A Walk With Fire
DISCLAIMER: Both Inuyasha and The Firetripper do not belong to me, but are works written by Takahashi Rumiko. I'm just borrowing their respective characters for a little while.
When we completed our mission to find the Shikon no Tama and defeat Naraku, not much changed for us. The first time I went home following everything, I briefly wondered if the well would close behind me after I went through. Unfortunately, I didn't think of this until as I was actually slipping through time and I panicked, thinking for a moment that I would never see Inuyasha nor my friends again.
Thankfully, my fears proved unfounded. Inuyasha followed me about five minutes later, with my sleeping bag in one hand and barking out a request for ramen. I was so grateful that I forgot to "osuwari" him for causing a ruckus.
And so, things remained as they always were, except that now I attended school every day instead of two days every couple of weeks. My afternoons and weekends I spent in the Sengoku Jidai with my friends. As the years slid by, I simply took everything forgranted. In fact, it was hard to imagine life before I started slipping through time.
But sometimes, something comes along that makes you grateful for what you have. I found this out in the summer after I graduated from high school.
"Kagome? Could you come out here a moment?"
Kagome eyed the bubbling pot of rice that hung over the fire, her latest nemesis. It'd taken her a little bit of doing, but she had both her mother and Kaede giving her cooking lessons. She decided if it was the last thing she'd do, she'd get Inuyasha to prefer her cooking over the ramen that he adored.
"Coming, Kaede-baa-san." She wiped her hands on a rag and stepped into her shoes before walking out of the hut.
An older gentlemen stood with Kaede, his yukata dirty around the hems from traveling. She noted the sweat running down his cheeks and the wild gestures he made as he rattled off in old, formal Japanese to the miko. Kaede motioned toward Kagome and the man's attention swung to her. He ran to her feet and fell to the ground.
"You're her! You're Kagome-sama! You're the only one who can save us," the man cried. "She...my sister-in-law heard of you, but we swore it wasn't true. We didn't think a person like you existed! Please, you must help us, Kagome-sama!"
Kagome bit back a sigh. More than likely, he wanted her to use the Shikon no Tama to help out his village. With Oda Nobunaga's troops intensifying their sweeps of the countryside and the drought that plagued the land since the year before, she wasn't surprised.
"I'm sorry, oji-san, but so far, we have decided not to utilize the Shikon no Tama and..."
"Shikon no Tama?" The man sat back on his heels and gave her a confused look. "I don't need the Shikon no Tama."
You are a rare breed indeed, Kagome thought wryly. "Then, what's the problem, oji-san?"
"My brother is extremely ill. They have him seperated from the other villagers, because my sister-in-law says that what he has can be spread easily to others. She said she remembered hearing about you a couple of years ago, that you were a girl from a foreign time that sought the Shikon no Tama. She said that you would have the tools necessary to cure my brother's illness."
Kagome frowned. Many people focused on the quest for the Shikon, not the fact that she was from another time. Many said simply that she was from a foriegn country. Curiousity got the best of her. Someone knew she was from the future and that she had medicine available to treat illness that wasn't available here. She never thought about anyone being able to do a time slip other than her. Could there be others like herself in the past?
"Let me get my first aid kit and my companions. We'll go at once," she said. "How far away is the village?"
"About 50 ri."
About a three day journey, two if they really pushed it, she thought, running into the hut. She snatched up her yellow backpack, which had her first aid kit, a change of clothes, some water and her sleeping bag. She shrugged it over her shoulders as she walked out and saw Inuyasha, Miroku, Sango, Shippo and Kirara waiting for her. She smiled. "I didn't even have to look for you," she said.
"Keh! I heard everything." Inuyasha said.
"Take Kirara," Sango offered. "She can get you there a lot faster."
"I'm coming too!" Shippo cried, scampering up to take his place on Kagome's shoulder.
