"These ones here were given to me by Inuyasha," I'd tell my grand-children.
"Oooh, really? Was he mean?" they'd ask me, all watching me eagerly.
"Of course," I'd say. "But I feel sorry for him. He did spend the rest of his life with a clay pot!"
Then we would all laugh, finding it hilarious that someone would want to spend his life with a clay pot. Of course, I would never tell them that she is more of a golem than a garden-variety clay pot. Kikyou will never rate above flowerpot in my eyes.
I wish that I could find matters so funny now. I am constantly struggling not to destroy Kikyou's breakable brethren, leaving their remains scattered about the ground in my grief, as Inuyasha left the pieces of my broken heart strewn about on the floor. Even now, I attempt to gather them up and sew them back together, to form some sort of freakish Franken-heart.
Maybe I could just steal Kikyou's heart. An image of Kikyou, with a bloody hole where her heart should be, briefly flickers across my mind with a touch of amusement. But then how would I get Inuyasha back, if I were to slay his clay pot? Immediately the amusement is gone, replaced with frustration with myself for being so stupid.
This is how you got yourself into this situation, Kagome-girl, I scold myself, but not without an inner sigh. I have an odd feeling that breaking this... addiction to Inu will be more difficult than trying to stop smoking.
Not as though I've ever been into anything like that.
I stand, deciding that I've lolled around enough for one day, and stroll off leisurely in a random direction, careful to bring the remains of my tattered heart.
For a terrifying moment, I wonder if there is anything that I am forgetting, anything that needs doing, before realizing that it really doesn't matter. That is the truly marvelous part of being alone, being able to do what you want, when you want. Oh, the apathy! And the best part? Inuyasha is too busy worrying about Kikyou dearest to even notice that I was gone.
The time to return home has finally come, but not before a bath.
After a brief search, I hear a welcome sound: that of running, hopefully steamy, water. Hotspring, anyone? I head off in that direction and find my prize, water warm enough to boil lobsters.
As I strip off my mud-stained uniform, I catch a glimpse of the last person I wan to see. Kikyou is looking back at me! I jump back, startled, but quickly realize that it is just my reflection. I splash the water, breaking up the unwanted reminder of why I am here.
It is hurtful to be mistaken for someone else, especially when the one doing the mistaking is you yourself. It is just more proof of what I have known deep down since the beginning. Everyone I met, or at least those who knew Kikyou, mistook me for her. Inuyasha even took it a step further: he mistook his love of Kikyou for love of me, and I foolishly accepted the false love.
Now I accept the truth: his care for me stemmed from his care for Kikyou.
I slip into the water, bringing my uniform with me. It might as well be cleaned.
I left my all my other things behind except for my bow, some arrows in a quiver, and the precious jewel that had started this whole mess, the Shikon Jewel, which now hung around my neck like a badge of shame.
I scrub at myself, washing away more than grime. I am washing all the dregs of my love of Inuyasha from my soul.
Presently, I feel much better, and I set off again in my newly-cleaned uniform. I am determined to take the Shikon jewel home with me, where I can watch over it. However, it is not meant to be.
I hear a cry of, "Thief!" and catch a glimpse of silver through the trees as someone runs by.
A group of armed men suddenly surround me, weapons lowered at the ready. "Them damn kitsune!" one exclaims. "When'll they ever learn that we know about their shape-changes?"
"Well, looks like we caught this one. Thinking that the form of a pretty young woman'll make us let ya go?" another comments.
A third has gotten close enough that I can smell his beer-ridden breath. It nearly makes me gag. "She be mighty pretty!"
"Don't let its tricks fool ya!" a fourth, probably their leader, warns. Unlike the others, his armor looks like it was well-made, and he is the only one without a weapon aimed at my heart. It doesn't matter; I don't have a heart left for them to pierce. Or at least, I wouldn't mind if they did so. I move, and I remember something hanging around my neck, a pink orb that eminates a pale light...
Shit! The jewel! They're gonna get the jewel!
"Doesn't matter if it is that kitsune, eh? We can still have some fun with 'er!" a particularly foul one with one eye suggests. With this, there is a chorus of general agreement.
Wait! Kikyou has helped a lot of people in her lifetime. And I look like her... so maybe if I...
"Get your hands off me, scum," I say in my best imitation of the clay pot. She can help me.
"The fox speaks!" one of them jeers. I shoot him Kikyou's glare of death.
"I am the priestess Kikyou, a traveling priestess," I announce, "and that you would accuse me of being a thief and moreover, a liar, greatly upsets me."
For a moment, nothing happens.
