Lost and Found
Kagome felt three sets of eyes on her and groaned. `Here comes the interrogation,' she thought as Eri, Yuka, and Ayumi marched toward her, a united front wearing identical looks of pity, concern, and determination. `I really should have known better.' Nothing got past those three, especially when they watched her as closely as they had, expecting her to try and skip out early and unnoticed from Mika Kuriyama's Christmas Party.
Wrapping her olive-green scarf around her neck, Kagome mentally reviewed her excuse. The beginnings of a blizzard outside made a probable enough cause to prompt Kagome's early leave, though she wasn't sure her friends would buy the part about Mama wanting her home before the snow hit. Mama Higurashi had all but shoved her out the door when Eri, Yuka, and Ayumi came over and told her about the party, and it would take more than a little bit of snow to make her mother worried enough to call her home.
After all, Mama Higurashi had let her run around the feudal era with a crass, dog-eared boy, a fox-demon, a three-tailed cat, a demon slayer, and a perverted monk. Bad weather was nothing compared to shooting arrows at enemies, or collecting shards of a corrupted, ancient, and powerful jewel.
Kagome heaved an exasperated sigh when the girls did nothing but watch her shrug on her coat. They probably hadn't decided between a tough love approach or a delicate one. Either way, Kagome didn't want them forcing her to stay at the party.
“I'm fine,” she told them, rolling her eyes. “Mama just wants me home early. The snow is starting to fall pretty heavy.”
She darted a glance outside. Sure enough, a thin layer of frost already covered Mika's front yard, and snow fell thickly from the sky. When she looked back at her friends, they were frowning. As expected, they didn't buy her excuse. She would have to try harder to sell them on the lie.
“Kagome,” Eri said gently. “A couple of minutes ago, we saw you get watery-eyed while talking to Houjo. We're worried about you.”
“Yeah,” Ayumi chimed in. “Did he say something we need to kick his butt for?” she joked. Kagome forced herself to smile despite the uncomfortable turn in conversation. She didn't know they'd been watching her that closely!
“No. Nothing like that,” she assured them.
“Then what is it?”
Yuka gasped, a familiar look that Kagome long ago termed her girl-power glare settling in her eyes. Her brown-orbs narrowed at Kagome's forced smile.
“You were thinking about him again, weren't you?” Yuka accused. “That jerk dumped you,” she reminded none-too-gently.
“It's also been three years since you've last spoken to him. You said so yourself.”
“You guys, he was her first love! Don't be cruel,” Eri admonished, before turning to Kagome. “But sweetie, it really is time for you to—”
“Enough!” Kagome snapped, stomping her booted foot. One room over, where a party had been in full swing, they heard the abrupt pause of music, dancing, and dozens of conversations. Some of the nosier party-goers even peeked a head in to see what was happening. Kagome's face warmed with embarrassment and anger toward her friends for making her snap like that.
Dropping her voice to a harsh whisper, she told her three meddling friends: “I don't know what you think you saw, but it had nothing to do with who you think it did. Really. I have to go!”
“Higurashi, wait!” she heard Houjo call out. Kagome smothered a groan as the kindly boy jogged over to her and her friends, heedless of the contents of his solo cup sloshing everywhere. “Are you leaving? So soon? Let me get my coat. I'll walk you home.”
Kagome smiled tightly. “No, thanks Houjo. I—”
“She'd love for you to walk her home!” Eri, Ayumi, and Yuka sang in unison, drowning out her protest. Kagome turned and glared at them, beyond annoyed by her pushy friends. When she heard Houjo walking toward the coat closet, she turned back to him and swore that she was fine to walk home by herself.
“Are you sure?” Houjo frowned. “I want to make sure you get there safely.”
Before Kagome had a chance to reassure him, Ayumi grabbed her by the arm and roughly spun her around.
“Kagome,” she hissed. “Let him walk you!”
“Yeah,” Eri whispered giddily. Her cheeks pinked as she peeked over Kagome's shoulder at Houjo. Kagome always suspected her of liking him and couldn't understand why—if that was true—she pushed so hard for her to go on dates with him. In some twisted way, she wondered if the shyest of her friends was trying to live vicariously through her.
Ayumi nudged her. “Do it! He might ask you out on the walk home!”
“Back. Off,” Kagome said through gritted teeth. When she turned back to Houjo, she said politely, but firmly: “I'm sure.”
Houjo looked crestfallen. “Oh. Okay,” he said softly, turning away.
“Not so fast!” Yuka yelled.
Kagome and Houjo both jumped. Eri giggled and pointed above them where Ayumi—wearing a mischievous grin—dangled mistletoe over their heads.
“You have to kiss now,” she sing-songed.
“It's tradition,” Yuka nodded.
