Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end
Everyone cheered as the announcement rang out. Smiling contentedly, proud of herself for her accomplishment, Kagome made her way over to her waiting family, diploma in hand.
“I'm so proud of you dear,” her mother stated with joy in her voice, eyes sparkling.
“Yes, indeed,” her grandfather agreed.
“Way to go, Nee-chan,” Souta added, looking up at his big sister with admiration in his eyes, even though he didn't have to look quite as far up anymore those days, what with his latest growth spurt.
“Thanks, guys,” the miko replied, smiling a little brighter. There had been a time when she wasn't honestly sure she'd ever make it to that point, graduating high school, so her family's praise was definitely well earned.
There had been a time when she'd almost never even started high school...
Eri's voice calling her name pulled Kagome from her wandering thoughts, and she turned, happy to see her three school friends coming her way.
“Ah!” Waving them over, Kagome passed grinning looks back and forth between her friends and family as the three girls approached.
Kagome's family had told Yuka, Eri and Ayumi the truth about her adventures in the past three years ago, when the girls had happened upon the scene in the well-house when they'd stopped by to inquire on her health after she'd missed the first few days of high school, when Kagome had been locked away in the Shikon. The miko still distinctly remembered the second tearful reunion she'd had upon her return, after the first one when she'd hugged her family right there in the well-house, so very relieved to be back home, to be alive. That happiness had been short lived when Inuyasha had unexpectedly been ripped from her, but at the time she hadn't fully comprehended the fact that she might never see him again. The idea of jumping into the well after him had crossed her mind, briefly, but then she'd decided against it, returning to her mother's embrace like the frightened child she'd honestly been. Later that afternoon, after a warm bath and hot bowl of oden, her mother had phoned up her girlfriends, and Yuka, Eri and Ayumi had all immediately rushed over, giving Kagome tearful hugs of their own.
They had actually accepted the truth easier than Kagome had thought they would've, but she suppose it'd helped that they'd already seen Inuyasha's ears and how fast he could run during that incident at the train station. They'd tried to be rational and shrug it off at the time, pretending he was just a weird cosplayer and that they'd imagined his supernatural abilities, but learning the truth, they'd actually been relieved to realize they hadn't been crazy, after all, seeing what they'd seen.
Upon Kagome's return they'd eagerly helped her catch up on everything she'd missed those first few days of high school, and pretty soon, finally able to study on a regular basis, Kagome had been able to repair her fallen grades, graduating now with good enough grades to get into a university, although she had no intention of applying.
“Good afternoon, ma'am,” Yuka stated in greeting to Kagome's mother as the three girls closed the final gap between them in that moment.
“Congratulations graduating,” Mrs. Higurashi stated in reply.
“You all got into college, didn't you?” Kagome asked the trio.
“Oh, congratulations!” her mother chimed back in.
Mrs. Higurashi knew Kagome had no intention of going to college, and she couldn't honestly say she blamed her or was disappointed, but she was genuinely happy for her daughter's three friends nonetheless.
“Yup!” Ayumi answered. “I'm going to be an interpreter.”
“I'm going to be an announcer,” Yuka added.
“Well, you'd better be 'Miss Campus' first,” Eri teased Yuka, looking her way.
Kagome just smiled, amused by their antics.
“What about you, Kagome?” Ayumi asked then.
“I think...I think I'm done with school for the time being. I'm going to help my family at the shrine,” she stated, glancing over her shoulder at her smiling family members.
Yuka, Eri and Ayumi all nodded their deeper understanding. The conversation would have continued, but Eri's mother called for her from across the crowd in that moment, drawing the teenager's attention.
“Time to go,” she stated as she glanced over her shoulder and waved to her mother to let her know she'd heard, before then turning back to Kagome. “Don't be a stranger,” she said to the miko with a friendly grin before she turned to leave.
“Bye,” Ayumi said with a small wave as she headed away as well.
“See ya 'round, Kagome!” Yuka added, turning to follow after the others.