She noticed the older man giving the hanyou and the kitsune a wary look. "They're a package," she said. "If you don't take them, I won't go."
The man hesitated a moment, then nodded. "Fine, fine. It's a small price to pay for my brother's health."
"We're going to remain here," Miroku whispered in Kagome's ear. "Sango still hasn't recovered."
Kagome cast a glance at Sango, who had moved to talk to Kaede. The taijya had miscarried her and Miroku's first child earlier in the spring. "It's been a couple of months. Maybe us being gone will be a good time to spend time with her again."
"I am hoping that proves true, Kagome-sama."
They made it to the man's village faster than she thought. They arrived just before dark the day after they left Musashi's domain.
The man, who told them his name was Takao, escorted them to a hut on the edge of the village, close to the small shrine they had. He pushed aside the mat that hung over the entrance. "Onee-sama? Onee-sama? I've brought her. Kagome-sama from Musashi's domain. She really exists!"
A woman emerged from the hut. Her face was lined with exhaustion and worry, but she appeared to be no older than 30 years old. She still wore her hair long and tied in the back, much like Sango did. Two long tendrils escaped the tie and framed her heart-shaped face. She clasped her hands in front and bowed formally. "Kagome-sama, I am honored to meet you. I am Suzuko, wife to the warrior Shukumaru."
Kagome heard a quick intake of breath behind her and she glanced back to see Shippo staring at Suzuko with wide eyes. "You're kidding, right? Shukumaru, the warrior, is your husband?"
"You know him?" Inuyasha asked.
"Know him?" Shippo yelled. "He's famous! You know how many of Nobunaga's troops he's destroyed single-handedly? There's not a human warrior alive who's better than him. How can you not have heard of him?"
Inuyasha plucked Shippo off his shoulder and dangled him in the air. "In case you've forgotten, I've spent the majority of this century stuck to a damn tree!" He tossed Shippo over his shoulder, and the kitsune landed on his head and started crying.
Kagome sighed. "Osuwari!" As Inuyasha crashed to the ground, she bowed to Suzuko. "I apologize deeply for behaving so rudely. I am Higurashi Kagome, and these are my companions, Inuyasha, Shippo and Kirara. How can we assist your husband?"
Suzuko pushed aside her hut entrance. "Can we talk for a little bit? I do not have much food to offer, for my children are staying with my husband's parents and he is with the village miko as she nurses him. But, there is something I need to show you."
Kagome followed her into the hut and sank onto her knees near the fire. Shortly after, a bedraggled Inuyasha and Shippo followed, with Kirara in her kitten form at their heels. They watched as Suzuko lifted the lid of a wooden box and pulled out several garmets. She crawled back to them and spread the garmets out at their feet.
Kagome gasped. Shippo and Inuyasha leaned over, their eyes wide. "Say, those look like your clothes, Kagome!" Shippo commented.
"They are...these are high school fuku. I recognize the school. It's across Tokyo from my own." Kagome's eyes met Suzuko's. "You're from my time, aren't you?"
"Another one here like Kagome?" Shippo asked. "Did she come through the well?"
"Idiot. If she had, Kaede-baba would have said something," Inuyasha said, his focus still on Suzuko, more than a little awed that someone just like Kagome existed in the Sengoku Jidai. They pretty much knew that Miroku, Sango, Shippo nor anyone else could pass through the well. The same held true on Kagome's side, the one time Souta tried to go through proved it. He never thought there could be anyone else like her.
"What year is it now, Kagome-sama? In your time?"
"The year 2000. It's the start of the new milleniumn there."
"I see." Suzuko smiled. "I guessed right then. I came back here 17 years ago, or the year 1983 for you. I was 15 years old when I first came through the fire back to this time."
Suzuko nodded. "I am known as the Fire Tripper. When I was growing up, I kept having strange memories of being inside of a burning house. One day, I was walking home with a young boy from the neighborhood, Shuhei, when there was a large gas explosion. When I woke up, I was here on a battlefield in the Sengoku Jidai. A group of warriors found me and attempted to rape me, but I was saved by my husband, Shukumaru."
