A Second Chance
Gravity took her, pulling her from her feet. The cliff disappeared. Air rushed her face, streaking tears back to her ears. She managed a choked sob, only to have it ripped away – swallowed in the roar of water and searing spray.
The drop was hundreds of feet. She was going to die—alone.
A snarled curse sounded above and the girl jerked in surprise. Someone fell with her. Looking up, dark hair swept about her neck, whipping across watered eyes. Through it, she made out the swish of a thick ponytail, a flash of piercing blue, and the glint of fangs. Long arms reached out and grabbed her, pulling her into a warm chest.
A voice filled her ear, thick and intimate; breath hit her jaw, drowning out the battering winds. "I won't… let you die alone Kagome…."
The ground was almost upon them.
A name tumbled from her. "Kouga…?"
She closed her eyes and accepted oblivion.
A deafening crack exploded across her body.
And darkness thick enough to suffocate took her.
Kagome was on her back, convinced she had succumbed to the empty moments before death. Nothingness enveloped her in a sightless, soundless shell; body numb, senses mute, she floated – suspended in a hazy gray of languid half-awareness.
Seconds… minutes… hours… she had no idea how long she drifted until a deep moan punctured the nothingness. Using it as a beacon, her hand tingled into being and responded to its call, flopping forward haphazardly to land in wet mud. She felt its coolness through the darkness and jolted. Fingers splayed, she grazed empty air, stopping abruptly as she hit something warm. Alive.
Another moan accompanied her discovery, courted by the distinct sound of shifting weight. Instead of the barest touch, her hand was suddenly full of strong, corded chest.
A person lay next to her.
Before she could absorb the shock, more movement came. Warmth – somehow protective – surrounded her as a thick smell, of wolves, sea and pine, followed, blanketing her coming-to-life senses. Someone had rolled towards her.
Kagome forced her limp hand to rise, spurred by concern and curiosity for her neighbor. Her touch trailed chest, fur, and neck, eliciting another groan.
Silence… and then a rumble of raw, weary voice filled the space between them. "Okay?" It asked.
Tears leaked from her still dark eyes; she blinked them open and faced nothing but hazy blur. Despite their lack, Kagome nodded, relief choking up her throat.
An urgent grunt responded and the smell of pine strengthed, tangible worry beginning to radiate. Her neighbor's sight was probably as useless as hers – they hadn't seen her nod.
Before she could force a gravelly reply, the heat grew. A heavy arm moved clumsily towards her, large, calloused fingers bumping her knee. After a moment, with great effort, they heaved themselves up to grab her thigh, pulling her forward until it was her face, not hand, filled with chest.
"O-Okay?" The voice came again, open fear trembling the syllables.
Kagome nodded, this time against a decidedly male torso. Its owner immediately relaxed. The arm at her thigh moved to her waist, clutching as if she might disappear.
Instinctively, she moved her own hands up and wrapped them behind his neck. Kagome huddled close as a gust bore down. In the back of her mind, she gathered her clothes were in tatters and covered little, but a second draft, biting and personal, pushed the fleeting thought to modesty away.
The man at her side bent his head over hers, resting a cheek atop her wet hair. Tightening hold, he pulled away the last space between them until her shivering body was pressed against his. "I… protect," he managed.
She heard how the words ground against his throat and made a soft shushing sound through chattering teeth, nudging her face up under a receptive chin. Lips going blue brushed against his heartbeat, making the arms holding her jump. She nosed her way up neck and jaw to rest behind a pointed ear. "We protect," she mumbled, feeling herself begin to warm against his body.
He increased the grip on her waist and rumbled agreement from deep in his chest. She understood the sound as if he'd spoken aloud. There was something familiar and readable about him – he was pleased. Even in their predicament, of vulnerability and weakness, both wet, cold and barely alive, he was pleased.
She found herself smiling for it.
Kagome tried to find her voice to express the curious contentment that flickered as she felt his other hand slide to the small of her back, or to make sense of the butterflies beginning to flit as his adam's apple moved with a swallow. Her body hurt, and she couldn't remember who she was or how she'd gotten in the middle of a muddy riverbed. She realized she didn't care. She wanted this stranger she somehow knew to hold her all day.
All day lasted only another breath. The abrupt sound of voices in the distance broke their quiet.
The man heard them first, tensing and perking his ears.
Her body tightened next to his, asking the question her voice couldn't.
"Approach…," he answered. "People… band… ten…."
Kagome twined fingers behind his neck, hugging herself closer as dread filled her with alarming speed and strength. She gasped back a tremble. After a few moments, she heard them too – snapping twigs and rustling brush exploding into the air. The group walked without fear. To her chagrin, she whimpered.
The man heard her distress. Tilting his face to the side, he planted a gentle kiss above her ear, seeping reassurance, affection, and casual ease through the gesture, as if he'd done it a hundred times before. It doused her anxiety.
Cracked lips grazed her earlobe, and the gaining footsteps seemed to lose power. "We'll be okay…," his mouth moved against her skin. "Stay with me."
His sentences were coming easier. Kagome nodded into his neck.
The footsteps and voices grew louder. She could pick out individual words.
"Those two we saw!"
"They're by the riverbed Eichiro!"
A shudder claimed her as the exclamations burst from the trees. Heavy breathing and shocked gasps followed.
Kagome buried her face, tightening hold of the man's neck. "Don't leave me," she whispered.
"I won't—," he echoed her movements. Bodies taut, they lay there, waiting for the worst.
The surprised silence around them broke as a deep voice boomed out orders. "All right! Don't just stand there! She needs our help! Move!"
Scrambling legs came to life, rushing forward. Kagome felt hands on her arm and protest slipped from her. "No!"
"Get her away from the demon, men! Pry his grip off!"
More hands grabbed her, and Kagome felt herself being lifted. The man at her side grunted as his fingers were roughly pulled from her waist. Stark cold punched the breath from her lungs, shocking her eyes open.
Vision blurry and disoriented, Kagome managed to make out four men holding down a fifth beginning to thrash. With long dark hair splayed wildly, the struggling man snarled, baring fangs. He stretched a hand out towards her and roared in rebellion. Wide-eyed, his sight came to life.
His gaze, brilliantly blue and desperate, met hers. They each stilled, lost in a moment of recognition.
The arms seizing her took advantage of her distraction and pulled her back. Their movement roused her; Kagome reached for her senses, thrusting fingers out to take hold of his.
Tears sprang to her eyes. "KOUGA!" His name ripped from her of its own accord, issuing from a murky well of memory and knowledge.
"KAGOME!" His cry, coarse with emotion, mirrored hers. It filled the air with palpable anguish.
They strained, trying to grab onto each other.
She knew him. Kouga. Kagome couldn't remember how, or from where, but she wasn't about to give him up. "Let me go!" Her words broke in a sob. She pounded against the arms caging her.
Kouga, seeing her tears, renewed his struggle against his captors. "She needs me you bastards! She needs me!"
"What should we do Eichiro?" Asked a young male voice off to the side, their distress obviously not sitting well.
"Get them both Hiro," a deep answer, fraught with tension and effort, called across the riverbed. Its large owner was helping restrain the youkai. "None of us can keep this up much longer."
Quick footsteps approached. Before Kagome had time to register new danger or see a clear face, a wet, foul-smelling leaf was pressed over her mouth and nose. She shook her head, trying to rid herself of the obstruction, but the hand holding it was firm.
The world blinked out of focus almost immediately. She realized with terror she was being drugged.
Kagome's vision swam, and the strength ebbed from her body. Lolling her head back, the last sound she heard was Kouga, screaming her name over and over.
And once again, darkness claimed her.