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    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.

Kagome,

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?

Kagome,

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.

Yours,

Inuyasha.

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.”

Chapter Text

 

"No, Kagome. You need to get those boxes sorted and cleared out of the shed. They're taking up space your grandfather needs for the festival supplies." Kagome waited until her mother turned away to let her face fall into a scowl. She was supposed to be meeting Yuka, Eri, and Ayumi in a couple hours to go to a movie. "You had better get a move on if you're going to make your movie!" Mama called as she went back into the house.

It had been Jii-chan's idea to increase visits to the shrine with a big festival for Nagoshi-no-Oharai  this year. She was all for it, but it meant more materials to cram into the already stuffed shelves in the storage shed on the property. So her things, neatly packed away, had to move.

Neatly packed away so that she didn’t have to look at it and remember that time in her life every day.

Kagome sighed and trudged into the shed, feet dragging with her reluctance, and tied her scarf up over her mouth and nose. No matter how often they came in here, rearranging and dusting, it was still always the dustiest place she had ever been. The young miko pursed her lips as her eyes scanned the shelves in search of the boxes labeled with her name.  They had gotten delegated to a higher shelf since she’d last been in there, which meant she needed the step ladder. Fortunately Jii-chan was pretty good about remembering to put it back where it belonged so she didn’t have to search for it.

Unfortunately, she was still a bit short to easily get the box on the topmost shelf. The other two sat on the floor at her feet as she stretched to tip the box close enough to the edge that she could slide it the rest of the way.  Kagome grunted in frustration and fought the tiny voice that still liked to pop up once in a while. If he were here…   Kagome gasped when she was able to get the box far enough and nearly tumbled backward with the entire thing. As it was, the lid popped open and she had to struggle her way down without dumping its entire contents on the floor.  Kagome grumbled under her breath, stacking the boxes together and hefting them through the doorway. It was nice out and she needed the fresh air after the dust-speckled air of the shed.

Spread under the branches of Goshinboku, Kagome emptied one box, finding mostly her old uniforms and gym outfits.  “Why did I keep those?” she wondered aloud.  But part of her knew why she’d kept her school uniforms.  She blinked a few times and then set them aside.  Her school had updated their style since she was there, so she couldn’t even donate them to someone who might need them. There were some other random photos in that box. Her and Souta, one of her and the girls.  “Oh man, gotta show this to them,” she said with a laugh, remembering that she needed to get through these things so she could make her movie in time.

The second box had more trinkets, mostly random items marking school events, things she had participated in before and after… The well.  Kagome sighed and set them aside to be disposed of with the other things.  They just didn’t have much meaning at this point.  They weren’t her real accomplishment, if one could call it that, anyway.

The last box she wasn’t really sure of.  She didn’t exactly remember packing this one.  Through the slightly ajar lid, she could see silky fabric.  “A yukata?” It had an older, simpler, pattern that she instantly recognized as being from the Sengoku Jidai.  It wasn’t as brightly colored as most modern yukata.  A hesitation. With slightly quaking fingers, she shifted the top aside and pulled the fabric from the box.  Now in the light, she recognized it easily.  Sango had spotted it in a bazaar when they were traveling, just before…  And she had mentioned how nice it would look on Kagome.  Blushing, the young miko carefully touched it and smiled before saying something that nice would never suit her.  Maybe when she was older.

A note slipped from inside the neckline and Kagome swallowed.  She wasn’t sure she could handle more of his letters.  But she also couldn’t leave it.  “Would have been fine now, but here is for when you’re older.” Simple, straight forward.  She could almost imagine him saying “keh” as he wrote it. She smiled a little wryly.  The hurt wasn’t as pointed, but it still pained her to remember his mannerisms so easily, as though he were sitting right there beside her.

The bottom of the box was not empty, as she had assumed, and Kagome frowned at the lightly engraved cover of a wooden box sitting inside.  There was a rough sketch of a night sky with the phases of the moon arcing across.  She had to take a deep breath before she could lift the unexpectedly heavy thing out.  The lid slid off sideways, revealing some rough utilitarian fabric padding and covering the objects inside.  Cool, smooth wood met her fingers.  There were several objects, all similar in size and shape except for two.

The one in her hand was a figure of a man.  Robed and holding a long staff, it was clear who he was supposed to be.  The figures were unpainted, but she could imagine the vibrant purple and black, the gold staff.  She could almost hear the jingle of the rings as they moved while they all walked down a dusty road.  The next was clad in full battle armor, the hiraikotsu held at the ready to be hefted toward an enemy.  Kagome fingered the ponytail tied high on the figure’s head and bit her lip.  She could imagine it swinging as they walked, a grin on her face as they shared stories about their brothers or whispered about their male travel companions.

