This is a fanfiction based on Rumiko Takahashi's Inuyasha. All characters are the property of Rumiko Takashi and Shogukokan.


by Kristine Batey

One morning the sweet, goofy boy who had once told her he could never love any other girl looked at her from the face of a grown-up man and said, "I have to tell you . . . there's a woman at work, a young woman in the office."

To her surprise, her initial reaction was a rush of relief—and that, she thought, tells us where this relationship stands. Later that day she surprised herself again by being overwhelmed by a tidal wave of hurt and anger. She had to grab the edge of the gurney to steady herself, glad that she had given her resident the actual job of stitching the old gentleman's shin. As it was, he paused, alarmed, thinking he had done something wrong. "Doctor?" he said—not "Doctor, am I screwing up?"—he was a senior resident, experienced enough to know not to tip off the patient. She stilled the wave, came to herself, and glanced casually at the wound, giving him a collegial little nod. Actually, the stitches were a tad too tight—nothing that would be a real problem, but the GP who ended up removing them would have to fuss and pull a bit. She would mention it to the resident after the patient was gone.

That night on her way home she almost stopped by her mother's house to check out the well, but thought better of it.

And then, once she was inside her own apartment, she almost turned around and headed back to her mother's home.

He had moved out. Really, truly moved out. Not that he hadn't warned her. If you don't mind, I'll stop by today during your shift and clear out my stuff. She had expected he'd take a suitcase, his toothbrush and shaving kit, odds and ends: enough to live on while he was getting set up with his new—new what? New life? New obsession? New piece of ass?

She was angry again.

She had the urge to do the spurned woman act from the movies: cut up his clothes, shatter his shaving mirror, throw his shoes off the balcony. But there was nothing: no clothes, no shaving mirror, no shoes, no toothbrush, no small change on top of his dresser, no coffee mug with his name on it. With his usual thoroughness, Mister Perfect had cleaned out everything, everything, that said a man named Houjou had shared her home for a dozen years.

No, wait: there in the lavatory wastebasket was a length of mint-flavored dental floss. That morning, like every morning, he had spent eighteen minutes flossing his damned perfect teeth, after which he had sat down at the breakfast table to tell her, "I swear I never meant for this to happen." She carried the floss to their bedroom—her bedroom. His drawers were empty, his side of the closet, empty, he had taken his pillow. In the drawer of the vanity she found a pair of nail scissors. She stood in front of the mirror with its ring of soft pinkish bulbs watching herself cut the floss into little tiny pieces: a scowling woman on the brink of middle age committing an insane act, but attractively lit. She scooped up the pieces of floss, carried them to the toilet, and threw them into the western-style commode, which she flushed. Some of the pieces disappeared in the cascade; the others drifted lazily back into the bowl. It took her three flushes to get rid of them all. Damn him.

She threw herself on the bed and thought again of the well.

And thought of it, oddly, again and again over the next few months.

It turned into an amicable parting, if there is such a thing. They agreed that they had been too young, they agreed that they had grown apart. Had they agreed that they were disappointed? That he was too dull, too ordinary, too nice, too orderly, too civilized, too—perfect? That she was too lost, too angry, too dissatisfied, too driven?

She even went to the wedding, sat with the family. The bride, whose name was Miyu, like the vampire, was young, but not that young—twenty-eight, twenty-nine. Not an O.L. looking for a husband, but a manager who unexpectedly found True Love. And it was love. This young woman, the new Missus Houjou, wept with joy at her own wedding, and her husband became misty-eyed just gazing into her face. The bride's voice quavered as she spoke of their few months together, of the funny, kind man who surprised her with flowers and ice cream and late-night trips to funky blues clubs, to all-night pizza parlors, to puppet shows. Who was this man, this exuberant, spontaneous, lovable man, and where had he found a puppet show at one o'clock in the morning?