"Lady Kikyou?" their leader finally says. "Yes, it must be you. I would know that face anywhere!" I almost let out a sigh of relief, but then he continues. "You used to heal the people of our village, but when my brother fell ill, you did nothing! You simply left! You obviously caused his death yourself!"
I realize that I may have just made matters worse. I knew that I can't exactly let them have the jewel, so I do the only thing I can: I kick the man nearest me in the crotch, grab my bow from my back, and aim it at their leader. "I swear if you do not release me, I will slay you!" I try to sound tough, but he laughs in my face.
The other men begin closing in on me now. In a panic, I shoot off three of my precious arrows, downing three of the pack, but more were closing in on me quickly. A fourth arrow, and I am out. I search the ground and found a knife, dropped by one of the victims of my arrows, and point it at the nearest attacker, but there are too many coming at me all at once, and it's clear that I don't know how to fight.
A fiery pain in my right shoulder knocks me down, and now the men are coming in for the kill.
Didn't Kikyou die of an injury on her right shoulder? I wonder. One thinks the strangest things when one is about to die. I close my eyes, waiting for the inevitable end, but it doesn't come. There is a sickening squelching sound, and then absolute silence. One, two, three minutes, and I dare to open them again.
A single clawed hand hangs in my line of vision, white like some sort of angel's. A guardian angel, because the owner of that hand has just saved my life. I take the hand, and I am helped to my feet.
Two golden eyes catch my blue ones, their gaze almost hypnotic. I break off the contact, and instead examine my rescuer. Perfectly groomed long, white hair, wearing all white... Sessoumaru? Then I see the top of his head, adorned with two ears, and the long, fluffy tail, which drapes to the ground gracefully. He makes me think of adult Shippou, but he is not cute by a long shot. He is beautiful.
"Are you that kitsune they were talking about?" I ask him. I feel woozy.
"Yes. I apologize for bringing you into this mess, Lady Kikyou," he lilts in a charming voice. I think I am in love, or maybe it's just the adrenaline.
"I'm not..." I begin, but I don't think I finished that sentence. Darkness greets me.
The next few days, I drift in and out of consciousness. Every time I awake, he is there, and every time I close my eyes, I dream of death. Horrible death. I remember awakening briefly to see open concern clouding his features before I fall back into my hazy dreamland.
Every time I stir, he forces slimy gloop down my throat. Poison? But it tastes cool and refreshing, and it makes me feel better.
He never speaks to me.
My body isn't the only part of me that heals under his care. I am gathering my heart's shards as I once gathered the jewel.
When I finally awake, I find myself in a green mystery world. I am wrapped up in blankets on a soft cot. A clean kimono, creamy white, is laid out alongside me, and a note is pinned to it that says, "Lady Kikyou: Your old clothing was ruined, and it smelled absolutely disgraceful. I burned it upon your arrival. You will wear this instead."
I shrug off my blankets, noticing for the first time that I am wearing my birthday suit, and blush.
Oh, well. It's too late to change that now.
I poke at the kimono, wondering how I am to put it on, when he strides in. Immediately, I re-wrap myself in my blanket.
"You're awake!" he exclaims. His animated mannerisms, his tone of voice, he is Shippo in ten years.
"Thank you for your help," I tell him.
"I led your attackers to you, and, therefore, your recovery falls to me," he explains. There is an undertone to his words that makes me feel ill at ease, but I shrug it off.
"It was my fault for being there," I say. I almost expect him to take Inuyasha's approach and scold me for getting in the way. It occurs to me that I am arguing with a strange kitsune that I am to blame for his mistake. I suddenly feel ridiculous.
He laughs at my words. "Fine, Lady Kikyou. You were at fault. Are you satisfied?"
I choose to ignore the "Kikyou" and instead ask, "How long was I unconscious?" I am afraid of the answer. I know that I have probably missed that calculus final I was dreading, not to mention various chemistry pop quizzes. I was seriously wounded.
"Nearly a week. It would have been less, but your wound was badly infected," he tells me.
"A week?" I say in disbelief. He cringes. "Wow. That's... amazing." He looks at me curiously with those rich, golden eyes, no doubt wondering how a week could possibly be a short time.
"You're probably hungry. We can eat in twenty minutes. Get dressed," he says, turning to leave. I know that I will never figure out this kimono in that time. I am accustomed to wonderful little commodities such as buttons and zippers. And so...
"Wait!" I call after him.
"Yes?" he asks, turning around. A chilling smile lifts the corners of his mouth. Well, it isn't really chilling, but the feeling that I see behind it certainly is.
