Track A - Conclusion
"No way," Souta gaped around a mouthful of onigiri. He stared at his sister, his eyes wide in disbelief. "How can you not want a party? No cake? No presents?" He floundered a bit and latched onto an old memory. "Not even karaoke?"
Sighing, Kagome poked at her breakfast. She gave her little brother a small smile.
"Stop smiling like that!" he yelled, angry tears in his eyes.
"Like what?" Her brows knit in honest confusion.
"That's Mama's 'you'll understand someday' smile! I want your real smile back! I want you back!"
Her smile slipped. Leaving most of her breakfast uneaten, she came around to his side of the table and hugged him. "I want me back too," she said softly. He buried his head in her shoulder. "Listen, Souta, I promise I'll do something fun for my birthday. Just-" her breath caught "just not today, okay?"
The door above her slid open with a soft clatter and Kagome looked to see her mother silhouetted in the entrance. "I thought I might find you here," Mama said gently. "The well is still closed?" Kagome couldn't speak around the lump in her throat, could only sniff and nod. Mama came down the well-house steps and put an arm around her. "I'm sure your friends are alright," she soothed. "They sound like very strong people."
"They are," Kagome husked, wiping the tears from her cheeks. "So it didn't work today. Maybe it'll be tomorrow or some day after that. It will work again, Mama. I'll find a way make it work if I have to."
Her friends were waiting for her at the school gate. "You're late, Kagome! You're not having a relapse, are you?" Ayumi asked with concern.
Kagome winced and Eri elbowed Ayumi sharply. "I wish."
The three friends exchanged a bewildered glance. "Hurry up," Yuki hissed at Eri as the silence stretched uncomfortably "She's getting sad again!"
Eri cleared her throat and put on a cheery face. "Anyway enough of that! Today's your birthday and since we missed your last one, we are gonna do this in style!" She raised her hand triumphantly into the air and smugly counted off. "One: Karaoke in the deluxe lounge on Orion-douri. Two: Parfaits and sweets until we burst at the Night Cat Café. Three: Movies and makeovers at my place!"
"No." Their grins slipped. Kagome's face was calm but her voice was full of tears. Her face, when she turned, was troublingly pale. "I-it sounds great, Eri, it really does but today I can't."
"I knew it!" Ayumi frowned and pushed scolding finger into Kagome's face. "You ARE relapsing! You're pushing yourself to be here aren't you?!" Kagome hesitated and that was all the evidence Ayumi needed. "Then for goodness sake, go home!"
She could almost – no, she really could see the flames of righteous anger surrounding her friends. One more useless holy power
, she thought bitterly. She summoned a smile for them. "I'll be okay," she said. At least here, I don't have to think about it.
Grandpa was sweeping the shrine steps. "Kagome?" he blinked. "What are you doing home?"
He stepped back at the look on her face.
"Because of someone's ludicrous lies," she ground out, "my friends all seem to think I'm made of glass. They threatened to tell the teacher and the school nurse unless I came home." Her shoulders slumped. "Grandpa, I can't-"
He followed her gaze to the well house. "Well, what's done is done," he said briskly. "There's no point in you going back now. You go get changed then come help me in the storehouse."
"But-" she started automatically then stopped, looking at him in surprised understanding. Throwing her arms around him, she hugged him tightly. "Thank you, Grandpa," she said and ran into the house.I worked so hard for this
, she mused, hanging the dark blue blazer in her closet. All that studying, fighting demons then studying more…Sometimes it felt like I was fighting my textbooks as much as I was fighting Naraku.
Her eyes fell on her old middle school uniform and she swallowed hard. I was so proud of myself for getting into my school of choice. I couldn't wait to ditch that green sailor suit
. Carefully she put away the blouse, tie and skirt. Dressed now in jeans and a large, raggedy sweatshirt, she paused at the door and looked back at the closet wistfully. If the well would open again, I'd wear the stupid thing forever.
"Careful with that," Grandpa warned her as she handed down an old cloth-covered crock. Lecturing her on its ancient history and baleful deeds, he shuffled over and found a spot for it on the shelves they'd spent most of the morning cleaning. Maybe the Jewel was never sealing me at all, she thought with some asperity. Maybe Grandpa's stories are just that boring!
