The vanishing dot
On the map of the spot
Let me take you there
The dotted line
Surrounding the mind
Of a self called nowhere
It's a thing named it
In a bottomless pit
You cant see it there
The sunken head
That lies in the bed
Of a self called...

--They Might Be Giants

Six years ago, Higurashi Kagome had fallen down a well and out of a fairytale that had long ago lost all its magic. Being transported from one world to another in a swift leap she barely remembered, Kagome had turned her eyes away from the ant she had watched for over a quarter of an hour and stared at the well-house's ceiling instead. There was a mixture of pain and relief that she'd somehow been returned to her time.

Back then, as now, she tried – tried so very hard – to remember how she'd gotten to the well, much less down it. The last thing she remembered was wishing on the jewel, and then everything... everything had gone dark and misty, and she'd woken up in her own time...

And at the time, she felt like she'd slept a thousand years, and as time passed, she could fairly say that she was still very tired – very, very tired.

Kagome had realized, resting down there in that well, what her essential mistake had been. It had taken her a little while (over a quarter of an hour of ant-watching, actually) to understand where she'd gone wrong. She had made the classic mistake all young women make at some point in their lives: she had mistaken lust for love. How silly of her. At this realization, she supposed most girls might start to bawl or scream, but for Kagome there was no outward hysterical display of loss. There was nothing in her, nothing at all but resigned acceptance. Oh, there were tears, but they were slow and silent, trailing down from the corners of her eyes to the ground without even a whisper of sound. It made her skin itch and she had listlessly wiped them away before sitting up and dusting herself off.

And as she climbed from the well, those tears had dried. After all, what good would it do to mourn for what she never had in the first place? All she would gain would be a stuffy nose and puffy eyes, and she'd really lost enough as it was... pride was really all she had left. And in between the short walk from the shrine to her home, she had resolved to forget everything that happened in the feudal era, as much as she could, anyway. A vow she hadn't broken consciously for six years.

Her life was here, in the modern age. She belonged here, after all; the sprawling cityscapes of modern day Tokyo suited her far better than the rural charm of feudal era Edo. But it all seemed so cold; no stars at night. No crickets chirping, just the sounds of all the people and the blaring horns of cars at rush hour. Not to mention the loss of so many good friends. She thought about them more often than she'd like to admit, and she'd regret having left them with such painful abruptness. The guilt had been nearly crippling for those first few weeks.

And sometimes, in the wee hours of the night, she'd confess to herself that she missed her time back then but when the sun would rise she'd forget all that and remember her struggle to find her place in this time.

Six years ago, she had just barely managed to graduate high school and had been a ronin for two straight years. In those final days and weeks, she'd been too caught up in the frantic search for shards, not to mention her pointless little trysts with Sesshoumaru to think about her future in the future. Now, after having been dumped unceremoniously back in her time, she had a lot of work to do. But she was up to it and she worked fast. Somehow, she had managed to salvage her education, easily slipping into the life that had been interrupted by that fall into her family's shrine well-house. Best of all, she played the part of who she used to be so well that nearly no one noticed.

Nearly.

Her mother noticed, because somehow, someway, no one can really fool their mother. They know. They always know. And Ayumi -- of their group, she had always been considered a bit of a flake and a ditz – a smart ditz, but a ditz none-the-less, yet, she was the most perceptive of all of them. Perhaps even more perceptive than Kagome's own mother, because she sensed that there was something missing in Kagome. Something that was as missing six years ago as it was today. She couldn't quite put her finger on what it might be, but she knew it was vital – it was important, but like Kagome's mother, she had no idea how to help her friend. It was as if Kagome was in some kind of protracted mourning, one that never ceased because she'd never really begun it in the first place, and until she did, there was nothing either of them could do for her.

It was January, three months after she'd come home and Kagome had been accepted into Kokugakuin University by sheer force of will alone – she also studied so hard her eyeballs almost fell out. Kokugakuin University was known for its study of traditional Japanese culture and history, and it seemed odd, at first, that she'd want to study the era she swore to forget. But she had liked her classes and she did well – she had chosen Japanese Literature as her major with a minor in Calligraphy, of all things. She wasn't quite sure what she'd do at the end of her studies, but she wasn't overly worried. Her teachers had suggested she'd make a great researcher with her knowledge of myths and legends. And she wasn't a half bad calligrapher either. One of her own teachers had been so impressed, they'd actually mounted one of her pieces and hung it in their own office.

It had been a wonderful time. The smiles that seemed so disingenuous became real, and for awhile everyone, Kagome included, had breathed a sigh of relief.

Things had seemed to finally click into place.