She skipped over the other larger figures, finding a large cat in one hand and a fluffy tailed kitsune in the other.  Kagome leaned down and pressed them both to her eyes, tears welling up and a sob catching in her throat. The memory of the way they liked to cuddle together near the fire at night while the rest of them talked made her smile through her tears, a laugh breaking up the sob.  “Oh Shippou…”

A more stooped figure with a terrible attempt an eyepatch caught her attention and she grinned, tears tumbling down her cheeks. The light gravel in an older voice, a smell of medicine and tea, the comfort of a knowing look. Kagome brushed her thumb against the faintly wrinkled-looking cheek and wondered if her arthritis was bothering her more now.

Knowing, yet terrified, she couldn’t ignore the last two figures.  They had been placed in the middle of the box and wrapped with particular care.  These two were painted a little, just enough to hint at colors. The first held a bow and was dressed in a sailor fuku with hints of green and white.  The paint had smudged a little where the necktie was, making it look a little bigger than she imagined he’d wanted. Kagome trailed her finger over the red sleeve, the curve of a sword, the pale hair of the final figurine. She studied the way he had portrayed himself, comparing it to how she knew him.  Her fingertip found the pointed ears, the curve of his chin.   

She sighed, moving to set down her figure, she was startled when she felt a tug on the one in her other hand.  The breath caught in her throat and tears built at her lower lashes until they spilled over.  It had to be strong to not have broken, especially given how tiny it was.  Maybe it’s a thread from the firerat , her brain supplied numbly. It might have been accidental, catching on the small grooves near the wrists of the little figures.  The fact remained that the tiny red string that connected their hands would not allow them to be separated.

Kagome didn’t make it to her movie that night.  Her ankle hadn’t appreciated the repeat landings in the hard-packed dirt and her friends would have commented on her broken fingernails. Fate is cruel.

 




She was new to the village.  Inuyasha had no idea where she’d come from exactly, just that because she didn’t agree with the headman about something she had packed her meager belongings and left.  Pretty ballsy thing for a young human woman to do alone.  Even sticking to the wagon roads, she could very well have gotten taken by bandits, eaten by a youkai…  But the point stood, she was here in the village now and she was always fucking staring at him.  He knew he was a bit of an oddity in the great wide world, but around here, he’d become “normal” in a way.  At least part of the scenery.  No one really made any comment about him being a hanyou these days.  Not since he’d been a part of the destruction of one of the greatest evils Nippon had known in some time.

But this woman, Shino, kept trying to follow him around.  She was attempting, very poorly, to be discreet about it.  It seemed pretty likely she didn’t know how good his senses were.  Did she have some sort of beef with youkai?  Was she stalking him to try and get rid of him?  This was his fucking village!  He lived here first!  After two weeks of this ridiculous cat and mouse game where the cat didn’t know she was actually the mouse, Inuyasha led her on enough of a chase that he was able to circle around behind her and then wait in the road when she turned to head back to the village.  She squeaked at his stern look, arms crossed over his broad chest and a scowl on his face.

Shino looked startled, but not afraid, which should have been his first clue that this was not necessarily what he thought it was.  “Oh! Inuyasha-sama.”  His nose wrinkled at the title.  “You… did… did you know I was following you?” she finally sighed, letting her hands drop to her sides.  Ah, here we are, the confession that you’re really out to kill me, Inuyasha thought a little triumphantly, readying his stance.  “I was only curious since you are so often in this part of the forest, but Miroku-sama said it was best not to follow you out here.”

“Keh.  Shoulda listened to the bouzu.  Ain’t nothing out here but trees and the wild boars.”

“Then why do you come here?”

“For quiet!” he snapped, turning on his heel and heading for the village.

“Wait!  Inuyasha-sama!  I did not mean to offend you.  I…”  She collided with his chest when he turned to face her, not realizing she was chasing headlong after him.  “Oomph!”

Inuyasha caught her elbows to keep her from dumping herself on her ass, then waited for her to take a step back.  She didn’t.  He took one himself, and was a bit baffled to feel her fingers gripping his suikan.  “What…”

“I… I like you, Inuyasha-sama!” she shouted a little breathlessly toward the ground, embarrassment flaring in her scent.  He was speechless.  She… what?   “I know you barely know who I am, and I might just seem like an annoying human woman to you but…”

“Whoa.  Whoa.  Where did you…  Why me?” he balked.  He had never had to deal with anything like this before.  Certainly not since K… Since she was taken.  And even then, they had never actually confessed anything aloud.  People didn’t do that, did they? “You must be drunk.  Lemme get you back to…”

“I am not drunk!  I have never had a drop in my life,” she responded, indignation in her tone and her head finally popping up to look him in the eye.  There was a flash of true defiance in her, something most women of this day and age, especially village women, did not have.  Something his Ka… She had it in spades.

But it sparked nothing in him the way it did with her.  There was no desire to fight back, no need to make her scent rise further in irritation just to relish how it settled into simmering heat around him.  Nothing could replace that.  Nothing would ever draw him in like she could.

