A/N: Alright, let me explain this bullshit.
I always really loved Inuyasha. I mean, as it ended and I went to High School and now University, it was never at the forefront of my Fandom Mind, but it was always there, and every once in a while it would sneak up on me and pull me back in. It's just something I can't and don't want to shake. But I feel like a lot of the former following is in the same boat on the same time, just a little farther out at sea. So I thought I might try to reel them back in, because it's quite a lonely little boat I've got.
So, I'm picking up from where the story left off. Sort of. Let me get one thing straight, this is /not/ about the domestic, peaceful life after the Jewel. I think the summary clears that up. What I'm really doing is going through a lot of the unanswered questions I've had for years and twisting them into this story. What about Kaede's story and the missing 50 years? What happened to demons in the Modern Era? How does the reincarnation from Kikyo to Kagome work?
Along with the story is the blog Inuyashasforest. tumblr .com is where I'm going to answer questions, share art, music, and thoughts about the story, and just generally interact with the community I'm trying to raise from the dead.
Anyway, that's the general idea of this bullshit. Basically all I can say now is enjoy!
(Sidenote; there is a character death within this chapter, just for a fair warning. It's what kicks off the start of this new chapter. Sorry in advance for any broken feels.)
Kaede was singing an old song to the Gods out in the garden when she woke up that morning. The bamboo mat pressed grooves into her skin, and although it wasn't exactly a modern mattress, it had brought an odd sort of comfort ever since she returned. She remembered sleeping better the night she made it through the well again than she had in three years.
"Are you gonna stay the night? I mean, I know you don't like being cooped up insi-"
"You kidding? I'm not turning my back on you for a second, you might fall into another dimension again."
"I guess old habits die hard."
"Oh, it was a little funny."
Kagome yawned and sat up, stretching her arms over her head and curling her toes under the stiff blanket. She had half a mind to lay back down and bask in the early morning sunlight streaming in from the door, but she didn't want to leave Kaede outside on her own. She could hear the sound of shifting earth and roots giving away from the garden, and although Kaede was a stubborn, strong woman, she wasn't going to last heavy work like that for much longer.
Kagome washed her face in the basin of water in the corner and rubbed a light oil through her hair to keep it clean. The morning routine was familiar to home; the tools were a little different, but it was the same practice, and she was just glad she was lucky enough to be able to wash up like this so often. It was expected that a Miko be clean, even a Miko-in-training. Slipping into her flowing red hakama and white kimono, she pushed her arms through the cuts in the shoulders and tied the sleeves behind her back to keep the heavy fabric off her arms. That certainly wasn't expected of a Miko, but the sun was already hot and the air already humid, so she figured she could get away with it.
Before long, Kagome was stepping out into the dim morning light, adjusting the straw hat on her head so she could see clearly. With the pristine, crisp air it was hard to believe that this little village would one day become part of Tokyo. There certainly wasn't any air like this in the city, or most of modern Asia for that matter. Picking up her wicker basket, she rounded the hut to the fenced garden. "Good morning, Kaede!" She cheered.
"Good morning, Kagome." The old woman returned with a smile from the shade of a tree on the other side of the fence. Kagome faultered for a moment. She'd assumed it was Kaede in the garden, but as she could see, she had no wicker basket and was sitting comfortable under the tree. So who was it working in the garden?
Kagome turned toward the garden to see Inuyasha bent over a row of sprouts, his hair pulled back by a thick cord and his shirts hanging over the fence. With the full wicker basket balanced in one arm, he stood up straight and wiped his glistening forehead with the back of his arm. "Morning."
"Did you ever try?"
"Of course I tried."
Kagome smiled at him. "Morning."
Reaching into his wicker basket, Inuyasha tossed her a few root vegetables. "Breakfast."
She dropped her wicker basket at her side so she could use both hands to catch the vegetables, ignoring Inuyasha's scoff at her inability to 'catch anything but a cold'. "You're actually helping out in the garden?" She teased. The last time he'd been forced into the chore, at least when she was around, he'd just pulled every single plant out of the garden and dumped it on Kaede's floor. The Miko had been so livid she'd chased him around with a rake every time she saw him for three days before finally making him replant the entire garden.
"Yeah, well, someone's gotta force the old lady to take a break. Don't sit there for too long, you might decompose right into the ground." Inuyasha grinned, bringing the full basket over to the subject of his mocking.