The answer came to her: he was the man who loved Miyu. The man who had found new life in Miyu's eyes. The man who had never meant for this to happen. Who had, no doubt, stepped off an elevator one day onto a mysteriously wrong floor, wandered bewildered down an eerily unfamiliar corridor trying to find his own office, and instead found the love of his life pegged to the ladies' room door by an arrow through one pert little breast. Kagome pictured him cupping one hand over the unpierced breast—just for leverage!—and then quickly, perfectly slipping the arrow out with the other, nimbly catching the sleeping maiden (Was Miyu still a maiden? She was pushing thirty. Probably not.) with his spare arm, if he had a spare arm; Kagome was on her third glass of champagne and couldn't keep track of how many of his arms she'd already used in this scenario. She started to fume about the hand on the breast, then remembered herself in the same situation. She turned to the man on her left, a friend of the groom. "If I had it to do over again," she said, "I sure as hell wouldn't go for the ears."

The man stared at her. He was middle-aged, balding, with heavy brows. She had never seen him before in her life. "If you're a friend of the groom," she said, "How is it that I don't know you?"

"Ah," he said, looking into her eyes. "You must be the ex."

It was as though she'd been stung by a wasp, by one of the saimyoushou. She was the ex. The ex-lover of Houjou Junsei. The ex-Lady Kagome, ex-companion of Inuyasha Who Seeks the Shikon no Tama.

She lowered her eyelids a bit and peered at him from below the veil of her lashes. "I'm not an ex anything," she said. "I am a board-certified emergency medicine physician." She batted her lashes. "And a damned good one," she added. She leaned over so that the neckline of her little black dress would gap open a bit. The Friend Of The Groom turned pink. He was not a man in front of whom many little black dresses had gapped.

Kagome shot a quick look at the head table, and the quick look turned into a long look. Houjou the Perfect and Miyu the Sweet were looking at her. And then at each other. And whispering. And sharing a special little smile. Oh, shit, she thought, they're happy for me! He's happy for me! I'm sitting here flirting with some black-suited guy from his office, and they think I've found True Love. The horrible realization struck her that she had deliberately been seated next to this man, that the Bride and Groom had hoped they would hit it off. She wondered if the Friend Of The Groom was also an Ex Of The Bride. A waiter came by and filled her champagne glass. She chugged it. "I guess you like champagne," said the Friend Of The Groom. He leaned closer and favored her with a conspiratorial squint. "Maybe you could tell me a few of the other things you like," he murmured, his breath a little cloud of stale cigarette smoke and garlic.

She set her forehead against his large, shiny one. "I like…claws. And fangs. And golden eyes. And . . . dog ears. I . . . love . . . dog ears." And then she fell off her chair.

They refused to let her drive herself home. At first she argued with them, but Houjou pointed out proudly to Miyu, "Higurashi spearheaded a campaign by emergency workers to discourage drunk driving. It was fantastically successful! Injuries attributable to drunk driving decreased in the city by—what is it, Higurashi? Twenty-one point eight percent?"

"Twenty-one point seven-six," she said. He was bragging about her! The bastard had the nerve to brag about her to—to the woman he really loved. His first choice. The one he had been secretly hoping would come along someday.

Houjou was smiling into Miyu's eyes. "Well," he said, "that rounds up to twenty-one point eight. I think we can give her the other point oh-four percent, don't you, Miyu?" The two of them grinned at each other over Kagome's head—they were on either side of her, holding her up, Houjou in his dinner jacket, Miyu in the third dress she'd worn that day, a full-blown white-taffeta-and-lace Western wedding dress with a four-foot train draped over the arm that wasn't supporting Kagome. Years from now, Kagome thought, they would point her out on their wedding videos and tell their children, That was Higurashi, a girl who went to middle school with Daddy. (They would conveniently overlook the years of fumbling at each other in movie theaters, tiptoeing down dormitory fire escapes, the shared futons in student digs, and that dozen years of respectable co-habitation.) Higurashi had a little too much champagne that night. Mommy and I had to practically carry her to a cab! You should have seen Mommy in her wedding dress, try to keep Higurashi from falling on her face! It suddenly occurred to Kagome that the man who had followed them out of the hotel was the videographer. She burst into tears.