Kagome looked at Houjo, horrified by his hard-to-read expression. More party-goers huddled in the doorway to the next room, waiting to see what would happen. One person even drunkenly called out:
“Kiss 'er, Hobo!”
“Y-you don't have to do this,” Kagome stammered. “Ayumi is only playing around, and anyway, it's a stupid, American tradition tha—mmph!”
Houjo cut her off with his lips on hers. She didn't kiss him back, too shocked to do anything but stand there while he innocently fluttered his lips against her mouth. It was...sweet, chaste, gentle, and it would have been perfect had it not been her first kiss.
InuYasha was supposed to have given her that.
The cheers all around them stopped when Kagome, overwhelmed by emotions no one there would understand, shoved Houjo off of her and ran crying from the party.
. : .
`I have the worst friends ever,' Kagome thought. She swiped at her face with gloved hands, shivering when an icy blast of wind chilled her tear-stained cheeks. She was beginning to regret her decision to walk a longer route home. The ruined Christmas party was fifteen minutes behind her, and home was another twenty minutes ahead. Though the subway would have gotten her there faster, she preferred walking. It allowed her to compose herself some before facing any questions Mama might have about why she left the party early.
It also gave her time to think clearly about everything that happened at the party.
Deep down, Kagome knew her friends meant no harm with the stunt they pulled to get Houjo to kiss her. Yuka, Eri, and Ayumi sensed from the moment she returned post-well closing that something changed in Kagome, so they did everything they could to try and help her bounce back to the bubbly and smart girl she'd once been. When her sternest teachers refused her make-up exams, the trio bullied them into giving her extra-credit assignments and second chances to turn in missed work. They made a project out of bringing up her grades, organizing study groups and review sessions for all the big, upcoming tests. To revamp her social life, they signed her up for every school event, accepted dates (mostly with Houjo) on her behalf, and dragged her out to parties like the Christmas Party tonight.
“I don't even know Kuriyama-chan,” Kagome had protested in a last-ditch effort to get out of going.
Yuka waved away her concerns. “Neither do we. A friend of a friend of Ayumi's boyfriend invited Eri, who invited us. Now we're inviting you. Okay?”
“Just come with us. It'll be fun!”
Only it hadn't been. Tonight made it more than obvious that Kagome's idea of fun didn't match up with everyone else's anymore. A year of hard trekking through the feudal era with people who knew no modern conveniences and found simpler ways to entertain themselves made drinking games with cheap liquor and dancing drunkenly to songs she barely knew unappealing. While her friends floated around Mika's living room, Kagome spent most of the night on a couch, nursing flat soda and speaking with Houjo about their upcoming entrance exams.
Houjo dominated most of that conversation, talking animatedly about his plans to study medicine. Kagome frowned at the memory of how sure he'd seemed of himself. While he and most of her friends were in that exciting limbo between high school and the rest of their lives, Kagome hadn't given much thought to her own future. A year ago, the only thing she'd been sure of was the well reopening and her future there, but then another year passed, and one more after that. Now, graduation approached and her hopes of returning to her old life waned. The thought that life here went on without waiting for her to catch up saddened Kagome.
What made her even sadder—and was likely the moment when Eri, Yuka, and Ayumi witnessed tears springing into her eyes—was when Kagome allowed herself to think about how life went on without her in the feudal era. It was a sick game she sometimes played with herself, where she'd sit and imagine the rest of her friend's lives.
Sango and Miroku no doubt made dozens of beautiful babies. She imagined little brown-haired strong-spirited girls and boys with twinkling eyes and their father's wily grin. Shippou passed his Demon Exams, earning the highest rank possible. He grew tall and handsome and charmed some village girl into marrying him. Kaede ran the village same as always, and in this game, she never died, a steel magnolia who forever healed and passed on knowledge to any girl willing to learn from her. And InuYasha—
—she always stopped playing when she got to him. Thinking too hard about how his life went on pained her. She didn't want to think about him finding someone else to grow old with, or worse—finding no one and spending the rest of his days lonely and bitter.
Wherever he was, whatever happened since she'd left, Kagome hoped he found the happiness he more than deserved from life after everything he'd been through.
“That jerk dumped you,” she heard Yuka admonish.
Kagome shook her head. Her friends didn't know how wrong they were about him, and she hated herself for ever painting him as an impossible jerk. Of course they attributed her melancholy over the last three years to him “dumping” her, and she hated herself even more for allowing them to believe that. The truth was much too complicated and unbelievable, so she suffered in silence and let them think whatever they wanted. She cried on their shoulders, but refused to truthfully answer their questions.
`And when they tried, in their own special way, to help me get over a guy who they thought broke my heart, I got mad and ran out on them,' Kagome thought ruefully.
`Wow. It's me who's the worst friend ever.'