"Inuyasha!" Kagome protested, hands perched dangerously on her hips. She didn't have a chance to reprimand him before Kaede pulled a cucumber out of the basket and whacked him over the head without looking up from her embroidery.
Inuyasha pouted and rubbed his head. "Y'know, that was a lot cuter when you were eight years old."
"You cannot fool me, Inuyasha. That did not hurt. Your skull is much too thick for that." Kaede replied.
Despite the obviously earth shattering blow to his ego, Kagome couldn't help but laugh, and from the looks of it he couldn't either. She watched the way the corners of his lips tugged up and his eyes shined with the smile he hid. Before either of them knew it, their eyes met, and for a moment neither of them breathed.
"Did you ever think about me?"
Leaving the Hanyou to his sore ego, Kagome hopped over the fence to join Kaede under the shade of the tree, kneeling in the cool grass. "How are you feeling today? Does your back still hurt?"
Kaede shrugged, still concentrated on her embroidery. "Aye, these old bones are finally giving out on me."
"You know," Kagome began with feigned sing-song to her tone, "if you'd just let me bring you to my time, there are Doctors that could heal you right away. You're really not that old where I come from, humans can live almost a hundred years if they're healthy. My grandfather is about the same age as you, and he's still as sprightly as ever." She thought about it for a moment. "Actually, maybe you should stay here. My grandfather might enjoy the company of a beautiful woman far too much."
Kaede laughed, the sound deep and warm in her chest. "You flatter me far too much, Kagome. I appreciate your offer, as I have every time you suggested it, but I must decline. I do not doubt that your world has many medicinal wonders, but it is not my world."
Kagome sighed, blowing a piece of hair dangling in her eyes back into place. "Fine."
"I will content myself to using the medicine of my time." Kaede said resolutely. "And what, Kagome, are the herbs used in medicine for a sore back?"
"Salvia Root, Reishi Mushroom, and Eucommia Bark ." Kagome recited proudly.
Kaede smiled, finally looking up from her embroidery. "Aye. Now, get to it!" She reached over and smacked her knee with her fabric.
Kagome laughed and waved the makeshift weapon away. "Okay, okay! I'll have it done in a few hours. Until then, take it easy."
Kaede waved her off concern, picking up her needle and her song from where she left off.
"Flickering lanterns, hanging from the Tree
Let them guide your way back to me
Flickering lanterns, call you back to me
On the branches of the Sacred Tree"
Her aged and hoarse voice had nearly faded by the time she made it to the middle of the rice fields, walking along the narrow paths between plots of swampy water. Basket balanced on her hip, she couldn't help but close her eyes as a breeze rolled through. The relief was more than welcome from what was looking up to be a hot morning. The sun was still just breaking over the horizon, the hazy pink dawn seeping over the hills. In the village, someone was playing a flute, and in the trees the crickets were still singing. It was almost perfectly tranquil.
"Inuyasha, when are you planning to stop following me?" Sure enough, finally glancing over her shoulder she saw him perched in a tree at the edge of the bank, trying to look completely nonchalant.
"I was not following you."
Inuyasha grunted and leaped down from the tree, landing deftly beside her. "I made sure Kaede will take it easy and stay inside today." He explained, hands stuffed in his haori sleeves as he tried to look indifferent.
Kagome turned to him with an arched brow. "That doesn't explain why you're following me."
Inuyasha shrugged, looking past her and toward the village, his ears twitching with every note of the distant flute. "Thought you could use some help with... whatever you're doing."
Kagome smiled and shook her head to spare his ego her laughter. "Sure. Come on."
Picking up their pace from where Kagome left off, the two of them walked toward the forest. Once again, but for the crickets and flute, the morning was completely silent. Neither of them spoke, and neither of them caught when the other was glancing at them.
"Did you miss it here?
By the time they made it to the forest the morning fog had spilled from the hills and completely drowned it in beams of light between the trees. Kagome yawned and stretched her unoccupied arm over her head, still not quite fully awake. "Alright, since you're here, you can get me the bark. It takes forever for me to peel enough off. The mushrooms are easy enough to find, it's only the root that'll be a problem." They walked into a bright little clearing, where Kagome usually had the best luck finding what she needed. She set her basket at her feet and straightened up to find Inuyasha looking around at the surrounding trees.