Was it wrong of him to completely reject this woman’s advances, though?  He had no way of knowing if… Was he meant to be alone for the rest of his life?  Maybe this was a chance at happiness.  “Alright. I’m sorry,” he muttered.  “Is that why you’ve been following me all over the village?”

“You noticed me?!”  He gave her his most incredulous look.  She blinked at him a moment, then looked up at his ears and seemed to come to a realization.  “You sensed me the whole time, didn’t you?”  He nodded slowly.  “Oh, I feel a fool.  Sango-san warned me that you would know, but you never said anything so…”

“You talked to both the monk and the slayer?”  Her look was sheepish.  “Keh. What’d they tell you?”

“That… that you are waiting for someone.” Inuyasha couldn’t help but stare at her agape.

To hear it put so simply struck him harder than he thought it could.  He thought he’d already had his heart torn out and apart by the tiny reminders around the village of her, the bits of her things he still kept stored safely in his hut.  But to have this woman who was essentially a stranger softly state the entire truth of his current existence… “K-Keh.”

“So it is true.  You are… waiting.”  She glanced around as though looking for something to grasp.  “Is it the miko I hear about? That… that died?”

“Kagome ain’t dead!” burst out of his mouth before he could even think to stop it.  She stared at him in confusion. His brain took a second to process that someone had been telling her about Kikyou, not Kagome. “I… Kikyou died a long time ago.”

“K-Kagome?  The young strange miko that everyone talks about.  She is supposed to return?” she asked in a whisper.  Inuyasha took a step back from her as though her words stung.  “That is who you are waiting for.”  Tears filled her eyes and she took a step back as well.  “I see.  I… I really do feel the fool now,” she murmured, almost to herself, a sad smile lifting her lips.  “I just… You seemed so alone, Inuyasha-sama.  I thought you might…”  A self-mocking laugh left her.  “I am sorry to have bothered you. Listening to Sango-san and Miroku-sama would have been the wise choice.”

She ran and Inuyasha didn’t move to chase her back to the village.  What would be the point?  With a few simple words she had torn open the wound he thought was slowly healing. He didn’t need the reminder that he was in limbo.  He didn’t need this woman who hardly knew him sticking her finger in his sore spots to feel that pain.  He felt that pain all on his own. Every single day she was gone.

Inuyasha was in the branches of Goshinboku almost before he realized it, the comforting aura of the tree bringing little solace today.  But it was something.  He felt closer to her there, like just maybe he could reach out and touch her.  Instead he touched his cheek, only somewhat surprised to feel his fingers come away wet.  He never used to cry, before her.  She taught him that too, amongst all the other good things.  She taught him to care.

Right now he was cursing that ability.

He’d hurt that young woman.  Shino didn’t deserve to feel stupid for approaching him. She didn’t deserve to feel that hot embarrassment he’d smelled on her as she blew past him toward the village.  At the same time, he knew it would have been even worse to have pretended he could spend time with her.  It would have been a lie. It would have hurt more in the long run.  Ripping off the bandaid .  That's what he’d been doing.  One of Kagome’s odd phrases.  But, having experienced it both ways on more than a handful of occasions, he could attest that getting it over with quickly was ultimately less painful.

Too bad I have to keep putting this bandage back on over and over, he thought, pressing his fist against his heart.

 

Chapter Text

 

Sleep had been difficult this last week.  Kagome had felt the stress of her upcoming exit exams in every fiber of her being.  Even with the end in sight, the goal for which she had been striving for almost three years, she had this knot in her gut almost constantly.  It had started out as a flutter and had become a rock over time. It made it hard to eat some days. Her mother made her ginger tea more days than not while she was studying just in hopes that she would have an appetite by the time dinner was ready.  Kagome appreciated the effort, but she wasn’t even sure what it was that was causing such intense anxiety.  She knew she was going to pass her exams. Or she was pretty confident anyway.

Her day to day life was normal, in the realm of being a high school girl. She went to school, she spent time with her friends, she studied, spent time with her family… It wasn’t like she had any big things to stress about.  Aside from her tests… Which she wasn’t stressed about!  There were no romantic entanglements to worry about.  She’d given up on that after Jiro and said she had no intention of dating until after high school. It had taken such a weight off of her shoulders to know that it had been spread around school that Higurashi Kagome didn’t date. No one tried to call her out behind the school anymore.  No one left secret notes in her locker. No one, that she knew of, was making eyes at her enough to distract her from her schoolwork.

Yet anxiety was her constant companion. Or maybe it was unease?

Kagome stood wrapped in a heavy quilt under the Goshinboku, staring up at the branches. It was chilly, but uncharacteristically warm for January.  She had started to feel like her spine was itchy in bed and coming to the roots of the old tree had popped immediately into her head.  Given that she wasn’t sleeping anyway, she followed the urge with some preparation.  Fleece pajamas and thick socks kept her warm, the lining of her boots and her fuzzy hat adding protection from the elements.  The blanket had been more a comfort than anything, but it made curling up in the roots of Goshinboku even more appealing than it had already been.

