Disclaimer: It's a good thing that I don't own Inuyasha and Co., since they would currently be packed in cardboard boxes up in my parents' attic along with the rest of my stuff.
Kagome didn't quite understand at first why it had gotten so dark.
'We.....we... were fighting.....there was a snake youkai with a jewel shard, and... and Inuyasha was yelling....'
Alright, that seemed normal so far. So why was it so dark that she couldn't even make out the ground she was standing on?
'...and he kept telling me to 'find the damn shard already, wench,' and I told him that I would be ABLE to find it if it weren't for a certain idiot who kept yelling at me, and he said, 'Keh!' and kept swinging his sword, and I focused, and I saw the shard, and I yelled at Inuyasha to tell him, and he turned around and looked at me, and....
.... and his eyes went wide, and he looked panicked, and he screamed something that I couldn't hear, because suddenly there was a pain in my back, and everything started going blurry and fuzzy, and then everything hurt, and I couldn't breath through the pain and then.... and then...'
'And then,' she thought, 'then it was dark and I was here. Wherever 'here' is.'
It looked like there was a light off in the distance which she hadn't noticed before. Not seeing any other options, literally or figuratively, Kagome sighed and headed towards it. As she got closer, she could see..... Kagome blinked as what she was seeing actually registered. There was... well, it looked like an office, or at least three walls of an office, with doors leading off to who-knows-where, and a desk covered with files and papers, both the "In" and "Out" baskets completely full. And behind the desk there was a girl, a girl who looked to be about her own age, with blue-purple hair and a cheerful smile that suddenly faded as she caught sight of the dark-haired miko in her school uniform.
"Oh, for KAMI's sake, not AGAIN!!!" the girl at the desk groaned loudly, slamming her pen down onto the desk for emphasis.
"Ummm... er... Excuse me? Can you tell me..." Kagome attempted to ask what was going on, but was ignored as the girl stood up and rounded the desk, still ranting irritably.
"I mean, really, Higurashi-san, twice? In one week? What were you thinking? You haven't been this bad since the very beginning! What is wrong with you?"
Since Kagome had no idea what the strange girl was talking about, and since she suspected that the questions were mostly rhetorical, she kept her mouth shut and didn't attempt to ask find out anything more about her situation until the girl's tirade had come to an end and she stood in front of Kagome, her arms crossed.
"Well?" she demanded, clearly still irritated. "Aren't you going to ask the question?"
"Umm... What's.. .who are you? And what's going on? And. well, where am I, anyway?"
The other girl sighed, her irritation being replaced by something like sympathy.
"Come on, we'd better get going. I'll explain once we get there."
The pace that she set was rapid, leading Kagome down a series of strangely twisting corridors that branched off in all different directions, and seemed to be full of doors. The girl stopped in front of one particular door and placed her hands on it, causing it to glow slightly. The door swung open, and Kagome gasped in shock as she saw....
.... a room, and a futon in the middle of it, and on the futon, eyes closed in what appeared to be a deep sleep.... a girl in a school uniform with a green skirt, a girl with long black hair, a girl with her face...
'Ki.... Kikyo?! But...but... what... how...'
"It's not Kikyo," said her guide, seeming to read Kagome's thoughts, and muttered something under her breath that sounded like, "Always assumes it's Kikyo, and then gets upset when other people...."
Kagome blinked and looked more closely at the girl, who hadn't reacted to their presence, and a shocking realization ran through her.
It was her. The person that she was looking at, the girl behind door number one... it was... her.
'Too weird, this is just too weird, Inuyasha, where are you, I have to get out of here, I have to...'
"It's alright, Kagome," the other girl said, placing her hand on Kagome's arm in a gesture of comfort. "I know that you don't remember, but you need to take both of your hands and put them on your... sorry, her hands. It's very important, ok?"
Kagome was still very rattled, but she couldn't see anything dishonest in her escort's eyes, and she couldn't figure out what else she could do to find out what was going on, so she closed her eyes, clenched her jaw, and reached forward to grasp her double's hands...
'Her...my.. hands are so cold....'
And suddenly, she was overwhelmed with a barrage of memories...
...a blade across her throat, blood choking off her scream as she stared into a pair of dead brown eyes...
.... tumbling and falling and the rush of wind past her ears as she screamed...
... the piercing pain of an arrow ....
... the scorching fire of lightening ....
... a horrible, all-consuming burning pain mixed with the incongruous, sickly sweet scent of flowers ...
.... and other memories, crowding into her head, filling her with pain and surrounding her with the scent of blood and death ...
... and faint in the back of her mind, more of a slight tickle than an actual memory, the feeling of sharp claws against her back and the smell of copper and the acrid sting of betrayal ....
By the time the nausea and disorientation had cleared, Kagome found herself kneeling on the floor next to an empty futon, her arms clutched around her knees as the world slowly stopped spinning around her. She dimly registered a comforting hand patting her on the back, and tried to get her voice back under control to ask a question that she already knew the answer to.
"I... I... I'm dead, aren't I? I died...."
"Yes. I am sorry."
"But... what... " Kagome trailed off, unable to speak past the tears choking her. She was dead. She would never see Inuyasha again, never see Sango, or Shippo, or Miroku, or her mother, or Souta... it was over; she would never even know if they had completed the jewel and defeated Naraku, all because she....
