At first, it had been little things. A shiny stone. A length of cord that made a perfect bracelet. Kagome mentioned that Souta shouldn’t leave his rock collection out. He simply scoffed at her. Mama reminded Jii-chan not to bring artifacts into the house that should stay locked in the shed. “Especially this vase. Though, are you sure it’s as old as the other ones?” she wondered as she changed her mind about using it for the fresh flowers Souta had haphazardly plucked for her earlier that afternoon. It seemed sturdy enough, but it had the same patterns carved into the side as the ones her father-in-law had been dusting in the living room earlier.
Souta was pleased to find items carved from small chunks of wood tucked into odd places like his sock drawer, or beside his desk lamp. The super turtle action hero from his console game, a replica of - probably - Buyo? They were fun to tinker with absentmindedly while he was studying. He figured Gramps had taken up whittling to keep his dexterity up. Mama didn’t have time for that sort of thing and Kagome was - understandably - never around.
Jii-chan noticed that there seemed to be more and more feudal era artifacts popping up in the storage shed. “Kagome. What a bright girl to think of her future,” he smirked at a wooden box with a ceremonial set of sake cups and a beautiful bottle. It would be a lovely heirloom, or would fetch a good price with the right buyer. “Might be able to keep this old shrine going yet!” he murmured to himself. He found other similar artifacts over months: vases, bowls, latticed wooden jewelry boxes. They were all gorgeous and priceless… He eventually decided they were too beautiful to sell, deciding to store them away for the grandchildren, displaying them in the house and keeping one set to use himself.
When Souta mentioned something to his mother about the figurines, asking if Jii-chan’s arthritis was improving, she frowned. She knew her father in law was not capable of the delicate carving, not with the osteoarthritis in his knuckles. Gramps seemed more confused than usual and swore he was putting everything away in the storage sheds when she asked about the jewelry and vases she kept finding in odd places. That shelf with family photos that only she ever remembered to dust. The top of her armoire where she kept a stash of candy to hide from Souta. None of the rest of her family… It’s just weird, you know? You’re a normal family. And you… let me come in here like it’s nothing. Mama sat abruptly on her bed with a broach in one hand, the small bolt of cloth it was wrapped in clutched in the other.
It had been almost a year since Kagome had returned through the well, Inuyasha disappearing back into it while Mama held her screaming and sobbing daughter. The same daughter that jumped into the well so many times that she sprained her ankle and had to be lifted out with the help of Mama and Souta. The same daughter who took over a month to recover enough to go back and finish middle school. The same daughter who was ripped away from the young man she loved with her entire being.
Mama muffled a sob into the little bolt of cloth. The little gifts, the trinkets and artifacts… “Oh, Inuyasha, my poor boy,” she murmured. He had been leaving clues, hints of his gratitude, his caring, all over the house for almost a year and they were just now finding the last of them. You give your family things, right? That’s what Inuyoukai do. Take care of the pack. It was so clear now. No one else knew of Souta’s adoration for those characters and was capable of any type of woodwork. The vases and artifacts from the feudal era that Kagome seemed to know nothing about - and she knew all too well that her daughter was not a very good liar - could come from only one other person. There was only one person who would know and could reach the places she touched often. Her scent alone was probably on those surfaces.
Inuyasha had been accepted into their home without much fuss because of how readily he protected Kagome, how clearly he cared for her, no matter his denials. After getting to know him better, Mama had come to understand that this boy - and at the time, he was a boy yet - was alone in the world apart from her daughter and the people she gathered to them. “And this family.”
Another sob choked her. Inuyasha had come to think of them as his family too. It explained his attitude change when he walked in the door. How he managed to fall asleep when Kagome made it clear that he was hypervigilant to the point of exhaustion in the past. Mostly, it was Kagome’s bedroom where she had caught him knocked out, but Kagome was usually studying or doing laundry, no reason to be concerned. He felt safe in their home because he considered it home too.
“M...Mama? Are you alright?” She scrubbed at her cheeks to clear them of tears before facing her son. “Oh,” he said, spotting the broach in her hand. “You found another one of Inu-no-niichan’s presents, huh?”