Houjou flagged down a cab, and the two of them maneuvered her to the curb. Houjou propped her against the fender and said, "I don't like the idea of you alone in that big, empty apartment. I'm going to have him take you to your mother's house." He leaned in to give the driver directions, and a couple of large bills. "For your trouble," he said. "You're going to have to help her up a lot of stairs." Kagome was still crying, and her nose was running. She wiped her face on her arm, leaving a long black streak of mascara and a shiny trail of snot from wrist to elbow. Miyu in her white wedding gown stared at the arm and took a step backward. Kagome lunged forward to hug her; Houjou neatly blocked. They were a real team, these two.

"Miyu," said Kagome, "you're so kind, helping me like this, you're such a … such a…" Such a what? Such a tramp. Such a slut. Such a bitch. Such a whore. Such a contender. A winner.

Miyu was demurring with a concerned little frown. "No, Kagome," she whined, "we love you." Losers. Exes. We love 'em.

"No," said Kagome. "If I were you and some old . . . friend, old girlfriend, got drunk at my wedding I don't think I could do this. I think I would just—put her out of her misery. Arrow through the heart. Thwack." The grown-up man who had killed and eaten the boy who had once said he could never love anyone but Kagome pushed her into the cab and slammed the door. As they pulled away, Kagome could see them standing at the curbside arm in arm, Bride and Groom, a life-sized version of the little figures on top of the cake.

And that's how she ended up at the well.

Understand, she had been to the well many times over the years. At first, it had been every day. Every day she had stood on the rim of the well and launched herself into the air. No, not necessarily stood. The first few days she had stood; then she had sat, dangling her feet; then she had held onto the wooden lip and cautiously lowered herself, as she tired of slamming into the bottom of the well. She actually did that every day for more than two months, two long, bruised, aching months. After that it was every couple of days, every few days, once a week, every couple of weeks, every now and then. Whenever she found herself weeping into her pillow or crying over her homework, she would head for the well. After her first post-Inuyasha date; after her first kiss; after the first anticipatory trip to the drugstore—Mister Perfect was a planner: a man of action, yes, but only after appropriate preparation. Had he and Miyu walked to the drugstore together? Had he asked her if she was really sure? Had they stopped for a Coke? Had he held her hand across the table, the brown paper bag on the table between them, and told her she was the only woman he would ever love?

Kagome opened the door of the little shrine.

It had been years since she'd tried this, years since she'd given up, finally outdone by tender black-and-blue knees and elbows and hopes. It was dark; it was late, almost midnight. Across the courtyard the house was dark, her mother long gone to bed, her brother at his girlfriend's place across the city, her grandfather in the cemetery next to her father. She sat on the steps inside the little shrine; she was starting to cry again. It was too dark in there, pitch-black, she couldn't do it, she didn't have the courage. She sat for a moment, trying to compose herself. She was still drunk, but not as drunk as before. She rummaged in her little formalwear pocketbook for a tissue and found a glow-in-the-dark Shikon no Tama keychain, with her house keys, car keys, and a little penlight she always forgot was there. She pushed the end of the penlight and a tiny ray of light poked into the darkness. Her eyes were becoming accustomed to the gloom; that and the little beam of light were enough to coax her down the stairs.

She sat on the rim of the well looking at the keys in her hand. Her car was back at the hotel; she'd have to go get it tomorrow. She released the button of the penlight, so that the only light was a bit of moonlight filtering in from above and the eerie glow of the authentic plastic Shikon no Tama on her palm. It was a yellow one; the yellow were for prayers in loving memory of the dead.

They had understood destiny well enough to believe, even when all but a few shards had slipped from their hands, that the day would come when the half-daemon Inuyasha would hold the complete Shikon no Tama in his hands and speak the words that would determine his own fate, and perhaps all of theirs as well. He had seen enough to know that the jewel was dangerous, and that he himself was equally dangerous. He had taken her aside to tell her his decision: if possible, he would become human, and restore Kikyou to humanity as well, and the two would live out the remainder of their human lives together. The original plan. Such a good thing, good and noble, would destroy the jewel—depending, of course, on Kagome. Could Kagome give him up, give him to Kikyou with her blessing, go home to live her life—maybe not without regret, but without bitterness in her heart?

