As the midnight calls
the scent of your loneliness
echos in my heart
Ideura Yoshiyuki trudged down the road into Matsuida, the light casting long shadows as sunset approached. On the back of his horse was the red, unmoving body of an oni who had made the mistake of crossing his path. He himself, a young man of about twenty, thin of face, with a serious, angry look, wore his hair tied up properly like a young samurai, but his face and his clothing was spattered with gore. He wore the cuirass and garments of a foot soldier, an ashigaru, but his clothing and gear had seen better days. A quiver hung on his back. It contained arrows matching those sticking in the oni his horse carried.
"The oni!" a young boy shouted, as he walked down the road. "The oni is dead!" A number of people stopped what they were doing and watched as he walked down the street, filled with huts and a few shops. A small group began following him.
As he moved further into the village, a buddhist priest stepped in front of him. "My son," he said, bowing in a respectful way. "Did you slay that oni near the mountain pass?"
"Honorable sir, yes I did," he said, returning the bow. "He thought to stop me, but our discussion did not go the way he wanted it."
"Merciful Kannon has heard our prayers," the priest said. "That oni has been preying on everyone coming to our village from the north and west for the last month."
Soon, several villagers appeared and lugged the oni off the back of his horse. Other hands led him to the village's best inn, and before long, he found his horse stabled and he himself resting pleasantly in the bathhouse, having been attended by a young, giggling servant girl who scrubbed his back and washed his hair and then left him to soak.
"Ah, Father," he said to himself while resting in the pleasure of the hot water. "Today I have struck the first real blow to avenge you. Eventually I will be strong enough to take vengeance on the House of the West for how they let you die at the hands of the Takedas. I promise this, Father."
Shortly after that, he stepped out of the bath house and into the cooling air of the breezeway as he worked his way back to the room. All in all, he decided, it had been a good afternoon. For the first time in days, he was staying in an inn and eating a hot meal he didn't have to prepare himself. Not bad for the ronin son of a deposed minor samurai. After he slipped back into his room, the same giggling girl brought him in a lovely meal of fish and rice and delicately prepared vegetables and soup; after the meal, her giggles were followed by a visit from three of the village elders.
They bowed respectfully as they entered then sat down across the low table from him.
"The humble gratitude of our village will be with you always, Ideura-sama," said the spokesman.
"It was my joy and my pleasure to remove the pest," replied the young man. "I loathe youkais. It pleased me to be able to assist you in this." His dark eyes shined as he basked in the approval of the elders in front of him. "My family has had dealings with such types before."
After several minutes of polite talk, one of the elders asked, "Where are you going, Ideura-sama? We would like to help you on your journey if we might."
"I had heard there was a village of youkai taijiya near the road to Edo. I was hoping to get time to study with them and learn more about the ways of dealing with these creatures before returning to the north."
"I have heard of this village, Ideura-sama, but alas, your task will be impossible. The Slayer's village was destroyed almost a year ago. A youkai of exceeding strength and wickedness destroyed them all."
HIs eyes dropped at the horrible news. "Merciful Buddha!" he said. "All of them?"
"Yes, the youkai Naraku was responsible, an evil monster who had been plaguing the countryside south of here. But he himself is said to have been killed not long ago, not too far from the old slayer's village himself."
"No, you're wrong, Jiro-san," said one of the other elders. "There are two members of that clan left, I heard. They live in that village where old Kaede is the priestess. I heard that they both took part in the slaying of Naraku."
"You're right, Taro-san. I had forgotten about them - the two children of the Slayer's headman. Perhaps they can help you, young master."
"I will seek them out, then," he said, drinking his sake. 'What do I have to do?' he thought.
It was a dark windless place, where even the walls thrumbed like the beating of a heart. The soft walls glowed with a purple-red light, beaded with moisture. Wandering, he found himself hearing it everywhere -- doki, doki, doki. His ears, twitching, couldn't find its source, couldn't escape it. It surrounded him.