"I'll have no problem getting some measly bark." He proclaimed arrogantly.
Kagome shrugged and turned on her heal to start looking for the mushrooms. "I'm sure you won't. It's the sap you'll have problems with." She teased.
Inuyasha scoffed, proving his bravado in the face of evil tree sap as he leapt into the canopy of tree branches overhead. Kagome turned just in time to see a flash of red disappear into the leaves. The sound of him rustling around in search for the right tree faded in and out of her attention as she made her way around the clearing. Before long, she was crawling around on her hands and knees, looking under rocks and fallen logs, until she found a small patch just past the clearing and into the thicker part of the forest. Gently harvesting the mushrooms she needed and leaving behind enough for them to continue growing, Kagome carried them back to the clearing and dropped them in her basket. She had just been about to call out to Inuyasha to see if he had any luck when he dropped from the trees and landed on the opposite side of the basket. It didn't take long to see what he looked so angry about. "I warned you about the sap!"
Along with bark chippings, Inuyasha had returned with his hands covered in sap. "Shut up." He grumbled, trying and failing to drop the bark into the basket with it sticking to his skin. He growled in frustration and tried to pick it off, but the moment he touched it with one hand, it stuck to the other, and so on until his face was practically red. Kagome's face was red too, but for an entirely different reason; she was laughing so hard she could hardly breath.
"Inuyasha!" She laughed, reaching out and taking his wrists to hold him still. He stopped, his eyes snapping up to stare at her questioningly.
"Did you miss me?"
"More than you could know ."
Kagome let go of his wrists a little too quickly. "Let's just go down to the river and cool off for a bit. The root is going to take a while to find anyway, we might as well."
Inuyasha scoffed in that oh-so-tough manner that never fooled her. "Fine."
The river was just a short walk down a decline from the clearing. Kagome didn't know whether to be amused or annoyed when Inuyasha complained that she was taking too long, and that he'd carry her if he didn't have this crap on his hands. So she just nodded and smiled and thought about how not long at all it had been since been since she had returned, and how in somewhat it felt like she had never left. It was the same comforting familiarity as the bamboo mat, simple things like walking through the forest with Inuyasha and spending the morning looking for herbs.
She had been back for a few weeks now. It was hard to keep track without a modern calender, and while she could easily fix that problem by making a trip down the well and back into her world, she tried to make her trips few and far between. Her family understood and didn't resent her for it; who knew if the well would close again? She'd lived on just fine for the past three years, never wallowed in self pity for days on end or cried herself to sleep, but it was no secret that she'd never been truly happy. They'd rather rarely see her and see her happy, than every day and longing for a world she couldn't touch.
But she had gone back once, because there were just some modern comforts she couldn't live without.
As they walked down the bank to the river, Kagome was already eagerly untying her kimono sleeves from behind her back. She stopped by a log fallen against back at a steep incline and shed both her kimino and hakama, leaving her only in a bra and underwear; her modern luxuries. Not exactly a bathing suit, but it would work just fine and she was comfortable around her hanyou companion. Without nothing but a gleeful smile to Inuyasha, she ran to the riverbed and jumped in a tight ball just to splash him on the shore.
"Hey!" He complained.
Breaching the water, Kagome flipped her hair behind her, combing her fingers through the raven locks while waving Inuyasha over with her other hand. "Come on!"
Inuyasha made no attempt to hide the way he rolled his eyes at her, but began slipping out of his haori anyway. Kagome had just contented herself to paddling around in the shallow of the water when suddenly she was met with a tidal wave caused by a hanyou in his fundoshi. Sputtering the water out of her nose, she wiped her hand over her face and tried not to laugh as she glared at him. "Inuyasha!" She protested for the second time that day.
Inuyasha burst up for air and proceeded to shake out his hair, just because he knew how much it bothered her. Kagome couldn't stop herself from laughing, holding her hands up in a feeble attempt to protest herself. Once he decided she'd had enough, laughing too hard to continue anyway, Kagome pushed her hands through the water to splash him back.
Inuyasha tried in vain to shield himself with his arm, only to be rewarded with a face full of water. "Alright, that's it!"
"Inuyasha, don't you dare!"