She stopped walking and debated going back to the party, if only to apologize to the friends she bailed out on and the boy she undoubtedly hurt.
`Houjo...' she grimaced, recalling his kiss.
Up until that moment she always thought Eri, Yuka, and Ayumi exaggerated his interest in her, pressuring him in the same ways they pressured her into dating him. But tonight, he'd made his feelings more than obvious in not just the way he kissed her, but the way he looked at her after she'd shoved him away.
He'd put his entire soul into the quick, impulsive kiss and watching it backfire had broken him. She knew she had to make it up to him somehow, but didn't know where to begin or how. It wouldn't ever work between them—he simply wasn't the one she wanted—so being with him was out of the question.
...or maybe not. She thought about it for a moment. If the well never opened up again and Houjo was all she had to look for would to, would that really be so bad? He was smart, sweet, and he obviously adored her...and if you can't love the one you want, love the one you're with—right?
The idea—along with all thoughts of Houjo and giving him a second chance—went out the proverbial window when Kagome turned onto a busy, snow-blanketed street. In large crowds, she instinctively began playing another sick game with herself: one that involved trying to find InuYasha among the swarms of people. It was stupid, but one day after thinking about Sesshomaru and how he'd been hundreds of years old when she first met him, she convinced herself that InuYasha might be out there, somewhere. Of course, if he was out there and hadn't thought to look for her by now, that would hurt, but Kagome pushed that thought aside, treating the game as something silly to do while walking.
`That guy kind of looks like InuYasha,' she started. She giggled when the man in question brushed past her, heavy-metal blaring from his headphones. `...only with spiked white hair and a goatee! Ooh, that one has colored contacts in almost the same shade as his eyes. I wonder where he got those.'
`This one...kind of looks like Miroku, actually,' Kagome perked up, passing an almost dead-ringer from the monk, but with a slightly bigger nose. The Miroku look-alike leered at her and she started walking faster. `Gross! He acts like him, too.'
`Hey, that one looks a little like InuYasha on his human night, but much younger and with short brown hair.'
`And that one—whoops, that's a girl. Oh! But THIS guy—'
Her heart stopped.
Next to a guy whose long black hair she'd been comparing to InuYasha's, there'd been a flash of red—and not the trendy oxblood red most people around her in fashion-forward Tokyo wore, or cranberry like the sweater she wore beneath her winter coat. It wasn't scarlet, maroon, burgundy, or firebrick. The exact shade of red was specific to a piece of clothing she'd only ever seen one person wear:
She'd seen fire-rat red.
Anyone could have been wearing it, but Kagome's heart screamed `InuYasha,' and before her brain could process the impossibility of seeing him, her feet moved. In desperation, she found herself shoving people out of her way while she tried to find that red again. One of two things could happen, she rationalized, after she'd put three city blocks behind her: she'd find him and they'd live happily ever after, or her search would prove futile and purge the last of any crazy ideas she had about seeing him in her time out of her system.
At least, that was how she justified chasing someone or something she might have imagined seeing on the off-chance that it led to InuYasha.
`I can't believe this!'
She saw fire-rat red more than once while giving chase, but each time it vanished behind the nearest person as if the wearer were intentionally dodging her. Wildly, she thought she'd saw a flash of silver, too, but in her crazed state-of-mind, Kagome didn't trust herself not to have imagined it. After what felt like forever, she ended up gazing dejectedly into a mass of people on the next city block, none of which were wearing fire-rat red. Ignoring the disgruntled shouts behind her from all the people she shoved while running, Kagome closed her eyes and blinked back the tears that threatened to fall. The disappointment struck hard, making her knees and chin wobbly. She felt so silly and stupid, and for a long time she stood, not moving and trying not to break down right there on the sidewalk in front of so many people. She didn't know where she found the strength, but eventually, she made herself start walking again, no real destination in mind this time.
One foot was barely off the sidewalk when the world around her exploded into chaos: screaming, a horn honking, and screeching tires. She quickly learned why the panic, but blinding headlights made it impossible for her to know where to move to avoid the 18-wheeler sliding rapidly toward her.
Oddly, calm washed over her when she realized she'd never get out of the way in time and when Kagome closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable, she thought one last time of fire rat red.
. : .
“Are you crazy?!”
A split-second after her eyes fluttered shut, something jerked Kagome backwards. Then, a familiar but hard-to-name sensation washed over her. She choked back a sob when she realized, after a moment, what it was:
Kagome was flying.
The feeling didn't last long as the something that pulled her out of harm's way dumped her unceremoniously on her butt. Kagome hazarded a look at it, then just barely smothered another sob.
She was pulled roughly to her feet, then held steady. Good thing, too, because Kagome swayed, dizzied when she realized that she was standing on top of a tree, overlooking the near-fatal accident.
