“I don’t think I can do this.”
The breeze picked up, lifting a strand of hair and tickling it across Kagome’s face. She wrinkled her nose at the sensation, tucking her hair back behind her ear as she slouched against the trunk of the Goshinboku, her knees to her chest. She looked up, relishing in the dappled sunlight that filtered through the remarkably early leaves on such an unseasonably warm January day.
She never wanted to leave this place.
She was startled from her daydream as a larger hand grabbed her own, a calloused thumb caressing her palm. Kagome turned her head to take in the sight of Inuyasha dozing lazily against the trunk of the tree, Tessaiga cradled in his left arm.
“Who the fuck is telling you that?” The question was barely audible, more of a groggy mumble than anything else. He cracked an eye open as he turned to meet her gaze.
“Nobody’s telling me that,” she grumbled, moving to rest her forehead on her knees. “It just feels so… final,” she sighed, her voice thick with emotion that she wasn’t ready to confront. “I’m not ready.”
Not ready for what the future held, not ready for the possibility that…
She heard it before she felt it – the quiet metallic clink as he set Tessaiga down on a nearby root before he shifted closer to her, draping an arm around her shoulders as he twisted his body to rest his forehead against her temple.
“Nothing final but death,” his breath ghosted down her neck, hot against her skin. “Hell, even that ain’t final sometimes,” he scoffed.
Kagome let out a short laugh, if only to keep from sobbing.
“Don’t know why you give these tests so much power over you, anyway,” he murmured. “Especially since you say this one is optional. Just see how it goes and decide from there.”
It was true; even her mother had said the same thing. Worst case, she could study again for next year. Best case, she could choose to defer her studies until life was more manageable. Either way, there were positives to a year off.
Kagome didn’t want to think about that, though. She wanted to live in this moment forever. She wanted to memorize every detail, to hold on to everything that she could – the way the light played across her legs, the way his hand felt in hers, the warmth of his body…
“Besides, you already passed the hardest test of all,” he smirked as he set her hand down and picked up Tessaiga, rising to leave. “What’s there to worry about?”
“Don’t go.” Her voice was shaking, and she cursed herself for it. “Please? Stay with me just a little longer.”
Unexpectedly, Inuyasha obliged. He returned to where Kagome sat, picking her up and resettling them both: Kagome between his legs, her back against his chest.
“Just until you fall asleep,” he conceded.
They stayed like that for a while. Minutes? Hours? Kagome wasn’t sure. She tried to stay awake, to keep the conversation going; anything to delay the inevitable.
“You need to sleep,” he would respond to her attempts (which were growing feebler by the moment), stroking her hair or dropping a kiss to the top of her head. The last thing she remembered before succumbing was the way Inuyasha’s voice was carried off by the gentle breeze.
Kagome Higurashi woke up alone, five hundred years in the future, on a cold Saturday morning in January: the first day of the National Center Test for University Admissions.
Kagome was hardly celebrating with the others who left the testing center. She felt neither relief nor joy at how smoothly things had gone, just emptiness. Some days were easier than others, and the hard days were becoming less and less frequent as time continued to pass. She had distractions, after all – she’d thrown herself into school, studying harder than she ever had to make up for lost time.
Her heart hurt every time she wondered what Inuyasha was up to, whether he was okay, if he was pushing people away again, so Kagome studied, with no real plan for the long-term. As far as she was concerned, there was nothing past March. She’d graduate from high school and the rest was a giant question mark. Mama and Jii-chan, bless them, hadn’t pressured her. They hadn’t even pushed her to take the exam in the first place, both solidly of the view that a year off would be good for her.
Kagome wasn’t sure anymore that she wanted a year off. A year of working at the shrine, staring at the well and Goshinboku every day? She had thought she could handle it until this morning. It had been a while since she’d dreamed that vividly, and the fragile stability she’d been able to create for herself over the past almost three years was cracking.
She felt herself choke up a little and shooed the thoughts from her mind just as she had done during the exam. The subway station came into view, and she made a mad dash as she realized she risked missing her train home: the less time she spent here, the less time she had to think.
The ride home was easy enough, and the weather held for the nearly mile-long walk from the subway to the shrine. Kagome kept her eyes to the ground, gazing at the reflection of the cloudy sky in the puddles. She wondered if it was also cold and drizzly through the well, or whether there was snow.
She could almost see it: Miroku and Sango surely would have had at least one child by now; perhaps they were old enough to frolic outdoors with Shippo, maybe building a snowman or throwing snowballs. She cut off the daydream before it continued as she climbed the stone steps home and opened the kitchen door to find Mama at the table, reading a magazine.