Suzuko picked up one last article of clothing, a little boy's shirt. "Shukumaru demanded I put on some proper clothing, and when I went to do so, I came across this shirt. It belonged to Shuhei. I realized that he had passed through to the past and was lost here somewhere. We tried to find him, but we couldn't do so. Instead, I started to fall in love with Shukumaru and grew close to a little girl named Suzu. As time passed, I realized that Suzu was in fact myself when I was little and that I was actually born in the Sengoku Jidai."
She laughed at the blank stares she was rewarded with from her visitors. "I know, it sounds quite complicated. I discovered later that fire allows me to travel through time. The best I can figure is that when I was a little girl here, my home burned down. Instead of me dying, I went to the future. That incident happened while I was in the future with Shukumaru. We had gone back to my time after I saved him from a burning log. When I went to clean Shukumaru's wounds, I discovered that he was in fact Shuhei, the neighboorhood boy I had lost. He got thrown back to an earlier time than I and was raised in this village. He was so happy here that we decided to use the magic of fire one last time and return to this village. We married and had three children."
"A week or so ago, Shukumaru contracted influenza. I immediately got the village to sequester him and nursed him myself. However, the supplies I'd brought with me from the future ran out years ago, and he is getting worse by the day. That was when I remembered hearing the stories about you, Kagome-sama." Suzuko chuckled. "It's strange, I know, and a burden to drag you all the way out here, but if you have a bottle of aspirin..."
Kagome cracked a smile. "That I do. But, there's some more medicine I can go get to help with Shukumaru-san's illness."
"You can return to your time?"
Kagome briefly explained the well and the time slip between her time and the Sengoku Jidai. She stood and asked Suzuko to excuse herself and Inuyasha. She asked Shippo to remain behind as they walked out of the hut.
"I need to go back to my time," she said, quietly.
"But I need you to stay here. I know you don't like it," she hastily added after Inuyasha rewarded her with a scowl. "But, I need to get the medicine for Suzuko-san. It'll be faster for me to travel on Kirara going at full speed."
"I..." He turned his back on her. "Fine. Do what you need to do."
Kagome felt a headache pushing at her temples and she sighed. She didn't have time to deal with him. "I'm off, then. Kirara?"
Kirara ran out of the hut and transformed. Kagome climbed on her back, then started when a heavy weight also hopped on. She looked back to see Inuyasha settled behind her. "I thought I asked you would stay."
"I never said that I would. Shippo can stay with her."
Before Kagome could reply, he wrapped his arms around her waist and hauled her against him. The action stunned her to the point where she failed to notice for a few minutes that they were airborne. She glanced down and noticed that he looped his hands together in front of her waist, gripping her like a lifeline. She ached to turn around and see the expression on his face, but instead, settled back against his chest to sleep.
They reached the well within a few hours and made the journey back through to her time. Kagome noticed that Inuyasha kept a tight grip on her hand this time, only dropping it as they entered the kitchen to greet her mother.
"Of course, we'll go to the drugstore right away," Higurashi Kasumi untied her apron and pulled it off. "I've wondered a time or two if there were others like you who've gone to the past."
"You're not surprised?" Kagome asked.
"Well, you know your story of your uncle and Jyusenko. After that and what you've been through the past few years, I believe anything now." Kasumi grinned at her daughter and headed for the front door. She grabbed her purse, then paused. "You said the woman's name was Suzuko?"
Kasumi rested a hand on the doorknob and thought for a moment. "I do remember it, actually. It happened right after your second birthday, Kagome. There was a huge gas explosion on the other side of Tokyo and they said that two schoolchildren died in it. Takani Suzuko and Yugero Shuhei. They did a big article about it in the paper two years ago, for the fifteenth anniversary of their deaths. I believe Suzuko's parents still live near where the accident took place. Funny. I remember them insisting they felt their daughter was still alive."
