Author's Notes: And here's the christmas special! I hope you all wake up to lovely presents and have a fun day!! (I'll keep wapping myself over the head with a frying pan for adding to the flood of xmas fics that are bombarding fanfiction-dot-net at this very moment...)
The Christmas Spirit
It was that time of year again. The nights were long, the days were short, and the sound of merry bells ringing at all hours was leading to sudden outbreaks of tinnitus among old, grumbling pensioners.
Young children, hyped up on advent calendar chocolate, bounced around their beds demanding that Father Christmas come early this year, while parents fretted about how much the presents had cost, and just when the right time was to break it to their fifteen year old son that Father Christmas was really just Daddy dressed up in a beard. Hojo was in for a shock this year…
Outside on the streets, an epidemic of Santa Claus related violence had broken out as grottos began to overlap and the Santa creatures grew territorial. The chief of police was getting an increasingly painful headache as he tried to suss out just who had started the brawls. So far, the only identification given had been that the culprit wore a red suit, a white beard, and shouted "Ho Ho Ho!" a lot. Speaking of which, a lot of Santas had been slapped by passing women this year.
But life was calm within the Higurashi household. Souta helped his mother wrap presents for his sister and grandfather while the old man himself sat in the lounge watching the usual Christmas films – and having a jolly good time, too.
Kagome Higurashi was no where to be found. No radar in the world would be able to locate her, as she had simply vanished off the face of the earth.
But rewind five hundred years and…
"Well, I know it's a little early," chirped Kagome as she handed a box to Shippo, "but seeing as how me and my family are going to visit some relatives tomorrow, I figured that it was now or never."
"I don't get it…" Sango said with uncertainty. They were all crowded around the fire in Kaede's hut, as per usual, having just returned that day from an intense battle with a shard-holding youkai.
Sango had been injured in the fight - a nasty stomach wound that had her bedridden for the next few days. So what better time to bring Christmas to the Sengoku Jidai and add a little cheer to everyone's lives?
"Well, in my time we have this tradition," the schoolgirl told them all as she passed out the presents from her canvas bag. "Basically, every year we all blow our savings on a whole heap of presents to give to the people around us who probably won't even like the presents they get, but they still smile a lot anyway, and then we spend the next year trying to recover ourselves financially before the next Christmas comes."
"And… that's a tradition?" Miroku rattled his carefully wrapped present with a degree of wariness.
"Yup." Kagome beamed at him. "Give presents, eat turkey, pump stomach, then drink lots of booze to try and forget it all happened. Then rinse and repeat."
"Interesting." The monk stroked his chin. "Well, it's very shiny. Thank you very much, Kagome-sama, for the present."
"Miroku… you have to unwrap it first," the schoolgirl told him flatly.
There was much tearing of paper after this revelation.
"Cool! It bounces so high!!" This was Shippo and his bouncy ball. He'd soon fled out of the hut in pursuit of his new present which denied the laws of physics.
"I don't know what mine is," Sango held up the hand-sized bottle of pink liquid for all to see.
"It's French perfume." With which went all my savings… "Here, let me show you how to use it."
While Kagome helped the injured Sango to dab a little of the spicy smelling fragrance on her wrists and neck, Miroku gazed at his present with a puzzled expression. "I'm afraid I'm also at a bit of a loss as to what purpose my present offers…"
Kagome switched from Sango to Miroku swiftly. "It goes on your head, see?" She took his gift and propped the headband behind his ears. From the headband jutted a long, springy stick with a cluster of leaves and berries stuck to the end of it.
Miroku pursed his lips. "I'm still not sure about this…"
"It's an ancient tradition we have," Kagome told him reverently. "That right there is mistletoe, and those who meet under a sprig of this particular plant must place upon each others lips a kiss divine and sweet. Those who do not abide by this ancient and prolific tradition face seven years bad luck."
"Really?" Miroku seemed a great deal happier now. "Well, if it's tradition, then who am I to argue?" He quickly leaned towards Sango. "How about it?"