Things began slowly to make sense as he began coming out of the red haze that told him his youkai blood had taken over. He was alone. He wasn't supposed to be alone. Where was she?
He looked at the blood on his claws...that blood, that scent...."What's going on?" he said, cold shivers creeping up his spine.
"Don't you remember? " said the voice, low, smooth, chuckling in dark amusement . "Weak half-breed, don't you remember how you transformed and ripped up your beloved woman?"
"Kagome..." he whispered, feeling his stomach tightening in knots.
"Smell the blood," the voice continued, smooth and gleeful. "You failed, half-breed. Once again, you failed to protect your woman. What good are you? Tainted and useless."
"Kagome!" he yelled. "Kagome!"
He turned and saw Sango and Miroku. "You told us you were going to keep her safe," said Sango. She looked sad and determined.
"Where's Kagome?" InuYasha said.
"When you didn't take care of her, we had to make sure she would have someone who would," said Miroku.
Suddenly, he was standing in the village. A wedding celebration was taking place.
"I tried to tell you," said Kaede.
The bride looked up. It was Kagome. "I'm so sorry, InuYasha. But I need a home and a family. I had to find one. You wouldn't give me one."
Suddenly, her white wedding kimono sprouted red streaks of blood. He looked at his hands. They were covered in blood.
"Useless half-breed. You always destroy the women you love," said Naraku's voice.
"No! Kagome! Kagome!"
Suddenly, InuYasha bolted to awareness. He was breathing in hard, ragged gulps. He shivered at the feeling the dream had left with him as he looked around. A soft glow from the dying embers in the firepit lit the room dimly, and he slowly oriented himself. He was in Kaede's hut, sitting with his back to the wall. Shippou was sleeping soundly on Kagome's bedroll. She was kneeling next to him, dressed in her long pink sleep shirt, her small hand gently making soothing motions on his shoulder.
"Kagome?" he said softly. "What's wrong?"
"You called my name out. You must have been having a nightmare," she said.
"Yeah," he said, with a deep sigh. "Sorry I woke you up." He turned his face, and looked at Kagome. Even in the dim light, he could see how she watched him, searching his face with concern. Tilting his head back, he stared up at the ceiling, still seeing the images from his dream, feeling the waves of anxiety and guilt that it brought up.
"It's ok, InuYasha. It's over," she said. "It was just a dream."
"How can you stand to be near me?" he asked.
She was startled by his question. "What do you mean?" She moved closer, brushed his hair with her hand.
"I hurt you. I turned into a monster and hurt you. I had your blood on my claws. I almost killed you."
"The nightmare is over, InuYasha, " Kagome said as she wrapped her arms around him, rested her head on his shoulder. "That was Naraku. He's dead. He can't do that any more."
"Not only did I hurt you, but then I took you away from your world, your mother, your friends, all the wonders you had there. Being near me is going to ruin your life." He turned to face her, gently taking her shoulders in his hands. "You saw what happened yesterday. They're already talking about you in the village. You deserve a life that isn't...." His words were stilled by soft fingertips pressing against his lips.
Kagome had risen to her knees, meeting his eyes with a loving but determined look to her face. "No. Don't talk like that. I'm exactly where I want to be."
His arms wrapped around her, holding her tightly. "I'm such a selfish bastard. I can't offer you anything you deserve, but I can't hardly breath when you're away from me. I ought to make you go, but I can't."
"I wouldn't go, you know." she cupped his cheek in her hand. "You've tried that before and it didn't work."
He pulled her into his lap and rested his chin on her head as she snuggled into his shoulder.
"So you're going to stay with me, even knowing how hard it might get?"
"Always," she replied. "I promised."
He held her warm body next to his, covered by the large sleeves of his suikan, listening to her soft breathing, the beating of her heart as he stared into the darkness. After a little while, first she, then he fell asleep.
Later, Kaede would return home after the successful delivery of Akina's child, to find them still curled around each other.