Graduation went as expected. Everything was normal, predictable… flat. Kagome floated through the day, numb to the excitement around her. What did it matter to her anymore? She had turned in applications at a few small schools with the thought that one of them might accept her. She had also applied to a few jobs, halfheartedly at best. None of it was what she wanted. She would find a way to keep on, eventually, but right now, getting through this graduation day was straining her ability to fake even a lackluster smile.
Mama knew her daughter was less than thrilled to be going through all the pomp and circumstance of the school’s graduation ceremony, the demands for pictures together with classmates. She could see how her heart wasn’t in it. The only people she seemed to brighten for outside of their immediate family was Ayumi and her boyfriend. She had solemnly greeted the boy, having met him for the first time, then had fallen into relatively easy conversation with both of them. Mama smiled a little sadly. She was glad to see that Kagome had been able to maintain a long lasting friendship with such a sweet girl, even with all the time she had been absent.
Now… Now her Kagome was often a different kind of absent. A far more worrisome type of “not being there” that Mama wasn’t sure she had a solution for. Kagome couldn’t speak with a therapist about her loss, no matter how much it might help, because the lack of details she couldn’t share would make it almost impossible for her to fully delve into her pain. Pain she had been witness to the evening she chased her only daughter across the shrine grounds as she ran pell mell for the well house and nearly dove in headfirst. Mama and Souta had just barely caught her before she fell in, surely preventing a broken neck. But keeping her from breaking her neck hadn’t kept her heart from shattering.
Like any mother who loved her children, hers shattered along with her daughter’s.
The helplessness of knowing what was best for Kagome, but being entirely unable to provide it, gutted her. Mama wished she had the knowledge or the power to make the well accept Kagome again, to let her through or let Inuyasha through. But she was a simple human woman with only the knowledge gained from her years married into this shrine family.
Another brittle smile for her friends, a less than subtle glance at her watch. Mama knew it was time to head home. Having fulfilled her duty as a young woman honoring her family by finishing her high school education, she could no longer ask Kagome to keep up this pretense. Mama made a point of telling Kagome that they had their luncheon waiting to be picked up, their predetermined cue to go home. The grateful smile her daughter gave her was by far the most genuine one she had seen all day.
“I’ll see you later, Ayumi.” The other girl nodded, tossing a faintly worried look in her direction. Mama nodded, shrugging a little to acknowledge her concern, but knowing that there was nothing either one of them could do in that moment.
“This place is so dusty, Ayumi. Are you sure…” A sneeze blustered out of him.
“Shh! You don’t want them to catch us in here, do you?” Hiyoshi rolled his green eyes, but said nothing more to contradict his girlfriend. She was shy and sweet with just about everyone but him. Somehow he brought out the vixen in her… not that he didn’t like that. At the moment, though, he was not sure what they were doing in a run down mini shrine in the middle of her best friend’s family property.
Until his nose picked up on the faintest scent of dog. And not the typical four legged type either. Hiyoshi found himself with his nose to the wood of the well so quickly he almost got a splinter. His nose was not nearly as strong as his mother’s or his grandmother’s, but he had enough acuity to know that the scent was well embedded in the wood from prolonged use by an inuyoukai. He didn’t know many, but he had crossed paths with a few at family gatherings when he was little. But this scent was… different somehow.
“A hanyou?” he finally murmured.
“Uh huh. That’s what Kagome-chan said. An Inuhanyou.” She glanced around before looking down into the well and shivering, backing toward the stairs. Hiyoshi frowned, shifting to the side of the well and leaning down to sniff again. Sure enough, the scent was there too. Everywhere, really.
“I thought you said he wasn’t here, Ayumi.”
“Kagome-chan said he’s stuck on the other side, in the past or something, and she’s stuck here. That’s why I asked you here.”
“To see if we could help her make the well work…” With a sigh, he let his tail out and felt his ears pop up on his head while the scents in the room became clearer and the latent magic of the whole shrine sent a prickle of heat over his entire frame. Like stepping into an overly hot day from the cool inside of a building, he almost felt sick from it for a moment, but it cleared. Hiyoshi stuck his head into the well this time, rearing back and wrinkling his nose. “Ayumi… I can smell him almost as fresh as if he’s standing right there.”