Oh, and she was standing in front of InuYasha.
“Shit, Kagome,” she heard him mutter. He didn't notice right away the way his presence affected her, too busy with checking her for injuries to catch the stunned look on her face. Numbly, she spread her arms when he went to check beneath her coat for any damages there before he stopped and glared out into the street.
From their vantage point, they saw a very drunk-looking truck driver stumble out of his wrecked vehicle. Kagome watched as he checked for the person he thought he'd find splattered across his windshield. InuYasha shook his head, disgusted, drawing Kagome's attention back to him. She stared so hard at his face even as her vision blurred from her refusal to blink, afraid that if she did, he'd disappear.
“Drunken idiot—could have killed—shit!” he raged. His face purpled with anger as they watched a Tokyo police officer drag the man who nearly killed her away. InuYasha's temper clearly hadn't changed much in five hundred years.
Actually, neither did much of anything. InuYasha looked almost exactly the way she'd left him, only it was weird seeing him dressed in modern clothing: a black jacket and dark jeans, his silver hair tucked into a skull-cap that also hid his unusual ears. The fire-rat red she'd seen was wrapped around his neck in a scarf she suspected had been made from his old hakama.
She smiled, curling a finger around the scarf and reveling in the familiar feel of it. Then, because she couldn't help herself, she brushed a finger across InuYasha's jawline.
He stiffened, as if suddenly realizing her presence, then slowly tilted his head up toward her.
When his eyes settled on Kagome, they widened with fear and he jerked away from her so roughly, he nearly fell from the tree. She gasped, grabbing his arm to steady him, but he seemed hell-bent on getting away from her.
“Shit, Kagome!” he cursed, trying to shake her off. “Let go! I can't be near you!”
Kagome's heart broke at his first words to her. They were the last thing she expected upon seeing him again after such a long and devastating separation. Foolishly, she thought he'd be happy to see her. Fighting back tears, she let go as if he had burned her—and in a way, he had with this rejection.
InuYasha's eyes grew comically wide as he rushed to amend his harsh statements. “Wait, no! I didn't mean it like that!”
She lost the battle against her tears and started crying. `Great,' she thought. `Now he feels sorry for me and I feel pathetic.'
“Damn it. I'm messing this up,” he muttered, spearing a hand through his hair. “What I meant to say was—”
“Five hundred years later and you're still a jerk!” Kagome shoved him. Doing so made her lose balance, but InuYasha caught her and took the brunt of their fall out of the tree. She gasped, especially when she felt his chest shake violently beneath her fingertips as she leant over to make sure she hadn't hurt him.
And she hadn't.
InuYasha was laughing at her.
He only stopped when he caught her hurt expression.
“Damn,” he said softly, curving an arm around her waist to steady them as he lifted them both into a standing position. “You're right. I am still a jerk. I'm sorry.”
Kagome melted. Apologies from InuYasha were a rare thing in the past, so the fact that he gave her one so easily showed change. She swept her gaze over his form, wondering what else changed, then blushed. His chest, which her hand still rested on, radiated warmth even through his layers of clothing and her gloves. It felt hard, too, and she noticed how much broader his shoulders were and how much more defined his arms seemed. InuYasha had always been fit, but modern day gyms—or whatever he'd been doing to exercise over the last five hundred years—had been good to him.
InuYasha chuckled, raising a silver brow. “See something you like?”
She dropped her arm quickly, embarrassed. “Shut up!” she mumbled.
“It's okay if you do,” he teased, before his expression sobered. Kagome felt him tuck a finger beneath her chin to tilt it up. “Are you okay?” he asked.
She knew he was talking about the accident, but it was such a loaded question she needed time to properly answer. Physically—from the accident—she felt fine, but emotionally she was a mess because of his sudden presence. Finding him here in her time was a fantasy she never thought would actually happen. Now, InuYasha stood before her—real and looking too intensely at her with his beautiful, golden-hued eyes.
“I'm fine. A little confused,” Kagome said finally. Her gaze burned into his. “How are you here?”
Suddenly, InuYasha looked panicked. In what she recognized as an old avoidance behavior of his, he cut his eyes away from hers and shrugged. Clearly, he didn't plan on answering her question anytime soon, so Kagome cleared her throat, planning to change the subject and ask about Shippou. Before she could, InuYasha sniffed loudly, his face wrinkling in disgust as if he had smelled something foul.
“What the hell?!” he cried, outraged. He brought his hands down to her waist and dragged her into him roughly. Kagome blushed at his sudden proximity. He'd shoved his face into her neck, which was slightly damp from snow melting off of her scarf and hair. His warm breath tickled an especially sensitive spot there, and burned a trail upward as he moved from sniffing her neck to sniffing her lips.
“W-what are you doing?” she squeaked.