But... there was always a but – yes, things had seemed to right themselves for Higurashi Kagome, except that ever since she'd come back from the feudal era, she hadn't felt all that well. She was often nauseous and dizzy. Sometimes she'd have a bit of a fever, sometimes not. She went to the bathroom quite a bit more often and her pants were fitting tight. Eri, that fair-weather friend of hers, had suggested that perhaps she had a yeast infection or something of the like. Ayumi suggested a rather persistent strain of the flu, and her mother had a suggestion, but she didn't dare voice it out loud. As it turned out, her mother's suggestion came closest to the truth, because when Kagome had finally, and begrudgingly, gone to the doctor, she had found out she was pregnant. Three months pregnant by the doctor's estimation.

The past, it seemed, had come back to bite her on the ass.

Upset wouldn't be the word for what she felt at the time. In those first few moments, when the doctor had told her about her little bundle of joy, she had been utterly devastated. Devastation gave way to mortification when the doctor asked about the father, because she hadn't acted much like the typically happy expectant mother. She saw the look in his eyes – a look she'd seen more than once, each and every time she told someone that her daughter's father wasn't dead and they weren't divorced. He wasn't even in the picture.

God, when she had come home from the doctor's office, she'd been so afraid. She'd broken down in tears and had barely been able to even get the words out – being so afraid of what her mother might say, what she'd think of her, but her mother had just held her tightly and told her everything would be all right.

Even so, being a single mother in Japan was no easy task. Though they were one of the wealthiest, most modern countries in the world, there were still some things her people were awfully old fashioned about. To have a child out of wedlock, it was considered a disgrace. There was very little in the way of government assistance. Not to mention the fact that her child was listed simply as 'girl' on her birth certificate, rather than 'the first daughter' as it should have been. She knew it wasn't a big thing, but it rankled her.

Adding to that, were people's reactions, especially those of the older generation. They'd pat her stomach and tell her how proud her husband would be, and, at first, she'd just lie and say he was really excited. But after awhile she got tired of lying and told them straight up that she didn't have a husband. The way they'd blanch and slink away from her made her even angrier. And when her 'friends' had found out, well, that was a laugh. Eri and Yuka had treated her like she had the plague. They both offered tentative congratulations, and then never called her again.

As for Ayumi... well, her daughter simply wouldn't be here without her.

She'd shown up to the shrine seconds after hanging up after she'd been given the good news. Hell, she was there and supporting Kagome through the whole pregnancy, but that wasn't why she'd be forever grateful to Ayumi.

The first month and half she was pregnant had been the worst. She was so pent up about the whole child out of wedlock thing and the fact that her baby would be hanyou, that she spent most of her time in bed, and when she wasn't in bed, she was just plain moping. More than just that. She'd remembered what Sango and Miroku had said so long ago – about kindoku and the curse associated with it. And Kagome had come to a terrible realization that she might leave this child motherless as well as fatherless.

It had been one of those days, when Kagome had been worrying about things – staring at her navel, she was asking herself the essential but, at this stage of the game, mostly pointless questions: What would happen after the child came? How would she hide the fact that her child would be hanyou? There was no way to hide those puppy ears! And so on and so on...

She'd been doing this for so long, she hadn't really eaten. She hadn't really slept. And she'd lost weight instead of gaining it, a bad sign so early in her pregnancy. There was nothing her mother could do or say that made her feel better, and she feared that her daughter might well lose the baby if it kept up.

This was until Ayumi had turned up, out of the blue, dragging her boyfriend along with her. She had confronted Kagome. Told her that she knew all about her situation, knew that her child was a hanyou, and that she knew who the father was – she also knew that Kagome had never really been sick all those years in high school. AND, she also knew something about a curse. Kagome had asked how she'd known, and Ayumi had turned and pointed behind her.

"I knew because he told me, instead of you," she sniffed in an obviously offended yet oddly understanding tone.

Looking behind her friend, all she saw was a pleasant looking young man who looked to be foreign, perhaps he was from Ireland or Sweden, but where-ever he was from, she'd never seen him before in her life. How the hell would he know anything about anything?

And then he stepped forward and asked quietly: "Kagome, you don't remember me?"

Before she could even answer the glamour cast over his features faded abruptly in a violent swirl of light and wind, and the pleasant young foreigner who was a stranger morphed into the familiar face of an old friend. "Shippou..." she whispered his name hoarsely before bursting into tears.

From then on, what had seemed a horrible occurrence, a thing to be dreaded, became amongst the most joyous, happy memories she had. Between her family and her friends, they'd all helped her through it in one way or another.