Sango leaned away. "I'll take my chances with the seven years bad luck, thank you…"
Kagome produced one last item from her bag and turned to Kirara who sat patiently beside the fire. "I thought of you too, Kirara," she whispered to the little cat before laying down a rectangular tin before her. "The finest pilchards in Japan. My cat loves them."
Kirara mewed her appreciation and quickly set about trying to find the dexterity to open the tin whilst Kagome glanced around the hut for her favourite hanyou. "Anyone know where Inuyasha is?"
Miroku looked up from where he was trying to sexually harass the bedridden Sango. "Oh, he's probably still grousing over our victory," he said offhandedly. "He's probably by that tree again."
Kagome sucked in a breath for courage and got to her feet.
Their battle had been difficult, and as a result of being ambushed when they were unprepared, tired and hungry, none of them had performed at their optimum. As a result, Sango had been injured, and for some reason Inuyasha was blaming Kagome. He'd had a mini tantrum and stomped off alone.
But Kagome had a little brother, and she knew very well that tantrums were hardly ever about what they seemed to be about. The chances were Inuyasha was annoyed that they'd failed to track down Naraku yet again and had, once more, taken out his frustrations on undeserving friends.
Well… hopefully a Christmas present would cheer him up a little.
Kagome left her friends to enjoy their gifts as she stood up, hiked her bag over her shoulder, and set off into the cold evening to find her hanyou. She pulled her jacket and scarf tightly around her as she trotted down the worn path towards the edge of the village. As she drew closer to the dead, barren tree that Inuyasha often liked to lurk around, she spotted his silhouette against the sunset. The schoolgirl bit her lip and slowed her pace a little, feeling no need to rush into their inevitable argument.
Inuyasha undoubtedly heard her approach, but he was either too childish or stubborn to acknowledge her presence. Kagome reached the base of the tree and looked up into the branches, one hand pressed against the bark. "Inuyasha…?" she called hesitantly.
"What is it?" His short, curt tone suggested that he was still brooding.
"Well… I have to go home now, to be with my family for Christmas." Her breath frosted in the air as she spoke. The winter seemed to put everything in stasis, deadening all noise so that her voice sounded clear and crisp. "I just wanted to say goodbye."
"Well, you've said it. You can go now."
She knew very well that her leaving the Sengoku Jidai was one of his dire pet peeves. Was he so willing to maintain his pride that he'd send her off so easily?
"Right," Kagome flicked her head to keep her bangs from getting in her eyes, "but don't you want your Christmas present?"
"Inuyasha, just come down here for a moment?"
"Because I'll say the word if you don't."
She could almost hear the thinking cogs turning in his head. On the one hand, he could obey and feel the humiliation of having to bend to her whims… on the other hand, he could ignore her and face the embarrassment of being sat.
He chose wisely, as it wasn't long before he alighted the ground beside her. "What is it then?" he snapped. "You better make this quick."
Kagome sighed loudly. "I just wanted to give you your Christmas present."
"What the hell's Christmas?" he demanded testily.
Kagome shook her head vaguely. "It doesn't matter. I just gave a present to everyone else so it's only right that you get one too," she told him tiredly, holding out the fist-sized box.
"I don't want it." He folded his arms gruffly and glared at her.
Kagome winced slightly, but didn't retract her hand. "What's eating you today?"
"Nothing," he snapped, turning away from her.
"It's that demon attack, isn't it?" she guessed. "We tried our best, Inuyasha-"
He whipped around to face her. "No, we didn't, because if that demon had been Naraku, we'd all be dead right now."
"But we're not," she reminded him.
"But we could have been!" he ranted on. "One mistake and one of us will get killed! You dropped that arrow today and it nearly cost Sango her life!"
Kagome inhaled suddenly, blinking stinging eyes and looking down at the frosty earth beneath her. But what she felt was more anger than guilt. It had been a mistake… a silly, little fumble that had the arrow slipping from her cold, numb fingers. It hadn't been deliberate, and he had no right to try and make her feel bad.
"We're never going to be ready for Naraku at this rate!" the hanyou spat. "Not when people in our group are making stupid mistakes."
Kagome's chin shot up fiercely. "Oh, so I'm holding you back, am I?!"