“Souta? You knew that’s who they were from?!” He froze, then nodded. “Why didn’t you…”
They both paused, hearing Kagome stomping up the stairs and near-slamming the door behind her. A squeak and thud followed as she obviously collapsed on her bed. “She hasn’t figured it out yet, Mama. I… I dunno if she could take it,” he whispered. Smiling sadly at her son, who had somehow grown up under her nose, Mama nodded.
“We can’t tell Jii-chan unless he brings it up, alright? You know he’s terrible at keeping secrets.” Souta nodded and gave her hand a light squeeze. “Go get your homework done. I’m going to start dinner.”
“Alright, Mama.” He took a breath, turning toward his room, pausing at the doorway. “Mama?” he whispered, only partially turning toward her. “I really miss Inuyasha too.”
“I know, Souta. We all do.”
Head leaning against the wall, Kagome fought back the sobs that needed to be let out. She couldn’t let her family hear her. Her feet dangled off the side of the bed, toes curling as anguish tried to turn her inside out. It felt like her chest was imploding, the space where her heart was supposed to be sucking her in as she tried to measure her breathing to soften the gasping breaths that wanted out. It should have been a nice day. If so many things were different, it would have been one of the best days of her life so far.
Instead she had hurt someone she cared about.
Kagome had gotten the feeling from the moment she walked into school that morning that she should probably turn right back around and head home. There was a vibe in the air, an energy that spoke of anticipation. She didn’t like it one bit.
“Kagome!” She turned to find Ayumi lightly bouncing toward her, a grin on her face. “Good morning!” The young miko smiled a little in response, trying to hide how her eyes were darting around. “How did you do on that English assignment? I was really struggling with the poem she wanted us to interpret… Kagome?”
“Huh? Oh. Yea, the poem was a bit tough but…” The girls chatted through their assignment while walking into the building and changing their shoes. Kagome was distracted enough to almost miss the small white envelope in her locker. Almost. Oh no. Not another one. Which would seem very conceited, should she speak it out loud, so she kept her thought to herself and tried to hide it in her math textbook.
“Kagome-chan, is that…”
“What?” she squeaked, then cursed her voice giving her away.
Ayumi got close and peeked at the corner of the envelope sticking out between the pages. “Is that another confession letter?” she whispered.
“Uh… no? I don’t know. I haven’t opened it yet.” Ayumi gave her a mildly exasperated look. Kagome bit her lip. She wanted to pretend like she hadn’t gotten it, like it didn’t exist at all, but now Ayumi knew and she would be a horrible person if she completely blew off whoever it was.
Kagome spent her first three classes barely able to focus on what the teacher was saying because she was trying desperately to think of a way to get out of responding to that letter. Hiding from the situation wouldn’t help any, she knew that, but she also knew that it would not be a pleasant situation. By the time lunch came around, she was contemplating telling the nurse she was too ill to remain the rest of the day so she could go home and avoid the whole thing until… tomorrow. She knew that she couldn’t put it off forever. He would take the hint eventually, but then what? She wouldn’t be able to look him in the eye ever again. The end of the school day came and Kagome sighed repeatedly as she made her way to the narrow walkway between the school and the storage building.
Jiro was fidgeting as he waited for her and it made Kagome cringe, knowing what was coming. She wanted to be able to say yes. It took him another moment to work up the courage to say something, but his eyes were fierce when he lifted them to her. “Higurashi, I… I like you.” I know. “I have liked you a while now.” I know. “I was thinking we could try going on a date? Just to the movies… with your friends if that would make you more comfortable,” he added when he picked up on her anxiety. And that was just one more reason she wanted to be able to say yes. He was perceptive, caring, and very kind. He was the kind of boy most girls would be jumping at the chance to get a confession from. Except Kagome didn’t want a confession from this kind and perceptive boy who would treat her well and wait months to ask her for a kiss. She wanted a brash, handsome, deeply caring but gruff boy with youkai features and strength who had risked his life to save hers a hundred times. She wanted Inuyasha.
“I’m sorry Jiro-kun but…”
“You’re in love with someone… aren’t you?” Kagome’s head popped up at the resigned statement. After a moment, she nodded. “Then why aren’t you with them?”
She balked, hesitated, swallowed. “It’s complicated. He lived… Lives very far away. I may never see him again. I’m really sorry.”
The boy stared at her thoughtfully for a while. “It’s a shame. You’re a catch, Higurashi. I’d move schools if that’s what it took to… Nevermind. Well thanks for turning me down honestly.” All she could do was nod. She waited for him to leave first to keep his dignity and so she could get herself under control. Which lasted until she got home to her room.