In Shippou's case, specifically, he'd introduced her to an OBGYN that dealt with hanyou births. There was something of a "demon underground" to deal with such things, as hanyou were far more common in the modern age than they had been back in the feudal era. Not only that, but he was a link to the things in the past she didn't mind so much remembering. He'd given her a kind of closure. Sure, it was sad to learn the fate of her friends, but she'd always known that they'd had to have died sometime. The most unpleasant surprise was finding out that Inuyasha had passed away nearly sixty years ago. Shippou had told her he had wanted to see her again, even in his last moments of life, but his body had just been too tired. Apparently, five hundred years was a long time, even for a hanyou. He'd given the beads of subjugation to Shippou to give to her and a message.

"Be happy."

It was simple and to the point, and so very Inuyasha.

In Ayumi's case, she'd done some research, with the help of her boyfriend, on the Kindoku Curse. And she reassured Kagome that she wouldn't be dying any time soon because the "curse" wasn't a curse at all. Kindoku was nothing more than a particularly powerful aphrodisiac.

Her worry seemed so laughable after that.

Even so, there were still lots of other things for her to be concerned about. Money being one of them, her family wasn't exactly wealthy, and babies were expensive. Kagome had to think about health insurance, baby clothes, toys, diapers, and all the other sundries a child might need. She had suggested working while pregnant, but her mother and Ayumi would hear nothing of it. Her mum went back to work as a nurse. Ayumi did her best by helping out at the shrine, often dragging Shippou along for the ride. Grandpa "helped" by making utterly disgusting infusions that were supposed to help with easing the birth or other such nonsense. Kagome did her best to choke his remedies down without throwing up. Even Souta got into the act, finding a job with the local green-grocer as a bag boy for extra cash and the discount on groceries.

All of it was very flattering and made Kagome feel very loved but also intensely useless. Initially, she put up strong protests but as she progressed in her pregnancy those protests died down.

According to her new OBGYN, her pregnancy was to last far longer than the normal nine months. Being that her child was half demon, she could expect to carry for at least twelve months, if not longer. The long gestation period was often quite hard on the child's human mother, so it was very unlikely that Kagome would be having her baby naturally. The doctor guessed that she had conceived the child sometime in early autumn last year, most likely around September or October; this meant that they'd have to schedule a Cesarean for the middle of autumn of the current year. In the end, she'd agreed to a "birth" date of October 23. The prospect of being pregnant for a whole year and at the end of it having a possibly dangerous surgery to give birth to her child brought her no joy. Plus, it was just weird knowing when she'd be giving birth beforehand.

But it all melted away when the time actually came and her daughter was in her arms. Her little girl was perfect – so very perfect and not at all what she'd expected. At birth, the little girl had dark hair and deep blue eyes so typical of newborn humans, and the only thing that had marked her heritage at the time was the curly, fluffy tail. Kagome had thought briefly of keeping it, but eventually had it removed when her daughter was six months old. The tail, though cute, made changing diapers less of a duty and more of a debacle of epic proportions and it pained her daughter when she slept. There was really no other choice, it had to go...

At first, it had been a bit of a hardship, leaving behind the only thing that marked who and what she really was. Despite how Kagome felt about her father, she thought it was a point of pride that her daughter was hanyou and to have her look full human, it seemed not right somehow. It was an unfounded worry, because as the girl aged her dark hair grew in silver and her dark blue eyes turned bright gold, and by the time she was a year and a half old there was no mistaking who her father was.

In any event, after she was born, Kagome had to decide what she would do next. She couldn't continue to depend on everyone else like she had when she was pregnant. Kagome needed a job and she needed one fast. She couldn't go back to school, she'd been kicked out for violating the university's honor code, and stuff like that tended to follow you like a plague. So her options were rather limited.

For a time, she worked as an office lady. It was hard, because she had to hide the fact that she already had a child and no husband. It wasn't that big a deal, after all, she was used to hiding things from people. The only caveat was that one of the salarymen in the office had the hots for her, and wouldn't leave her alone. She'd taken to calling him Kouga in her head, because he was just as obstinately stupid. It didn't help that he was young and sort of handsome, and all of the other OLs in the office had huge crushes on him. Meaning that they essentially hated Kagome, not only because he seemed obsessed with her but she kept turning him down. All in all, it made coming to work very hard most days. The only upside was that she made a lot of money very quickly. And for awhile, it was fine, though everyone else seemed to disagree with her, feeling that she was wasting her talents. Shippou had been the most vocal about this and argued with her all the time. With very little deviation, the script for this argument went a bit like this:

"You're a great priestess, Kagome. Greater than even Midoriko!"

"No, I'm not."

"Yes, you are," he'd insist.

Then she'd hold up the Shikon no Tama. "No, I'm really not. She created this and I couldn't get rid of it."