Instantly, they fell into their usual vicious circle. Kagome reacted to Inuyasha's anger by getting angry herself… and Inuyasha's defence was to get angrier. It would only end in tears. "What if you are?!" he snarled at her. "You can't even shoot an arrow straight!"
Kagome gulped back a sudden urge to smack him around the head. "Well, then maybe you should just replace me with someone who's more reliable!"
They both knew exactly who she was talking about.
"Don't be stupid!" he shouted at her, throwing his arms down. "You know we can't replace you!"
"Am I so much of a burden to you?! Is it so bad that you're stuck with me?!" she yelled, her voice beginning to tremble. "Then maybe I was better off never coming here in the first place!"
"That's likely!" he shot back. "At least the stupid jewel would never have been shattered!"
Another barb that always struck Kagome deeply. She knew very well that it was her fault the jewel had shattered, and she had already seen the people who had died as a result. He didn't need to remind her of the consequences of her actions when she sometimes lay awake at night thinking of the terror she'd inflicted upon the world.
Chiding herself, whilst trying to hold back the tears, Kagome stuck the present out towards him again. "Then take this and I'll be on my way." She deliberately tried to sound like she wouldn't ever come back… even though she knew she'd return by Boxing Day.
Inuyasha took one look at the present and with a swift fell blow, knocked it out of her hand. "Then go," he bit out and started walking away.
The box bounced on the hard ground, falling against a tuft of frost-stiffened grass. Kagome stared at the present blankly, feeling oddly void of all emotion.
Then the full force of his rejection cut through her.
"How dare you!" she screamed after him. "I'm doing the best I can – I'm offering you all I have, but it's never good enough!"
She saw him flinch a little, but he carried on.
"Then I quit!" Angrily, she wrenched the bottle of shards from around her neck and threw it into the grass. "Have your shards back! Ask Kikyo to join your perfect little army and rest assured in the knowledge that I won't burden you any longer!"
He'd turned back towards her now, a little uncertainty showing on his face.
"I hate you! I just hate you!" She spun and began running as if her life depended on it. Instinctively she headed in the direction of the well, knowing that Inuyasha was too petty to try and stop her.
I wish I'd never come here, she berated herself as she ran through the chilly evening. All I seem to have earned is pain…
The last sliver of sunlight was disappearing over the mountains when Kagome threw herself down the well. She didn't hesitate, and she didn't care. The moment she hauled herself out of the well on the other side of time, she raced across the shrine grounds and into her house. She ignored the concerned calls from her family and locked her bedroom door behind her before flinging herself upon the bed… finally giving into the tears that had threatened her since Inuyasha had tossed aside her gift.
I hate you… I hate you so much…
It was Christmas Eve and here she was, weeping her heart out into her pillow. This was the effect that Inuyasha and the Sengoku Jidai had on her life. If she'd never fallen through the well, she would have been downstairs happily prodding presents with Souta. But no… she was up in her room feeling the worst she had ever felt in her life.
Maybe life would have been better for everyone if I'd never gone there and broken the jewel in the first place?
With a troubled mind, Kagome fell asleep that Christmas Eve, wondering what might have been if things had gone differently on her fifteenth birthday.
The clock struck midnight, and throughout the house nothing stirred, save for the mice. In the lounge, the clock perched high on the shelf above the sofa droned out 'bong' after 'bong' to mark the passing hour.
As the twelfth tone rung out, a new presence arrived in Kagome's bedroom.
A figure shrouded in darkness and mystery teetered at the end of her bed, almost as if he were floating above the floor itself. "Kagome Higurashi…" it rasped in a convincingly scary voice. "Awaken!"
"Mmm… ten more minutes," the schoolgirl responded, still wrapped up in her dreams.
"No, now, Kagome Higurashi." The stranger lifted the end of the bed clean off the floor and let it drop back down with a thud. Kagome was rudely awakened with a jolt and a small scream – which only doubled in volume and length the moment she saw the intruder. "Mamaaaaaaa!!"
"Please don't scream," said the shadow, "as it's highly irritating and pointless. No one can hear you."
"Wha – why?" Kagome gaped at him. "Who are you?" She jerked her gaze down at herself. "Why have I just sat up out of my own body?!"
