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Falling by Stella Mira

Apple of Discord

Employees throng the cafeteria when she takes a break for lunch—many faces, young and old, familiar in the way strangers who work for the same company are. She chooses the farthermost table, takes no heed of noises and whispers alike. Kagome has no time for such things…she barely has time for lunch itself.

This is a nightmare. His schedule is unreal…the responsibilities are unreal—everything is…too much. Head hung low, fingers laced behind her neck, her plate untouched, she sighs. I can’t do this… One person cannot take care of all these things. At this rate, I’ll have to move into this office. Kagome sighs once more, rubs her lids, smearing blots of mascara with her careless motions, not that it matters. The rings under her eyes are the inerasable stains. She can wash the paint off her face, but those rings will only grow blacker, parasites feeding on her sleep. No rest for the hunter means no rest for the prey. Does he ever sleep? Will I ever sleep? Probably not.

Slowly, the noises holler louder, the whispers shift lower, darts of unease, her body their target. Words are thrown at her from every direction, too thin to shred flesh but sharp enough to tear little holes and slip into layers of skin. Kagome listens, absorbs the barbed stingers, until it is too late to extract them. Poison spills into her bloodstream, harmless in small doses, but she takes in too much of it, enough to cause an allergic reaction.

“Did you hear—”

“—he was back for a while.”

“Now this new secretary…but don’t you think—”

“—never on good terms anyway.”

“She’s just a pretty face—”

“…because he’s only a half-brother?”

“—never had a personal assistant before…”

Kagome doesn’t care for what is being said in regards to her. It is nothing she hasn’t heard before or won’t hear again. Her attention is reserved for the other person mentioned in their gossip. Taishō Inuyasha. The mere thought of his name gives life to spectral fingers, cold sweat and constriction, births marks on her neck anew, and she asphyxiates on nothing but the terror of memory. When her lungs fill with air again, she is trapped in the chilly frisson of disquiet, but there are questions more bruising than his ghastly touch.

He was well enough to return to work for a while before I was hired? Then how…why? What the hell happened in the past? What’s happening now?

~~~~~

Mysteries abound in the darkness of her mind with each greedy breath she takes. Kagome hungers for many things—answers, change, him. Is cannot be was, and what will be is not soon to come. The butterfly has become the larva, metamorphosis undone, but he has always been the dragon. She begrudges him that, if nothing else. Even dragons must have been hatchlings at one point, though. Nothing is born fully grown…but perhaps he is an exception. Somehow, she finds this thought more than a little amusing.

If you are a dragon then where are your wings, your scales, your claws? She stares at him, tries to envision the mythical serpent, and he is perfect, but perceptively human. Maybe it is her fault for being so terribly inadequate, eyeless to his true form the way she is. Will the day come when I’ll be able to see you as you’re meant to be seen? Maybe there is more than perception broken, that what is unreal should, perhaps, remain that way. I must see the man in the dragon, not the dragon in the man—

But she only continues to look for what she desires, despite herself.

“Is everything in order for the Board meeting that is to take place tomorrow?”

His eyes never stray toward her, but his tone of voice warns there is only one acceptable answer.

“Yes, Director.”

No praise is given for what is deemed expected.

“You will attend and record minutes of all board and committee meetings from now on.”

“Understood, Director.”

It is unnecessary to bow in compliance—her reply is sufficient enough—but she nonetheless does. Another duty, another task, time stolen, sleep reduced even more. If Kagome could sigh in his presence, she would have, but when she rises, his eyes are fixed on her. Dread infests all that she is made of—muscles and joints, organs and blood, nerves and skin. She knows this expression…she has seen it before, has taken a bite of it—the gold apple of Eris. He wants something from her, something that she will neither like nor be willing to give.

“What kind of business is Taishō Inc.?”

Casual question, cool voice, wholly discordant to that gleam in his eyes. It is only a matter of time before she becomes snared, before she breaks her knees with the fall, if she does not tread with caution. Kagome shivers, indulges him for wariness’ sake.

“A joint-stock corporation.”

“What does that mean?”

Nothing changes—not his casualness, not his voice, not that insidious gleam.

“It is comprised by shareholders. Each shareholder owns the portion of the company in proportion to his ownership of the company’s shares. The Chairman, in this case you, holds the largest percentage.”

“Correct.”

Everything changes then—that baneful gleam swallows all. Kagome cannot tell what the damned thing he wants this time is, but she can tell that he wants it badly.

“Did you study the profiles of all Board members?”

“Yes.”

She nods once, awaits the lash of the whip, but it never comes.

“Good. Dismissed.”

Numb, as if she has been struck, Kagome turns to leave, instinctive motor coordination.

“Should you fail to meet my expectations, there will be severe consequences.”

The threat is the whip, coated in lethal toxins, unlike mere gossip. Shivers crawl down her spinal cord. She is aware he is not referring to the board meeting but something else.

“I understand, Director.”

Kagome feels the heat of that gleam on the curve of her back, hears the words he does not speak—no…not yet—and she sees the dragon. She must be insane…for what forms in her mind is insane. No…not this time. What he wants, what she guesses that it is, she will not give. The board of directors consists of men, powerful men with a weakness for beautiful women, but Kagome is no longer the Yamato Nadeshiko of Ginza. He is the one who made it so. Perhaps she is awfully wrong, perhaps he wants far sinister things, she can’t be certain, but it matters not. Once that flare of defiance has been kindled, it can only grow into a sinuous pyre.

~~~~~

Coils and scales of ink, slithery flesh infused in skin-made canvas. Kagome bites her lip, stares into the mirror, reflections of ebon-slit eyes, licks of fire on reddened skin, still raw under the needle.

“It’s fierce and beautiful.”

There is satisfaction in the male voice, wisps of lust, an artist’s pride. She tilts her neck, catches his eyes.

“You think dragons can be ridden?”

He laughs, mistakes intent, all as well. A man’s desire is not unpleasant when it is merely that.

“Depends on the dragon…and the rider.”

Her lips curl, half-wryness, half-amusement. The tattoo rides her back—but can she ride the real dragon?

~~~~~

Skye’s Weekly Challenge: Keepsake

 

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