A group of teenage girls grinned and posed happily for the petite woman holding the camera. Anyone looking at them would see the excitement and pride on their faces, full of satisfaction for a job well done.
“Can you believe we finally graduated?!” one of the girls squealed, hugging her scroll tightly to her chest. “I can’t believe it.”
“Especially you Kagome,” another chimed in. “We were worried you wouldn’t pass.”
The topic of conversation smiled at her friends, her own scroll held securely in her hands. While her happiness was not as rapturous as her friends, joy was still evident on her face, along with relief. Though not as high in ranking as she would have liked, considering what she had been involved with during Junior High, graduating alone was success enough. She nodded sagely, her smile growing wider.
“You said it, Eri,” she laughed. “I barely made it, but I worked hard and did it.”
“It’s odd that all your strange sicknesses seemed to vanish once you graduated from Junior High,” Ayumi mused thoughtfully. “Literally gone, overnight.” She brightened, leaning in to whisper in her friend’s ear. “I have got to know who your doctor is.”
Kagome flushed, laughing nervously. “M-my…wha-…”
“Your doctor,” she repeated, grinning widely. “He had to be the reason you had so many “illnesses”.” She nudged her friend suggestively. “Want to hook a friend up?”
Kagome opened and closed her mouth, at a complete loss for words. “I…well, he-“
“Unfortunately is no longer residing in Tokyo,” her mother cut in smoothly. “He wanted to pursue further research on new techniques and treatments and so transferred to the states to study there. We are not sure when or if he will return.” She winked conspicuously to her daughter, who sent her a very grateful look. Lying had become second nature to her family, which pained her greatly, as they worked hard to keep her secret life hidden for so long. Even now, back in her own time, the lies would forever continue. They were necessary, she knew, but still, she felt bad they had to hide so much from ones she considered “friends”.
Missing the exchange, Ayumi's shoulders drooped in defeat. “I bet he was super hot,” she muttered disappointedly.
“Uh,” Kagome had no idea how to even respond to that one. Her friends had imaginations that still to this day astounded her. Shaking her head vigorously, she chuckled. “Sorry to disappoint, Ayumi, but he was too old for me and married. So, no luck on that one.”
Ayumi frowned, her eyes still speculative. “Hmmm.”
Needing a change of topic, Kagome turned to the other two girls. “How about we celebrate our success with lunch at our usual spot? For old time’s sake?”
Three choruses of “Yeah” were her answer.
“We haven’t been here in ages, and yet it feels like only yesterday,” Eri sighed, munching on her fries. “Those were the good old days.”
“Wow, Eri, you’re starting to sound like an old maid,” Yuka teased. “When did you get so mature?”
Eri spat her tongue at her friend. “I was only making a point,” she said, waving her fry in the air. “With all our studying to pass High School, we have not had as much time to hang out as we used too.”
Ayumi sighed. “The days we spent here bashing Kagome’s old boyfriend, the jerk-“ she paused, looking over to her raven-haired friend. “What was his name again, Kagome?”
“Inu Yasha,” Kagome murmured, thoughts of the hanyou dimming the light in her eyes. Even now hearing his name brought back the sadness and disappointment she had felt upon returning to her time, leaving behind all those she had grown so close to.
“Yeah, that was it, Inu Yasha,” Ayumi continued happily, oblivious to the saddened girl next to her. “I am so glad that you finally realized your mistake with that jerk and dumped his behind to the curb. You deserve way better. I mean, come on, the guy treated you like crap and strung you along for way too long.”
Kagome cringed inwardly, the words hitting too close to home. It had been the greatest difficulty in their relationship; Inu Yasha’s inability to decide between Kikyo and her. Not that she had ever told him he had to make a choice, but that she had always secretly hoped that he would. And the pain when he would run to the dead priestess each and every time was one she could never vocalize to anyone, even her closest friends.
But even that was not the hardest part of their relationship; it was her deep doubt that Inu Yasha truly saw her for herself, and not for the reincarnation of his lost love. Did he love Kagome Higurashi or Kikyo’s new persona? Lost in her thoughts, it took Kagome a moment to notice that the conversation had dwindled, and her friends were staring at her intently. She blushed, unsure how long they had been staring at her.