He was human when he asked her that. They sat away from the others, the campfire a candle flame in the distance, the dark ghost of the shadowed moon floating above them in an ocean of stars. A tiny flare of red anger burned within her because she knew he had talked to Miroku first, knew that Miroku had pointed her out as the stumbling block, knew that Miroku had suggested he present himself this way so that she could see, right there in his face and hair and hands, the sacrifice he himself would be making.

She looked at the ground, twisted a blade of grass between her fingers. "I don't know," she said. "I don't know that I can promise you that."

He sighed, and scowled, but kept his temper, and she knew Miroku had coached him, had told him he mustn't explode, mustn't let the discussion turn into a shouting match. "I see," was all he said, and turned his face away. She did the same. There was a long silence, and then he said, "There is another way." She looked up. His gaze was steady, his face calm and sad. "You could stay here with me. With us. It would be…as it has been, except I would be as I am now." He gestured to indicate himself, his human body. "I would be neither hers nor yours. Husband to neither of you. Lover—to neither, I suppose. Or to one, or to both. I would be with you whatever you will have of me, and the same with her. No questions asked on either side. This would be a matter for your approval, and hers. She—she had my promise, fifty years before I met you. She will set her terms, and then you will set yours within her limits, and I will do…what can be done."

She wanted to scream, "Are you crazy?" She wanted to hit him. She wanted to slam him to the ground with her single word of power. She looked at his face, at the silent resignation there, and knew he understood she was thinking all those things. And then she found her mind cutting through the anger and jealousy and bitterness to a single point. "I would have to leave my family," she said. "You're asking me to leave my home forever and live with you." Suddenly she wasn't the Lady Kagome, the brave and resourceful companion of Lord Inuyasha, the beloved woman who had denied her own heart to stand steadfastly by the man who was bound to another. She was a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl who wanted to go home and grow up. She saw his eyes widen with surprise at her answer; it had never occurred to him that there might be issues other than his bond to Kikyou. He seemed to look at her from across a gulf, a chasm that she now understood had always been there: the great gulf of time, the gulf she had been trying to straddle for all those months.

She reached across the gulf and kissed his forehead, then lifted the prayer beads from around his neck and set them gently in his hand.

On the rim of a well on a night in the twenty-first century of the Common Era, the woman who had once loved and lost Inuyasha the Half-Daemon pointed a tiny beam of light down into the shadows, where it was swallowed by blackness.

They had all collaborated on the wording. They were asking for two different things, from a jewel that twisted even the best of intentions. Kagome thought of all the stories she'd read, all the pitfalls that beset those who were granted magic wishes. Miroku had some good ideas, as had, surprisingly, Shippou, the trickster kitsune child. In the end, Inuyasha hadn't asked to be human, or to turn Kikyou human; he'd asked only that they be allowed to fulfill the destiny from which Naraku had turned them, that of a young, living human man and woman, still able to remember the events that had later befallen them, yet prepared to be husband and wife together. During the discussions, Sango had turned to her and said, "Kagome-chan?" meaning, Is this your choice? Can you stand to talk about this? and she had calmly patted her friend's hand to say, I'm fine. This is part of my role as the Lady Kagome.

On the last day, with Naraku turned to dust by Kagome's arrow and Sango's brother Kohaku revived by the healing sword Tenseiga, with the jewel whole and pure in Kagome's hand, Inuyasha the hanyou had spoken to the creature who was Kikyou, and she had assented to their plan, offering a few minor but canny suggestions about the wording. Then the Lady Kagome passed the jewel into the hands of the Lady Kikyou, and the Lady Kikyou gazed steadily into the eyes of her beloved Lord Inuyasha as she in turn passed it along to him.

It was simple and quiet. As he transformed for the last time, the Shikon no Tama melted like ice in his hands, and then it was all over. Kikyou gave a cry of delight as she felt her life return. The dead-soul insects suddenly spiraled upward and were lost in the sky. The young couple gazed at one another in wonder; unlike Kagome, Kikyou had never before seen his human form.

Doctor Higurashi shifted her weight on the well. She wasn't dressed for this, with her little black dress and high-heeled shoes. She swung her legs back and, with the help of the penlight, made her way back up the rickety stairs.