“I wonder if you still do this sometimes too,” she whispered, looking up and imagining a red clad figure perched above her. Of course, that was silly to think he would still hang around the place that had been his prison for fifty years, especially without her there to… “To what, Kagome? What would you possibly be doing to help?” She sighed, stuffing her face into the quilt and ignoring the faint damp left behind. She did a lot of getting in the way, didn’t she? Anywhere she went.  Even here in her own time, she had accidentally gotten in the way of Eri with the boy she liked. Not on purpose, mind you, but somehow she had drawn his attention without even speaking to the boy. Personally, she felt that Eri could do much better, and she deserved someone who saw just her.  Kagome had learned that lesson the hard way.  But when he finally saw me The knot in her middle increased even as she felt herself drawn into sleep.

Her dreams had been so filled with random events and floating equations she couldn’t seem to solve that Kagome had stopped hoping for any sort of pleasantness during sleep.  So the soft landscape of the Sengoku Jidai in early spring with the leafy boughs of Goshinboku above her was a delight.  She sat in awe of it for a long moment, relishing the peace she felt.  It had been a long time since she’d had the opportunity to take in the newly sprouted green grass of the forest that once surrounded her modern home.  She could smell the scent of the grass and some newly bloomed flowers nearby. The breeze was light, making the blades at her feet ripple. She could hear the hushed movement of the few leaves overhead. The thick scattering of trees around the wide clearing made by Goshinboku’s shade were in the beginning stages of greenery as well. It was so achingly familiar and yet almost foreign at this point.

Kagome stood slowly as the itch she’d felt along her spinal column in her own bed at home became almost a burning sensation.  So much so that she pressed her hand to the back of her neck and gasped in surprise at the intensity.  A thump on the mossy ground behind her made her freeze. Terror took her breath.  No. It couldn’t be…

“K-Kagome?”  She spun at the sound of his voice.  No .  She hadn’t had a dream like this about him in almost two years.  Part of her brain must have realized that haunting her with these kinds of dreams was too cruel and had stopped. But this was so… “Real? Are you real?”  His hands went to her and she shied back almost instinctively.  The bark of the god tree bit into her back. “Kagome?” he whispered. He did catch hold of her then, seeming as desperate to confirm that she was there as she was to escape the pain that would come when this all faded or turned into a nightmare.  “Kagome,” he breathed, pulling her into his chest to crush her in his embrace.  And it was warm and strong and soft and all the things she remembered about him holding her. Kagome sobbed out the breath she’d been holding.

“Y-You can’t be here, Inuyasha.  It’s… it’s not real, right?” She sucked in a breath and sobbed into his sternum.  “You’re a dream.  I’ve had this dream a hundred times.”

“I’ve had it a thousand,” he murmured.  “I can feel you, smell you,” he told her adamantly.  “Kagome, how?”

She wasn’t sure. She still couldn’t imagine that this was in any way real, despite having been in a similar situation when they were separated by the well and he was pinned to Goshinboku a second time by her arrow when she was bespelled.  When she had almost given up her place in his time, thinking it was for the best. Oh how she had learned how much she needed him, how much he needed her. “I fell asleep by Goshinboku, I think,” she confessed. He growled lightly in reprimand. And it was so… normal .  So expected.  The knot in her belly slowly unwound as he rumbled and scolded her for being careless.  “I’m dressed warmly… I think. I don’t really know what’s real anymore, Inuyasha.”

“Keh.  Maybe both.”

Kagome nodded and then finally allowed herself to look up at him with her tear streaked face. He tsked again, lifting his suikan sleeve up to gently wipe her cheeks dry.  His golden eyes were concerned, but obviously glad to see her. “Inuyasha,” she sighed in question, in relief, in fear that it was all a lie.

He grinned a little lopsidedly.  “Yea, Kagome.”  Kagome couldn’t help reaching up to touch his cheek in return, poking him to see if his skin bounced back.  “Oi, knock that off,” he grumbled, playfully nipping after her fingers. She squeaked in surprise, then burst into giggles. His smile grew into a fangy grin, taking in her smiling face after all this time. The sound of her light laughter warmed his heart in a way that a hundred family meals with the monk and slayer’s family never could, no matter how much he appreciated them. While part of him knew he would never forget the sight of her sparkling eyes and the bow of her lips, it was something else to see it. It hit differently in his gut.

Kagome finally calmed her giggles and stared up at him in wonder.  “How are you doing?” she asked softly, obvious concern in her eyes.  He made a slight face, but nodded that he was alright. She tried to give him a look, but he ignored it.

“Are you done with school?” he countered.

“Almost.  I have… really big tests in a couple weeks.”  He rolled his eyes hard and groaned.  “What?!”