“His scent isn’t old. Or at least it doesn’t seem like it. I’m no tracker or anything, but I would think the guy was standing on the other side of a door from me with how strong it is now.” She stiffened, blinking at him, that lovely analytical brain of hers working something out. Her eyes grew wide and she flew back out of the well house with only a sharp command for him to make himself scarce. "Thank you, Hiyoshi. You're so wonderful, Hiyoshi," he singsonged sullenly as he let his concealment fall back into place. He peeked around the doorway before slipping out and doing as asked. He heard excited talking, his girlfriend, and the less than enthusiastic response from her friend.
He couldn't blame Kagome for not believing whatever Ayumi was telling her. It sounded like she had been trying for years to get through to the other side without success. A person can only have their heart broken so many times before they give up. And realistically, just because he could smell something, didn't mean anything. He'd never encountered a magical portal through time before. What did he know?
But it was curious. He felt like he knew that scent, now that it had been in his nose, wiggling something loose in his brain… But he had no idea where he might have smelled it before. Ayumi had said something about this hanyou having checked in on Kagome at school a few times when they were younger. Hiyoshi didn’t go to the same middle school as they did, so it wouldn’t be there. Again, he was reminded of when he was very little, when they still lived in Canada on his great grandfather’s land. It wasn’t a clear memory, but enough for him to feel nostalgic for the open space and wind in his ears… It had been fifteen years since his father had packed them up and moved them back to Japan for a job opportunity that “couldn’t be passed up.”
When his father died from stress-related heart issues less than ten years later, Hiyoshi couldn’t imagine what had been so important about the job.
When Ayumi came out of the house, finding him without trouble by the front gate, she was still in tears. She swore up and down that they were happy tears, to some degree, but he was skeptical. “I just… saying goodbye is hard, you know?”
“Goodbye? You’ll see her in a few days, won’t you?” he asked, still not sure what she meant until she shot him a look. “She’s gonna try it?!” Ayumi nodded, sniffing a few times. “Well don’t you wanna stick around and see if she makes it through?” He had to admit now that he was a bit curious himself.
Shaking her head, Ayumi started pulling on his sleeve to take them down the giant staircase in front of the shrine. “This is something she needs to do alone. If it doesn’t work…” She took a deep breath. “If it doesn’t work, she won’t want anyone to see her like that.” Hiyoshi glanced over his shoulder as they made their way down the stairs, hearing the front door to the main house opening and closing, the murmur of two low female voices. He caught a glimpse of a pink sweater just before they were too far down the stairs for him to see anymore.
“Mama…” she breathed. Kagome felt her heart racing in a way it hadn’t done in a… very long time. The well house seemed even darker than usual, the shadows deeper. Especially when compared to the bright sunlight she could see at the bottom of the well. “Mama, do you see that?” She couldn’t trust her own mind anymore, not when it came to this. It could very well be the siren’s call of the very dark place her mind had started to create. The one that told her breaking her neck in the well by diving in headfirst would be a blessing. Sometimes it even told her she had imagined all of it. That she had never gone through the well at all, that Inuyasha was entirely in her imagination.
“Is that… is that where it takes you?” Mama’s voice was just as quiet, fearful she would dispel whatever magics were allowing her to see the blue sky and sunshine at the bottom of a dark dry well that had never seemed out of the ordinary to her in the decades she had lived near it. Until it dragged her fifteen year old daughter into it over three years ago. “Is that where he is?”
Kagome inhaled and then let out a shaky breath. “It looks like it. Y-You can see it too?” When her mother nodded, she felt tears spring to her eyes. Maybe, just maybe, it was real this time. “I… Mama? I… I don’t know what to do,” she whispered, her voice quaking at the reality of it. She had to make a decision, didn’t she? Right now. She had to choose to try and go through the well - try to get back to Inuyasha - and leave her family behind, or stay in her own time and… what? What would she do here? Be ? A shell of herself, for sure, but she would have her family and…
“Kagome, my dear, brave, girl.” Mama’s voice was warm, but rich with emotion. “You should go. You may not have this chance again.” Kagome’s dark eyes rose to her mother’s, finding them equally wet. “You have proven yourself to be the honorable daughter, the excellent student, the best daughter any mother could ask for.”
“Mama…” Kagome sobbed.