“I’m sorry,” she laughed nervously. “I wasn’t paying attention there. What were we talking about?”
Her friends eyed her silently, each wearing varying degrees of concern and calculation.
“Kagome,” Eri drawled out disapprovingly. “You did dump that creep, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, I mean we haven’t seen or heard you mention him in over three years,” Ayumi continued. “We thought for sure that you had seen the kind of guy he was and let him go.”
“He wasn’t that bad you guys,” Kagome cried in exasperation. “I mean, he had his moments, yes, but he had his great ones too.” She trailed off, remembering all that Inu Yasha, her friends and herself had experienced during her time in the Feudal Era; all the pain, the struggles, the battles, the loss. Inu Yasha especially. He had lost so much, been through so much. “He saved me a lot,” she continued softly. “He protected me so many times when no one else was around.”
A sudden memory of another demon with long silver hair and deep gold eyes coming to her aid flashed through her mind. The sudden thought caught her so off guard, that she dropped the cup she had been raising to her mouth, the cup falling to its side with a small clatter. Thankfully the lid remained on, but it broke the temporary lapse she had been under.
“A-Anyway,” she stammered, occupying herself with righting her cup to avoid her friends’ eyes. “Yes, while it is true I have not seen or spoken to him in over three years, we didn’t officially break up or anything. We didn’t really have a relationship to “break up”.”
Each of her friends looked unconvinced at her words, Eri shaking her head. “Kagome,” she said sadly. “Are you going to let him go? Move on? We never met the guy, but from what you told us of him, he does not deserve you. At all.”
“That’s not true,” Kagome stated firmly. “He-He does deserve me. He cares for me. He promised to protect me.”
“But did he ever say he actually loved you?” Yuka asked skeptically.
Kagome looked at her friend in surprised shock, her mouth opening and closing as she searched her memory. “I…,” she whispered. Shaking her head, a flush of anger and denial coating her cheeks, Kagome stood. “I gotta go. I’ll see you three around.”
“Kagome, wait,” Ayumi cried, trying to catch her friend's arm. But Kagome was too quick for her, and she was gone before they could even make it out of their seats.
Ayumi plopped back onto her chair with an angry sigh. “Well, that didn’t go very well,” she grumbled, jabbing a fry into her ketchup. “Why couldn’t we keep our mouths shut?”
There was a momentary silence before Yuka spoke up tentatively. “She won’t go back to him, right? She can’t still love him, after all, this time, can she?” There was no response to her question, as each girl stared worriedly at the seat their friend had just occupied.
‘Not true,’ Kagome thought to herself. ‘It isn’t true. I know Inu Yasha loves me. He promised to protect me, to always stay by my side, just as I promised him. He loves me, I know it. I just know it.’
After running out of her friends, Kagome blindly made her way home. She was not aware of what was around her or what she passed by. The route was second nature to her, and so her feet walked automatically while her mind continued its inner battle. ‘When that well opens again, and I am able to return, everything will be okay. I will be back with Inu Yasha, and I will be right. He will want me just for me. Not as a substitute or replacement. He just wants me. He DOES!’
So deep into her thoughts, Kagome didn’t realize that the crowd had thickened in the late evening hour and that many people were entering and exiting the stores lining the street. She was passing a local shop that housed various housewares and did not see the tall man exiting the building his head turned to something behind him. Neither saw the other or the inevitable collision about to happen. The sharp impact to a large tall body didn’t register until Kagome found herself stumbling back, nearly losing her balance. An arm shooting out to steady her was the only prevention she had of colliding with the other pedestrians or the pavement.
“I-I’m so sorry,” she apologized, immediately dropping into a courteous bow. “I wasn’t watching where I was going.” She took a timid peek up at her rescuer. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
From her bent position, all she could make out was an obviously male physic in a fairly expensive, tailored suit. Her only view was the immaculate lapels and silk tie. She realized then that the gentleman was still holding her arm, which he released when she glanced at it in bemused embarrassment. She slowly raised her head up while bringing her arm back to her side.