"Could you explain to me how one puts on a kimono?" I ask him. My cheeks are probably as red as two ripe tomatoes. "I've never worn one before..."
I sit across a floor-level table from him, my eyes on my food, my cheeks still stained red.
Great. I'm stuck in a cave with a kinky kitsune. Just great.
He was quite enthusiastic in his aid. "Lady Kikyou this, Lady Kikyou that!" He even suggested removing his own and showing me how he put it back on, eyeing my breasts in the meantime. I thought that Miroku was a pervert! If I ever see the monk again, I will never, ever complain about his groping. I will welcome it with open arms. After all, he could do worse: he could take lessons from this guy.
"I have a question for you," I say, not sure what prompts me to do so.
"What would you do to obtain all the power you've ever wanted?"
"You forget, Lady. I am kitsune. We don't desire strength."
"Then what do you desire?" Only after the words have left my mouth does it occur to me that I probably don't want to know, and hewill tell me all too eagerly.
"The finer things in life--knowledge, wealth," he leans closer, "beautiful women." I can feel his warm breath on my face. I jerk back quickly. He doesn't like my reaction.
"Kitsune believe that it is disgraceful to seek power beyond oneself. Those of us who are strong, are born strong, and those of us who are weak accept that weakness."
"I take it you're a strong one, then."
He gives me the most sour look I've seen on his face yet and turns to his food with gusto.
We finish our meal silently.
"I should leave. I promised an old friend that I would meet him..." I begin, but he interrupts me.
"Nonsense! You are still recovering from a terrible injury. Stay at least one more day," he says with that same chilly smile. He has clearly recovered from my accusation.
So through a combination of subtle guilt-trips and clever responses, he coerces me to stay another night. I didn't stand a chance against him. He knows exactly what he is doing, and I have no idea how to politely fight off his advances.
It is a "cold" night, and he "doesn't have many blankets. Perhaps we should share our warmth?" I find myself laying with my back turned to him as his arms round my waist pulled me closer, and he clearly isn't about to let me go. I can't sleep all night; his face is buried in my hair, his wet nose caressing my neck.
Early the next morning, I am up the moment he is, black bags under my eyes from lack of sleep.
"I truly must be leaving, kind sir," I suggest.
He looks at me, sighs, and finally says, "I suppose that you have no desire to stay with me, lovely miko."
My heart trills when he calls me that, but I catch myself. This is another Inuyasha, I'll bet.
"I am forced to allow you to leave my company."
He sounds so desolate when he says these words that I almost want to cry, "No, I'll stay here!" but then I remember his earlier manipulations. I suspect that this is just an act so that I say something I'll regret. I choose to remain silent.
He frowns at me for a fraction of an instant. My response wasn't the expected one. He recovers quickly, though, and changes tactics.
"Yet..." he pauses, as though thinking. He is a very skilled actor. "I will give you a gift, to remember me." He leads me through his green cave, a maze of similar passageways, and into a large cave that brims with treasure. I can't help but gasp. It's so shiny...
"Take what you desire."
why he brought me here. He thinks I
might stay with him because of his wealth.
I see something in the far corner of the room and trot over, grinning with delight. He follows me. He has an entire chest overflowing with baubles of every color. Baubles that look remarkably similar to the Shikon Jewel. Inspiration strikes. Maybe it's time to try some manipulation of my own?
Could I trust him, though? His words from before echo in my head. "It's disgraceful to seek power beyond oneself..." He meant it, too. He is more interested in studying the world than destroying it.
I've never been this sure about anything.
I pull out the Jewel and begin twirling it in my fingers as though it's a nervous habit. He notices it.
"What is that?" he asks me. Foxes are delightfully curious.
"This is the most precious thing I own."
He examines it more closely. He's mine.
"Demons once sought to claim its power, but now..."
"Now the Jewel of Four Souls has become little more than a bauble, really."
His ears perk up. He's heard of it. "Why is that, pray tell?"
"It's been purified."
"Could I handle it?"
I slip it off my neck and hand it to him. He appraises it carefully, his clawed fingers testing its shape and density. He smells it before returning it to me.
"That really is it," he says. "I've never held a legend in these hands of mine."
"They're impossible to steal?" I suggest.
"They're impossible to find," he corrects me.
"How would you like to add a legend to your collection?"
That caught him off guard.
"It's time for the Jewel to fade into obscurity."
And that's the truth, too.
I drop it into his hand, and a great burden is lifted from my shoulders. My heart tells me the Jewel is safe here. "It's time for me to vanish, as well."