Grandpa came back and surveyed their work with an air of satisfaction. "Looks like we're almost done this shelf, my dear," he said. "Why don't we stop for lunch?"
Later, on the way back to the storehouse, Grandpa stopped to pick up a dolly and a hand-truck. "The stuff on the bottom shelves is always the heaviest," he said. "We'll need some help." Then he stopped in the middle of the yard. Glancing at the kitchen window, where Mama was cleaning up from lunch, he grinned conspiratorially at her. "Hop on." Kagome grinned back as she stepped onto the hand-truck. Leaning back and getting a good grip on the sides, she nodded her readiness. For a few moments, as they rattled over the yard, her heart was light again and she laughed.
"Whew!" Grandpa panted at the storehouse door. "That's not as easy as it used to be!"
Kagome pulled a chair over for him. "Next time," she promised, "I'll do the pushing!"
He favored her with a mock glare. "I'm not so old yet!"
"Of course not, Grandpa," she laughed. Hoisting the dolly under one arm she went back to where they'd left off.I can't believe all the junk in here,
she thought later as she paused to ease a cramp. And each and every one is a "sacred trust."
"Grandpa!" she groused. "What the heck is in this thing? It weighs a ton!" Again she tried and failed to haul a large, wooden box up onto the dolly.
"No one knows," he said mysteriously. She glared. "Truly!" he protested. "This box was given into the keeping of our shrine by a great fox demon many centuries ago. No one has ever been able to open it, so powerful is the spell he laid upon it."
"I think I'd've felt it if it were that strong," she huffed. Curious in spite of herself, she ran a hand over the top and frowned. There is magic here
, she frowned. "It's strong," she murmured, "but not powerful. There are… layers… here. Maybe … three? Three different magics. That's what gives it the strength." Her questing hand had wiped off some of the dust, revealing characters burned into the lid. Brushing more of the dust away, she bent over to read them.
Behind her, Grandpa shook his head, puzzled. "What on earth could it mean? 'The Right Black Pearl?'"
"MAMA!" Kagome broke from her shock and flung herself at the doorway. "MAMA! I need a crowbar RIGHT NOW
"Open! Open, curse you!" Her raw hands fumbled and the crowbar slipped. The sharp clatter of the tool hitting the floor echoed around the storehouse as Kagome slid down weeping against the box. Mama came forward and wrapped a consoling arm around her shoulders. "I was so sure!" Kagome whispered. "'The Right Black Pearl!' What else could it be?"
"What is 'The Right Black Pearl?'" Mama asked.
Kagome was no longer listening. "Wait," she croaked. Pushing herself up, she brushed hurriedly at the dust covering an old piece of paper stuck on a corner of the box. "Wait, I know what this is! This is Miroku's!"
Mama hesitated, but the question had to be asked. "Sweety, that seal is so old and faded, can you be sure it's his writing?" To her surprise, Kagome laughed.
"I know it's not his," Kagome paused to flash a grin at her mother. "It's mine. I often helped him prepare them. We made a HUGE batch before that last time we went after Naraku. He was probably set for life." Shaking with excitement, she searched each face of the box and found several more sealing sutras. "I've been doing this all wrong!" Ignoring the dirt, she placed both hands on the top of the box and listened with every bit of mystic might she had. Mama and Grandpa exchanged concerned looks over her head.
Tears dripped into the dust. Sniffling slightly, Kagome pulled back. Leaving her hands on the box, she bowed as deeply as she could. "Miroku, Kaede, Shippo," she said clearly, "thank you."
The box glowed in response and the sutras disappeared. In wonder Grandpa and Mama watched the light build and fade but the moment it was done, Kagome was at work. This time the lid levered off easily. "What's with this stuff?" Confused and frustrated, Kagome pawed through the sticky strands. This is a shoulder
! she thought. Heart hammering, she began pulling and tearing at the material, to no avail. Angry, she ripped harder. Her hands began to glow with holy power and where they touched, the strands disintegrated. In her agitation, she hardly noticed. The strange stuff was getting out of her way; that was all that mattered.