The man before her was breathtakingly handsome; immaculately groomed hair, long chiseled features and deep eyes that struck a chord of familiarity in her that she couldn’t place. He was looking at her in complete shock and surprise as if he couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing. They stared at one another in complete silence, until a small shove from a passerby behind her broke the spell. Kagome looked behind to see who had shoved her and seeing no culprit returned her gaze to the man before her. He looked to have recovered from whatever shock he had experienced just moments before, and a look of neutral indifference now covered his features.
“Are you okay?” he asked, his deep voice striking another chord in her. It was deep, masculine, and so achingly familiar. It sent her heart racing, color racing to her cheeks, and she couldn’t figure out why. He was strikingly handsome, ridiculously so, but nothing about him was so out of the ordinary or different from all the men she had seen in Tokyo, and she wondered why she reacted as she did. But his features screamed familiarity to her.
Something about his deep-set eyes that seemed to reach into your soul, his long elegant nose and full lips. And his very presence seemed to scream power and authority. And there was something…something about him that seemed off as if an aura was lurking beneath the surface, masked, hidden, but still mildly felt. But try as she might, she couldn’t figure out why he seemed familiar. If she tried to look, there was something there, just out of reach, swimming on the surface but out of reach, like looking through a fogged mirror. “Miss?”
Realizing she had been staring, and quite blatantly, Kagome flushed bright red. “Yes, yes,” she stammered. “I-I’m fine. I’m sorry for running into you. I wasn’t watching where I was going.” Her eyes widened in alarm, raking her eyes across his form in search of injury. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?” And then she flushed in mortification upon realizing she had just repeated everything she had just said moments ago. If he noticed, he gave no indication, however.
The man blinked and then smiled, a deep chuckle escaping his lips. “No, far from it,” he grinned. “I sustained no damage.”
Kagome’s breath caught at his smile again gripped with a sense of déjà vu. She realized she was staring again by the rise of his eyebrow, and slight disconcerted air and she blushed again, shaking her head to clear the strange thoughts. “I-I’m sorry for staring,” she said. “I just…oh, never mind. It’s crazy.”
He smiled gently, the confusion and disconcertion clearing from his face. “You looked pretty out of it a moment ago. Don’t worry about it. As long as you are unharmed, that is all that matters.”
Kagome swallowed thickly, forcing a bright smile while the déjà vu continued to grip her almost chokingly. “Oh, no. I’m fine. Just silly teenage issues,” she joked in a brittle voice. “I’ll be fine.” She bowed apologetically once more before taking a step back in order to walk around him. “I apologize again for running into you. I truly am sorry.”
The man shook his head, stepping back to let her pass. “No harm was done,” he said smoothly. “Think nothing of it.”
Something screamed at her to stay, to talk more to him as if something precious was about to be lost. Confused by the thoughts and feelings raging through her, she walked passed him dazedly waving absentmindedly to him. “Thanks.” She continued on her way, once again lost in thoughts, unaware the man watched her with a small smile on his lips.
“Until we meet again, Kagome,” the man whispered. Then he turned back to the shop, as the door opened to allow a beautiful and elegant woman to exit.
“Did I miss her?” She asked excitedly, hope and anticipation bright in her eyes. “Please tell me I didn’t miss her?”
The man chuckled, offering his arm to the beautiful woman. “Sorry. Just barely.”
The woman’s face dropped, a pout drawing down her full lips. “Darn it,” she muttered. “I was so close.” She looked up at the man as she took his arm and they began heading the opposite direction of the girl he had conversed with just moments ago. She grinned mischievously. “I can still catch her. It isn’t like I don’t know where she is going.”
A stern look and sharp negative turn of the head was her answer. “You know what a bad idea that is,” he scolded, ignoring the pout he received from his companion. “Chin up, love. To quote you…”It isn’t like you don’t know where she is going”.”