It was too late. The hanyou swooped her off her feet and held her over his head with ease, even while she kicked and tried to fight her way out of his grasp. He took only two steps out into deeper water before tossing her back into the river. Her squeal was swallowed by the water. When she came back up, she leaped at Inuyasha, throwing herself at him with all her weight and tackling him into the water.
The moment the bubbles cleared and the world stopped spinning, it was just the two of them; eyes opened and uninterrupted, staring at each other with floating hair and beams of light dancing on the stony riverbed, Kagome with her arms around Inuyasha's neck, and Inuyasha with his hands hovering over her waist.
"Did you ever give up?
"Did you ever feel like you should?"
Kagome was the first to come up for air, taking a deep breath to calm her racing heart. Inuyasha came up after. "It's so nice out." She commented as she looked up at the noon sky and kicked back into the water.
"It's alright." Inuyasha shrugged.
"Grouch." Kagome fired back, looking back over her shoulder at him. She fully expected a witty retort, a scowl, or even a face full of water, but it was immediately obvious that his attention was elsewhere. He looked to the other side of the river, brows furrowed and ears twitching.
Kagome mirrored his frown, letting her body dip back into the water and her toes touch the rocks on the bottom. "Inuyasha?"
"It's nothing. Just thought I heard someone, must've been a villager singing." He shrugged it off, shaking his hands through his soaked hair.
Kagome chewed at the corner of her lip, not quite buying that explanation. He'd be able to tell if what he heard was just a villager in the forest, he wouldn't have even paused. But, if it was danger, he'd know in an instant too, so she supposed it was nothing to worry about. Leaning back into the water, Kagome floated on her back up the stream and closer to Inuyasha. It wasn't until their arms barely brushed together in the passing water that she felt it. All at once overwhelmed, she splashed against an invisible enemy that seemed to force her for a moment out of her own body, until she was suddenly stilled by steadying hands dragging her up from the water.
"What the hell was that about?!" Inuyasha exclaimed, his words gruff but concern clear in his eyes.
"Do you feel that?" Kagome rasped, coughing against the water in her throat.
"I don't feel anything."
Kagome's eyes snapped to the forest where she felt the powerful energy emanating from, the same direction Inuyasha had been staring in. That was enough of a coincidence for her. "We should check it out."
"You think?" But despite his annoyed tone, he walked behind her to the shore, ready to catch her should she faulter again. The two of them quickly slipped back into their clothes, knowing that the morning heat and breeze would dry them off eventually. As soon as they were both dressed, Inuyasha wrapped his arm around Kagome's waist and leaped across the river to the bed on the other side. Taking his hand before they even touched the ground, Kagome took Inuyasha's hand and tugged him in the direction she was being drawn to. This side of the river seemed to be denser, the foliage thicker and the trees closer together. Even the early morning mist hadn't faded in the cool shade.
The two of them stumbled through the forest, both on foot despite the hanyou's ability to carry them faster than a human could even hope to run. The force pulling Kagome was too piercing and delicate to follow at that speed. It wasn't long before she faultered to a stop again. "Do you hear that?" She asked, realizing too late that she probably sounded stupid. Inuyasha heard everything.
"Yes and no." He answered, taking her by surprise. "It's like-"
"You hear it in your head." Kagome finished for him in understanding.
Inuyasha nodded, looking toward ta break of light in the dark forest ahead of them. "Someone singing." She took his hand again, but let him lead this time. His back was tight and ears alert, meaning he was deep into protective mode. Whatever was happening, he didn't like it.
Kagome blinked through the blinding light as they entered the break in the trees, feeling Inuyasha's hand tense in hers. When she could finally see again, her breath was drawn from her lungs, chest tight. She didn't know how she didn't recognize the path and surrounding forest, but they had entered from a different direction. Still, it almost hurt to know she didn't recognize the area.
Goshinboku, the Sacred Tree, towered over them just as she remembered. She hadn't been here since she returned. She always felt somewhat apprehensive about going back, like something would be too different and startling, and now that she was here she knew she was right. As strange as the energy emanating from the tree was, though, it wasn't as strange as the spirit that sat in its shade.
A young woman in a Miko's kimono and hakama sat embroidering under the permanent marking on the back where Inuyasha had slept for fifty years, either oblivious or undisturbed by their presence.