“You have got to be kidding me!  More of those tests?  You’ve spent most of your life taking those damn things,” he said exasperatedly.  Kagome opened her mouth to protest and then snorted out a laugh.  He wasn’t exactly wrong and she knew it.  “But then you’ll be done after that?” he asked, trying to hide the hopeful tone in his voice. What the hell am I hoping for? It wasn’t like the well was open. Kagome nodded noncommittally.  She explained that, theoretically, she was supposed to go on to something called university after she was done with her current stretch of schooling.

“But I don’t know what…  I don’t want to…” She sighed heavily, sinking into his chest and gripping the firerat in her fists.  “I want to be here, with you,” she confessed in the tiniest of whimpers. A tightness started in his chest. That was what he wanted, of course, but if it wasn’t meant to be… “I try the well every few days.”

“Me too,” he whispered against the crown of her head. “Kagome,” he murmured while lifting her chin to look her in the eyes.  “Even if it’s not… I’ll wai-”

She didn’t let him say it, didn’t let him promise it. Her lips met his so suddenly that he flinched. Then the surprise wore off and he sunk into her kiss, soaking in every sensation.  He may never have this opportunity again. Her breath was warm and sweet, her lips soft as they moved against his. Inuyasha sighed out through his nose and scooped her up against him. He never wanted to let her go. He never wanted to lose this moment.  If it meant he never woke up from this dream then…

“Inuyasha?” she murmured once. Then again more urgently as panic started to enter her scent.  He blinked in shock, staring down at her wide brown eyes and her mouth as she tried to tell him something that his very sensitive ears could no longer hear.  Then she started to fade from his vision entirely. Inuyasha had been so startled at first that he’d been frozen.  He quickly grasped after her, trying to grab hold of anything he possibly could to keep her there, to keep her close. But she disintegrated to dust in his fingertips and he was left with only the faint lingering of her scent in the air and the now fading warmth of her body against his chest. His breath came in pants as his eyes searched wildly for her.  She couldn’t just be… gone!

“Kagome!  Kagome!” His chest felt tighter. The sensation moved down into his gut as he darted around the base of Goshinboku in search of her.  The feeling of tightness slid lower until it sat like an uncomfortably large meal in his stomach.  Finally he plopped down into the roots of the tree and stared. “Gone. She’s… gone.”  Had she ever been there to begin with? Had his loneliness, his despair, finally caught up with him? He blinked several times until his eyes felt so heavy they couldn’t stay open.

When they did open again, the air around him had changed.  It was bitterly cold, which made sense given the time of year. But it had been spring just a moment before, hadn’t it? He blinked again as a swirl of icy wind hit his face.  It felt colder against his skin than he was used to. Inuyasha reached up and touched his cheeks, a little stunned to find tears silently streaming down his face.  It was like he couldn’t feel the moisture except when the wind tried to simultaneously steal and freeze it. “S-Stupid wind,” he growled shakily. That’s what was making his eyes water.

The inuhanyou curled into himself in the firerat and stared out into the early morning gray barely lighting the eastern edge of the forest.  He hadn’t had a dream like that about Kagome in over a year. At the same time, that had felt more real than any before it. He could feel her, smell her… taste her.  His dreams often had a realistic element of one of his senses, but not all of them at once.

He had felt unsettled earlier in the evening after spending time with the slayer, monk and their twins.  Their newest addition was due soon, possibly another month, and Sango needed the break from the girls to put her feet up.  He noted she was less swollen with this pregnancy, but she was definitely much more tired. He had been glad for the warmth and companionship of their hut and a meal with the closest thing to family he had. But he had felt off, a churning feeling in his stomach, his spine itchy. He had bid them goodnight when the girls were down and had gone out to the forest to run.

The sensation had faded some at first with movement, but even that hadn’t made it disappear completely.  He wasn’t due for a well visit for another two days, so he had skimmed past it, feeling drawn to the Goshinboku instead. The closer he got, the more the sensation on the back of his neck had intensified.  While part of him had feared the change, part of him was curious what it was that was obviously drawing him to the god tree.  Was it a youkai trying to entrap him?  Been there, done that , he thought with a smirk.  But he felt no youki. No malicious intent. Only the need to curl up in the roots of the big tree and take a load off.

He’d given in, if only because it helped soothe the burning. Then he’d felt more tired than he had in weeks and slipped into sleep without much fight.  The wind was different, warmer, and he could smell flowers.  His eyes opened to the green foliage of spring on the branches of the great tree.  That scent.   Golden eyes widened and he looked around wildly, only to be drawn down. It’s impossible… He dropped to the forest floor less than gracefully, too stunned by her presence to think about his landing. And all he could do at first was murmur her name.

“A dream,” he whispered into his sleeve, his fangs pressing into his lower lip as he held in what definitely wasn’t a sob. “It was all just a dream.” No matter how real it had all felt, how he could still almost smell her scent on his clothes, taste her on his lips… it was an illusion. Inuyasha sucked in a shaking breath, letting it out just as unsteadily.  He ignored the dampness on his face. He didn’t cry. He wasn’t… he could keep it together.