InuYasha pulled away and glared at her.
“Who the hell have you been kissing?”
Kagome gaped at him, caught completely off guard. “What? How do you know about—?”
“Answer the question, wench!”
The old loved-but-hated nickname snapped something inside of Kagome, drawing the spit-fire she'd once been out of her. She stabbed a finger into his chest, making him draw back slightly.
“I didn't kiss anyone!” she said hotly. “My friend Houjo kissed me tonight, but I didn't want him to and even if I did, why are you so mad about it? You obviously were around and could have—mmph!!”
For the second time that night, she was silenced with a kiss. InuYasha's kiss was nothing like Houjo's. Instead of being sweet, gentle and innocent, his was raw, passionate, and hungry. His claws tangled in her hair as his mouth worked against hers, gentle yet rough in coaxing her inexperienced mouth to move against his. When it ended, it felt too soon. His kiss had been three years of frustration and longing, and had felt like coming home.
“Wow,” Kagome gasped when he pulled back. InuYasha's eyes skimmed over her face, a satisfied smirk quirking his lips upward.
“I'm gonna kill that wimp,” he murmured, no real malice behind his words. He cupped her face and drew a gentle pattern with one claw-tipped finger against her cheek—up, down, two sideways brushes of his thumb... ``I' for InuYasha?' she mused giddily. “Don't ever let him kiss you again? I mean it. Ever. Or I'll kill him. Better yet, I'll get Eri to kill him.”
Kagome's brow wrinkled with confusion. “Eri?” What did her friend have to do with Houjo kissing her? Especially when she and her friends had facilitated that kiss? “I don't get it? Why would she—ooh!”
InuYasha smacked another quick, playful kiss on her lips, but Kagome didn't miss the way his eyes widened as if he had let something he shouldn't have slip. “You talk to much,” he chuckled.
Kagome blushed, deciding to ignore his strange behavior for now. After finding him again, she had the rest of their lives to look forward to asking him whatever questions he wouldn't answer right now. The thought made her unbelievably excited, and despite the frigid, wintry breeze blowing about, her insides felt warm—as if someone had reached in and wrapped a blanket, or InuYasha's old fire rat haori around her soul.
“Sorry,” she grinned. “So um...what have you been up to?”
InuYasha shoved his hands into his pockets and motioned for her to follow him back into the busy crowds. “Christmas shopping,” he said a little nervously. “I know it's not a big deal here, but uh...the family likes to celebrate it.”
Kagome beamed, thinking this was a great time to ask about her old friends. “Family? So you and Sesshomaru talk now? And you still keep in touch with Shippou? Kouga, too?”
He laughed. “Yes, actually. Sesshomaru found himself a Kagura look-alike and had a tribe of kids. She wanted them to know their Uncle, so he made his peace with me. It wasn't easy, but we had five hundred years to work on not wanting to kill each other at every family gathering.”
“I can't believe it!” her eyes widened. “Sesshomaru? A dad?!”
“A damned soft one, too. The nieces, especially, have turned him into mush. Last week, I walked in on the youngest two braiding his hair.”
Kagome doubled over laughing when the mental image of a stone-faced Sesshomaru donning silver braids popped into her head.
“And you'd be so proud of Shippou,” InuYasha continued softly, sobering her. “He married Shiori, of the thunder tribe. They haven't had kids yet, but the brat isn't a brat anymore. He did good for himself. He takes care of his own.”
“I'm glad,” she whispered, rubbing at her eyes, which for the millionth time that night misted over with tears. “H-how about Kouga?” she asked shakily.
“He's still around. Still smells like wolf-shit,” he grumbled.
They both burst out laughing. From his answer, she gathered that he and Kouga had also made their peace with each other. On their long, destination-less walk, he regaled her with stories of his life now. He evaded some questions—like anything relating to Sango, Miroku, and Kaede—but hinted that some of their ancestors were around and doing well. InuYasha also made no mention of why he hadn't tried finding her, and Kagome was too scared to ask, afraid of his answer. Unfortunately, she got it when she innocently asked if he would take her to see Shippou and the others.
He stopped, and Kagome realized that where they stood was pretty close to her home. She smiled up at him, excited at the prospect of bringing him home to her family, but it faltered when his expression turned guilty.
“Kagome,” he said gently, resting his hands on her shoulders. “I can't take you to see them.”
“What? Why not?”
She tried not to sound too hurt, but her voice cracked anyway.
“Don't they want to see me?”
He sighed. “Of course they do, but...it's complicated. If I thought I could explain it in a way that made sense, I would.”
“Try anyway,” she said softly.
His golden eyes gazed down at her in a way that almost seemed to apologize. She shivered, suddenly cold.