She missed Inuyasha. Nothing was going to change that. She’d tested the well the night before… nothing. It might as well have been a sandbox for all the good it did her to jump into it. She had perfected the landing now, knowing how to cushion her weight when she hit the bottom so that she didn’t hurt herself. Inuyasha would be proud of me. But he didn’t know. May never know. Kagome let her head fall into her hands.
Thinking about him all the time wouldn’t help, but she couldn’t stop how he returned to her mind every single day. He was so ingrained in her heart that there was no room for anyone else. Poor Jiro. He was so nice, and he actually paid attention to her! Why couldn’t she let herself at least try going on a date with him? Because it wouldn’t be him and you would be thinking about how it wasn’t the whole time. Kagome ran her fingers through her hair in frustration.
Finally pulling herself together enough to move, Kagome sighed out a rough breath and slipped the letter from her pocket. She had a shoe box she kept them in under her bed with the intention that she would eventually throw them away, but never seemed to. Ducking down beside the bed, she found it had shifted further back than usual, likely from when she was sweeping the other day. She reached, stretching her hand back until she caught hold of the corner, then startled when she felt a slip of paper against her fingertips. It was heavy weight, roughly textured. It was not modern paper.
Kagome pulled in a shaking breath through her nose, letting it out slowly. Her hands trembling, she pulled the folded sheet from its hiding spot and sat on the floor. There was a faintly dusty smell to it, meaning it had to have been there for some time without her noticing. The young miko bit her lip before deciding to unfold it.
I am not good with words, but I wanted you to know. I will be with you, always. I would have you by my side forever. There were bits scribbled out and rewritten, her name being one of them. “He practiced writing…” Suddenly on all fours again, Kagome looked under her bed for anything similar, desperate to see if there had been a later version that he had hidden more intentionally for her to find. Then she was tearing apart her room, all the drawers from her dresser and clearing her shelves.
“Oh,” she gasped, a sob leaving her throat as she exhaled. In between two books on her shelf, in an envelope this time, was a neatly folded letter with slightly stunted calligraphy. She stared at it, tears sliding down her cheeks, uncomprehending of all the words. There was no way he had written this… right?
I know that words are not what I do best. I usually do something instead of talking about it. But I know that this is something I may never have the courage to show you and may never get the chance to tell you. I want you by my side, always. I want to be by your side forever. I will protect you with my life until I breathe my last breath. I know that it may not be our fate. I hate that. Everything is too uncertain right now and it could be that I do not survive our final battle. I wanted you to know that I live for your smile and I never want to be without it.
It was dated two weeks before the final battle that had closed the well.
Silent, shaking, sobs made her teeth clatter and Kagome had to lay down before she could no longer stand. Her pillow swallowed her keening, her mourning.
Not knowing if Inuyasha had felt the same way, not truly, had given her some space to think that maybe, just maybe, he would have moved on already. And that maybe she would someday too. Now… The letter told her exactly what she had hoped, had dreamed of, and that he wanted that too. He had practiced that letter here in her room before leaving it for her to find. Did he mean for her to never find it? Why would he not give it to her directly?
“Ka… Oh honey, what’s wrong?” Kagome couldn’t lift her head to respond to her mother’s soft question. She could only clutch the letter to her heart as if to push it into the hole it had left behind. “Oh, Kagome dear. Did… did you find one of Inuyasha’s gifts?”
She stiffened, sniffing loudly and slowly lifting her head to stare at her mother in confusion. “One of Inu… There are others?!” She sat upright in a rush, swooning for a moment. “Where, Mama? Where?!”
“Other what? Calm down dear.” She carefully explained that they had been finding little trinkets and gifts all around the shrine for more than a year. “I just realized that they were from Inuyasha earlier today. Souta knew sooner, but we…”
Didn’t want to upset me. Kagome swiped at her cheeks to clear them of moisture. Her family meant well, but in trying to protect her from the hurt of knowing that Inuyasha had been leaving things around for them all along, they had left her wide open for this shock. “I… this letter, it’s the first I found.” Her mother didn’t ask to read it and Kagome didn’t offer to share. It was too raw and far too personal. “He… he loved me Mama.”