The acrid scent faded and with it went the unpleasant dreams. A new scent, dear and nostalgic filled his nose. Peace settled over him and soaked through skin and soul together, welcome as warmth in mid-winter. A deep breath – hm, the first he could remember in ages; now why would that be? – and he smiled. Luxuriating in the feel of movement again, he turned over and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d. Gold eyes slid open, met wide gray eyes and drank in a sight a thousand times welcomed.
It spoke. He spoke. Numb with shock and unable to speak, she reached out a shaking hand. Her fingertips brushed his cheek. Reassured but not convinced, her hand moved up, caressing his face, through his wild white bangs and at last to his ears. They twitched as she hesitantly tweaked them. "Real…" she breathed, tweaking again, more vigorously.
The boy beneath her glowered. "Oi."
"Inuyasha…" she choked. Then, "Inuyasha!" she cried and flung herself at him.
The scent of her tears struck him only marginally before she did and he froze. Together they tumbled back into the box. "Urk."
Gesturing Inuyasha to a seat by the fire pit, Miroku went to a corner and pulled out a familiar yellow bag. "What're you doing with that?" Inuyasha protested angrily. "That's Kagome's!"
"A fact of which I am perfectly aware," the monk replied, only a little archly. "I did not think that Lady Kagome would mind if, through perusing her effects, I was able to return her to us. So I took the liberty."
Inuyasha grunted morosely. "Bah. All she's got in there is her weird clothes, medicines and books."
Miroku smiled. "Do not underestimate the value of books, my friend."
"Yeah, well, good luck selling them, ya money-grubbing priest. The characters they use in her country are weird; nobody'll want books they can't read."
"That," the monk said smugly, holding up a thick blue book, "is what dictionaries are for."
Just then there was a clatter from the door as Sango and Shippo came in. "You sent for us, husband?" Sango said with an inquiring look at Miroku.
"Ah, I'm glad little Sayori found you so quickly," he answered. "Come in and sit down. I have an important discovery to share."
"You did it!" Shippo burst out, eyeing Kagome's bag. "You found a way to bring Kagome back!"
Three pairs of eyes fixed on the monk with hopeful intensity. "You asshole," Inuyasha managed through a suddenly tight throat, "why didn't you just say so!"
Miroku shook his head sadly. "Alas, I have not found a way to bring Lady Kagome to us. What I have discovered," he continued over their protests, "is the secret of Kagome's country."
"In't that the same thing?" Inuyasha's response was desperate, as was his grip on the scrap of Kagome's uniform he still wore tied to the Beads of Subjugation.
"Through careful study of Kagome's books – and, as you noted earlier Inuyasha, the characters are strange and it was not an easy task – I have learned that while we cannot bring Kagome here, we can go to her. In a way."
Instantly the dog-demon was in Miroku's face. "HOW?" he demanded.
"Kagome's home is not another land or even another world but another time, one far ahead of us. Inuyasha, Shippo, as demons you live far longer than humans. You have but to wait and watch."
They all stared at him, open-mouthed in surprise and confusion. "Sango," he turned to his wife and put a compassionate hand on her shoulder, "you and I cannot take that path. We will have to trust that Buddha's mercy will see us unite with our friend in another life."
Inuyasha frowned. "How long?" he asked hoarsely.
Miroku turned back to his friend. "Hm?"
"How long do I have to wait?"
"If I am reading Lady Kagome's book correctly, 400 years."
Four hundred years? Too shocked to notice Sango and Shippo's responses, Inuyasha stood as though turned to stone. His grip on Kagome's uniform tie was painfully tight. I'm barely makin' it from sun-up to sun-down and he wants me to wait FOUR HUNDRED YEARS?!
"Miroku," he rasped, "I'm cutting you some slack 'cause we've fought together so much, but you are about to push me one step too far. Is this some kind of sick joke?"
"Husband," Sango clutched one hand to her heart, "Are you certain of this?"
Miroku gestured helplessly. "A certain as I can be."
