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Outlaw Star 3


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Soft the curse of winter
On the heads of lovers parted
On the red arms, warm with memory;
On the white arms, luring love to sorrow
beneath the ice.

+ White Arms +


His back rests on cold stone; his hand upon cold steel. He is seated cross-legged outside the cave, at the place just beyond the dark mouth where the shelter of the overhang ends and the quiet snow begins. Beyond where he sits lies the treacherous mountain road that he and his companions have spent the day climbing. And beyond thatÉthere is only the edge of the cliff. From his vantage point, the land below the edge is swallowed in darkness.

Night is spreading slowly across a slate-gray sky.

Idly he tips his head back against the rock wall, resting both hands on the flat of the sword-blade lying across his lap. The monk offered to relieve him of tonight's watch, insisting that he sleep, but he would have none of it. He can hear his comrades' voices echoing inside the cave, and he can see the flickering of their firelight on the walls out of the corner of his eye, but tonight it isn't enough to lure him in from the cold. On this winter night, too many memories arise in his mind's eye. He needs the quiet.

He once kissed her on a winter night, for the first time. . .

. . .which was also the last.

Now he gazes out across the land, through a soft curtain of snow, and memory swallows him whole. . .

+ + + +

Outside the shelter they had been sharing, the wind howled fiercely, lashing its anger against the wooden walls in the form of ice.

Inuyasha, you're leaving?

A pause. She sat with her back to him, crouched over the square fire-pit in the center of the hovel. He could see---even behind the black curtain of her hair---that she held one hand poised above the burning coals she tended, for his answer dismayed her.

That embrace we shared, standing on the water's edge. . .so it DID mean something to her, he thought. (A memory within a memory: a cold day in autumn when amid the lazy drift of leaves onto the river he pulled her into the fire of his arms. . .)

Much had happened since that first embrace. The seasons changed. Since that day, trust had kindled between them. Together they had fought, defending the talisman she guarded, which he coveted. Many demons came, and men with souls twisted by greed. Through the hail of arrows and the flood of unholy spirits, he stood by her side.

Then winter came, bringing with it another demon; another enemy. Shadowy and wraithlike, it led them on a chase through the snow-covered lowlands and into the woods. Together they hunted it for miles, but now a storm had come, and despite the priestess' strength she could not bear the cold any longer. Yet her half-breed companion knew that if the demon moved on while they took shelter, it would soon happen upon another village to massacre.

I HAVE to leave, he insisted. You stay here, and protect the jewel.

What he really meant was: You stay here in safety, and protect yourself for once.

It was a meaning she didn't fail to miss; she missed very little. This person knew him better than he knew himself, which he found a bit frightening, but there was a force around her that was almost magnetic. It made him wish he were merely a man, and she a woman, and that he could draw her into the fire of his body, to warm her cold, shivering flesh on this dark winter night. She was so weary, and so pale. Her hands and lips were white with cold.

In the magnetic air surrounding Kikyou, the pull of love and sorrow were equally strong.

She smiled at him, and nodded slowly, murmuring her farewell. That she could smile to see him off when all she wanted was rest and warmth and not to be alone was almost more than he could bear. He turned from her and pushed open the wooden door of the hovel, wading out into the snow. She was so selfless---so full of courage---that he would be too ashamed to do otherwise.

He was gone for days---short, dark days in which his body tracked his demon quarry while his soul lingered mile behind, in a freezing hovel beside a woman huddled over a dying fire.

And now he was returning.

Kikyou, he thought, his lips moving to form the word.

The blizzard raged around him, raking claws of frozen air across his flesh. He staggered onward with grim resolution, leaning into the wind to keep from falling. Ice struck his face; his body. He narrowed his eyes to slits to keep the ice out of them. Many times he stumbled from weariness, for he had been walking for nearly six straight days with no food and no rest. Yet his mind was as clear as ever---clearer, perhaps, than ever before---and his strong resolve kept him moving when even his Youkai fortitude had deserted him.

Her parting words rang in his ears like a clarion call, drowning out even the howling of the gale.

Your return will make the winter disappear.

He didn't know what she was promising, but now even though his body grew numb he could almost feel the spring waiting in her arms---the promise of love. She was a place he could belong, and he strove to return to it.