"Because no bodies were ever found, right?"
Kasumi nodded. "It puzzled the police as well. They suspected kidnappers, runaways, anything. Finally, they determined that they died and the fire was so hot that it reduced their bones to ashes."
Inuyasha frowned. "Idiots. Well, they are!" he protested when Kagome and Kasumi gave him confused looks. "Kikyo was cremated when she died. Kaede-baba said that. Her bones survived, didn't they?"
"Police said...well, that's a story for when we have more time. Come on." Kasumi ushered the two out the door.
It didn't take long for them to get the medicine. After that, Kasumi took Kagome and Inuyasha to the library. The women laughed at Inuyasha's reaction to having so many books in one location. Kagome promised to bring him back another time to show him around and Kasumi looked up the articles on the microfilm machine.
Even though it was night by the time they got back to the shrine, Kagome insisted on going back as soon as possible. They stopped on the way back to pick up fast food to eat. Even though he loved ramen, Kagome discovered that Inuyasha also liked hamburgers and French fries on occassion as well. They ate and rested as they headed back to Suzuko's village.
Shukumaru was awake and somewhat coherent. While Suzuko tended to her husband, Kagome relayed the news that her mother told her.
"My parents are still alive?" Suzuko sat back on her haunches, the bottle of flu medicine in hand. "And Shukumaru's as well?"
Kagome nodded and held out a photocopy of the newspaper article that ran a few years earlier. "Your parents live in the same house that they've always been in. Shuhei...Shukumaru-san's parents moved to America ten years ago."
Suzuko put down the medicine and took up the article. She scanned the lines talking about the accident and her parents' reaction to it.
"You should let them know you're alive."
Suzuko looked up at her husband, who had propped himself on his arms. "How would I? We agreed that we wouldn't risk me going through the fire any longer."
"Maybe you could go through the well with Kagome-san."
"She said that only herself and Inuyasha-san could use the well." Suzuko stared at the article and ran her finger across the blurred image of herself at age 15. "Kagome-san, if it's not too much trouble, could you take them a letter for me?"
"Of course not, Suzuko-san!" Kagome beamed at her. "I'll be more than happy to do this."
She tossed a glance back at Inuyasha, halfway expecting him to groan and protest. Instead, he leaned against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest, pinning her with a solemn gaze. Kagome frowned and turned back to Suzuko. "I've got some paper and a pen with me in my backpack."
"Wonderful! It's a bit frivilous, but I can't tell you how much I miss using a ballpoint pen." Suzuko grinned.
As Suzuko began to write, Kagome watched. Then, she moved to her backpack and silently withdrew a small disposable camera. As Suzuko bent over her task, Kagome snapped a couple of pictures and quickly tossed it back in her things.
The next day, with the flu medicine helping Shukumaru, Kagome, Inuyasha, Shippo and Kirara returned to Kaede's village. They updated Miroku and Sango on the situation, including the story about Suzuko being from the future. Shortly after, Kagome headed back to the well. She expected Inuyasha to argue with her and was once again rewarded with silence. He simply followed her through. She showered and changed into a nice dress and came downstairs to see him waiting on her, baseball cap on his head to hide his ears.
"You don't have to go with me, you know," Kagome said.
"Keh. Of course I do. You're going to tell those folks everything, aren't you?"
Kagome bit her lip, then nodded. "I'm going to have to. I won't go into too much detail, but Suzuko's parents do need to know what happened to her and that does involve explaining how I go back to the past. I also have the scarf from her school uniform. It has her initials embrodiered into it." She tapped the purse that hung from her shoulder.
"Just in case, I'm going." Inuyasha marched out of the house.
Kagome ran out after him. "Wait a minute, Inuyasha!" She reached his side as he reached the top of the stairs. "What's bothering you?"