It was true. While the real, solid Kagome still lay asleep in bed, the ghostly, almost transparent Kagome was the one who had woken up. She looked down at her translucent arms with growing distress, and gave another terrified squeak when her hands passed through each other.
"Kagome Higurashi… we have little time, come with me." The shadowy enigma turned away and drifted silently through the closed bedroom door. Kagome stared after him before quickly taking a skittish glance at her slumbering body and scuttling after him.
By now, she was pretty sure that she was only dreaming. So what harm could it do to follow this Death like spectre?
The shadow led her out of the dark house into a not-so-dark outdoors. Moonlight flooded the shrine grounds, and even though Kagome could see the frost beginning to wrap around the grass blades and windows, she felt no chill. Definitely a dream, she decided as she trotted obediently towards the well house in the wake of this mysterious person or youkai.
"Where are we going?" she inquired as they stopped outside the well house.
"We are going on a journey."
"What… like to Mount Mordor or something?"
The shadow uttered a faint, yet irritated sigh. "No." he ground out.
"To the supermarket?"
"No - it's a metaphor. We are going on a spiritual journey," he rasped in a tone that suggested she was really beginning to annoy him now.
"A spiritual journey?" Kagome repeated reluctantly, and she glanced briefly at her watch. "Do I have time for that kind of trip? I want to open my presents in six hours, you know."
The spirit's hooded head dropped slightly as another sigh escaped his hidden mouth. "This is far more important than Christmas. Tonight you will be faced with a choice… one which will affect your life profoundly, as well as the lives of those around you."
Kagome frowned at him. "A choice? What kind of choice?"
"Did you or did you not wish that you had never gone to the feudal era?"
Kagome's head drew back with bemusement. She regarded the shrouded figure with a growing level of suspicion. "How… how did you know that?"
"I am your spirit guide."
Kagome wasn't convinced. She was pretty sure that her spirit guide took the form of an iguana – the online quiz had told her so. "Right…" drawled the schoolgirl, humouring her dream. "So you're my spirit guide and we're going on a spiritual journey together. So what's my choice?"
"Whether or not you want your wish granted."
"Hum." Kagome pursed her lips. "Well this is a whole heap of crazy, isn't it?"
"You're very stubborn, aren't you?" the spirit sighed.
"No, I'm not, I'm just apprehensive," she argued.
Her guide made an impatient sound in his throat, and Kagome could feel him rolling his eyes beneath that oversized hood. But despite his irritation with her, he raised his arm and spread his billowing cloak. "Our journey begins now."
Kagome blinked once, but in that fraction of a moment, night had turned to day. She started, and swiftly looked around her. "What's happening?"
A similar voice echoed from the house. "I'm going now!"
Kagome turned, her mouth dropping open as she saw herself come trotting out of the front door. "What the…"
"Buyo…? Buyo? Are you down there?" Souta's voice had her spinning back around to see her younger brother crouched in the open doorway of the well house. Automatically, she opened her mouth to reprimand him for poking around the dangerous building – but her other self beat her to it.
"Souta, what are you doing?" The other girl strolled straight past where Kagome and her spirit guide were standing, as if she didn't see them at all. "You know the well house is dangerous."
"Yeah… but… I think Buyo's down there." The little boy peered anxiously into the darkened shack.
"Urgh… I don't believe it," his sister sighed as she moved around him. "Wait here." She went down the steps and was soon gone from sight.
"Hey! This is my fifteenth birthday!" Kagome suddenly realised. "Any moment now, I'll probably scream and this youkai will drag me through the well!"
"Are you sure?" her spirit asked casually.
"What are you talking about? Of course that's what-"
Kagome suddenly reappeared in the doorway, one fat cat lolling in her arms. "Here he is, the nuisance fatty cat," she said as she set him down on the ground. "We better shut the door in case he sneaks in there again."
The siblings shut the door, gave the cat a quick scratch behind the ears, then continued on their way out of the shrine grounds. Kagome stared after them in disbelief as they carried on their normal routine.
"This never happened," Kagome told the spirit, as if trying to convince him that there was a mistake.