Inuyasha trudged through the drifts of snow, his steps stirring up flurries of white in their wake. When at last he had come down through the mountain pass, half-sliding on the snow-covered slope, he raised his head and saw the light.

It was but a pinpoint; a minute thing; a speck of fire in the darkness. But his eyes fastened themselves upon it like a starving man before a feast. And his chest tightened with the fierceness of his sudden certainty. Shedding his weariness like a cloak, he hurried across the frozen field, toward the place where her firelight burned through the window.

When he flung the door open, she turned and smiled, kneeling before the hearth as if she'd never moved. There were deeper, darker circles beneath her eyes, and her hair was frayed and lackluster. But her eyes shone jewel-bright, and her arms lifted toward him. She was beautiful.

He knelt to meet her. Warmth was born between the clasping of their hands.

He bent over her, pressing burning lips to hers, leaning into her, falling into her like the home he'd longed for all his life. Her white sleeves whispered against his crimson ones, or perhaps she whispered something. It didn't matter to him; it was lost in their mingling breath. They were sinking together beside the fire, driving back the winter between them, in the kindling of their arms.

Between the parting folds of his haori, he felt the cold, hard press of stone against his chest. He was instantly aware of what it was; his body trembled against her.

Then he was sitting up, releasing hold of her, and she likewise was pushing him away. They regarded each other from a breath away, unable to speak for the regret raging in them both. There would be no spring---not while the burden she bore stood between them. There was no choice but to bear the winter a while longer.

Spring came in its time, but with it came Naraku. And the jewel between them led to death and parting. . .

+ + + +

There are tears in his threatening at the edges of his vision---tears he won't shed because they won't do any good. They'll only freeze on his cheeks. But he sees her, there in front of him, as real as she was that winter night. She's reaching for him now, her black hair flowing around her as if she's underwater. She flows toward him like a vision; the moon goddess in maiden form. She reaches pale arms toward him---hands so cold it crushes his heart to feel them. She brushes his cheek, his lips, leaning down over him, falling into him. . .or maybe he's falling into her. Maybe they're falling together, rekindling that warmth they once found before cold fate tore them asunder. He belongs with her, he knows. He should follow her down. It's what he thinks he should want.

White arms wrap around his shoulders, pressing dead lips to his while black hair swirls around his face in rivulets. He can't see the darkness yawning behind her; he feels only the chill of her skin, and understands that what he loves is made of ice and memory.

And he doesn't care.

He doesn't care, until. . .


Suddenly, there is a gentle presence at his back. The sound of her voice drives back the ghost of winter like firelight through a window. She lays her small hand on his shoulder.

"Inuyasha, you're standing too close to the edge."

In front of him, the abyss yawns deep over the edge of the cliff. Harsh winds sweep the snow around him toward it, brushing ice past his cheeks like the pull of fingers.

"Yeah, I guess so," he answers, remembering his voice. He lets her draw him away from the dangerous place, but he won't follow her into the cave. It's warm in there---warm enough to drive back memories. But he doesn't want that. His memories are too precious; if he forgets what he's lost he will lose it forever.

She smiles gently, and he's torn because she's so beautiful and because she sees him so clearly.

"Someone needs to keep watch out here," he insists stubbornly, folding his arms and sounding like himself again. "Any of you lot would just fall asleep and freeze to death."

He plunks down cross-legged outside the cave mouth. She kneels beside him, and to his surprise her arms encircle his waist. Resting her chin on his shoulder, she says, "I'll keep watch with you, so you don't get cold and freeze yourself."

Her warmth seeps into him; she's drawing him back from the brink of memory in her own small way. His face is burning, and he's flustered by her nearness.

But he merely breathes in her sweet scent and lets her hold him, drawn into the arms of spring.

The pull of love and sorrow were strong, but maybe love was just a little stronger.

The End

Note from the author: See? See? I can be poetic too! Just trying out a different writing style in my fanfiction. This is a My First One-Shot Ever. For those of you reading either of the current long-term fanfic projects I'm working on, I'm still working on THOSE too. This is just sort of an interlude while my brain defrags.