“How did it go?” she asked as Kagome removed her shoes and coat, dumping her bag at the door.
“Fine, I guess,” Kagome responded plainly as she took the mug of tea Mama offered her as she seated herself at the other end of the table. They sat in silence for some time, Mama continuing with her magazine and Kagome staring out the window above the kitchen sink.
“Are you looking forward to your results?” Mama asked suddenly, breaking the quiet.
“Well, there’s still a second day of exams,” Kagome reminded her, setting her mug down on the table. “Besides,” she continued honestly, “what is there to look forward to?”
Mama looked up, sadness reflecting in her eyes. Kagome moved to rearrange the napkins in the basket in the center of the table, unwilling to engage with her mother’s pity.
“You could apply somewhere far away,” Mama sighed, resigned. “A change of scenery might be nice for you. Give you something new to focus on.”
Kagome let the conversation die as soon as it had started. They sat silently for another few minutes as Kagome worked to muster the courage to speak again.
“Mama,” Kagome began, the question she’d been aching to ask for years now on the tip of her tongue, “If you could go be with Dad again, but you had to leave everything else behind, would you?”
Mama gazed at Kagome sadly for a moment before reaching across the table to grasp her daughter’s hands in hers.
“In an instant,” she replied, not bothering to hide the waver in her voice.
Kagome did not return for day two of the exam.
Two months went by before Kagome dreamed at all again, and she appreciated the opportunity it presented for the pain to fade, if only a little. As the days passed, she thought less frequently of the family she’d left behind, found her heart stopping less every time she saw a flash of red out of the corner of her eye, and even the thought of graduation made her feel less like crying.
But only a little.
Still, Kagome was able to share in the joy of her friends regarding the approaching life event and their nearing departures to universities across the country: she was grieving, not heartless, she reminded herself as followed Eri and Yuka into their usual booth, Ayumi close behind.
“And then Ito-sensei made him stand in the hall for the rest of class,” Yuka finished her story cheerily, popping a French fry into her mouth.
Kagome took a sip of her soda, rolling her eyes lightly at their classmate’s shenanigans.
“I don’t know what Takumi was thinking, pulling a stunt like that,” Eri commented. “Being accepted to university isn’t a free pass to start misbehaving.”
The girls nodded in agreement as Yuka continued. “You know what, Kagome?”
“What?” Kagome looked up from her burger.
“He reminds me a little bit of that boyfriend of yours.”
An awkward silence fell over the group as Eri delivered a swift kick to Yuka’s leg below the table.
“Really?” Kagome asked, her voice just a little too cheery. “I don’t see it,” she dismissed, taking another bite of her burger as she hoped that would be the end of the topic.
“I’m so sorry, Kagome,” Yuka began, but Kagome cut her off with a wave of her hand.
“It’s fine. It’s been so long, after all – don’t even worry about it,” Kagome replied with an exaggerated smile, taking another sip of her drink.
“Still no word from him?” Ayumi asked concernedly. “It’s been so long…”
Kagome shook her head, choosing to focus on a spot on the wall as she continued eating.
“Not even a letter?” Eri asked. “Or an email?”
“He can’t,” Kagome replied simply, leaving it at that -- it wasn’t a lie, after all.
“I’m sure it’s hard for him too,” Ayumi mused, patting Kagome’s arm reassuringly. “I know he’d do anything to get word to you if he could.”
“Yeah,” Kagome agreed hollowly.
Silence fell over the table once more as Kagome stared at her tray, trying to will away the pain in her chest.
“Anyway,” Yuka interjected awkwardly, “What are everyone’s plans for the graduation ceremony next week?”
Kagome had long regarded graduation as something to be feared, a final ending to a chapter in her life that she wasn’t ready to let go of. But graduation day had arrived, and, after spending the night dreaming of the full moon and pink flowers, she woke for the first time in three years feeling that something good was on its way. And, it seemed, that hunch was right, she noted as she stared across the fire, watching the light dance across Hisui’s face as he slept in Sango’s arms.
The whole day had felt like a dream. A vivid, beautiful, happy dream, but she couldn’t ignore the feeling that everything that had happened since Inuyasha pulled her from the well that afternoon wasn’t actually real. They’d spent so much time catching up, hours probably, and it still didn’t feel like enough.
Would there ever be enough catching up? Kagome wasn’t sure, and she prayed she would wake up here again tomorrow in order to find out.
She was startled by a sharp poke to her upper arm. Inuyasha, never not by her side today, it seemed, cut through her navel-gazing as he moved his head into her field of vision.