The night was dark, but not as dark as those nights had been on the other side. There was a fingernail sliver of a moon. Inuyasha would have been hanyou tonight. She tiptoed on her spike heels to the door of her mother's house, the house where she had grown up. Here is the doorway where Houjou Junsei first kissed me goodnight. Here is where Grandpa clutched at his chest and silently fell to the earth. Here is where Inuyasha Who Seeks the Shikon no Tama burst through the door to drag me back to his world. There was the kitchen. She stood in her stockinged feet looking for—something, a snack, an inspiration, some one thing that would turn her life around and set it in the direction it was meant to go. She found a bottle of sake.

That would do.

She took a swig right out of the bottle. It was awful; cooking sake. Well, it was something. It was occurring to her that as soon as she got drunk enough she was going to hurl herself into the well, and also that she wasn't fifteen anymore and she might very well break something important doing it. She decided to leave a note for her mother, just in case she ended up lying at the bottom of the well yelling for help, or not able to yell at all. She tiptoed carefully across the linoleum, clumsy from drink and from her slippery nylons. It was after two o'clock; her mother was asleep upstairs. Her only company was one of the housecats, which padded comfortably after her, curious. On her mother's desk in the tatami room she found a pencil and paper and wrote a note: Dear Mom, I'm here, I thought I'd stay over. The wedding was lovely, the bride was beautiful, the groom was a lying, cheating, two-timing bastard. She crumpled the note and started over. Dear Mom, I'm here. The wedding was fine, but I thought I might stay here tonight. Just for fun, I thought I'd try the well again, so if I'm not in my old bed, please check the little shrine! Love, Kagome. Best she could do to ward off death by stupidity.

She started to put on her shoes, thought better of it, and went back to the kitchen. In the refrigerator were some pickles and rice and a few slices of cold chicken, as well as her brother's stash of Kirin. She fixed herself a plate, washed it down with a bottle of beer. She had now had more to drink on this long night than in the entire previous six months put together. She could just tiptoe upstairs to her old room and fall asleep. Tomorrow she would have a hangover, but she didn't have a shift until 23:00. She could sleep in and forget about it all.

Three o'clock. The Bride and Groom were in bed in a hotel somewhere, maybe sleeping. Tomorrow morning—no, this morning—they would fly to Crete for their honeymoon. Crete? This was a man who was too suspicious of foreigners to eat spaghetti!

If she was going to go, she needed a sweater. She slid down the hall to the closet. There were several sweaters and jackets, some of her mother's and a couple of her brother's. It seemed like Souta was never going to pull that other foot out of the nest. Neatly folded on a shelf were old things, one of them a girl's school uniform. Kagome almost crowed with delight. What if I showed up wearing my uniform, she thought. Then what would he think? She dragged over a chair and stood on it to reach the shelf. Eyes glowed green in the corridor; she had attracted the other two cats. The three of them watched as she shimmied out of the little black dress and into the tiny green skirt. It came a good three inches short of fastening, even when she sucked in her breath as far as she could. There was a full-length mirror on the closet door. Even with the zipper open, the skirt bulged with the swell of her hips, and her behind hung out in the back. Maybe with the top, she thought. She struggled into the middy blouse, one arm a sausage cased in its long white sleeve. She pushed her head through the neckline and tried to pull her other arm through, but the fabric was too snug around her bust and the arm wouldn't move. She gave up and started to pull off the blouse, then was seized by panic as she realized she was stuck. Her bust was larger, her midriff was larger, her shoulders were wider, her arms were rounder, she couldn't get out of the shirt.

She sat down on the chair, the arm in the sleeve in the air over her head, the other arm folded under the shirt between her breasts. All three cats were watching her with impassive feline interest. "You guys could help me," she whispered. The cats blinked, one at a time. "Inuyasha, look at me!" she whispered. "How can you resist this?" The cats switched their tails; one of them, the big tom, began to wash his back vigorously. "This isn't funny," she said, but of course it was funny, or would have been, had anybody been there to laugh with her. Damn him. She was ready to cry again.