"No – you falling through the well never happened," the guide corrected her. "This is your vision of the past – what would have happened had Mistress Centipede never honed in on the presence of the Shikon jewel within your body."
"Wow…" Kagome ran a hand through her hair. "I never knew I was that cute. But did you see how short my skirt was? I had no idea…"
"… is that all you care about?"
Kagome quickly waved her hands. "Oh, no! I mean, yes, the whole thing's pretty weird… but I've also never seen myself from someone else's point of view before."
Another sigh escaped the guide, and Kagome wondered if he was just naturally depressed. They had pills for that these days…
"Do you want to see your vision of the present?" he asked, pinching the bridge of his nose beneath his hood. That was if he even had a nose.
Kagome shook her head conscientiously. "No… I think I should wait till tomorrow otherwise I'll ruin the surprise for myself-"
"Not a Christmas present!" the spirit exploded. "The present time! Don't you want to see how the present would be if you'd never gone to the Sengoku Jidai?"
"Alright, alright!" She raised her hands defensively. "Keep your hair on!" That was if he even had hair. "Show me the damn present if you're so desperate…"
"Then come with me."
He led her across the grounds and round to the back of her house. They stopped beside the bird bath that Grandpa liked to manage, which was usually brimming with little song birds… but today there wasn't even a solitary feather to be seen. Perhaps this was because the water seemed to be a very unhealthy shade of black.
The spirit guide tapped the surface, sending out even ripples towards the rim of the basin. "Look into the basin and into your preferred present time… and tell me what you see."
"A hanyou pinned to a tree." Kagome cocked her head, gazing upon the same scene that had been burned into her brain ever since her fifteenth birthday. It had been the one pure moment of bonding she'd had with Inuyasha… right before she'd discovered that he was less of an angelica sleeping beauty and more like a foulmouthed, homicidal maniac with an unhealthy interest in heavy weaponry. "You do realise that this is the past, right?"
"On the contrary, this is how the Sengoku Jidai would look today if you'd never gone through the well…"
"Today?" Kagome repeated. "You're confusing me. That's the Sengoku Jidai – not Tokyo"
"Oh for… fine! What you see takes place several months after you were supposed to arrive." He jabbed a finger at the vision in the water. "As you can see, Inuyasha is still trapped to that tree."
"Oh, big loss." Kagome muttered, her feelings still bruised from her earlier fight with the hanyou. "I think I like him better that way."
The spirit nodded. "What else do you see?"
Kagome squinted as the water swirled and new images began to surface. One vision of a familiar child playing with a similar-looking adult made her smile. "Hey – I think that's Shippo and his dad." Her jubilation quickly gave way to dismay. "Wait… so, he would still have his family if I'd never gone through the well?"
"It seems so." Her guide appeared reverent and sombre now. "When you shattered the Shikon, you unwittingly granted power to that kitsune's enemies."
"Damn…" Kagome bit her lip, "but…"
A new image replaced the two kitsune – one that left a bad taste in her mouth. She saw a string of violet prayer beads nestled in a fresh crater of destruction. "Miroku would be dead?"
"When he didn't join your cause, he carried on his journey alone. He fought alone, and then died alone."
"Oh no… poor Miroku." Kagome accidentally reached out to try and touch the image, as if she could somehow reach in and scoop the prayer beads from the earth, but all she succeeded in doing was shattering the vision. A fresh one quickly took its place.
If Miroku's grave had been hard enough to look at, this new vision had the nausea rising in her stomach. "Oh…"
Sango's village. Slaughtered.
"Naraku still killed the taijiya, including Sango and her younger brother. With no Shikon shards, there was nothing to revive them with. They just added to the body count… nothing special," said her guide, helpfully.
Kagome swallowed hard.
"Do you wish to see the future now?"
The schoolgirl sighed. "I'm not sure I want to… but…"
He waved a grand hand towards the ancient Goshinboku tree. "Go to it."
Kagome cast him a wary glance before obeying. She padded silently towards the old tree, wondering how on earth it could show her a vision of what was to come.
