Kagome found herself on her knees inside the earthy pit of the Bone Eater’s Well, gravelly dirt digging into her skin as tears leaked down her cheeks. Her escalating chant, “No, no, no, no, no, no!” made no difference at all. She scrambled up the ladder, heaved herself over the edge, turned without setting foot to ground, and jumped again.
Nothing. No blue light, no swell of magic. She fell right to the bottom like a stone and knelt there, sobbing. The pain in her leg, her side, her arm, did not even register as her heart shattered. The final battle had ended, victory at long last, their great enemy utterly defeated. The bauble that had begun the entire saga had dissolved into a fine, pink mist. The long years of strife, over with.
She hadn’t gotten to say goodbye. Hadn’t properly celebrated the victory with those who had made it happen. She’d made the wish to get rid of the Jewel of Four Souls, and her world exploded in light and sound.
When awareness returned, she knelt inside the well house in her own time, still covered in dirt and gore, wounds untended. Nearly five hundred years suddenly separated her from her friends, from people she’d come to think of as family. She couldn’t go back. The Well had closed.
Between one second and the next, her friends had died centuries ago.
Her mother found her some indeterminate time later, still crumpled at the bottom of the Well. Her brother came, and they coaxed her up the ladder and into the house where they called for an ambulance. Treatment for broken bones, lacerated limbs, apparent shock, barely registered to her.
She moved in a daze, not speaking, not really focusing on anything but the pain in her chest. When they finally left her alone, her bedroom door open a few inches so someone would hear if she called out, she lay staring blankly at the ceiling. Still, she couldn't think, could only feel the gaping hole that had opened up somewhere deep inside.
Her reiki provided an odd, aching counterpoint to the pain. Curled around the emptiness, it throbbed, Wrong...wrong...
Nothing alleviated that pain. She tested the Well again several times as she healed, driven there by the throbbing wrongness that never left her alone. Once, she landed badly and broke her wrist. Another time, her ankle snapped again when she hit the uneven bottom.
After countless scrapes, cuts, bruises, even broken bones, someone closed the well house door and nailed a heavy sheet of wood across the join. She stood there for a while when she discovered that, unnoticed tears oozing slowly down her face, then turned and went back into the house.
The nails only put paid to the loss. The Well hadn’t worked anymore, anyway. She went back to bed.
Her family welcomed her back, happy she had returned to them, but it never felt the same. She had changed and knew it. Her school friends visited once, while she lay in bed staring at the window that would never again open to the hand of a red-clad inuhanyō. Listening to them had felt like listening to a flock of birds chattering in a tree: pleasant, but irrelevant.
She had no idea how long she lay like that, having ceased to care about the cruel passage of time, but eventually her spirit began to return. It felt changed like the rest of her, bruised, battered, and terribly fragile. When her strength began to come back, she threw off the bedcovers and got moving.
Working. Pushing herself. Once she started moving, she became afraid to stop. If she stopped, she began to think, and thinking hurt far too much.
A weak, naive, ignorant girl when everything began, she set out to correct those faults after it had all ended. She enrolled in a community college nursing and pharmacology program, making up for her abysmal high school marks by studying long hours and settling for nothing less than perfect scores.
Joining the school archery team, she practiced relentlessly. Memories of slavering yōkai coming for blood gave her the impetus to quickly outstrip even the team’s Captain. Evenings and weekends, she attended a local dōjō, paying for lessons by answering phones, keeping schedules, and helping with the upkeep of the building.
After, she returned to the shrine to help her grandfather attend to visitors and clean the grounds. Every night, no matter how taxing the day or how late she had studied, she practiced with her reiki to hone control, stamina, and strength.
With time, she perfected a smiling mask and wore it religiously. Those closest to her never felt quite as close as they might wish, and often wondered why her smiles never seemed to reach her eyes. Acquaintances and strangers never noticed the disparity, and everyone always spoke of her as a kind, gentle, rather driven young woman.
Only her sensei at the dōjō noted the almost desperate quality of her drive, the strange economy of movement she did not seem to have to think about, the way she always seemed aware of what or who stood near her. In sparring, when she took hits that would have knocked most people down for several long moments, she simply got back up to try again. He wondered just why she, of all people, would come to that existence.