"I know some demons take the long view," Shippo wailed, "but this is ridiculous! I'll be all grown up by then! Kagome won't even know me!"
"I am not as cruel as you think," Miroku held up a restraining hand. "There is another possibility, but you must be very sure."
Inuyasha fisted his hand in the monk's robe and hauled him in for a good glaring. "I don't care what it is. As long as it gets me to Kagome, I'm sure."
"Me too!" Shippo added.
Miroku hesitated. "I don't know that you should join him, Shippo. I won't forbid you but hear me out before you make up your mind. When we are done, there will be no way back."
The building shook as Inuyasha pounded his fist into the floor in frustration. "Enough talking, monk! Get to the point!"
"I know a way for you to skip the intervening years. For you, it shall be as a single night. You'll sleep through the centuries, sealed and guarded in the shrine."
"How can that be?" Sango interjected, frowning.
"I won't say there isn't some risk," Miroku continued. "We don't know what might yet happen in the future but from things you and Lady Kagome have said, Inuyasha, I have reason to believe that the shrine Priestess Kaede tends is the very shrine that Lady Kagome calls home."
"How do you plan to do this?" Inuyasha asked suspiciously. "I ain't lettin' one of you lot try to pin me with a sealing arrow!"
"No, no," Miroku said, reaching up into the rafters and bringing down a small, white, wrapped thing. "We'll use this."
"What is that?" Shippo's curiosity instantly got the better of him and he reached out to poke it. "Ewww, it's sticky!"
"Slice along here, if you would," Miroku held the bundle up to the half-demon.
"What if I wouldn't?" Inuyasha grumbled but did so anyway. A rabbit soon struggled out of the cocoon and scrambled to get away but the half-demon was too fast for it. "How is this gonna help?" he asked, holding the rabbit by the ears and watching it kick.
"Not the rabbit." Miroku picked up the discarded white strands. "The cocoon was made of spider-demon silk."
"Spider demons?!" Shippo and Inuyasha both shuddered in revulsion.
"Yes. The magic of a spider-demon silk cocoon will, as our friend rabbit has proven, keep anything inside in a state of suspended animation." His explanation was met with blank looks. "A magic sleep, not unlike the one Inuyasha was in, where you will neither age nor need sustenance."
Frowning, Sango looked down at the box full of spider-demon silk. "I still don't like it," she said.
"How do you know Kagome will find it? How do you know she'll even know what it is?"
"These seals were made by Lady Kagome's own hand," Miroku answered as he carefully laid out the sacred seals. "They shall guide her."
"I know Kagome," Inuyasha said. "She'll remember." Sango drew breath for another try but Inuyasha headed her off. "Sango, do you know how long a half-demon can live?"
She blinked in consternation. "…No."
"Neither do I. I can't take the chance. End. Of. Discussion."
Sango sighed and nodded sadly.
There was silence in the kitchen when Inuyasha stopped talking. Wordlessly Mama Higurashi handed him a glass of water and just as wordlessly he accepted it and drank it down. One hand played fitfully with the scrap of fabric tied to his necklace. He kept glancing at Kagome then away and opening his mouth to speak but clearly losing his nerve. Kagome, for her part, could only stare at him in a state verging on awe. Mama smiled to herself and hustled Souta and Grandpa into another room. Looking meaningfully back at the closed kitchen door, she put a finger to her lips. Souta started to protest but she fixed him with a stern look and a shake of her head. "Later," she murmured then turned to the phone.
"What are you doing?" Grandpa asked curiously.
"Inuyasha has no legal existence here," Mama replied. "I'm calling an old friend who may be able to help."
Back in the kitchen, Kagome was just coming out her shock. "Inuyasha…" she breathed. His gaze snapped back to hers and a funny half-smile pulled at his mouth. She reached across the table and covered his hand with hers. Her heart seemed to have climbed up into her throat. "You… to take such a risk… for me…"
A sad almost-chuckle escaped him. He turned his hand in hers and gripped it tightly. "Better to sleep and know nothing than wake to one more day without you, Kagome." A blazing smile - a little sadder, a little older than when she first fallen down the well, but still undeniably Kagome – was his reward and he found himself smiling foolishly back at her. They tried to talk at the same time, stopped to let the other continue and lapsed back into grinning at each other like idiots. Happy idiots but still idiots
, flashed through his mind but he was feeling too good to care for long.