“Kagome, I—this is so hard for me to say—but,” he started, shifting uneasily on his feet. She hung onto his every word, yet dreaded his next ones, somehow knowing what bomb he was about to drop.
Oh. His eyes cut away from hers. “I'm sorry, Kagome. I never meant—”
“It's okay,” she rushed out, surprising herself. Inside, she felt her heart breaking, but she refused to cry after doing so so many times that day, especially in front of him. She would wait till she got home to meltdown the way she wanted to. Right now, she needed to get away from InuYasha. With a hurried “Well, it was nice seeing you,” tossed over her shoulder and a forced smile, she began walking, but didn't get far before the anger and hurt that had been warring against her urge to cry overtook her.
“As a matter of fact,” she muttered, swerving back around and facing a stunned InuYasha. “It's not okay.”
She marched over to him and stabbed a finger in his face. “How dare you! You got mad about Houjo and told me I wasn't allowed to kiss him, then kissed me knowing very well that you're married! What about your wife?”
For some reason, InuYasha smiled at the word `wife.' Disgusted, she shoved him away from her.
“You ARE still a jerk,” she spat, before heaving a defeated sigh. InuYasha's kiss wasn't his worst offense, though she'd purposely made it seem that way. The worst was that this last hour they'd spent talking and walking, and her elation at seeing him again, were all tainted by his forgetting to mention that he'd found someone else. Now, her dreams of a forever with him were ruined. She couldn't even be his friend. He made that clear enough with his refusal to take her to see Shippou, Sesshomaru, and her other friends from their past. She didn't think being friends after everything they'd been through was possible anyway.
In the past, just being there for him while he tried sorting through his feelings for her and Kikyou, had made Kagome happy. She accept the fact that loving him meant doing it unconditionally and without hope of him ever fully reciprocating those feelings.
“I can't do this,” she whispered, turning away from him. She wouldn't begrudge him the happiness he seemed to have found, but didn't think she could handle being near him while he loved someone else. Again.
The smile fell from InuYasha's face.
InuYasha grabbed her harm just as she'd started to walk away. She refused to meet his eyes for fear that if she did, she'd break the promise she made to herself about not crying anymore. Her chest burned, and she didn't think it would be possible to speak past the lump in her throat, but she managed somehow, and surprised herself with how strong her voice sounded:
“Let go of my arm.”
“Don't leave like this,” he implored her. “I can explain!”
Then, he hesitated. “Well, I can't explain everything, but—”
“I don't care. Let me go.”
She ripped her arm out of his much stronger grip and began stomping away. InuYasha, with his hanyou speed, caught up to her easily and blocked her path. She stiffened when he crooked a finger under her chin and tilted it up in an effort to make her look at him.
“Don't do this to me again,” Kagome begged, squeezing her eyes shut. She felt his fingers fall away from her, as if he realized the parallel to their old situation.
“I'm not,” InuYasha swore. “This is all so complicated, but one day, I swear it'll all make sense. Just...don't walk away from me like this. Don't hate me for what I did tonight.”
Something inside Kagome melted.
“I don't hate you,” she admitted glumly, slowly opening her eyes. “But I can't be around you for a while, or I'll never move on with my life.”
InuYasha grabbed her face. “I don't want you to move on,” he said fiercely. “Kagome, you can't move on. You can't forget about me...about us!”
“InuYasha, you're married! How can you ask me not to do that? You selfish—”
“I know this sounds crazy, but go to the well tonight,” he pleaded. He pressed his forehead to hers and glared intensely into her eyes. Kagome couldn't break his stare even if she wanted to.
She also didn't move when he kissed her again. Slow this time. Gentle.
“Please,” he begged against her lips, punctuating his next couple of sentences with more butterfly soft kisses. “Go to the well. Tonight. Please. Don't forget.”
Then he released her.
She stumbled back and stared hard at him, committing this last view of him into a memory she'd cherish always, despite his turning the best day of her life into one of the worst.
“Goodbye, InuYasha,” she said sadly, before turning away from him.
Behind her, she heard him call out: “Well house. Tonight!”
. : .
`Why did I have to see him again?' Kagome thought. Hours after their snowy encounter, she sat at home thinking over InuYasha's parting words to her. She clutched one of her frilly pink pillows to her chest and walked over to her bedroom window. Sitting there, she couldn't resist looking over at the well house. How many times had she gazed longingly at it from her window over the last three years, willing it to open again? Only now, she knew it never would, and in the same way life here moved on without waiting for her, InuYasha would move on over there.
`Don't cry. Don't cry. Don't—darn it!'
A lone tear slipped out of her eye. Kagome quickly wiped it away, then hugged her pillow tighter and glared out at the well house, as if it had hurt her in some way. That's when InuYasha's words came back to her:
“Go to the well tonight. Please.”