Watching them go, the miko couldn't help it as her thoughts drifted back to that tearful reunion again, when her friends had been relieved to see she'd been returned to them alive and well, and she'd spent the next several hours telling them all about her adventures in the past.
It's been three years since then... she thought. Where did all the time go?
Heading with her family to their car, the ride back home was a quiet one, but a tranquil quiet, not awkward in the slightest. Getting out of the car once they arrived and heading up the mass of stone steps that led up to her childhood home, Kagome allowed her mind to wander, passing a sideways glance at the well-house as she reached the top of the stairs and made her way to the main house with the rest of her family.
Three days after the well on this side disappeared, the well reappeared in a pillar of light, and I returned with Inuyasha... she remembered, sighing. Since then, the well no longer connected.
At the time, when Inuyasha had suddenly disappeared back into the well's depths and she'd run up to the well crying his name, she hadn't felt brave enough to jump in after him, even though a part of her had wanted to. She just hadn't been able to leave her family again, still so very afraid of the darkness and afraid of somehow ending up back there, even though the logical part of her mind had known that wasn't possible, since the sacred jewel was no more. Turning back to look over her shoulder at their worried faces, she'd known her family had also been as equally afraid of losing her again, and after just barely getting her back, too, so instead of leaping into the well she'd run back into her mother's arms and had allowed her family to usher her out of the well-house, murmuring reassurances that everything would be all right.
It had been a few days before she'd braved trying the well, not so much afraid to discover that it wouldn't let her pass but more afraid of becoming trapped in the past if it did, and then when she'd discovered that the well was actually closed and she couldn't get through she'd been devastated, realizing that that explained why Inuyasha had not yet returned. She'd thought, she'd hoped, that the well would still work as a back and forth portal between the two worlds, and that it would turn out Inuyasha had just been giving her a few days to recuperate, the hanyou figuring she'd return to his world once she was ready, once she had settled back in with her family. To realize the well was actually closed, a thousand paranoid worries had rushed through her head, wondering what had happened to him, and what he might have thought had happened to her and whether or not she even wanted to return, not to mention whether or not he wanted her to. The list went on and on. But with high school already underway and her grades already suffering big time, she had chosen quickly enough to at least try and put worries about the well and Inuyasha out of her mind for the time being and concentrate on her schooling, instead.
It hadn't really worked, since she'd never been able to get thoughts of Inuyasha out of her mind, but completing high school was something she'd known she'd needed to do, for honor's sake, and so she'd still done her best to focus the majority of her attention on her schooling. And she had achieved her goal; she had graduated high school. Inuyasha would be proud of her. He might not have really understood, but he'd understood that it was important to her, and she could just imagine the way his voice would've sounded, praising her on a job well done for having achieved what she'd set out to do and honoring herself and her family with her accomplishment.
Slipping off her shoes as she entered the genkan, Kagome made her way up to her room and changed out of her school uniform into a plain white yukata, preparing to take a bath, trying yet again to get thoughts of her beloved hanyou out of her head for the time being so that she could have at least a few moments of peace.
Passing her mother in the kitchen on her way to the wash room, Mrs. Higurashi congratulated her daughter yet again, and said, “I'm making your favorite for dinner,” as she started pulling ingredients for oden out of the refrigerator.
“That sounds wonderful,” Kagome replied honestly and with a genuine smile. She then headed into the wash room and proceeded to wash the day away.
Today is the first day of the rest of my life... she thought as she soaped up, snorting at the cliché. On second thought, tomorrow can be the first day of the rest of my life. I just want to have the rest of today off and not have to think about anything.
Not thinking about anything sounded like a lovely idea.
The early spring morning air was crisp, with a hint of the lingering bite of winter, though new life was already starting to grow in the fields, anticipating the coming warmth. Stepping outside into the morning light, Kaede stretched her back, working out some of the kinks, an empty basket in hand. Her destination, the wild herb field that grew along the southern slope of the nearby foothills, on the west end of the village. Even if most of the medicinal herbs weren't ready to be gathered just yet, she was certain she could find enough edibles to make it worth her while; they always tasted the best when picked young.