She managed to wiggle the front elbow free, and began to peel the shirt upward over her shoulders. It was stuck fast. She gritted her teeth, took a deep breath, and forced both upper arms outward, thinking to pop a seam, but the shirt had seen a lot of wear and tear in its time, and all the seams had been laboriously hand-repaired. There was a loud ripping noise: the fabric of the blouse had given way, and the back was torn in two hopelessly ragged pieces. She struggled out of the shirt and stared at the sad tear. Now she would never wear it again, never be fifteen again, never again be the Lady Kagome traveling with the companions of Inuyasha. Trembling, she folded the blouse, as if to disguise the terrible thing she'd done. She folded the skirt as well and climbed back on the chair to hide both on the shelf. She saw herself in the mirror, a woman of a certain age dressed in bra, panties, pearls, and sheer dark pantyhose. The body that had pleased her earlier that day as she slipped into the little black dress, the body of a trim woman in her prime, now looked massive and ungainly, nothing like the lithe girl's body that had lived in that little sailor suit. She sat down on the chair and forced herself not to cry again. The little black dress was crumpled in a pile on the floor. Two of the cats had lost interest and wandered off, the other waited patiently for her to vacate the chair.

On the very last day, after Kagome had wept her goodbyes to the others, Inuyasha turned to Kikyou with a questioning face. Kikyou—the real Kikyou, the human Kikyou, Kikyou freed from the curse he had once inadvertently laid upon her—met his eyes, then gave Kagome a look of such pity, such compassion, such kindness, that Kagome had hated her forevermore, even as she had understood unequivocally why Inuyasha had never stopped caring for his first love. Understanding passed between the woman who had been a miko and the man who had been a hanyou, and Kikyou made an affectionate little shooing motion with her hand, sending him on his way with a tiny smile. And so he walked Kagome one last time to the well, her backpack over his shoulder. They stood there silent before one another for several minutes. Finally she understood that he would not move or speak until she had taken the initiative, so she cleared her throat and said, "Well, I guess I've got to go eventually." She looked up to see his face full of—what? sorrow and regret and acceptance; maybe not the numbing grief she herself felt. The last thing she said to him was, "I could never love anyone else but you." The last thing he said to her was, "I will think about you every day." And then they embraced—not kissed, but embraced—and he held her hand to help her climb onto the rim of the well. She closed her eyes and jumped, and was all the way into her own bedroom before she realized she had forgotten her backpack.

Kagome made a grab and rescued the little black dress just before the white cat claimed it. She stepped into it and pulled it up to her shoulders, twisting awkwardly to reach the zipper along her spine like a turtle turned on its back. Maybe she would just go to bed, stay the night and get up and cry to her mother. She shoved the chair with its unyielding cat back against the wall and closed the closet door, then tiptoed upstairs. She stopped by her mother's room to whisper a goodnight—more for her own lonely sake than for her mother's—and stood in the doorway staring blankly for a moment at the empty bed. Of course, her mother was out of town with her sister. Kagome and Souta had argued about who would come by to feed the cats.

She was really alone.

She was going to do it.

She stopped back at the closet, grabbing a sweater this time—hooded white angora, the dress would be a mess. Oh, well. Inspired, she stopped in the kitchen to grab a better flashlight. The sake was still on the table; she grabbed it as well. Her mother's feet were much smaller than Kagome's, and Souta's were much larger. The stiletto heels would have to do. She took another swig from the bottle as she picked her way across the courtyard and into the little shrine, stepping carefully down to the side of the well. She sat on the edge of the well, feet dangling. Suddenly one shoe dropped into the darkness. Kagome swore and turned on the flashlight; she could see it on the dirt floor of the well. Now she'd have to go down there. She held her breath and jumped—

into space. It was as she'd somehow known it would be this time, just as she remembered it—that sense of floating, of time expanding, then the rush, then the thump to the ground. She landed awkwardly, one stockinged foot and one high heel; by throwing her weight to the side, she avoided turning her ankle. She stood quietly for a moment, smelling damp earth and fresh night air, then slipped off the remaining shoe and threw it upward as hard as she could. She waited, bracing herself, for it to come crashing back to her head, but the arc was right and it disappeared into the paler gloom above. She switched on the flashlight. The vines still hung into the well, just as they always had. She tucked the sake into one pocket of her mother's sweater and the flashlight into the other with her keys, took a deep breath, and began to climb. She had a few bad moments as the vines reminded her she had acquired mass during the last twenty years, but after a few breathtakingly precarious pauses, she reached the lip of the well and hauled herself lengthwise over the rim, rolling off to land flat on her back on the soft grass of the clearing.