She stopped before the vast trunk and pressed a hand against the bark. It seemed to be the same old tree. Nothing exceptionally special about it today. She glanced back at her guide and saw him watching her. That was if he even had eyes to watch her with…
Turning her attention back to the tree, she instinctively began tracing her fingers over the old arrow marking. There was still a deep scar in the tree itself, and the surrounding bark was missing, having fallen away at some point around the arrow.
But if Kagome had never freed Inuyasha from the enchantment… then wouldn't he still be skewered to the tree?
Well… maybe Kikyo's arrows had a use-by date. Surely the spell couldn't hold for five hundred years?
That was when Kagome noticed something odd further up the tree, a few inches above the arrow scar.
It was another wound in the Goshinboku – one that she knew for a fact shouldn't have been there. It was a horizontal slash across the trunk, as if something had taken an axe or a sword to it. And it was old.
"Find anything interesting?" her guide asked from behind her.
"What is this?"
"Haven't you figured it out yet?"
"I wouldn't have asked if I knew," she responded testily.
"Well, think logically." He stepped forward to tap one finger against the arrow scar and then a second time against the mystery scar. "How far would you say that was?"
"About… six inches, I guess." Kagome shrugged.
"Just about the same distance between your heart and your neck."
Kagome frowned, trying to figure out the answer to this riddle. Suddenly, her hand snapped back, and she stepped away hastily as if she'd been pushed. "No… you mean… when Inuyasha was pinned to the tree-"
"Someone… ch-chop…ch…" She couldn't say it.
Kagome's hands drew to her throat unconsciously with a wince. "Why? Who would do something like that?"
"Who do you think?" he shot back.
Kagome didn't have to strain herself to think of the culprit. "N-Naraku…?"
"Precisely." The guide stepped away from the tree and folded his hands together. That was even if he had hands to fold together. "The abomination discovered the hiding place of a very powerful sword… which happened to reside in Inuyasha's eye. The sword was stolen, and then used against Inuyasha – an unnecessary act, but the jealousy of Onigumo's heart still reigns Naraku."
"How is that possible?" Kagome demanded. "Naraku could never handle Tessaiga!"
The shadowy spirit raised a finger. "You don't need to love humans in order to control the sword. You just need a little humanity within you, and that is enough."
Kagome turned away to stare at the tree, bewildered. "And that's the future…"
"Which is actually your past, but that's just a detail." The guide brushed it aside. "So now you have a choice. Do you want to go through with your wish… or do you want to keep the life that you lead?"
Kagome gave a caustic laugh, verging on hysterical. "What a choice that is! If I go through the well, I'll shatter the jewel and indirectly kill innocent people as a result – but if I stay here, then all my friends will die!"
"They won't be your friends," her guide reminded her. "You won't even know they existed. Ignorance will be bliss, as they say."
"But even so, no matter what I do, people will die." Kagome pressed her hands against her face. "Oh god… why me? Why does this have to fall on me?"
"Then I suppose," her guide started quietly, "you have to ask yourself, in which life would you be able to exert damage control?"
Kagome lowered her hands to fix him with a narrowed stare.
"Which Kagome would be able to save the most lives?" he continued. "The Kagome who studies hard and goes to school and does nothing but work and play? Or the Kagome who battles demons with or without Shikon shards and saves people on a weekly basis?"
Well, when he put it like that…
Kagome stood straight and gazed defiantly at her guide. "I think you know my answer."
His response was to bow deeply. "Indeed."
Cold, clammy hands suddenly seized Kagome from behind, jerking her backwards. She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out – her voice was paralysed with shock and fear.
A snake-like tongue grazed across her cheek, and a familiar voice whispered in her ear, "Give me the Shikon jewel…"
"No!" Kagome screamed as she was hurled backwards into the earth – falling and falling –
Until she hit her bed.
"Gah!" Kagome sprang upright, panting and sweating as she'd woken from a horrid nightmare, which in a way, she had. She was also shaking, but maybe that just her bed – or perhaps her little brother who was currently bouncing up and down on the mattress beside her.