“...stupid InuYasha” Kagome whispered. She wanted to walk away from what was probably a bad idea, but she was curious. InuYasha probably wanted to meet her and explain properly why and how he'd moved on. She didn't really want to hear it, but knew that if she didn't go down there tonight, InuYasha would probably climb in through her window the way he'd done countless times before to force her to talk to him. So, it was with heavy feet and a much heavier heart that Kagome put on slippers and walked down to the well house.
. : .
“Okay, I'm here!” Kagome announced, feeling stupid. The well house smelled damp and disgusting from the snow outside soaking in through the wooden walls. It was cold in there, too.
Kagome wrapped her jacket tighter around her shivering frame and looked around. She couldn't think of a sadder place to get the closure she needed from InuYasha. She would have preferred meeting him at the Goshinboku. `Why not end whatever we were at the place where we began?' she thought ruefully. `Though I suppose this was really where it started.'
She looked over at the well for the first time since walking into the room. Had she never fallen down there, she never would have met InuYasha, and though he'd broken her heart earlier, she didn't—and wouldn't ever—regret the time they spent together. InuYasha was her first and only love, and her impossible feudal adventures with him were memories she'd cherish, always.
`But I have to let him go now,' she thought, frowning. She'd waited long enough for InuYasha to show, and with no sign of him appearing anytime soon, it was time to get out of the cold and move on with her life. She entertained no illusions of it being easy, but for the first time in three years, Kagome was going to give her life here a real, sincere chance. She was going to apply to college or get herself a job and put this well and her old life far away behind her.
...and maybe, years from now, after she'd had time to heal, she'd make peace with the InuYasha she met in this era. She might even meet his wife and thank her for taking such good care of him.
Smiling, content with her plans, Kagome made to leave the well house. She was stopped by a small, feeble sound echoing from the well's depths.
Kagome stiffened, one foot barely out the door. Cautiously, she approached the well and hazarded a look down. Buoyo, her cat, lay at the bottom, curled into himself.
“Oh no,” she murmured, realizing the obvious similarities to her first time jumping down this well. Then, her eyes widened and her heart sped up. This was no coincidence. Would the well actually open this time if she jumped down it? Was that why InuYasha made her come there?
She didn't dare hope this time, already knowing how things turned out for InuYasha. Even if the well did open and she somehow made it back to the Feudal Era, three years had passed without her there. Things might have already changed for the old InuYasha, and her heart couldn't handle him breaking it a second time.
She also couldn't leave Buoyo down there. Her poor cat would freeze to death!
Bracing herself for possible disappointment, Kagome hooked one leg over the lip of the ancient well and let herself fall in the way she had so many times before. When she dropped onto the cold, damp ground, and felt no magic pull, she closed her eyes and counted backwards from ten to compose herself before picking up Buoyo. Despite not wanting to, she had hoped for it to open again, and the disappointment this time was even harder to bear.
“Silly cat,” she said, just to concentrate on something rooted in her world, and not in a dream she badly needed to let go of. Buoyo looked at her innocently, his green eyes glowing. “Didn't you learn your lesson the first time?”
He purred in answer and snuggled into her chest while she climbed the both of them out of there.
“Go on now,” she said when they made it to the top. She swatted his behind and made him scamper out of the well house, leaving her alone in the damp, moldy-smelling room. This time, Kagome gave in and cried.
“I miss you so much,” she said, falling to her knees. Both hands held tight the well as she gazed into it longingly. “I miss being there with you. I—”
Something had sparked beneath her fingertips. Briefly, the well glowed a bright, ethereal blue, and from the very bottom, she heard a sound that couldn't possibly have come from Buoyo this time:
. : .
On the other side, InuYasha made his usual third-day trip to the well. He knew what Sango and Miroku thought about these trips, but couldn't help checking to see if it was working again. The ancient well disappointed him every time, but every time he convinced himself that this time it was going to work. The well had to bring his Kagome back to him. There was no way the Gods brought her to him, only to snatch her away as if she'd never come into his life and made things so that living without her felt like the lowest form of existing.
Kagome was born to meet him, and InuYasha was born for her.
He knew it...
...but knowing this, and believing it after the hundreds of times he'd been disappointed at the well's refusal to function was getting harder every day. Today, after a particularly hard day of missing the fiery, futuristic girl, Inuyasha placed both hands on the well and glared into the empty bottom.
“Give me a damn sign, would ya?” he demanded. He jumped when a spark of magic ignited beneath his fingertips, then stiffened when a familiar voice spoke from the well:
“I miss you so much. I miss being there with you. I—”
InuYasha lunged at the well, his eyes wide. `No fucking way.'
. : .