His suspicions angered him on her behalf, and it made him train her harder. She rose to the challenge. He pushed, looking for her limits. So did she.
Almost six months after the Well, or maybe the Jewel, summarily dumped her back in her birth era, she ran into the one face in all of history she could have done without seeing again.
“Higurashi?” the unwelcome voice gasped from a short distance away. Trapped at a small table in the corner of a cafe, she could not plausibly pretend she hadn’t heard. Suppressing a sigh, she turned from her textbook to look at the speaker.
“Oh, Hojo. Hello.” She considered letting her discomfort show, but this Hojo had always been even more oblivious than his ancestor. The expression would have gone right over his head, and she didn’t really care enough to make the effort, anymore.
He stepped closer, moving right up to her table. “Wow, it’s so good to see you! And you…you look great!”
“Thank you,” she answered, deliberately not returning either the greeting or the compliment.
“I heard from Yuka-chan there was some kind of accident…”
He meant the story her family had given out to explain her injuries, and why she’d remained nearly catatonic for so long. She suppressed another sigh. “Yes. I’m recovered now, though. I’ve started college.” Tapping the book lying open in front of her, she raised an eyebrow significantly and hoped he’d take the hint.
He didn’t. “Really? That’s wonderful! What are you studying?”
He blinked. “Is...is that really a good idea? I mean, what with your being so sick all the time... Wouldn’t it be dangerous for you?”
“I’ve been fine for quite a while, now.” He wouldn’t, she reflected, have known real danger if it’d run up and bitten his arm off. “I heard you went off to study in America.”
“Oh, I…uh, I did. I’m home for a couple of weeks to handle some family business.” He shifted, perhaps finally catching on to her distance. She hoped so. “I’m pre-med, right now, but I hope to be an immunologist. Maybe we’ll work together, someday.” His goofy, hopeful smile told her he hadn’t caught on.
“Anything’s possible, I’m sure.” She knew she would avoid working with him with every fiber of her being. “Wouldn’t you want to stay in America, though?”
He shook his head. “Oh no, I want to come back here as soon as I’ve gotten my MD. I’ll sit for the exams here and get my license.” He hesitated, glanced around the little coffee shop. “Do you come here often? I mean, uh, maybe we could get coffee together some time, do some catching up?”
She closed her book and slid it into her bag. His expression fell as she rose and slipped into her coat before shouldering the overstuffed messenger. “Look, Hojo, I know I never came out and said it, but I’ve never really had any interest in you except as a friend. I’m sorry Yuka and Eri made you believe I did. The truth is, I’m not interested in anyone now. I have too much to do, and no time for dating, anyway.”
Patting his arm seemed cold comfort that felt hollow even to her. “I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, and I’m sorry, but that’s how it is. You should find someone who can return your feelings. I really have to go, now. Take care.”
He reddened and mumbled something vaguely apologetic, with a faint farewell tacked on the end. She barely got out the door before guilt, dark and crushing, washed over her. Hojo had liked her from about the time boys started realizing that girls did not, in fact, have cooties.
Her mother and Gramps had always liked him, and Mom had started making veiled references to dating since her return. She’d even mentioned group dates. Accepting Hojo’s affection might have given her an excuse to make her mother leave her be…
Sighing, she hefted her bag a little higher on her shoulder and started down the sidewalk. A lot of people moved on the narrow strip of concrete at this time of day, and she lost herself in the general mob quickly enough. She relaxed as she got farther from the shop, knowing she’d done the right thing even if the words had come out harsher than she’d intended.
Accepting Hojo would have made her a liar and ended up totally unfair to him. Ultimately, she knew it would have wound up worse for everyone involved. Turning him down had given him the truth, for the best.
Even if it left her alone, with nothing to tell her mother. At least he’d gotten to say goodbye to her, and she’d given him the closure he’d need to eventually move on. Fate had not afforded her so much. Bitterness rose, flooding through the aching hole she couldn’t fill no matter how much she occupied herself. Angry and doing her best to hide it, she boarded a bus and headed home. She could study in her room.