'Wait.... wait a minute... That... I mean, that was definitely me dying, that's for sure, but... I can't have died from all of that... I mean, none of that even happened at the same time, that was...'
Her confusion quickly overwhelmed her grief, and she sniffed back the last of her tears to ask, "But... how? I mean, I can't have been killed all those different ways at once!"
"Mmm," the girl agreed. "Your situation is... umm... complicated."
"Complicated? I'm DEAD, what about that can be complicated?" Kagome almost shouted, standing back up and starting to get seriously annoyed.
"Don't get me started on death. What I mean is, you died in the Sengoku Jidai, right?"
Kagome nodded, her eyes puzzled.
"Well, by getting killed in the past, you've effectively died over five hundred years before you were actually born. Do you have any idea of the amount of paperwork that kind of thing entails?"
"You don't want to, trust me. OK, you know how, well, your soul is..."
"Don't tell me; Kikyo's reincarnation, right?" Kagome sighed. Was the undead miko ever going to stop causing her problems?
'Wait a minute... reincarnation... that means that...'
'Hmm... well, yes," the girl continued, seeming to not notice Kagome's expression. "That soul—your soul--- is scheduled to be reincarnated as—well, as you in late twentieth-century Tokyo. And then, on your fifteenth birthday..."
"I get pulled through a well and end up in the Sengoku Jidai," Kagome finished.
"Exactly. Now, normally, when somebody dies, their soul ends up getting reincarnated, right on schedule, hopefully having learned from their experiences, and the entire cycle keeps moving along nicely. With you, though... well, you're already scheduled to be reincarnated in the future, as I said, and... well, every time you get yourself killed in the past, it gets terribly confusing, because the time loop means that you—all of you—end up back here. You see?"
Kagome wasn't sure that she did, but she nodded anyway, trying to process what was being said to her.
"So... I get born, I go back to the past, I get killed, and my soul ends up here... except that my soul is already here, because it's waiting to be reincarnated. So then both..err.. all of my soul gets reincarnated, and goes back into the past, and...."
She wasn't sure if dead people could get raging headaches, but it felt like she was about to find out. Fortunately, her confusion did not go unnoticed.
"Right. There's a loop, you see? And trust me; if you think that you were confused, imagine what it was like here for those first couple of weeks, when all of you first started showing up!"
'The first.. couple of weeks? All of me? But... I can't possibly have gotten killed THAT many times that quickly, I mean...'
"Don't look so shocked. Being tossed into the Sengoku Jidai and made the guardian of a mystical jewel isn't exactly a stroll in the park." She sighed. "We were all just glad when you finally figured out that you had to break the fool thing."
"Wait... I... but.. that.. that was an accident, I didn't mean to... I mean, if I hadn't broken it like an idiot with that arrow, then.. then..." She grew still as a memory teased at her, and realization hit.
"When I didn't break the jewel..." she said, slowly, processing it, "...Naraku came after it, before any of us knew what he was... he.. Oh, Kami, he.. he killed Kaede, and, the villagers, and..he... Naraku killed Inuyasha, he never had a chance, he didn't even have his sword yet, Naraku tore him to shreds, laughing, and then...."
Trembling, Kagome brought herself back under control. It hadn't happened that way. Well, it had, but not this time. She had broken the jewel, and they had learned about Naraku before actually meeting him, when Miroku had told them of the evil demon's treachery fifty years ago and Inuyasha had finally learned the truth about what had happened.
"Each time I die, I learn from it; is that what you're trying to tell me? And then, the next time, that knowledge is there, and I don't die, right?"
"Now you've got it! You really are getting better at figuring all of this out, you know."
Kagome wasn't actually sure that she wanted to know that, but smiled wanly anyway. The pressure of her memories had lessened since she... she looked at the now-empty futon. When she had made contact with the rest of her soul, she supposed that she had absorbed her past lives, and was now back to being herself. Except, apparently, more so.
"What do I do now?" she asked, even though she could remember the answer already.
Her guide heaved a patient sigh, perfectly aware that Kagome knew what was going to happen. It wasn't like this was the first time, or even the twentieth, that she'd done this, after all.
"Until it's time, right?"
"But it won't seem like a long time, because I'll be asleep."
"And when I wake up...."
"You'll have your whole life ahead of you, and hopefully, you won't end up here again until you're old and grey and can die happily, surrounded by fat grandchildren with puppy-dog ears."
Kagome smiled slightly at that, the underlying familiarity of the banter working to reassure her as she lay down on the futon and closed her eyes.
'Two of them!' she thought suddenly as sleep started to claim her. 'There were two snake youkai, and one of them got behind me; that's how I died this time....
I'll remember that.....'
And she drifted off to sleep, a faint smile on her face as she thought about the friends she had yet to meet.
Author's note: A random one-shot inspired by re-watching the first episodes with Kanna and wondering why exactly Kagome's soul won't fit into the mirror. And also a lot of time spent playing those computer games where you kept getting killed until you could figure out how to solve a certain puzzle, at which point you could happily move forward to the next thing that was going to kill you and start the whole process all over again. The title, of course, comes from the saying, "Practice makes perfect."
More disclaiming: I also don't own Botan, who is, for all intents and purposes, kind of making a semi-cameo. More of a riff on the character, if you will.