He hands me a pack full of supplies, looking up from the jewel just long enough to say, "I wish you luck on your journeys, Lady Kikyou. Please, should you wish to return, ask about for me. My name is Youko Kurama. Humans and demons alike know where I can be found."
He hands me a flawless red rose, and as I take it from him he sweeps me into his arms, his soft lips caressing mine.
Too bad, I think as I walk away, that I'll never see him again. He is kinky, but sweet. Is that even possible?
I step out of the well in my time, still twirling the rose Youko gave me. I am quickly discovered and greeted by my family.
"Kagome! You're home!" Sota, my little brother, cries joyfully. "And you look so cool!"
"Cool is hardly the word," mother supplies, leading me inside. "She looks beautiful! Our little Kagome has certainly grown up."
"She can't be back," I hear Grampa protest. "I just told them she had leprosy!"
I choose to ignore him, and instead followed my mother into the house.
She leads me up to the bathroom and hands me some normal clothes. "Here. You must be dying for a real bath. Though you do smell rather nice... like flowers."
I smile at her, setting down Youko's pack. I slip out of the silky kimono as I shut the door. That lesson in putting on kimonos will never be forgotten. I suppose that if everyone taught in that manner, I'd be at the best high school in Tokyo, poor attendance or not, and people would be begging me to attend their schools!
I catch a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror and my heart skips a beat. There is Kikyou, staring at me again. Her pale, perfect skin, her long, soft hair, though mine has a bit more curl to it. My eyes are blue, rather than her dark brown, but they have the same concerned expression that I saw her wearing while caring for the ill. Finely defined hands with pale skin and long, aristocratic nails grasp my kimono. The nails are a bit scuffed, and need to be cut, but those hands...
I have grown up since last seeing myself in a real mirror.
There is a long, thin scar along my right shoulder where I was cut. Amazing healing, really. Now I understand why Inuyasha is always criticizing us "humans" for healing so slowly.
I slip into the bath for a very long soak.
By the time I am finished, my fingers and toes are all wrinkled like prunes, but I feel incredible. Back in the Feudal Era, they didn't really believe in soap, so my most recent bath was sans real cleansing products. It is a terribly unsatisfactory feeling, to just give yourself a thorough rinsing.
I step out of the bathroom and the scent of oden assaults my nose, preventing me from forming any more real thoughts, as I am too busy jumping up and down shrieking "Oden!" I am vaguely aware of Sota saying something along the lines of, "Awww, mom! Why'd you have to fix her oden on her first day back? Now we won't get any information out of her!"
After dinner, I return to my room, where the pack Youko gave me now rests. I need a new backpack for school, as my old one was abandoned in the Feudal Era.
I rummage through its contents. There are fruits and vegetables on top. Having heard tales of the nastier bits of kitsune trickery, I cautiously set them to one side. I will test them on Buyo, our fat cat, later. Sota will never notice if the cat suddenly has two heads or no fur. Plus, I figure that the cat owes me for sending me through that damn well.
Next comes carefully-wrapped packages containing dried meats, and at the very bottom is bread, probably fresh. It smells of rosemary. Laying across the bottom of the pack is a note that he wrote me:
"Lady Kikyou: Thank you for giving me your trust. I will guard your bauble until the end of time, and even beyond. I still do not understand your logic in giving it to one of those you were charged to guard it from, but I will respect your decision. I wish that we could have become closer still, but even as I watched over your battered body while you healed, I knew that I was more likely to end up purified than in your bed. Still, I will be here, waiting, should you ever desire my arms, and your bauble with me."
He waited a long time, I'll bet.
Months have passed. I examine my new school uniform. It belongs to one of the most pathetic high schools one can attend, and I dread putting it on. If I do, I will be admitting defeat, but after all those sick days, it is better than I expected. Still, this is the place where all the thugs, bullies, and future homeless go.
I look between my new uniform and my old one and sigh. It isn't that bad. The blue matches my eyes.
By the time I dress, Sota is waiting for me. "Hey, Sis! What took you so long?"
"Eh," I respond. I check the length of the skirt with my hands. "Couldn't mom have gotten one with a bit of a longer skirt? I feel naked!"
"She got it the same as your other uniforms." More proof that I've grown, I suppose.
The two of us walk in silence, and then Sota, trying to start a conversation, asks, "How was Inuyasha the last time you saw him?"
"He was perfectly happy with his clay pot," I huff. Sota knows about Kikyou, or at least that I call her the "clay pot," so this statement doesn't sound so odd to him as it might have sounded to a stranger. He also understands that I dislike Kikyou, but I never told him why, and he is too polite to ask.
Sota and I go our separate ways as he turns off to go to his school. "Good luck, sis!"