Her heart leapt as the mossy scent of the forest rose to meet her. Spring was turning to summer; the woods were alive. With the help of the flashlight, she picked her way carefully through the trees, the silty floor cool and damp against her stockinged feet. Her nylons were ruined; she stopped and pulled them off, almost discarding them until the mental image of some future archeologist puzzling over them convinced her to tie them around her waist.

She stepped out of the woods and paused in awe. The sky was incredible, more beautiful than she remembered, the great cloud of the Milky Way bisecting the velvet black with its spray of glittering diamonds. The slip of the moon rode low on the western horizon. The village lay dark and quiet before her in the last hour of night; soon the east would lighten to lavender and gray, the stars would fade, and the first birds of morning would begin their song.

She watched for the hut that had been Kaede's, the little house that had been their home on this side. She drew closer to the cluster of houses and her heart sank. The hut still stood on the edge of the village, a little way away from the others, but the herb garden was gone, the roof fallen in; it was obvious that nobody was there. Surely Inuyasha and Kikyou had stayed there, with her sister. Had they died, moved, disappeared? It hadn't occurred to her the house would be abandoned. She stepped gingerly to the doorway and shined her light inward. The hut was a shell, less than a shell; the roof beams had rotted and fallen in and one wall was gone. At a loss, Kagome pulled her mother's sweater close around herself. Suddenly it was like her first day through the well: this world was a terrible place, hostile and foreign. She thought of her mother's empty house, of her own empty apartment: both were better than this sorry, deserted ruin. She opened the sake and took another drink.

She curled up in what remained of a corner and dozed for a while: maybe an hour, maybe more. When she awoke the sky was light and she heard movement in the village. She crept out carefully, joints achy from the pre-dawn damp. Outside the nearest house a young woman with a baby in a sling was scattering feed for a few rambunctious chickens. Kagome approached her tentatively, terribly aware of her own short dress, of the bottle of sake banging against her hip, of the pantyhose tied ludicrously around her waist. The young woman—young girl, really, she was no more than sixteen—stood wide-eyed as Kagome bowed too low before her, the still-childlike face open-mouthed as she took in the bobbed hair, the smeared mascara, the pearls, the elegant little gold wristwatch, the deep red toenails. "Excuse me," Kagome began. "I am a stranger looking for old friends. Lady Kaede, Lady Kikyou, Lord Inuyasha? This was their house, I think, years ago."

The girl recalled her manners and returned the bow, flustered. "I don't know…there are graves," she said, "that they say are the wise women, Lady Kaede and Lady Kikyou." The pit of Kagome's stomach dropped. "But those have always been there, all my life. Inuyasha is what they call the man in the forest, the man who cuts wood. We call the forest Inuyasha's Forest, but not for him. Inuyasha is the name we have here for the boogeyman. We say, 'Go to sleep, or Inuyasha will get you!' I think he calls himself after that. We bring him a chicken sometimes, don't we, Yuki-chan?" she asked the baby on her hip. The baby looked at her gravely.

Suddenly the long night caught up with Kagome. She wanted to sleep, to forget all of this. She should have stayed at home, slept alone in her old bed, taken a bath and washed her hair and done her nails and forgotten all of the men who had ever left her. She had not expected to find Kaede alive after more than twenty years. But Kikyou was dead? Had been dead—how long? All of this child's life. This girl, this young mother, had been born years after Kagome had left this place; to her, to a whole generation in this village and throughout Japan and throughout the world forever, the quest for the Shikon no Tama was history—no, not even history, a legend from the olden days. Kagome bit her lip and blinked back the tears—wouldn't she ever stop crying?—and said, "I believe that man may be the man I once knew, who called himself Inuyasha. Please, where would I find him?"