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Falling by Stella Mira

Nothing for Granted

The first time Kagome regains consciousness, there is a blur of movement, many hands on her body, cold plastic and lightheadedness. It lasts no longer than a cycle of respiration, a flash of white light. Her lungs are swelling and burning. Her eyes can perceive nothing but amorphous shapes. She welcomes the pain, the needles puncturing her flesh, the tube being forced down her throat—proof of life, an anomaly of survival. The second time, there is less pain, more quiet, cotton soft against her skin, light suspension, almost a stasis. Her lids are heavy, her blood drugged, but she is alive. The scent of antiseptic is distinct, the sound of medical equipment a strange lull. Safe, she feels safe—and so she sinks deeper into that stasis, submerges herself in healing. The last time, he is there.

The room is pristine, mellow shades of crème, contoured around equal measures of efficiency and comfort. His presence is a glaring contrast to everything in this room, as if he can swallow the space by merely being there. A black hole of flesh and blood. Kagome breathes slowly, relishes the air, even if it is not sweet, even if each breath is a little strain. Silence reigns, seemingly endless, a kingdom of wariness and questions. She knows that he will not speak before she does—but she is not certain if she has voice to give. Her lips stretch when she parts them, too sapped from inaction. Her voice carries the roughness of what has been inflicted on her under its sibilant notes.

“Where am I?”

What an insipid thing to ask, unnecessarily necessary. Only the fear of tearing her throat asunder restraints the chuckle buzzing in her chest. His answer too, is the same, if not more so than hers.

“Private clinic.”

Kagome does not need to inquire of his motives for choosing such an establishment. Her memory is fractured, small pieces floating around her mind, some real, some unreal—but pain does not lie. This room, her voice, his presence tell part of the story, become the adhesive for recollection.

“I heard your voice…but I thought I was hallucinating.” She stares at him, gratitude twined with malaise, bites her lip when he remains silent. “That was your brother. He’s not well, is he?”

It is redundant to wait for confirmation in any form. The answer is imbued in the skin of her neck, coils of bronze-crimson, too soon to darken into mauves or fade away. Kagome touches the marks, careful strokes, not enough to relive the nightmare but close, too close.

“He said that—that he killed her…Kikyō-san.”

Intensity hardens the gold in his eyes, not quite a glower, palliated with curiosity. She traces the arch of his lips as he speaks, siphons the sound of his voice. It is rough but unlike hers, masculine tones, natural.

“Did he?”

She doesn’t lower her eyes, doesn’t want to miss the question that simmers beneath cold metal. Did you believe him? Even though Kagome takes the time to construct a reply suitable for questions spoken and unspoken, originality eludes her. She is not—nor will she ever be—proficient in such dealings when it comes to him.

“My memory is hazy…but I think so.”

His reaction is imperceptible, facile but far from innocuous. That glow in his eyes sizzles, the arch of his lips bending, perhaps in mockery, perhaps in amusement. It is such a slight change that she cannot fully interpret it, but she does not have to. His words solve the enigma of his expression.

“You are not a good liar.”

Both mockery and amusement then, more than that even. Kagome understands his remark for what it is, sees all the facets in it—that she will receive neither answers nor information from him, that she should be content with the fortune of being alive, to seek nothing more than what is already given. The smile that curves her mouth is as wry as it is acknowledgement.

“No, I guess I’m not.”

He gives the barest nod. That idiosyncratic mixture of expression is gone in the blink of an eye.

“Your debt has been settled and your contract has been dissolved. Your medical bills have also been taken care of.”

Shock dissolves her smile into nothingness. Kagome bores her gaze into his, but she cannot discern even a sliver of emotion in his mien this time.

“Why would you do that? I did not ask to—”

“Fill out that paperwork while you are here.” She follows the tilt of his chin to the ochre file on her nightstand, recognizes the logo of his company on the cover. “Once you are discharged, I expect you in my office at seven a.m. sharp the next morning. Understood?”

Too numb for either agreement or rejection, despite this not being an offer but a command, Kagome reaches for that file, skims through its contents. What she reads inside is too preposterous to be true, almost laughable, but she cannot fathom this particular joke.

“You are…hiring me?”

“Yes.” One word, nothing more, as if this is final, not up for discussion—like all else between them.

“But—why would you go that far?” Even as she asks, Kagome suspects, cannot help but voice it. “If you’re worried that I might press charges then—”

It is not his words that seal her voice—those only come later—but that he moves toward her bed, languid, sure strides. With each step he takes, she reclines back a little more, until her back is pressed against the headboard, until he is looming over her. The walls of her throat inflate, seethe with each inhalation. Kagome watches as his arms form a cage around her, as the black of his suit stretches under hard muscle, but he needn’t have resorted to physical intimidation. The gold of his eyes is enough to shackle her, so bright, so toxic, the sharpest blade in his arsenal.

“There is nothing I will not do for the right incentive. Remember that.”

Kagome melts, realizes life is not a gift but an allowance, then she freezes, accepts that fortune is but a calculated action on his part, and then she nods.

~~~~~

Skye’s Weekly Challenge: Fortune

 

INUYASHA © Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan • Yomiuri TV • Sunrise 2000
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