That night, bruised and aching from a bad fall at the dōjō, she crawled into bed a little earlier than usual. For once, sleep came quickly.
He stood on a small rise above her, knee-length fall of silver hair blowing in the breeze, his back half-turned toward her. Of all those she’d hoped to see again, she hadn’t expected him. It didn’t stop her heart from contracting painfully at the sight of him, nor pounding an awful rhythm when he turned at her gasp.
Golden eyes met hers, and she found she couldn’t look away, didn’t want to even if she could. He’d always struck her as beautiful, ethereal. The deadliness inherent in every hard line of him did not detract from that in the least.
He stared down at her, expression blank as always. At first, she thought she’d imagined it, but then he took a single, graceful step toward her and the spark she thought she’d seen in his eyes flared again. Fierce, intent, and strangely warm, it drew her. She took two hesitant steps toward him.
“ Lord Sesshōmaru...”
Moving again, he glided down the hill in four long strides, coming to a halt only an arm’s length away. He wore exactly what he always had, not a single fold of silk out of place beneath the heavy armor, obi draped just so, and two swords tucked and tied in the left loop at his waist. Bakusaiga hung below Tensaiga, both swords as perfect as their wielder. She looked back up to his face, catching the tail end of something like sadness in his eyes. The thought sent a chill through her.
“Are you…” she began, then hesitated. “I mean, is there something wrong?”
His chin lifted just a little, enough to allow him to look down his perfect, aristocratic nose at her. “There is never anything wrong with this Sesshōmaru,” he declared in an arctic tone.
She could only smile at him. He would never have admitted it even if he did have a problem, certainly not to a mere human. “Of course there isn’t. I only wondered, because you seemed…a little different, just now. Please forgive my presumption.”
“Hn.” He turned, then, and began walking into the forest.
“ Lord Sesshōmaru?” she called, trying to keep the desperation out of her voice. He paused, flicking a glance at her over his armored shoulder. “May I walk with you?”
As soon as the words left her mouth, she winced and bit her lip. As if he’d allow that! He let Rin follow him, but he seemed to care for the adorable little girl in his own distant way. Everyone everywhere knew the Lord of the Western Lands did not like human s , though, as a rule. As little as she wanted to let him out of her sight just yet, she knew he would not welcome her…
“Do as you wish.”
His answer came so unexpected, she almost didn’t register the words. Blinking, stunned, she stared at his retreating back for a moment. Then, realization caught up with her and she started, hurrying after him. When she reached his side, she simply walked, enjoying his company and the fresh forest air around them. She’d missed it.
They walked, side by side in comfortable silence, for quite some time. Eventually , she turned to admire a sprinkle of flowers in a puddle of sunlight, and when she turned to speak to him…he had vanished. She looked around, frantic, tears springing to her eyes, but couldn’t find him. The forest around her remained empty, pristine, as if no one had ever stood there with her at all. She sank to her knees and dropped her face into her hands as the tears spilled.
Kagome started up out of sleep, chest aching and throat tight with unvoiced sobs. A single glance at her window showed that the sun had just begun to rise. She lifted a hand to push hair out of her face, her fingers brushing her temple. Blinking, she stared at her fingertips. Moisture. Only then did she feel the tears still leaking unchecked from her eyes. She remembered the dream. Flipping over onto her belly, she pressed her face into her pillow and gave in to the forlorn cries that simmered somewhere behind her breastbone.
Her family left her alone that day, and she did not leave her room. She studied, practiced meditation and the control of her reiki, then studied again. The next day, she had class, and resumed her interrupted schedule without explaining anything to anyone until she got to the dōjō in the evening. As soon as he saw her walk through the door, Mori-sensei turned the class over to one of the black belts and motioned for her to follow him to his office. Dreading what he would say, she doffed her shoes and followed.
“Excuse me,” she murmured politely at the open door, then stepped through and slid it quietly shut behind her. Turning, she found he hadn’t even sat down behind the desk, merely stood in the middle of the room and eyed her appraisingly. She endured it for a moment, searching his face for clues. “Sensei? Is something wrong?”