Well, as into her field of vision as he could, given that he had two little girls hanging from his shoulders.
“Oi, did you hear any of that?”
“No, I didn’t. I’m sorry – I’m a little distracted today,” Kagome apologized as Sango shook her head understandingly.
“I probably would be too, if I were you,” Sango smiled as she passed the infant to Miroku. “I was wondering if you’d help me serve dinner, since there are… more of us than usual tonight.” Kagome laughed as Sango nodded towards her as well as Inuyasha and Shippo.
“I’m not a natural, but I’m a quick study. What can I do?” Kagome replied, rising to her feet and moving toward Sango.
Sango returned the smile, handing her a stack of bowls. “Nothing complicated – just put some soup in these. I figure more advanced teaching can wait for tomorrow,” she winked. “Maybe some gardening too – the camellias outside will probably bloom by afternoon.”
Kagome smiled, not quite certain that tomorrow would come to pass, but she chose to savor the moment.
“On that note,” she replied, carefully ladling soup into the first bowl before handing it off to Miroku to pass to the first recipient, “I hate to impose, but… can I sleep here tonight? I’m not quite sure where else I’d go…”
“That wasn’t even a question,” Sango replied from her position serving rice. “I’m sure you would be more comfortable here than at Kaede’s, after all.”
Kagome agreed readily – packing three people into Kaede’s home might be a bit too much. That still left the question of where she would stay in the long-term unanswered, though, and she glanced toward Inuyasha, her concern top of mind as she began adding soup to the next bowl.
She wouldn’t ask now, not with so many others around – three years could change a person, sure, but Kagome was nearly certain that he possessed the same near-allergy to discussing personal topics publicly as before. She couldn’t help but notice the intensity with which he returned her gaze, though, and she became determined to catch him alone before the night was out.
She was just about to propose that they walk the leftovers to Rin and Kaede, who had left hours earlier to attend to a villager’s medical concern, when she was jolted by a sharp pain in her left palm.
Inuyasha was by her side in an instant, leaving two confused girls standing where he’d sat.
“I’m fine,” she protested as he began wrapping her hand using fabric he tore from his own clothes, just as he had so many times before. “I just got distracted and didn’t realize I was touching the pot. It’s not a big deal.”
He merely grunted in response, choosing to watch Kagome carefully as she finished serving instead of returning to his spot on the other side of the irori.
“That reminds me,” Miroku mentioned as the group settled back with their food a few moments later, “Housing.”
Kagome took a big sip of her soup, hoping that her bowl would hide most of the blush that she was sure was forming across her face. She was being ridiculous, she knew; everyone had to know why she’d returned, and it certainly seemed like Inuyasha was on the same page, given that he seemed to be attached to her side since the moment she’d come through the well.
“Spit it out, monk,” Inuyasha near-growled.
“Well,” Miroku began, taking another bite of his rice, “Since you are a young lady of… status,” he paused for a moment as he swallowed.
“Because of the jewel?” Shippo asked.
“Exactly,” Miroku replied, “and an unmarried young lady of status, at that,” he continued, and Kagome felt Inuyasha tense, “it would only be appropriate if you lived here with us as our charge.”
Inuyasha gritted his teeth as Sango began to giggle lightly from her position next to her husband, the twins peeking out from behind her back as they cautiously observed the scene before them.
“People would talk, otherwise; you know how they are. It only makes sense for you to join our household until such a time as an appropriate suitor were to appear,” he finished, a smug smile crossing his face.
Kagome and Inuyasha both choked on their food.
“An… appropriate suitor?” Kagome squeaked between coughs as Inuyasha rose from his seat and moved toward the door.
“That’s enough teasing,” Sango admonished as she delivered a light smack to the back of her husband’s head. “Inuyasha, come back and stay the night.”
“It wouldn’t be appropriate,” he replied grumpily. “Given Kagome’s status, people might talk,” he called as he sauntered out the door.
Sango turned back to her husband, fixing him with a look that sent chills down Kagome’s spine.
“You’d better go apologize to him. It’s too soon to tease him like that.”
Nodding obediently, Miroku handed Sango the baby and hurried after his friend.
“I wouldn’t worry too much, Kagome-chan,” Sango soothed. “I doubt he’ll go further than the yard, much less ever leave your side again.”
Kagome’s heart jolted as Sango winked again.
The night was calm and quiet, yet Kagome wouldn’t sleep. She lay still under her blanket as she stared at the ceiling of the spare room that Sango had quickly converted into a bedroom. She was exhausted, but she couldn’t let herself drift off. The risk that she would wake up alone far in the future was too high, and the warm, cozy futon in which she found herself made it too likely that she’d fall asleep sooner than later. She rose from the bed, careful, adjusting the too-large sleep yukata she had borrowed from Sango, and quietly, oh so quietly, slid the door to the hallway open.