"Thanks," I respond.
The first thing I see is enough to make me want to leave. Some kid with slicked-back hair is beating up a very large, dumb-looking one and both are wearing a boy's version of my school uniform.
"Dammit, Urameshi! That's the tenth time you've given me a beating this week!" the large one cries to the other boy. Are they... friends?
If that's what friends here are like... what is it like to have an enemy? I shudder. I resolve to stay on everyone's good side.
Now a young woman with blue hair is helping the large one up. She has a boat oar in one hand and is wearing the same uniform as me. "Come on, boys! Lets get you two to class!"
She notices me and tries to conceal the oar, but she is too late. It is already clear that all these people are mad. I am tempted to run home to my Grandfather and let him keep coming up with his excuses, but I know that I have to pay the price for my time spent in the Feudal Era.
"H-hi," I say, trying not to stutter. Don't show weakness! They can smell it! They'll eat you alive! "My name's Kagome. Higurashi, that is." I am standing there like some sort of wild animal caught in oncoming traffic, not sure which way to run, but knowing that she must get the hell out of there.
Crazy-oar woman speaks first. "Hi, there! I'm Boton!" she exclaims in a friendly voice. She walks over and shakes my hand enthusiastically.
"Nice to meet you, Boton," I say nervously. I'm not expecting the two thugs to come over and say hello as well, but clearly Boton of the Oar is their leader, and they follow her loyally.
"Yusuke," one states plainly. He has slicked-back hair. I think that he is trying to tell me something, but I'm not quite sure what. I'm taking a guess, though, that "Yusuke" is his name.
"Hi! I'm Kuwabara," the large one says. He seems friendly, but clearly, this fellow isn't too intelligent. He draws me into a bear hug, only letting go when I say, "Hey, I think you're cutting off my oxygen supply."
Now Boton of the Oar speaks. "You didn't see anything odd, did you?"
"Nothing out of the ordinary," I answer. Except for a woman carrying an oar, and two friends beating each-other up. But aside from that... I add silently. I glance at my watch. "Oops! I'd better get to class. Don't want to be late to my first day!"
"Wait... that is our school uniform you're wearing, right?" Yusuke comments. When I nod, he continues. "You're just as bad as Kurama!"
"Why don't you two follow her?" I hear Boton of the Oar order. Immediately, they do as instructed. I wonder why she herself isn't coming along, but sometimes it is best to remain silent. When you're being tailed by two thugs, for instance.
I step into my first class, after asking for directions from my "ducklings," and I immediately notice the lack of students present. About a third of the desks are filled. Yusuke and Kuwabara take seats by a redhead whose face I can't see; his long luscious hair drapes about him like a crimson cloud as he scribbles something on what looks like a piece of paper. Presumably, this is the "Kurama" to which I was compared.
Before I can examine him further, however, the teacher calls me to the front. "Good morning class!" he announces cheerily, ignoring the empty desks. "This is Miss Higurashi! She's new to this school, so lets all give her a warm welcome!"
I can almost hear the crickets chirping in my head.
"Now, she's going to say three things about herself, so that then you can all get to know her better!" The teacher continues, moving aside that I might have the spotlight. My eyes widen in horror. I have to talk, in front of a class, about myself? What the hell am I supposed to say?
"Um... erm..." I begin. Good start, Kagome. Keep up the good work. "My first name... is Kagome." At the sound of my voice, the redhead slows his writing. "I... erm..." Think, Kagome, think! "...aspire to be a writer..." A writer? Where the hell did that come from? "... and... um... I'm good in history." With the sort of half-laugh of a person who has nearly survived death, I allow the teacher to conduct me to a desk. For the remainder of class, I am in a trance. Ironic, really, that I can face viscious demons on a daily basis without fear, but put me in a math class, and I'm terrified.
Once class is out, Yusuke and Kuwabara greet me warmly. "You did a pretty good job up there," Yusuke assures me.
"Um... thanks?" I am unsure how to respond. "I'm glad I never have to do that again!"
"Well, actually..." Yusuke and Kuwabara exchange a look that says it all.
"Shit," I curse, nearly dropping my books.
"Oh, yes. And in English class, you will be stuttering in a different language," a new voice supplies. It sounds vaguely familiar, but I can't quite place it.
I turn around and find myself facing the most beautiful human I have ever seen. Red tresses hang about his face in waves. I am tempted to touch them; they look soft. He has a smooth complexion and vivid green eyes. He could almost be mistaken for a girl, but there is a masculine air to him, despite his rosy scent.
The part that startles me the most about him, though, is how his eyes widen in shock when he sees my face.