Looking up from her place clearing away a few rouge weeds along the edge of the small house as her guardian stepped outside, Rin rose to her feet and dusted the dirt from her knees.
“Did you want me to go with you, Kaede-sama?” the eleven-year-old asked, recognizing the basket Kaede held.
“No, child,” the old miko answered, smiling at her young ward. “You have your chores and I have mine. Please continue with your weeding. You don't know what a help it has been for this old woman to not have to do quite so much bending these last few years.”
Rin smiled at that and knelt back down, getting back to work filling her own basket. The weeds would get added to the compost pile for the vegetable garden.
“Besides,” Kaede added then, “I want you here in case someone should come calling for my aid in my absence. In that case, use those quick legs of yours to come and fetch me in the herb field.”
“Okay, Kaede-sama,” Rin acknowledged with a polite little bow of her head as she worked. “If you see Inuyasha-sama, tell him Rin says hi.”
Kaede nodded to that, and turning, headed off in the direction of the herb field, which was located around the bend, southwest from her home.
Not terribly far away, but well out of earshot to pick up Kaede and Rin's conversation, their voices becoming mixed in with the background white noise of the rest of the villagers' morning chatter, Inuyasha lounged on a thick branch of a sturdy tree, back against the trunk. He stayed out in the woods most nights, when the weather permitted it, preferring his solitude and the familiarity of the forest, but even so he'd be the first to admit it was nice having the ability to go indoors out of the rain if the need arose, not to mention never having to worry about finding shelter for his human nights. He knew Kaede's home was always open to him whenever he needed it, as was Miroku and Sango's, actually, although ever since their house was finished and they'd moved in he'd continued to spend his human nights with Kaede. Even though they'd offered, he'd told the newlyweds at that time that they didn't need to take a night out of their new routine to babysit him when he could just as easily stay with Kaede and Rin.
Of course, it was a given these days that he would stay with Sesshoumaru's girl and the miko, since the twins were far too young to understand why they'd need to keep such a secret. The village at large had no idea about his human night, and he planned on keeping it that way. He had recently spent a stormy night with them, though, while in hanyou form of course, when the twins had insisted on it because they'd been convinced the thunder was a ravenous youkai out to get them. What could he say? He'd always had a soft spot for crying girls. He'd put his foot down, though, that he wouldn't ever stay with them unless the weather was really bad, so that Mizuki and Misaki wouldn't get into the habit of wanting him there every single night. He liked Miroku and Sango's daughters well enough, but sometimes those two just didn't know when to quit, and now it was even more troublesome with the new baby waking at all hours of the night from the tiniest little noise.
Keh, brat's got youkai hearing, and yet his own screamin' don't seem to bother him none, the hanyou mused, his ears automatically flattening to his head at the memory of some of young Ichirou's wailing cries.
Even so, the knowledge that he had friends, and that those friends would open their homes to him whenever he needed it, really meant a lot to the hanyou. He was no longer alone, even though sometimes, he was still lonely.
I know they mean well, but keh...
Back when Miroku had officialized his marriage to Sango with the village headman, arranging for them to become permanent residents of the village and for their house to be constructed, Miroku had asked Inuyasha on the side if he'd wanted a house of his own, as well. The villagers had been more than willing to assist in Miroku's case, organizing the building party and even accepting no payment for the hired carpenters to do the initial framework, the locals footing the bill themselves as they insisted it was their show of thanks for all the houshi and taijiya had done for them, but Inuyasha hadn't been so sure how the itinerant carpenters would have felt being asked to build a house for a hanyou, not to mention whether or not the local villagers would have actually been cool with it, and so he'd let it slide.