Both his eyebrows twitched upward just a little. “That’s what I’d like to ask you, Miss Higurashi.” He held up one hand. “But I won’t. I can see there is. You are far too young to have that look about you, young lady. You didn’t come in, yesterday.”
She licked her lips nervously and bowed to cover it. “I am sorry for that, Sensei. I should have called.”
“No, no, stand up. I’m not taking you to task.” He eyed her again as she rose. “I am concerned, though.”
“You don’t…” She felt her cheeks warm just a little and glanced at the window. “I’m sorry I made you worry. You don’t need to.”
“You’re my student, one of the best I’ve ever had. I can see something troubles you, and I’d like to help, if I can.” He paused, then sighed when she didn’t respond. “Well. I won’t pry. Just know that I’m here, if you wish someone to talk to.”
She bit her lip, struggling not to fidget with the fingers interlaced in front of her. He didn’t know, couldn’t know, but…maybe…of all those she’d met since it’d happened… “I…”
The half-whispered word caught him by surprise, halfway around his desk. He stopped and turned back to look at her, then gestured to the cushion on the floor before continuing around the desk to the chest behind it. Pulling another cushion out, he brought it to settle near the one she’d alighted on like a frightened bird. She waited until he’d sat down to go on.
“I told you about the accident, a while ago.” She’d had to, as she’d still had vivid scars and a knee brace when she’d first wandered into the dōjō looking for something else to fill her time. Getting stuck on the wrong side of the Well had been an accident, at least on her part. If she’d known making the wish would strand her, she’d have waited.
The details, she’d left deliberately sketchy, so that it might have been any kind of accident. What she’d said only sort of tiptoed along the line between truth and falsehood, that way. When he nodded wordlessly, she took a deep breath, trying to work out how much she could say.
“I…um…I lost some…some f-friends. In the accident. Close friends. M-more like…um, like family, I guess. A couple of nights ago, I had a dream. About one of them.”
She waited, chewing her lower lip, for him to say the same thing everyone else had said when she told them she’d “lost friends” in the “accident”. I’m so sorry to hear that. Or, I’m sorry for your loss. That must be so hard.
Several long moments passed, and at last she looked up at him. He merely sat there, watching her, patience and understanding in his expression. For some reason she couldn’t name, it made her eyes sting. She took a breath to steady herself.
“The funny thing about it is that the one I dreamed about…he wasn’t even the one I felt closest to. He was more like an acquaintance, compared to the others. But I was so happy to see him. We just…walked together for a while, didn’t talk much, or anything. Then I looked away for a second, and when I looked back, he was just…gone. And I woke up. It…um…I didn’t really sleep very much after that.”
Silence stretched for a few moments after she finished, but not uncomfortably. She focused on keeping the tears at bay until he spoke again, gently. “Losing loved ones suddenly can often be more difficult than if they are lost to age or an illness. With those, we have time to say farewell. Your accident took them suddenly.”
She nodded miserably. “One second they were there, we were going to celebrate, and then the next…just like in the dream…gone.” The last word came out in a strangled whisper.
He laid a hand on her shoulder. “It’s harder, when you have no time for goodbye. We remember the things we would’ve said, the things we would’ve done, if we’d only known. I've lost friends like that, too. I am sorry to say, it never really goes away. Time will make it more manageable, but it won’t erase it.”
“Time!” she half-laughed cynically. “That’s the problem, isn’t it? We just don’t have enough time, do we? Until suddenly, we have way too much time. What are we supposed to do, then?”
“We fill it.” His hand tightened on her shoulder briefly, then patted, and retreated. “So. Shall we go and set up for the next class?” He got to his feet, headed for the door.
Suddenly, an idea struck her. Quickly, before she could second-guess herself, she blurted, “Sensei? Will you teach me to use weapons? A sword?”
He froze at the door, one hand on the frame, and turned to look at her over his shoulder. Her request had surprised him. Still, he didn’t immediately dismiss her out of hand. Instead, he half-turned back toward her, the position of his broad shoulders suddenly reminding her of Sesshōmaru as she’d first seen him in the dream. After a long moment, he nodded. “When you are ready, and if you still desire it.”
She sat there, staring at the open door for several moments after he had vanished through it, and wondered what had just happened.