He told himself he wasn’t that weak even as his muffled sobs wet his suikan sleeve.

 

Chapter Text

 

The box had moved around her room several times in a futile bid to both forget it was there and keep it close. Kagome had a hard time looking at it, unable to get the picture of what it held out of her mind. It was final, that box. It felt like the end of everything and reminded her too easily of what could have been. Neatly folded, the fabric weighted with importance.

“Kagome, Ayumi is here to see you!” Kagome was able to push it aside for a little longer, forgotten for a time.  The girls were able to go out and enjoy a sunny day, early spring bringing warmer weather after the bitterly cold winter they’d had.

Ayumi was kind enough not to ask what Kagome’s plans for “after” were. It had been a point of issue in conversation in the past. Eri and Yuka didn’t quite understand why Kagome was so hesitant to commit to any one path, especially when she had been able to so handily turn her grades around, now that she wasn’t “sick” anymore. Her friends had learned - some much more slowly than others -  not to ask her about that time either.  They knew that something had happened to her that kept her out of school frequently, then for a longer solid period. Then Kagome was back to school and never missed another day. But they noticed that their long time friend was different.  She wasn’t as naturally bubbly as she used to be.

Ayumi was the only one Kagome felt truly comfortable hanging out with alone anymore.  She was calmer than their other girlfriends, she listened without judgement, and she only offered gentle advice that Kagome felt was both helpful but careful of her feelings.  Today… Today she needed someone to be more assertive with her. Today she needed to nail down a plan because she had nothing and, with the big day creeping up and most of the important deadlines passing her by, she would be up a creek with no paddle very shortly. “Ayumi? What should I do?”

“Huh? Do about what, Kagome?” She launched into her very limited options for schools, for a job. None of them sounded appealing to her, so she hoped that her dear friend, who knew her better than most people, would have some kind of reaction to point her in the right direction.  “Hm… What feels right to you, Kagome?” she asked instead.

“I… Nothing. None of it feels right,” she confessed in a whisper, dropping onto a nearby bench and waiting for her friend to plop down beside her. “I feel like I’m just playing at this. Like I don’t belong here.” She let her hands hang between her knees.  Kagome sighed heavily, then looked up at her friend watching her so earnestly.  Ayumi wanted to help, and here she had been lying to her for years.  “I… Can I tell you something?”

“Oh goodness… you were pregnant, weren’t you?” Ayumi burst out, then slapped a hand over her mouth in shock and fear, as though she couldn’t believe the words that had just come out of her own mouth.  Kagome could only blink for a few moments as she fully processed what her friend had said.  “I’m sorry, Kagome-chan, I never really believed it, but with all that time you were absent and…”

Kagome couldn’t help the bubble of laughter that rose out of her gut and up out of her. It was cleansing, in a way, to finally know what people had suspected of her in middle school.  All the absences, all the “illnesses” that her grandfather had made up. Everyone knew they were lies. No wonder Hojo was always bringing her things for her back and feet! He thought she might be having pain or swelling… from pregnancy! “No! Sorry, I’m not laughing at you, Ayumi-chan, I just… I never asked what you thought was happening. I never even thought of that!”

“You… you weren’t?”

“No! C’mon Ayumi. If I had a secret lovechild running around somewhere, don’t you think you would have noticed by now?” She mumbled something about adoption. “I… There’s only one person I would ever even consider having a child with,” she confessed, “and if I had, I wouldn’t let them go for anything.” 

Ayumi hesitated, placing her hand on her friend’s arm.  “It’s that boy, Inuyasha, the yankii, isn’t it?” Kagome bit her lip to hold back a sob at hearing someone else say his name. She could only nod faintly. “You haven’t spoken of him for years. I assumed he was… gone.”  She didn’t elaborate on what she meant by that, but Kagome wasn’t stupid. Her friends had gotten the idea that Inuyasha was a delinquent in their heads and so it was just as likely that he had abandoned her as it was that he was dead from a fight. Or perhaps he’d gone to jail. Or straightened up his act and couldn’t see her anymore… There were a multitude of options. None of which were close to the far more bizarre truth.

Kagome’s head fell back against the bench they were on with a deep sigh.  “Let me tell you a story, Ayumi-chan. About a priestess and a hanyou.”

Her pert little nose wrinkled in confusion at the change in subject.  “You mean that story about the jewel that your grandfather is always telling?”

Kagome let a mirthless smile twist her lips.  “Kind of. This is the real story.”

She wove the tale of the past, before she arrived in it, then explained to her enrapt audience how on her fifteenth birthday she had been stolen away into the Sengoku Jidai. A world so different from theirs, if only because of the presence of youkai. Magical beings, herself included, ran rampant through a land that had danger and death waiting around every corner. A place where a surly inuhanyou was awoken by a silly teenage girl who just so happened to be the reincarnation of his dead girlfriend.