Sure, he knew they accepted him hanging around those days, and actually, from what he usually overheard the vast majority of the villagers were actually glad he stayed in the local woods, still calling it 'Inuyasha's Forest' and even considering him their resident youkai protector, but if there was one thing Inuyasha had learned the hard way over the years it was to not press his luck, and so he hadn't wanted to tempt fate by taking things one step too far. A mystical forest spirit that kept watch over your village was one thing. That same magical being actually taking up residence within the village was something else entirely, and besides, what did he need with his own house, really?
Not like I have anyone to share it with.
Sometimes, he'd admit it, he was a little envious of Sango and Miroku's happiness, but he was also genuinely happy for them. They'd all been through hell together, some of them literally, and so those two definitely deserved their happily ever after. And Kagome, he knew, was safe and hopefully happy in her own world.
He sighed again, before tilting his nose up, catching a new scent on the wind.
Looks like the babaa's up, he thought, leaping down from his perch and bounding through the trees to loop around the back way through the northern, rocky foothills, headed for the herb field on the other side of the miko's house.
Sure, he could have cut straight through the village due west to get there, but the whole point of being a 'forest spirit' was to stay in the forest whenever possible, right? The way he figured it, the less the villagers saw of him casually strolling through town, the more mystical his presence among them would remain. Heading north past the well clearing and up the rock face on the other side, then, he dashed up the carved out steps that curved around to the west towards the widest part of the river, towards the back way to the shrine-temple and graveyard. It was an area he knew well.
Passing the spot where he'd first seen Kagome naked he paused for a moment at the fond memory, gazing out at the river below, and then shaking his head to clear it of such random thoughts he continued west and then zipped south past the holy grounds, bypassing the main shrine steps that led down to Kaede's house, heading across the incline to one of his favorite spots for overlooking the village. From there he had the perfect vantage point to see Kaede sitting in the herb field below, her basket beside her, and silently, he made his approach.
She never turned around to look in his direction, and he didn't make a single sound, but when he was about thirty feet away...
“Good morning, Inuyasha,” Kaede greeted as she continued to sort through the new growth around her, having easily sensed Inuyasha's youki. “Rin sends her greetings, as well.”
“Keh, she's a good kid,” he replied for something to say, taking a seat beside the miko.
“That she is, and a good worker, as well,” Kaede said as she placed some more greens into her basket. “I'm pleased your brother decided to have her stay with me through these formative years, for more than one reason. I agree that it is best for her to have less tragic memories of human village life, so that she can make a more informed decision for what she wants in her own life when the time comes, but in the meantime, I will admit I have grown accustomed to sharing my dwelling with others. The prospect of an empty house seems lonelier now than it used to; even one house guest is fewer than I had gotten used to accommodating.”
She passed the hanyou a meaningful glance with her good eye, and catching it, he rolled his own, sighing overdramatically.
“That your way of sayin' you miss me, babaa? Figured you'd be glad to finally be rid of me,” he quipped, knowing his teasing would earn a chuckle from the elderly miko, which it did.
They'd had this discussion before, on numerous occasions. Kaede didn't see why Inuyasha felt the need to stay by himself within the forest most days and nights, but she respected his privacy if that was where he truly felt the most comfortable. She only wanted to make sure he knew that he was welcome in her home, and not just on rainy and new moon nights.
“If you truly believe I find your presence so afflictive then why always accompany me in the herb field?” she teased in return, picking a few more herbs in between passing glances at the hanyou who was becoming increasingly melancholy.
Inuyasha chuckled, then sighed, shaking his head. Passing her a weak but still mildly playful smirk, he said, “Somebody's gotta make sure you stay outta trouble.”
Kaede nodded to that, as if not questioning that his presence was solely for her own protection. Things became quiet, then, as Kaede continued plucking through the new spring grasses in search of things that would be delicious in soup. She heard it as Inuyasha sighed again, and then the hanyou shifted slightly, facing away from her as he peered out over the valley below and the southern forest beyond, Fujiyama sticking up in the distance. It was a peaceful location.
Inuyasha's ears flicked back on occasion, picking up the quiet sounds of Kaede sorting through the greenery, although he remained looking in the other direction, staring off into space more than anything else, really. He always got a little down this time of year, as he remembered.