The fire in the irori was still burning; only embers now, but it was enough to light her way to the outside door of the home. She moved to slide it open, saying a little prayer that the heavier door didn’t catch on its track or wake the others.
She let loose the exhale she held back as the door opened without issue, and she stepped onto the engawa. The night was cool, not unusual for early spring, but chilly enough for Kagome to wrap her arms around herself as she sat down on the edge of the platform, letting her feet hang off.
She leaned her head on the support beam to her left, turning her gaze upward to the night sky. She remembered how amazed she had been the first time she’d seen it, and how the novelty of the view never quite wore off during the year she’d spend running around the countryside after Naraku and his ilk. She was comforted by how brightly the moon shone, illuminating the world in a different light than she would have seen at home. The pink camellias in the yard, now at full bloom, seemed to almost glow.
She was so happy to be back, but terrified that it wouldn’t last – that she would wake up the next morning back home, all alone five hundred years in the future. She wouldn’t be able to bear it if today was just a dream. Exhaustion began to creep in, though, and Kagome found herself tearing up at the thought.
A red-clad figure jumped from the trees just as Kagome wiped away the tears that had begun to fall.
“Homesick already?” Inuyasha approached the engawa where Kagome sat, concern all over his face.
Kagome shook her head. She’d left her time without a second thought and she didn’t regret her choice, though she couldn’t ignore the pang in her chest as she realized the permanence of the day’s decision. Had she made a bad bet? Three years was a long time, after all, and she couldn’t discount the slight awkwardness in her interactions with Inuyasha so far.
Then again, Kagome was never the best at managing exhaustion; perhaps she was just overtired.
“Don’t know why else you’d be out here, crying ‘stead of sleeping,” he said flatly, ears pressed against his head, as he moved to stand before her. She turned to face him, looking into those golden eyes she’d spent the last three years missing so dearly.
She stared for a moment, savoring it, before she reached out and grabbed his hand. He knelt down in response, his eyes now level with hers, and reached his free arm out to guide her head toward his.
“I’m scared,” she murmured, stopping right as her lips brushed his, her voice catching slightly in her throat as she stopped the kiss that she so desperately wanted before it even began, “That I’m going to wake up tomorrow and today will have just been a dream.”
Inuyasha moved back, staring at her silently for a moment as he processed Kagome’s words, and she took the opportunity to brush away a few more errant tears.
“That,” he began, moving instead to hold her hand, “is the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”
Kagome would have felt put out if he hadn’t also taken the opportunity to poke at the still-smarting burn on her palm.
“Ow!” She yelped louder than she should have, given that people were sleeping nearby. “What did you do that for?”
“Proof,” he responded simply. “Don’t think you woulda felt that if you were dreaming.”
She stared at him incredulously, surprised by how she’d missed something so simple earlier in the night. The breeze picked up just as Kagome opened her mouth to respond; she became acutely aware of just how little she was wearing as she held the collar of the too-large yukata tighter to keep too much from being revealed.
She was saved from embarrassment by the familiar weight of the robe of the fire rat settling on her shoulders as Inuyasha sat down next to her.
“What the fuck were you thinking, coming out here in so little? You’ll get yourself sick at this rate… don’t know what you’d do without me,” Inuyasha muttered, not quite making eye contact as a blush spread across his face.
“Die, probably,” she whispered, voice thick with emotion as she remembered all the times that she would have had he not been there to save her, as well as the emptiness she felt after they were ripped apart.
She felt an arm wrap around her waist and suddenly found herself moving, sliding clumsily back toward the exterior wall of the house as Inuyasha repositioned the both of them: his back against the wall, hers against his chest. He buried his face where her neck met her shoulder, and Kagome grabbed his wrists, caressing them gently in response.
“You should sleep,” Inuyasha mumbled after what must have been ten minutes at least.
“Don’t leave,” Kagome replied groggily, fighting against eyelids that were beginning to feel heavier by the second.
“Didn’t say anything about leaving,” he replied, beginning to run his fingers through her hair. “Just sleeping.”
Kagome nodded and settled back against Inuyasha’s chest, no longer fighting the urge to drift off. The breeze picked up once more, but it didn’t chill her – she relaxed into the warmth of the fire-rat robe and the heat that radiated from the body behind her, breathing deeply as the scent of camellias wafted through the air.
Kagome Higurashi woke up the next morning in the arms of her beloved, five hundred years in the past.