Kagome stared up at the sky, not bothering to see if her friend was believing anything she said. She told of a few of their more harrowing adventures, told of the slow but steady connection that grew between the small band of warriors.  How she had contributed only so much until she grew in confidence and finally broke through the seal on her power. How they had defeated their enemy… only for her to be separated from the young man who would forever hold her heart. Kagome felt the tears trail down the sides of her face but was too entrenched in telling her story to wipe them away.

It took her a moment before she could convey the pain she had felt upon finding Inuyasha’s letters hidden in her room, then discovering that he had been leaving little trinkets and gifts for her family all along. She took great sobbing breaths when she retold finding the boxes in storage. The destructive power of seeing a visible connection between herself and her hanyou… only to have the well refuse her yet again.

“That’s why you missed that movie night…” was all Ayumi murmured. Her voice was soft, tears in her eyes as she watched her friend of many years break down. She had no doubt that Kagome was telling the truth, no matter how unbelievable it sounded. She cried along with Kagome when she whispered about the dream she'd had under the Goshinboku, finally able to communicate with her hanyou, only to be ripped away with the taste of him still on her lips when she woke. “You haven’t been able to…”

“No. I tried a few times, but there was nothing. He wasn’t there.  I… I think that might have been just a dream after all.”

“Oh Kagome-chan,” Ayumi murmured, shifting on the bench to sit a bit closer to her long-time friend. She didn’t reach out to touch her, not wanting to invade her space, but let her physical presence be a shelter for her pain.

“Thanks for listening to my crazy story, Ayumi,” Kagome finally said, true gratitude in her tone. Curly hair shook as she denied any need for it. “If you didn’t tell anyone…”

“I wouldn’t. But I believe you, Kagome.” She bit her lip and scooted even closer, glancing around them to make sure no one was nearby. “The boy I’ve been spending time with…”

Kagome slowly sat up straighter, neck nearly creaking as she turned to stare at her adorably mousy best friend. “Ayumi… are you dating a youkai?” she hissed, hands suddenly gripping the shorter girl’s arm in a desperate gesture. Maybe if he had been around for a while or if there was a secret community…

“Well… he’s only part. His grandmother is a kitsune.”

Kagome frowned. There were plenty of people who claimed that a great great someone or other had been a kitsune. It was fairly common. But Ayumi assured her that he had been able to prove it by showing her his tail. “The poor boy is only a quarter and he has a tail?”

“He says she has seven.” Ah. Well that made more sense. A strong kitsune like that would pass down fairly strong youki. “Kagome… you want to go back to the past, don’t you?”

The tears were so swift they took her breath away.  “Yes,” she sobbed out.  “I want that more than anything.” But no matter how many times she tried, no matter how many ofuda for acceptance, opening, welcome - any iteration she could think of really - she placed on the well, it ignored her and remained stubbornly closed.

Ayumi gently patted her shoulder.  She wasn’t sure she could help at all, and she wouldn’t dare suggest she could for fear of giving Kagome false hope, but Ayumi had started thinking of what she needed to ask Hiyoshi to see if his grandmother might know something that would be helpful. Or someone.

 


 

He hated this time of year. The weather couldn’t decide if it wanted to fry him or freeze his ass off still. Inuyasha snorted as the beginnings of what would likely prove to be an intense pollen season hit his nostrils.  He didn’t have “allergies” as she called them, but he did notice that when the trees and grass all started doing their thing, he had a harder time scenting the area and he found himself sneezing far more often. “Plenty of flowers in the meadow though,” he muttered from on top of the Goshinboku, the wind ruffling his clothes. 

He sighed, dropping to a crouch and scowling at the activity he could spy in the village from this distance. There were those preparing supplies for planting and some who would be taking textiles and pottery to the next towns for trading now that the wagon roads were clear. He and the monk had taken on a few jobs in the last few weeks, preparing for the arrival of their new pup. Sango had waved them off as though it didn’t bother her, but she had Rin and the old bat to help her with the twins.  Shippou was due back from the kitsune village any time now and he would be a big help keeping the girls occupied. They adored him almost as much as they did their hanyou “uncle.” Inuyasha smirked to himself, shaking his head a bit.

He’d had a fair amount of time alone over the last several years, but he had also spent a good amount of time in the company of Sango, Miroku and their growing family. He had struggled with the fact that they were moving on before, but knew now that staying still… it didn’t work like that.  Life kept moving on, pulling you with it, even if you didn’t want it to. Part of him still clung on to hope - to the thought Miroku had planted in his head years ago - that when the time was right, Kagome would return to him.

Three years had passed, and he felt like that part of him was shrinking.

After the dream a few months before that had left him broken, Inuyasha had tried several times to communicate with her through the tree of time. He was met with nothing. No reaction in waking or sleep. No sign that the dream had been real at all outside of those moments after waking where he had scented her on his clothes, felt her lips still on his. It was easy to think that he had imagined the whole thing, that it truly had been only a dream.  At the same time, he never would have imagined the ridiculous hat she was wearing. He’d never seen anything so frumpy and silly looking in his life, and yet, it was endearing because it was on her.