"Come on, Kagome! Get up! It's present time!" Then he began chanting in a singsong voice. "It's present time, it's present time, it's present time, it's present time, it's-"
"Get out of my room!" Kagome thundered impressively, despite her gravelly morning voice.
"Then hurry up!" he shouted back. "We're all waiting for you downstairs!"
He darted out of the bedroom before Kagome had time to batter him to death with her pillow.
It may have been Christmas day, but Kagome was still as anti-morning as ever. She groaned and rolled over until she was face-down on her mattress – in the special thinking position.
She wondered about her dream… and wondered if those visions she'd been shown held any kind of truth.
Kagome would never know for sure.
After Kagome had finally managed to drag herself out of bed and into some fresh clothes, the feverish ceremony of unwrapping the presents had begun. Kagome was pretty pleased with her stash, and had marvelled at the heap of presents on her bed.
A new hair styler, a chocolate orange, a portable CD player and a cute little notepad were among the items that littered her bed. Her family hadn't been disappointed either – mostly because all Kagome's presents for them had come from the Sengoku Jidai itself.
Grandpa was extremely happy with his chintzy little sake jug, for he now held a genuine piece of history in his hands. Mrs Higurashi had been fond of the 16th century comb that Kagome had given her, and Souta was equally delighted with his youkai repellent spray (which, admittedly, was just hair spray with the label ripped off. He'd already sprayed Buyo three times that morning.
After presents, it was off to dine with distant relatives, play charades and then watch TV. When everyone was finally too tired to pretend to even like each other anymore, the Higurashi's went home and curled up in bed for the night.
The next morning, it was time to take the tree down.
"Oh, Kagome, you don't have to help with the boring part." Mrs Higurashi reassured her daughter who had offered to help cart the green monstrosity outside. "Why don't you go celebrate with your friends down the well?"
"But they don't celebrate Christmas." Kagome told her.
"I'm sure they'd like your company nonetheless."
True… but Kagome wasn't exactly sure just how much Inuyasha would enjoy her company at all. But she had to face him at some point, so there was little logic in delaying the inevitable.
Gathering her routine supplies of food, water, first aid and scarves, as well as a few of her presents to gloat over on her trip, Kagome hauled her bag over her shoulder and set off towards the well house. As she passed the Goshinboku tree, she carefully eyed it up for any sign of that telltale horizontal slash. However, the only scar on the tree was from Kikyo's arrow. Reassured, Kagome entered the well house and carefully hopped into the time portal.
Time whooshed past her, rushing through her hair and slowing her descent. Before long, the glow of the transportation evaporated and she touched down easily on the base of the well. The hard part was climbing out of the damn thing without snapping the vines due to the weight of her bag, but Kagome was experienced in these matters now, and it only took a few minutes to heave herself into the Sengoku Jidai…
"At last!" She let out a heavy, relieved sigh. "I thought Christmas would never end!"
It was almost a blessing to be in the past where there were no Christmas trees or stupid bells, or reindeer and obese men dressed in red. She could now quite happily relax in a Christmas-less era.
Wrapping her scarf tightly around her neck, Kagome set off towards Kaede's village. The bird song gave way to the sound of villagers going about their daily business, and it wasn't long before Kagome heard a couple of familiar voices.
"But Sango –it's tradition!"
"Miroku – if you dare try that one more time, I'll shove that mistletoe in such a place that you'll be kissing your backside for weeks!"
Ahh… her dear friends. Perhaps she may not have been experienced warriors like them, and perhaps she could sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help, but at least her presence may have affected their lives more than they knew. If her arrival in this era had saved their lives, then Kagome felt reassured about her place beside them.
The fine hairs on the back of Kagome's neck stood up, much like a bristly cat when it sensed a fight coming. Kagome turned slowly and faced her hanyou. It had been a few days, but she was still annoyed with him, and boy was she going to let him know it.
Her glare was steely. "Oh. Hello," she responded coldly.
Inuyasha had a certain look about him; the 'I've got my tail between my legs and I'm sorry but I'm never going to say it' look. His arms were folded and his chin was tilted down, but she could see the uncertainty in his eyes. "Is your Kiss-mass over now?" he asked.