Kagome shook, her tears now happy tears leaking from her eyes as she held onto the well's edge. Beneath her hands, the wood pulsed with feeble, barely-there magic, but it was enough to somehow give her this moment with InuYasha. She knew on the other side, he held onto the well too, and Kagome didn't dare let go for fear of losing the strange, but wonderful connection in which she felt his hands right where hers were the entire night she spent curled up by the well.
“I miss you, too. Everyday. Come back already,” the magic carried back to her.
Several more times she spoke into the well that night, but had no way of knowing if InuYasha heard any of it after her last sobbed statement. It didn't matter, though. She took comfort in knowing he was there, and that he missed her as much as she missed him. Instinctively, she knew too that somehow, someday, the well was going to open again. She felt the magic promise her and smiled before falling asleep beside it, feeling through the well that on the other side, her hanyou did the same.
. : .
“C'mere, Buoyo. I can't believe you, InuYasha!”
Buoyo scampered into his owner's arms, but not before gazing confusedly back at the well house where he'd last seen her. Comfort won out over logic as he snuggled into the warm jacket she wrapped him in, though the urge to claw out of it nearly overcame Buoyo when the enemy sidled up to his Kagome.
“Everything worked out, didn't it?” InuYasha said coolly. He reached out to pet Buoyo, but retracted his hand when the cold, angry cat hissed at him. “Don't give me that look furball. She went in and got you.”
“But what if I hadn't,” Kagome challenged, hugging the cat that had been used as a pawn in her husband's scheme to bring their past selves together on Christmas night. She wasn't mad at him, only pretending to be. What she really couldn't believe—even after five hundred years of being his mate—was that he'd done something so romantic! Mirth danced in her eyes when she looked up at him adoringly. His clawed hands brushed against her cheek, tracing a familiar pattern.
``I' for `I love you.' For `I'm yours, always.'
“You had me scared for a minute there,” he admitted. “Actually, for more than a minute. I thought you wouldn't go down to the well house...that you'd make good on your promise to move on and that I'd lose you.”
Kagome smiled. “Was I right in thinking you'd come through my window and drag me down there if I didn't go?”
“Keh,” InuYasha said softly. “Of course I would have. Why do you think we came here tonight? It wasn't just to watch the show. Had to make sure you didn't go all 'stubborn wench' on me.”
“So weird,” Kagome murmured, looking back at the well house. “How many people can say they got to watch themselves go through something like this? It's incredible.” She knew, having lived through the moment, how much going into the well house that night changed her life forever.
That moment reignited her hopes of going back to the man who hadn't forgotten her, and who would eventually became her husband and mate. She smiled up at him now. It always amazed her how far they'd come. Their love was something unique, hard to describe. It survived an ancient, powerful jewel and a devastating three year separation, a kiss with a sweet boy who went on to marry her best friend, a heartbreaking misunderstanding, and the god-awful flu Kagome caught the day after she'd slept in the well house...
“Oh my God!” Kagome shrieked, dropping Buoyo. “I almost forgot about that. I should go warn myself!”
“What the—don't you dare!” InuYasha laughed before realizing his wife was serious.
“You have no idea what it was like! I almost didn't graduate because of how behind it put me in my studies, and then, Eri made me—mmph!!!”
“You'll survive,” InuYasha murmured against her lips. Kagome smacked him in his chest. After five hundred years she still talked too much, and he still silenced her with kisses.
“But you might not survive,” Kagome told him, playfully angry. “Don't think you're off the hook for what you did to me, buddy.”
“Oi! What did I do?”
“You kissed me!”
InuYasha raised an eyebrow, wondering what his crazy wife was complaining about when it hit him: the kiss—well, kisses—earlier that day with her younger self. He hadn't planned on kissing or even running into her. At first, InuYasha thought his wife had been spying on him while he went to buy her Christmas present, but then he remembered that both the wolf and Sesshomaru were on 'wench patrol' so it couldn't have been her. It had to have been the old her. Trying to avoid her, though she'd spotted him, ended when he saw her nearly get killed by a reckless drunk driver.
He thought he'd messed things up royally, irreparably changing time and altering the life he'd built with Kagome when he mislead her into thinking that he'd moved on with someone else, so in an effort to fix things, he pushed her toward the well, hoping that by some chance, she happened to touch the well on one of the days his younger self had gone to it.
Crazy, but his plan worked, and inadvertently presented him with the perfect present to give his wife: the opportunity to relive one of the most significant moments of both of their lives, a moment when they'd both lost and found hope by the well that kept them apart and then brought them back together.
Rolling his eyes at his wife, InuYasha leaned down and kissed her.
“You can't get jealous over me kissing you.”
“But it was the past me!” Kagome pointed out. She eyed him suspiciously. “It didn't feel like cheating to you?”
He thought it over, then shrugged.
“Nope. I consider it one of the perks of a love that transcends time.” InuYasha grinned, earning himself another smack.