Inuyasha shook his head with a wry smile.  Leave it to Kagome to make him want to smile even in the midst of despairing. Here he was, losing the feeling of connectedness he had felt to her from the moment she popped up in the well. Even before he had been fully awakened, before he was even aware of her existence, he had been connected to her.  But now… Now he felt afloat, adrift.  Maybe… Maybe it was finally time for him to move on from this place?

The inuhanyou sighed, staring off toward the horizon. As tempting as sprinting off in whichever direction was, going until he encountered the ocean, he had his friends. Miroku, Sango, the twins, the runt… Even the old bat and Rin. They all counted on him in one way or another, even if it was just for his friendship. Which was a foreign but welcome feeling. Even if he felt like running away.

For now, at least, he would stay by the well that haunted him, in the forest that sheltered some of his sweetest memories as well as the most painful ones.

 


 

Kagome sighed, finally opening the box she had been avoiding for weeks now. She needed to face the music sometime. “The iron’s hot, Kagome!” her mother called from downstairs. She thanked her, gathering up the contents of the box and taking them down to smooth out the wrinkles and folds in her graduation attire. With only a few days left before the big day, her mother had made it a point to remind her that she needed to look her best and that included a longer list of things than Kagome had initially been prepared to deal with. But one thing at a time, she had made it through the list until this chore.

Leaving her graduation things hanging up in the laundry room, perfectly pressed and just waiting for her to put them on that weekend, Kagome returned to her room and sat on the floor to deal with the other box she had been avoiding. The carvings had a bit of dust in the corners, but a quick brush with a cloth removed it. She took a deep breath and let it out before finally opening it. They were all still nestled safely in their places in the padding within the case.

As part of her decision to accept her future was here in… the future, Kagome had decided she was finally going to put the carvings on display on the shelf above her desk. She didn’t have to give them up completely, and she couldn’t hide them away either. Her second family would always have a safe place in her heart, in her very soul, and hiding the beautiful figurines Inuyasha had made would be disrespectful to him. Kagome sighed as she put Shippou and Kirara at Sango and Miroku’s feet. Kaede stood beside the couple, her single eye looking just as kind but watchful as ever.

As always, Kagome was particularly careful when taking the figures of herself and Inuyasha out of the box. She made sure not to catch the thin line that connected them on anything as she placed them on the shelf a bit to the side, but closer together than they might usually stand. Kagome stood back and mused, biting her lip in thought. She wasn’t quite satisfied with the angles, adjusting here and there. When she moved Inuyasha a second time, something tickled the back of her finger. Kagome swallowed down the immediate panic that it was a spider, not wanting to overreact and accidentally knock one of the figures over. But it wasn’t a spider. Wasn’t an insect.

The tiny red thread caught against the slightly rougher skin from a callus on her finger. 

She blinked in disbelief as the thread came away from the Inuyasha figure's hand but still clung to her tiny carved appendage as much as the real one. "No," she whispered. Kagome dared not move at first. The thread could be brittle enough that it would snap entirely if she moved too quickly. Treating the thread as though it might be a detonator, Kagome rolled her hand until the slightly frayed end was resting on the tip of her finger instead, gently keeping it in place with her thumb. She moved slowly as she lifted the small Inuyasha up and studied how best to reattach the thread. She ended up moving them to the bed.

It took several minutes of mental manipulation before she could situate both of the figures properly so she could reach the tiny wrist and not pull the thread too much. There was just enough slack that she could get it looped around and began to carefully thread the loose end through the circle she had made. Kagome was barely cognizant of her tongue poking out in concentration, the inaudible buzzing in her head from her hyperfocus. Nothing else mattered in that moment except reattaching that lost connection. Kagome had the loop completed and initiated a knot.

Until the thread twanged and snapped.

So did Kagome.

She felt something inside her chest break just as easily as that thread, now hanging from her tiny figurine with nowhere near enough slack to tie around his. That twist of fate that had bound them together, had she just destroyed it? Was it gone forever? She had to know. There had to be some kind of sign this time. Surely...

The wind bit her cheeks as she sprinted out of the house and across the yard. The evening air was brisk and highlighted the dampness on her cheeks. None of that mattered. Kagome just needed to get to the well house.  She needed to get to the well. Before the connection was lost, gone forever, she needed to get to him . “Wait for me,” she huffed as she threw open the doors to the little shrine that housed the bone eaters well. The stairs were taken by twos and she nearly collided with the wall of the well frame when she hit the dirt at the bottom.

Please . She lifted herself up onto the lip, balancing in the fading light from the sun. Please . She heard her mother calling her name just as she stepped off the edge with her eyes closed.

“Please…”

 

Chapter Text

 

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.”

“What?”

“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.