“Or where she will end up,” she answered with a small huff. She pursed her lips in stubborn determination, before grinning widely. She snuggled up against the arm she held, sighing contentedly. “You are right as always, my love. I know where she is going. Her life is about to change…for the better.” Her eyes widened in sudden realization, slightly alarmed. “Did she recognize you?”
A ghost of a smile crossed his lips before he gave her a blatant look. “Time will tell.”
She blinked owlishly at him for a moment, before bursting in laughter. Neither paid heed or acknowledged the looks of envy and admiration that followed them as they made their way down the street.
“I’m home,” Kagome called upon entering the house, kicking off her shoes with a small sigh. The delicious smells of her mother’s cooking wafted to her nose, and her stomach growled in hungry anticipation. No matter how old she got, she would always appreciate her mother’s home-cooked meals.
“Welcome home, dear,” her mother called from the kitchen. “Dinner will be ready in an hour. Why don’t you go make sure your Grandfather is finishing up his chores so he is ready for supper?”
“Ok,” Kagome sighed, turning back around and replacing her slippers for shoes again. She lumbered outside, wondering what tasks her grandfather was up to today. As old as he was, even if a little senile, he still maintained his traditional upbringing as shrine keeper and ensured the grounds were immaculate and ready for any and all visitors. She decided to check the shed to see if he was possibly reorganizing, again, the various items stored within.
Heading in that direction, her steps led her toward and past the Bone Eaters Well. Upon reaching the doors, her steps slowed and then halted altogether. Even prepared for what she knew would be there, she couldn’t help the grip of disappointment she felt when again no pull of magic reached her. It was void, empty, and lifeless. Just a simple, normal well with a history like so many relics around Japan. There was no link to a fantastical world only read about in books or heard about in museums, no hanyou’s barging in demanding she get her butt in gear to go defeat Naraku, no excited calls from a small fox demon that his “mama” was back. The sounds, smells, and bustle of Tokyo would no longer recede to be replaced by trees, meadows, fields, and pastures. The return of a simpler, almost easier life was no longer within her reach.
Forgetting at the moment that she had been sent on an errand by her mother, her feet took her to the entrance of the well. She glared at the doors and what lay waiting beyond, willing with all her might for it to open, the magic to return. She had done what she wished to do in this world and desired nothing more than to return to what she considered home more than where she was. There was something waiting for her on the other side, someone that had promised themselves to her. A promise she had to bring to pass, had to see fulfilled, had to KNOW was true and sincere.
Was the love she felt truly only one-sided or was it reciprocated as she hoped? He had promised to stay with her, always, and she had to know if that meant what she wished with every fiber of her being to be. Before she realized it, she was at the lip of the well, staring deep into its dark and empty depths. Again, no pull of magic reached her, no smells and sounds from the other side greeted her ears. All that surrounded her was the haunting whistling wind from the old boards and holes in the shed, and the faint sounds of city traffic just beyond the doors.
“I KNOW my feelings are what sealed this well,” she whispered brokenly to herself. “I wanted, no needed to return here to my time. I had to see my family, graduate, and say goodbye. So, please,” she begged gripping the rough wooden edge. “Please let me through, let me return to HIM.” She tightened her grip almost painfully on the wood, the rough, jagged edges cutting into her skin, although not breaking the surface. “I know you aren’t sealed forever, that somewhere, somehow magic still exists in you. Please, let me back. Let me back.”
She hadn’t realized she was yelling until she heard the fearful, pained filled voice of her mother. “Kagome?”
She gasped in surprise, her gaze locked on the well, as she felt her mother approach. Just at the moment when her mother had spoken her name, she felt it, so minutely that she dared to believe it was there. But there it truly was. As she stared deep into the recesses of the well, she knew she was feeling a breeze, and it wasn’t from the doors her mother had just entered. No, it was coming from inside the well, or better yet from where the well was linked too. And then she smelled it. The rejuvenating waft of fresh air, trees, brush, and millions of flowers. It was so achingly familiar and so acute that tears came to her eyes in relief and feared hope.
“Mama,” she breathed raggedly, not taking her eyes from the well. “Mama.”