He snorted and glanced away. "It's nothing."
"It is too something."
"No it's not. Let's just do this and get it over with."
Kagome sighed. At least that sounded like the Inuyasha she knew and loved.
They headed across town after a brief argument over Kagome refusing to let Inuyasha carry her on his back. Instead, she introduced him to Tokyo's subway system, which he absolutely hated. His eyes darted all over the train and he practically kept her glued to his side. She noticed that he wobbled slightly after getting off and figured he was dizzy because he wasn't used to the motion. So, she surprised him with a stop at a ramen stand.
They reached the Takani home about two hours after starting out of the shrine. Kagome paused outside the gate and studied the home. It seemed to be the average two-story Japanese home that looked about thirty years old. Suzuko mentioned the home was new when her parents bought it. She opened the gate and saw an elder woman, her hair peppered with gray, hunched over a flowerbed.
She straightened and turned to them, and Kagome knew she had to be Suzuko's mother. Though the hair was different, the face and the eyes were the same.
"Can I help you?" she asked, her voice slightly softer than Suzuko's.
"Takani-san? My name is Higurashi Kagome." Kagome bowed to her. "This is Inuyasha. I wanted to speak to you about your daughter, Suzuko."
"Suzuko?" The woman's face paled, but she held steady. "What news do you bring?"
Kagome took a deep breath, then opened her purse. She withdrew the scarf and handed it her.
The woman's hands trembled as she took the scarf and turned it over. without a word, her eyes rolled to the back of her head. Inuyasha swore, then rushed forward to catch her right before she hit the ground.
"I apologize for fainting on you," the woman apologized as she reclined on the couch.
"It's no problem," Kagome said with a smile, as she walked in from the kitchen holding a mug of tea. "I hope you don't mind our intrusion, Takani-san."
"It's not a problem, Higurashi-san." Kagome helped Mrs. Takani to sit up and drink her tea. She set the cup aside, then took Kagome's hand in hers. "That scarf proves to me that Suzuko is alive. Where is she? Is she ill? Is that why she sent you instead of coming herself?"
"Not exactly." Kagome handed her the envelope. Suzuko explained that she told her mother the entire story in the letter. She held her breath as Mrs. Takani unfolded the pages and started reading.
After the first page, she started to tremble. "This is...this is some type of hoax, isn't it?"
"Takani-san, I assure you it's not..."
"Where did you get her things?" Mrs. Takani glared at Kagome. "Where is my daughter? You're hiding something from me!"
"Takani-san, I was not even two years old when the fire occurred. How could I have taken your daughter?" The answer stung, but Kagome was not surprised. She did have an ace up her sleeve though. She pulled out a photograph and handed it over.
Mrs. Takani stared at it. It showed a woman dressed in an old kimono, tired and somewhat on the thin side. Her gaze flickered to a picture of Suzuko on the mantle. then back to the photo. "That...that is Suzuko. And this letter...it is her handwriting. My baby's in the Sengoku Jidai?" Her gaze went back to Kagome. "But how did you..."
Kagome summed up her own time slip experiences as brief as possible. She even showed Mrs. Takani the Shikon no Tama that hung around her neck. Through it all, Inuyasha remained in the background, watching the women interact.
Mrs. Takani buried her face in her hands and began to sob. Then, she spent the next two hours asking Kagome every question she could think of. Finally, she managed to sit down long enough to compose a letter back to Suzuko and enclosed a photograph and gave Kagome the scarf back. "Let Suzuko keep this," she said. "The photo is more than enough."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story isn't very long at all, and is broken down into two parts simply because I wanted to revise the second part a bit before posting it. Inuyasha's unusually quiet in this tale, but it's more of a focus on Kagome than anything. My major handicap here was not having a full translation of "The Firetripper" to read, so I had to work from summaries posted on Web sites. And, I apologize for the unusual scene breaks. For some reason, this was the only thing is accepting.