hello?” he says.

“What made you think I would want to speak to you?” you say, harshly as you can. Then you turn and walk away. You don’t look back, but you can feel his eyes on you, and after a moment, hear his footsteps.

***

Sometimes you can hear the heavy padding of Kirara’s feet close behind you, or her plaintive mew. But there is never anything there. It is as if your life and hers have become so closely entwined that even in her absence, your thoughts recreate her for you, always on the verge of the unseen. You can feel her watching you from the trees, though you do not know if her gaze is protective, or accusing.

Kirara stayed for years. She listened to your chatter, and licked away your tears. You were proud to have her beside you, one moment a delicate white cat, the next a flaming, fanged beast like the tiger your grandfather painted from memory, from his long-ago raids on the little kingdom across the sea.

Sometimes, in your sleep, you feel Kirara at your back, her warm breath on your hair, her whiskers tickling your neck, but you keep your eyes closed, and wrap yourself more tightly against the cold.

***

3. Contact

He doesn’t leave. One morning you walk out and see him sleeping in a tree not twenty feet away, sleeves wrapped around him, white frost glittering in his white hair. The sky grows high and empty, and a steady wind begins to blow.

The wind rises after sunset like some vast howling animal, colder than a mountain stream, almost as cold as death. It pulls the warmth right out the door of your hut, leaving your little home as bare as a bone. You crawl to the door and call Inuyasha’s name, the wind whirling your words into the dark. You call again, and again, and then he is there, hair whipping across his face and yours.

“Thanks,” he says, almost too quietly to be heard beneath the roar.

“Only a youkai should be out in this,” you say, and from then on he sleeps in your hut at night, behind your mudded walls, out of the wind.

One night the wind ceases and the restless cold settles with bone-cracking suddenness. You can’t see the stars through the thatch of your roof, but you know they are there, shining high and clear. The ground you sleep on sucks the warmth out of your body. You sleep, and wake shivering, and sleep again, and wake.

The third time you wake up, he’s watching you from across the room. You look away, but he gets up and comes toward you. The small air currents from his movement whiff across the floor, sighing up your neck. You start to protest as the night air strikes you, but he covers your body with his own, and he is warm, burning, so nice that the words strangle themselves in your throat. His arms go to either side of your body, his knees trapping yours between them, his feet on yours. He looks at you and you are struck with a chill that has nothing to do with the cold.

In the dark, his eyes are alien, reflecting everything and revealing nothing.

***

Miroku’s face has long since faded into the darkness behind your eyelids. You remember only the set of his eyebrows, the quirk of his mouth. But his hands are still clear: fingers this long, nails shaped so, the crease of new cloth beneath battered beads just at the corner of his right wrist. Those hands had delicately brushed ink-black charms against evil, and hung those charms from worn wooden eaves. Had taken coin for services never performed or even needed. They had wrapped around the brass of his jingling shakujou, firm and steady in battle or peace, and caressed women as often as they dared.

He carried his death in the palm of his hand, and yet he laughed. That made him a warrior, for only warriors walk so with death, and wield it by their will. But warriors are connected by the sword’s edge, and the bond between you was neither sharp nor steely. Those death-bearing hands woke a growling hunger in you. Your skin still remembers the shiver of beads over cloth over an emptiness that could swallow the world.

You remember nothing of Miroku’s charming smile; only his hands, strong and capable, until the moment they betrayed him.

***

4. Heavy

The cold lasts right through the winter. The days lengthen, but the cold deepens. He sleeps beside you, and you tuck your hands into his sleeves to keep your fingers warm. Your face and hands grow red-chapped with cold, and a day comes when you step outside and cry out in pain from the sun’s brightness, reflecting off the ground. In the night the world has encased itself in glittering ice, hard and sharp and treacherous. The cold is so intense that after only a few seconds you can feel the lining of your nose tighten and freeze. But there are traps to check, and wood to fetch, and much as you want to go back to Inuyasha’s embrace, that will not keep you fed. So you go out.

The first trap is empty. The second holds a rabbit, frozen solid. The third — you never check the third. Instead you slip, and lose your balance, skidding and tumbling down the icy hill. The rocks break your fall — and, you realize when you try to sit up — your leg. Your lower leg lies at a crazy angle, the bone piercing winter-pale skin, shockingly white against the yellow and deep red of flesh.

Inuyasha swears when he sees it. “Hold still,” he says. You have just time to bite down on your own hand before he takes your leg between his hands and pulls.

When you wake again, your leg is straight, and bound with strips of blood-red cloth between three straight, strong sticks. Inuyasha sits a few feet away, a crude crutch in his hands. When he sees you are awake he hands it to you without a word. You accept it with understandable reluctance. It won’t be easy to walk back, you know, but at least you won’t have to crawl. You grit your teeth against the pain and summon the courage to stand.

But Inuyasha shakes his head. “Here,” he says, and crouches before you, his back turned. For a moment you stare at him, and then he looks back over his shoulder and you realize what he wants you to do.

So your arms go over his shoulders, and his arms go beneath your thighs, and one careful step at a time, he carries you home.

***

You carried Kohaku on your back since the day he was born, when your father took him from your silent mother’s arms and strapped him there. As he grew, he rode there when he got tired, or when he skinned his knees, and when he grew too old to be carried, your father gave you Hiraikotsu and its cool weight to protect him from youkai. Kohaku’s legs were always weak, and your back was always strong.

But one day Kohaku killed your family and left you alone with the wind whistling through your bones. He killed you and you lived, clawing your way through corpses and cold ground until you found the air, your back bleeding from the wound he had made there, and you covered it with your weapon and wept. Then you found him again, this time with his own life-spark embedded in his back, and when he lost it you carried him home again, his dead arms draped over your shoulders, your hands locked below dead legs, until you put him in the cold earth with Hiraikotsu for his grave marker and left both your burdens there, in that desolate place.

Only now do you realize that when you left you took him with you. No one can see him now, but he is there, a crescent scar running from skin to heart, nestled beside the narrow curve of your spine.

***

5. Close

And a day comes when tiny green buds come springing out of the muddy ground, softening the stark mountainside in a day and a night. The cherry blossoms bloom, the white-blushed petals standing starkly out from wet black branches, falling in drifts like wilting snow. Spring passes and summer comes, covering the bony branches with burgeoning green, and Inuyasha stays and stays, filling up your silences, warming your lonely bed, bearing your burdens.

One day you take off the plaster cast Inuyasha has made for you, and find your shattered leg grown straight and whole again, though scarred where the bone pierced skin. You find, too, that the shattered places within you have grown smooth, the sharp edges rounded off as if by wind and rain and river water. There are pieces missing, to be sure — sometimes you feel more hollow than whole — but you’re not broken, not anymore.

You wake up one morning, and there’s a slight chill in the air, or the wind has changed — something in your bones tells you autumn is coming. He mumbles something in his sleep and puts his arm on your neck and you push it off and he wakes up, grumbling. You look out through the open door. The sky is blue.

It’s going to be a beautiful day.