Two days and he'd evolved 'Christmas' into that? Kagome decided not to make a big deal out of it and simply nodded. "Yes."
"Then would you please tell the others? They're still playing with their stupid gifts. Sango's gassing me out, Miroku won't stop harassing women, and Shippo keeps bouncing balls off my head."
Kagome glanced down at the ground. "The presents are permanent. They're gifts."
Inuyasha gave an irritated sigh, and an uncomfortable silence spread between them.
"I'm sorry you didn't like yours," said Kagome quietly.
Inuyasha blinked at her. "What?"
"Your gift." She looked up at him. "I tried to give it to you but you threw it away." She gave a light shrug. "It doesn't matter, I guess."
Inuyasha shifted awkwardly. "Well, I didn't know what it was…"
"That's not exactly an excuse." She rolled her eyes.
"No, I mean I still don't know what it is." He suddenly held his arm up and tugged back his sleeve. "All I know is that you wear one, too…"
Kagome gazed dumbly at the watch that decorated his wrist. It was silver and wide with the type of clasp that was difficult to navigate safely. She was amazed that he'd even managed a feat like that in the first place. But the ice that had encased her heart over the last two days melted at the sight of him wearing her gift, and she fought to keep the emotion from showing on her face.
"I-It keeps time," she told him as she stepped forward to hold up her wristwatch beside his. "See? They're in synchrony. The short hand will circle around the face twice for every day, and the long hand will mark the passing of every hour – but the hours on this are shorter than the ones you use… and the quick hand marks the minutes and seconds."
"I like it." Inuyasha said firmly. "It would give an advantage in battle."
"No… I was just saying that to make you feel better."
They stood quietly, observing their watches ticking in time with each other. Eventually, Kagome dropped her hand and looked up at Inuyasha, startled to find him standing so close now. He looked equally surprised and embarrassed, but neither of them moved to give each other their personal space back.
Then slowly, and a little hesitantly, Inuyasha bent his head closer to Kagome's. She saw it coming a mile off, but did nothing to repel him. And when his lips met hers in a soft, chaste kiss, Kagome could have sworn that her watch stopped ticking.
It was short and sweet, and after a moment Inuyasha had pulled back to look down at her. "Please don't leave like that again," he told her quietly. "You scared me."
It was a confession that touched Kagome deeper than any apology ever could. She smiled chidingly. "Oh, come on, how long would it have been before you came and dragged me back?"
Kagome narrowed her eyes. "You were on your way to fetch me this very moment, weren't you?"
"Might have been," he said in an aloof manner.
Kagome grinned and tweaked his ear affectionately. Silly puppy, she thought to herself.
"Merry Kiss-mass, Kagome."
"Merry Kiss-mass to you too, Inuyasha."
"What?! You sent Naraku a present as well?! What are you, an idiot?!" Inuyasha screeched across the hut.
Kagome shrugged. "Well, it's not something he'll appreciate. With any luck, it'll drive him mad." Kagome looked up towards the ceiling in thought. "I think Kagura should be delivering it right about now…"
"Naraku," Kagura greeted her master evenly as she stepped off her feather into the gardens of their secret castle. "A present for you." She walked towards where he was sitting leisurely on the promenade-like porch.
A pristine envelope was dropped into his lap, and Naraku picked it up curiously. "I wonder who this could be from."
He ripped off the envelope and stared at the front of the card in his hand. "Wishing you a very merry Christmas…" he read off the front, then slowly opened the card to read the inside.
Immediately he regretted the action as he was serenaded with the worst sound imaginable.
"Jingle bells! Jingle Bells! Jingle all the way! Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh – hey-!"
It sounded like someone had castrated a bunch of hamsters and taught them how to sing. Naraku winced slightly, but was determined to suffer the agony to his ear drums in order to read his message.
"Dear Naraku, Merry Christmas, you butt-munching bastard. You smell, you have bad breath, and you'll never have a girlfriend. Lots of love and kisses, the Inu-tachi."
"Jingle bells! Jingle Bells! Jingle all the-"
Naraku slapped the card shut against the porch beside him and the infernal racket died in an instant. "Perfect," he grumbled to Kagura. "Now we have to send them one."