“But your place, it isn’t here. I’ve known that a long time now. You belong there, with him.” Mama couldn’t help a soft sob of her own. “We will miss you, very much, but we will be happy knowing that you are happy and that you will make him happy again.” Kagome’s eyes widened in surprise. “You can’t tell me that he isn’t missing you just as terribly as you have been missing him this whole time.” She wiped delicately at her eyes, pressing the back of her hand to her nose to make sure it wasn’t running. “I am so proud of you both. He will always be my son… my son in law, I suppose,” she said with a huff of incredulous laughter. “And you will always be the daughter that I can proudly say saved the world, even if no one knows it.”
“Mama, I…” She almost started to argue, to remind her mother that she would likely never see her again. That the odds of being able to return through the well might as well be nil. But the look her mother gave her told Kagome that she knew that all too well. They were saying goodbye right now. Likely forever. “Thank you, Mama. For everything. Tell… Tell Jii-chan and Souta that…”
“I’ll tell them. I will.” Mama grabbed her one last time, pulling her into a hug that almost squeezed the breath out of her. But it was exactly what Kagome needed in this moment when she felt like she very well might shake apart with fear, excitement, and the potential for heartbreak. “I love you, Kagome. And I want you to be so happy with your love. Tell him I love him too,” Mama whispered in her ear before letting her go.
“I will, Mama. I love you too.” Kagome looked at her mother for the last time, memorizing her little smile. Then she bit her lip, turned back to the well, and swung her leg over the lip. “Goodbye, Mama.” She couldn’t look back as she said it, afraid she would hesitate even longer. With a deep breath, she jumped.
The breeze in his ears was pleasant. Or it would have been if one of the twins wasn’t tugging on them in the midst of their game… “Oi, get off!” he huffed, but gently removed her from his back to free his ears. They had been tussling for some time in an attempt to wear them out while Sango and Miroku tried to make a dent in their laundry. The baby was sound asleep where he was was strapped to Sango, apparently unperturbed by all the noise his sisters were making. Inuyasha sighed as they hung from his sleeves instead, giggling and squealing, forcing his already abused ears to his skull to block out some of the noise. He went along with it for a bit, lifting his arms and swinging them back and forth, letting them down gently if their grip started to slip, then waiting for them to climb on again.
It was nice, sometimes, to be included in their family. He didn’t feel quite so alone. He knew that at least someone wanted him around. At the same time, it was a reminder of what he was missing out on. Shino had moved on from her short-lived crush on him, eventually accepting a marriage proposal from one of the local human men. He had kind of expected to feel upset about it, the lost opportunity. Instead he felt relief. “Inuyasha!” His head popped up at the sound of the kitsune’s voice. He was trudging in from whatever duties the kitsune clan had demanded of him and looked a bit worse for wear, but had a smirk on his lips. “They got ahold of you again?” Inuyasha tossed him an irritated glance, but said nothing.
The twins’ laughter distracted him again… until something caught his nose.
His arms dropped to his sides, his nose tipping up in the air. His ears perked and focused in the same direction. No. It couldn’t be… His mind went blank for a moment, even as his nose went into overdrive trying to pick up the scent more clearly. But with all the smells coming from the children, the laundry… He couldn’t be sure. And he needed to be sure . “Here, slay the kitsune,” he mumbled, dumping the twins on Shippou, who let out a shout of protest. Inuyasha heard none of it. He was too intently focused on the scent that had to be a hallucination, a product of the path his mind had been taking as he played with the twins. Only a wish.
He took slow steps at first, the balls of his feet feeling every piece of gravel on the path as he moved in the direction of the scent. Still his mind was mostly a buzzing void. The breeze picked up again, filling his ears and then his nose once more. “It… it can’t…” he breathed, his footfalls beginning to kick up slight dust as he picked up speed. If he was wrong, if his nose was fooling him this time… He wasn’t sure if his heart could handle it. Dreams of her were one thing. He could tuck those away in his memory and treasure them, because he knew they weren’t real. This was different. This was something that felt real, felt tangible in a way that only one dream ever had. And the thought that just maybe he was finally losing it almost made him stop in his now leaping tracks. Could he take it if he made it to the well and he was wrong ?
Too soon, and yet never soon enough, the well came into view, the scent growing stronger as he approached. He couldn’t hear anything, but the well was deep and the old wood tended to muffle things. He landed beside it, fear warring with anticipation. What if…?
Holding his breath, Inuyasha reached blindly into the well.
His breath choked him when he felt the warm and familiar grip of a hand in his. Her hand.