“I know, sweetheart.” And she did. Her mother had no question in her mind that Inuyasha had loved her, Kagome. So why had she?
It was raining. Nothing new there. But Inuyasha felt it on the outside this time instead of just inside his heart. It had been a year since Kagome disappeared. He didn’t know how many times he had jumped into the damn well to see if maybe this time, maybe just this one time, it would let him through. Maybe this time it would let him see her.
Not once. Never a tingle, a light, a shred of a sign that it would ever let him through again. So instead he sat perched on the edge and stared into the dark depths and pretended it was only rain on his face. He’d long ago given up snarling and howling at the well. It made no difference. It was heedless of his fury, his despair… his begging. He just felt drained afterward with nothing to show for it.
The monk and slayer had married several months ago and now… Inuyasha curled into himself. They were going to have a family. He knew it was childish. He wasn’t a kid anymore. He didn’t need them to be by his side all the time but… sometimes it helped ease the hurt a little. But now they would be a complete family, no room for a tagalong bachelor with a bad attitude. He tried to be useful around the village, kept youkai out of the forest, and helped with harvest time. The human villagers were all appreciative and he could tell they were starting to trust him more. It was a good feeling. But it wasn’t what he wanted.
Sango sat him down before the wedding and asked him if he wanted to be there. He was confused at first, until he realized she was trying to save him the hurt of watching them start their lives together when he had no way of knowing if he would ever have the same. If he would ever get his Kagome back. A tiny part of him had wanted to take the out she was giving him. At the same time he knew he couldn’t miss this important day for his best friends. He couldn’t miss it because Kagome would want to know all the details when she came back.
So he was present, cheered a bit for them with the rest of the village and even had a single cup of sake with Miroku at the end of the night. It had felt normal, for a bit, until the sake started to hit him and his friend had mentioned how glad he and Sango were that Inuyasha had decided to be there. “Where else would I be?” he growled, a faint slur to his words. The monk tossed him a look that spoke volumes, then turned back to watching his wife chat with several of the village women. “Keh. Kagome’d be pissed at me if I wasn’t here.”
Miroku’s lips quirked in a half smile, the sadness in his scent muddled by the sake. “Yes. Kagome-sama would be upset if you had skipped out.”
“Keh.” The monk grinned a bit more broadly. “What are you smiling at, Bouzu?”
“Kagome-sama will be very proud of the man you have become while she’s been away, Inuyasha my friend. When she returns…”
“Don’t start that shit…”
“ When she returns,” he emphasized, “she will be glad to see that you have matured some since our quest.” Inuyasha was glad of the low light and the tone the bonfire gave his skin, so the monk couldn’t see his blush. He was secretly pleased that Miroku noticed and that he thought Kagome would too. He was trying to be more aware, more conscious of the people around him. He found that he, in general, had a lot less annoying things to deal with and increasing acceptance in the village as a result.
But the idea that Kagome would eventually be able to return to him was one he struggled to believe. Even on his most hopeful days when he almost imagined he could scent her through the well, he knew that the odds of her coming back to him were slim. So he didn’t get his hopes up that high. It wasn’t worth the inevitable heartbreak that would follow.
“We’ll see, Bouzu. Go collect your wife, already. If she has any more sake, your wedding night is going to involve cleaning vomit off your sandals.” Miroku sighed at the redirection of the conversation, but couldn’t deny that perhaps his lovely new wife had had one too many.
“You’ll see, Inuyasha.” Then he was off to scoop up his bride and take her back to their newly built house. The inuhanyou waved him off but remained where he was to sit and watch the festivities die down. He made a point of watching where they took the leftovers, who had brought extras to support the party for the newlyweds. He wanted to make sure that he brought a little more to that villager’s house after his next hunt and keep an eye out for anyone not taking their fair share. He had the ear of the headman, a little, and if someone was taking more or less than their fair share, they wanted to balance it out.
Tonight though, the most he wanted to do was sit and stare up at the stars overhead. Kagome would have been babbling on about constellations he had never heard of or the sheer number of stars visible in this time compared to her own. Inuyasha felt a sad grin tug at his mouth. She always had the silliest things to tell him in these moments. It used to annoy him sometimes, but now he would give almost anything for the chance to hear her ramble.
“Next time it will be ours. And we’ll sit and watch the stars,” he whispered to the sparkling lights above him. “W-When you come back, Kagome.”