Allowing his mind to wander some in that moment, he uncrossed his arms, propping his right elbow against his leg to rest his chin in his hand. Kaede remained silent, and he knew she wouldn't speak again unless he spoke first. Kaede was good like that, knowing when he needed to be left alone to his thoughts, saying her few quick lines to make sure he knew where her heart lied before then leaving him in peace. He knew she'd always be ready to listen, whenever he was finally ready to talk.
“Do you think she'll ever come back?” he asked suddenly, not turning to face the miko.
“Do you believe it is her decision to remain away?” Kaede countered, and he glanced her way for a second before turning back to his previous position.
“No,” he replied honestly. “Back in the beginning, I...I used to fear that she'd get tired of coming here, that she'd realize one day how dangerous it is, or that her own world was just too important to her, or even that I'd say the wrong thing and chase her away with my own damn mouth, but I stopped thinking irrationally like that long before we killed Naraku.”
He inhaled slowly, letting it out in a rush.
“I know the well's still sealed, I check it sometimes. I know she'd come back if she could, I...I just wonder if maybe...maybe...but probably not, right? I mean, if it was gonna open back up again it would've done it by now, wouldn't it? So maybe…maybe the well will never open up again. Maybe I really will never see her again.”
He paused and thought a moment. “Man, it sucks saying that out loud.”
“Do you regret it?” Kaede asked carefully. “The way things ended?”
“If you're askin' if there are things I wish I would've said to her, yeah, but I can't really say I wish she would've stayed stuck here with me without it sounding too much like I'm bein' a greedy bastard, so even though I miss her, I'm glad I was able to bring her back home to her family, like I'd promised 'em I would.”
Thinking back on it, he remembered the tearful reunion between Kagome and her family, and even though he hadn't even had the chance to say goodbye, he'd felt contentment to know that she was back where she belonged.
“At that time, I was relieved to just be able to send Kagome home,” he admitted.
“So you're saying you came back yourself,” Kaede stated while looking at the herbs she was sorting. It wasn't really phrased like a question.
“Yeah, I guess,” Inuyasha agreed, thinking about it.
He'd been suspended, floating in the well, just like the way he'd been floating within the meidou, and he hadn't even thought about climbing out of it. Not like the way Kagome had immediately dashed out of the well and into her mother's arms. Seeing the scene that had unfolded before him, he'd felt genuine satisfaction in returning her home safely, and he'd had the passing thought that that was where she belonged, that he didn't have the right to keep her away from her family, and in the moment he'd thought that a bright light had suddenly come forth from within the well and yanked him back down. It'd been too late to stop his descent when Kagome had turned and started speaking to him; at that point he'd already been caught in the well's light. He supposed looking back on it, it was his own thoughts that had triggered his return, and once it'd been activated that'd simply been it, so suddenly wanting to stay for a moment longer as Kagome had turned his way hadn't affected anything.
Looking back on it, he tried not to think about that precise moment, and the look on Kagome's face as she'd realized he was disappearing, and instead he focused on the moment right before it, when she'd been hugging her mother, and the relieved look in her family members' eyes.
“Kagome's mom and brother and grandpa were all crying and stuff,” he elaborated out loud then. “I'm not the only person who Kagome is important to, after all...”
He let his words trail off at that, unsure of what else to say, or even if anything else needed to be said. Even though Kagome had turned his way, and had looked devastated at his sudden departure, he had to remember how relieved and grateful her family had looked. She was back where she belonged, now. It was for the best.
“Inuyasha, when did you become so wise?” Kaede asked, a hint of motherly pride in her voice.
Before he could verbally respond, or even turn to meet Kaede's gaze, Shippou's voice ringing out with a matter-of-factly “I know,” immediately earned the pair's attention.
“Shippou,” Kaede stated in greeting to the giant floating pink balloon that was the fox child, while Inuyasha silently glared at the eavesdropping kitsune from over his shoulder.