"Flickering lanterns, hanging from the Tree
Let them guide your way back to me
Flickering lanterns, call you back to me
On the branches of the Sacred Tree"
Her translucent lips didn't move, but the voice swirled around her and out to them. Kagome and Inuyasha watched her, frozen as she lifted her head to look at them. The uncanny resemblance to Kagome and even more so her successor Kikyo made Inuyasha take a step back, his hand tightening in hers. The young woman smiled at them for a long moment, before standing gracefully and disappearing into the trunk of the tree. The song continued after she vanished, a hum on the wind that soon blew away.
Kagome was the first to break the heavy silence that followed. "Hey!" She exclaimed, dashing forward to where the woman had been sitting. "Salvia root!" Dropping her basket to her side, she pulled a few of the roots from the ground, dusted the dirt off, and dropped them inside. "Who do you think she was?" She asked wistfully.
"Probably just some stupid Forest Spirit." Inuyasha scoffed. "They're all over the place out here, especially now that Naraku isn't an issue. Now come on. We've got what we need, and Kaede said she'd make lunch."
"Alright, Mr. Demons-Don't-Need-As-Much-Food-As-You-Weakass-Humans." Kagome teased, balancing her basket on her hip again. "We should make it back in twenty- hey!" She yelped in surprise as Inuyasha picked her up and practically tossed her onto his back, taking off through the forest and back to the river before she could complain. She could just barely hear him laughing over the wind in her ears, but the sound was like music.
The river flowed right back to the village and spilled into the rice paddies, a faster trip than the well worn path that lead to Goshinboku. The path was more convenient on foot, but traveling by hanyou was like comparing a scooter to a Sport car. It was only a few minutes until Inuyasha skidded to a stop in front of the old Miko's hut.
"Kaede!" Kagome chirped as Inuyasha reached ahead of her and pulled the bamboo mat door back. "We got the herbs! I'll have the medicine done by dinner, I just can't remember if you have to boil and crush the Reishi-... Kaede?"
Inuyasha could smell it the moment he opened the door, his heart dropping into the pit of his stomach as Kagome continued rambling happily. He let the door fall back into place, swaying gently in the breeze. Everything else in the hut was far too still. Kagome's basket bounced harmlessly on the foor as it slipped from her hands, herbs falling into the dying embers of the fire and smothering whatever life was still left in the room. He didn't know whether to clench his first or reach out to Kagome's trembling shoulder. If he hadn't been so caught up in the moment, fooling around with her, he would have smelt it just a moment earlier, he could have prevented her from seeing this.
"No, no, no, no." Kagome breathed, breaking the silent calm before the storm as she crashed to her knees by Kaede's too still body. The old woman was laying slumped over on her mat, her skin without colour and her chest without movement. "No!" Kagome sobbed, drawing her hand back from her cold cheek. "No, please! Kaede!"
Kagome didn't know when she lost it, but she knew that she couldn't breath. Hunched over Kaede, her body shook with the force of her sobs, her broken voice echoing out into the serene quiet of the village as she sobbed over and over that she was sorry. She was so sorry, she should have come back sooner, she should have made the medicine sooner, she should have brought her to her world, she should have saved her.
"Kagome, calm down!" Inuyasha's voice cracked in her ear, his arms wrapping around her from behind and pulling her off of Kaede's body before she even realize he was there.
"I could have saved her!" Kagome sobbed turning into him and pounding her fists against his chest all at once. "You- you never should have left her! You never should have left her alone!" Eventually Kagome's screaming gave out into anguished cries, the overwhelming guilt and loss sobbed against Inuyasha's chest. He held her like he hadn't since her first night back, when they had sat in this very hut alone for hours, with the fire crackling and hesitant questions murmured back and forth.
His compassion and tenderness as he gently rocked her and ran his hands through her hair would surprise her every time she looked back at this memory for years to come. But maybe it was because he was silently crying too, face buried against the top of her head to hide his tear stained cheeks.
Music had followed them everywhere that day, but there was no music that night.
Oops, finger slipped.
Just a few quick endnotes.
The italicized dialogue is 'hesitant questions' from the first night back, sort of like an active memory. Who's saying what is supposed to be vague, so it could be either of them asking any of the questions or answering.
The Italicized lyrics are Kaede's song.
And don't forget to check out the companion blog Inuyashasforest. tumblr .com!