There was a sound at the door. "Your brother," Inuyasha said softly, ears twitching. Kagome glared evilly at the door then, dragging a surprised but unresisting Inuyasha with her, fled the house.
"We should be safe in here for a while anyway," she said, stealthily sliding the well-house door closed. Turning around, she found Inuyasha staring thoughtfully at the well. "Thinking about the others?" she asked softly.
He made an affirmative sound. Coming up beside him, Kagome found herself wrapped up in her own thoughts. "I wonder what Sango had," she murmured. "I hope she had a safe delivery… Wait a second!" She turned and grabbed Inuyasha by the front of his Fire Rat robe. He blinked down at her in confusion. "You talked about their house like it was in Kaede's village! Is that where they settled?"
"Yeah," Inuyasha said, brow furrowed.
"I thought Sango wanted to re-build the Demon Slayer village."
Inuyasha shrugged. "She said there was too much sadness there for her. I think she meant there were too many reminders for Kohaku. And after we lost you, I think they all wanted to be nearby if you ever came back. I know I did," he added with twisted smile.
"That's great! We can look through the shrine records for them!" Kagome was struck by another thought. "Wasn't Shippo cocooned with you?"
"He wanted to be. Miroku made us try it out first, before he put the final seals on. Shippo said he hated it. Said something about 'feeling his life waiting to be lived,' or somesuch rot. Before I went in for good, he promised to keep an eye on things for me."
"Grandpa said your box had been given to the shrine by a great fox-demon. I thought it was more of his fairy tales but maybe there was some truth to it," she mused.
Inuyasha snorted. "That runt? A 'great fox-demon?'"
"You never know," Kagome continued, still thoughtful. "It has been a long time." Suddenly she gasped and clapped her hands with delight. "He's probably still around! Maybe we can find him in this time!" As if to start the search right then, Kagome spun toward the door. Inuyasha's hand shot out and he pulled her into a tight embrace.
"Inuyasha…" she whispered, her heart suddenly going a mile a minute. His claws pricked at her scalp, making it tingle pleasantly as one hand wound itself in her hair.
"Kagome! Sis! Where are you?" Souta's voice drifted through the door; fortunately he was still nowhere near the well house. Inuyasha turned toward the sound but Kagome gripped his robe tightly and pulled him back to her.Not this time, Souta. Not this time
, she grinned against Inuyasha's mouth triumphantly. She laughed at the dazed expression on his face and pulled him down for another kiss.
Later, high in the branches of the God-tree they sat looking out over the city together. Kagome nestled contentedly in Inuyasha's arms, his wide red sleeves protecting her from the cool night air. He rested his head against hers, drawing in slow, deep breaths that tickled her ear. "I love you, you know," he blurted roughly.
"Yeah, I know," she responded brightly. He whuffed in irritation. Tipping her head back, she pressed her cheek to his and slid one hand up to caress the side of his face. "I love you too," she whispered. A soft sound that Kagome could never quite identify escaped him then and he hugged her fiercely.
"I promise you we'll find them all," he swore some minutes later. "In this life or that one, we'll all be together again."
"I know we will." Kagome swung her feet idly. "I wonder if Sesshomaru's out there somewhere too."
"Don't. Just don't," he groaned.
Of this, track, anyway. I had two ideas for how this could go, both conceived close to but before the actual end of the manga. I wrote this one up first but had some trouble with a key point of track B. A twist of fate has recently presented me with the absolute, perfect, almost tailor-made solution and I hope you stick around to enjoy it.
Thank you for reading. It has been ages since I've written anything and re-posting this has reminded me not only how much fun this is, but how proud I am of this story especially. It's been a very good feeling and a bright spot in a week full of storm clouds.
Ki wo tsukete! (Literal translation: Use the Force! More usual translation: Take care!)
--manga, the Awesome One in pigtails.