A gentle, yet quivering hand was placed on her shoulder. “Are you going?” Nothing else needed to be said. She knew her daughter, and her daughter knew her. She too felt the breeze rising from the well's depth, and she knew what it meant. The well had reopened, and her daughter’s chance was here. Who knew how long it would stay open or if it would remain open. For all they knew, this could be Kagome’s one and only chance to return to what she had always longed for upon her return.
Broken, conflicted eyes rose to meet her, unshed tears shimmering in eyes so much older than they should have been. They were haunted, aching, wounded and needing answers she could not give. Suddenly her teenage daughter threw herself into her arms, holding onto her for all she was worth. She sobbed into her mother’s chest, breathing deeply of her mother’s scent and essence, wondering if this was the last time she would ever feel these arms around her. Her embrace was returned just as fiercely, and although she trembled with suppressed emotion, her mother did not cry. Her wonderful, strong, supportive mother.
“I have to,” she whispered her mother’s inquire brokenly. “I have to know.”
Her mother broke the embrace to place her hands upon her daughter’s damp cheeks. “I know who you are my dear Kagome,” she whispered emphatically. “I know what you are capable of, and what you deserve. I know you will find what you are seeking. But, understand what you leave behind.”
Kagome choked on a sob, nodding her head. “I do, I really do. I will miss you all so, so very much.” She hugged her mother tight once more. “I love you.”
“And I you,” was her mother’s heartfelt reply. Gently removing her daughter from her embrace, she smiled bravely and encouragingly. “Now go, before your chance is lost.” With that, she took a step back from her daughter, then another, and another, until she was at the edge of the stairs, her gaze never leaving that of her daughter’s.
Kagome’s sobs increased with each step her mother took, yet she didn’t go after her mother or demand she stop. They both knew that if she was to do this, it was to be now and no one was going to stop Kagome, but Kagome. Offering a hopeful, yet watery smile to her mother, she straightened up tall turned and leaped with all her might into the well. There was no flash of light as there had been in the past, no indication that times had been transcended, but somehow her mother knew she was gone.
Suddenly everything grew fainter, dimmer, motionless; a deafening silence that was almost crushing. And then it was gone, and vaguely she heard the sounds of life return little by little from outside. And still she stood there as if waiting for something, but what she didn’t know. Her musings were brought to a halt by the distant voice of her son calling for her. Sighing in resignation, she made the almost painful climb up the stairs to the world beyond. Her son’s calls were almost frantic and determined, and she assumed he was looking for her for a reason other than an empty stomach.
“I’m here Souta,” she called emerging from the interior of the well, waving to her son as he almost passed right by. “What did you need, dear?”
Souta came to a screeching halt, almost falling flat on his face in his haste to stop. He righted himself quickly, panting from his sprint. It took a moment for him to realize where she was standing and his face puckered in confusion. “What are you doing by the well? Is Kagome with you?”
Opting to forego what had just transpired for the moment, she brought him back to focus. “All in good time, Souta, but you sounded like you were looking for me for a reason…?” she trailed off expectantly, waiting for him to grasp the hint.
Souta’s eyes widened in remembrance, slapping a fist to his palm. “Right, yeah, I was,” he said. He pointed back to the house, excitement returning to his youthful face. “Ya got a visitor asking for you. Someone important it appears, if their appearance is anything to go by.”
She blinked in confusion and bewilderment, knowing she was not nor had been expecting any visitors today. “Did they say who they were or what they needed?”
Souta shook his head, turning to head back to the house. “No, but they asked for you specifically and said that you would be happy to see them.”
Still unclear on who her visitors were, she followed her son back to the house, hoping the mystery was about to be cleared on her waiting guests. She gave one final glance to the well behind her, before turning her back to the past and looking forward to the future.
‘Be happy Kagome,’ she prayed to herself.
Far away, separated by distance instead of time, a young girl found herself in the welcoming arms of a boy she feared to never see again.
That day, the birds sang, the sun shone bright, and all was right with the world. She knew she had made the right choice. She was home.