Hoping to change the subject for Inuyasha's sake, Kaede asked the kitsune, “You were off taking the Kitsune Youjutsu exam, weren't you?”
She already knew the answer, of course, but figured it would distract the boy, as he would undoubtedly brag about his latest grade, which he did in that moment as he popped back into his standard appearance while holding up a sheet of paper that showed off his newest score.
“I advanced!” he declared excitedly, while Kaede looked over the report that stated the boy was now at Upper Senior 7th Rank.
The momentary distraction was short-lived, though, as Shippou then immediately plopped himself on top of Inuyasha's head, much to the silently fuming hanyou's chagrin.
“Inuyasha, you've been going into the well once every three days, haven't you?” the kit accused.
That quickly earned the boy being drop-kicked out over the valley below, though Inuyasha knew it wouldn't really hurt the child, who as predicted immediately transformed back into his pink balloon form, floating to safety.
“Once every three days?” Kaede asked, surprised. That was a lot more frequently than the 'sometimes' he had admitted to checking it earlier. “What amazing tenacity,” she stated in compliment, not wanting Inuyasha to think she was mocking him for refusing to accept the truth of the matter.
He passed her a look over his shoulder that silently told her he appreciated her reaction to the news, but also that the conversation was over, and with that, he turned and headed silently back up the hill the way he'd come. That was all right with Kaede, though, since she'd been pretty much done picking herbs by that point, anyway. Basket in hand, she headed downhill back into the village, her own thoughts wandering.
Once every three days... she repeated in her head, truly baffled. Even so, they can't see each other.
Shifting her burden, she nodded a silent greeting to the bowing couple she passed along her way, her thoughts five hundred years into the future as she remembered the young girl who possessed her sister's face, and who had become like a granddaughter to her.
Kagome appeared with the Shikon no Tama, and disappeared with it as well.
Turning around and gazing back up the hill, Inuyasha's form staring up into the clouds was visible to her in the distance, as the hanyou hadn't yet disappeared beyond the ridge towards the shrine.
Kagome came here to vanquish the Shikon no Tama... she thought then, feeling sorry for Inuyasha. Her purpose in this world is likely over.
Continuing on her way, she knew she couldn't dwell on such thoughts. They were all reminded of Kagome around this time of year, as this was the time of year when she had departed from their world, but just because it was the anniversary of Kagome's disappearance didn't mean they had to stop what they were doing and mourn her as if she had died. Inuyasha was right; he had returned her home to her family, where the fates had undoubtedly decided she belonged. Otherwise, the Bone-Eater's Well would still be functioning. Kaede could sense the magic in the well; its powers hadn't gone anywhere, and she imagined they never would. The well was choosing to remain closed, for whatever reason. She would be tremendously happy for Inuyasha if it were ever to reopen and permit he and Kagome to see each other again, but she was also glad for the boy that, despite frequently checking the well just in case, he was at least attempting to move on with his life. To her it didn't really seem like much of one, with no home and no possessions of his own besides his sword and the clothing he wore, but on the other hand, considering the life she knew he'd used to live, things had actually improved for him quite dramatically.
He did have a place to call his own, now, 'Inuyasha's Forest' rightfully his domain by decree of the entire village, and they were grateful to their inu-youkai protector. He kept their borders oni and bandit free, and theirs was probably the safest, most peaceful village in all of Musashi. And even though he usually chose against it, she knew Inuyasha knew that he could go walking through their streets at anytime, and nobody would freak out at his appearance. They'd gotten used to him long ago. Kaede knew that most of the villagers didn't really see Inuyasha as one of them, as another man same as any other, instead seeing and thinking of him as a youkai, but they did not fear or hate him because of it, and for the previously ostracized hanyou the difference was like night and day. For that, she herself was grateful.
Reaching her destination, Kaede informed Rin that she'd met Inuyasha in the field and had passed along her greeting, and then setting her basket of herbs aside she reached for the used water from the day before and brought it outside to pour out over her vegetable garden before heading with the empty water bucket down to the nearest water well. It was time to get the rest of her day started.