"Phhhhhffft. So it isn't all the way gone! The thing barely has any power left," he'd retorted, gesturing dismissively. "And if you'd help me research those scrolls I keep telling you about, we'd find something in there that'd destroy the Shikon for good."

"Research isn't going to destroy the Shikon no Tama. The right wish should have. I thought I made it, but I was wrong and that's the end of it."

And so on and so on, until she got angry enough to storm from the room. This didn't deter Shippou, who could now give Inuyasha lessons in sheer stubbornness. He kept talking about those scrolls and about his shop full of rare, demonic antiquities and how much good she could do if she worked for him. Additionally, he knew loads of people who could use her experience as a demon slayer, of sorts. To which she'd point out that her days of slaying demons were well behind her and she had NO intention of reliving the past.

It wasn't until when her daughter, who had just turned two, had gotten so dreadfully sick that she finally acquiesced. It had started out as a minor cold, which progressed into an infection that had spread to a lymph node in her neck, which had become badly inflamed – swelling to the size of a golf ball. Antibiotics didn't really work, because they had to be careful which one they used. Her daughter was known to be allergic to most penicillin based treatments so they had to find alternate medicines that'd do the same job. Even so, they had to be careful, giving her smaller doses than normal because too much could kill her. And when none of this worked, the poor girl had been hospitalized to have the node lanced and drained, and the expense... well, it was beyond her means to pay it.

Shippou had taken this opportunity and swooped in with a solution. He had a rich client with a sword he'd bought from a youkai merchant. Turned out, the sword was cursed and needed to be exorcised. Trouble was, well, there were no real priests or priestesses who had the kind of power it would take to expel the spirit. So, he came to Shippou's shop, knowing through rumor that he was a specialist with things like this. Shippou had happily mentioned that he might know someone he could help, if only she could be convinced. His client was quite eager to shower out an obscene amount of cash to get the job done (it was, in fact, more than enough money to pay the hospital bills.)

It didn't take her long to decide to take the job. She exorcised the spirit with Shippou and Ayumi's help, split the money equally and had left it at that, until she found out that Shippou had lined up an impressive list of very rich clients interested in her services. It was a damn dirty kitsune trick, and one that she was eternally grateful for. All of those people who she had helped became Higurashi Shrine's patrons. More importantly, they spread the word about her and finally gave her family shrine something it could be noted for. It was the only shrine with a real practicing exorcist/demon slayer.

Her services were so in demand that she had to begin limiting her clientele. You could only secure Higurashi Kagome's services if you were referred to her, either by Shippou himself or one of her more trusted regular patrons. Money never mattered to her. Only two things did – One: she helped those who were most in need, always, and even if they had nothing to pay her with. Two: If the Shikon jewel was ever mentioned, because the only people interested weren't really people at all. They were demons... who were about to be quite dead, though they didn't know that yet.

This had been her life for the past four years. It was a good life. It was stable – it was the kind of life that was perfect for raising a healthy, happy little girl. And when she looked at her daughter, despite looking so much like her father, Kagome could do nothing but smile.

She was currently twenty steps in front of her, two large bags of groceries held in her hands. Kagome, on instinct, wanted to run up there and take them from her. The bags looked overloaded and too heavy for a five year old to be carrying. But she resisted the urge. Her daughter was hanyou, and was stronger than she'd like to admit. In a flash, the young girl was already up the stairs, while Kagome was still trudging up at a snail's pace, seemingly. She was five steps from the top when her daughter intercepted her. Jumping from one foot to the other, she grabbed her mother's hand, tugging a bit harder than she intended to, causing her mum to stumble.

Giving a weak smile, she pulled back and quickly apologized before launching words at her mother at a hundred miles a minute.

"OMIGODMOMYOUJUSTWON'TBELIEVEWHATSHIPPOUANDAYUMIAREDOINGIT'SJUSTTHEMOSTAWESOMETHING EVERYOUHAVETOSEEIT..."

And so on and so on, until her mother interrupted her.

"Slow down, sweetie. Mommy can't understand a word you're saying."

"Mom, Shippou and Ayumi are making neat circles on the ground! Just like those lines in Peru Uncle Souta told me about... the N-n-nausica... N-nasc.. the Nasa lines!"

"You mean the Nazca Lines," Kagome corrected.

"Yeah, those. You gotta see 'em!"

Kagome picked up the sacks her daughter had dropped in her excitement. Sure enough, once she reached the shrine, she could see Ayumi and Shippou drawing large circular shapes on the ground with containers of colored sand. She groaned. This wasn't good, she just knew it. Her mother, who had been just behind them, walked up to her, looking over her shoulder at the strange work going on.

"What's all this about?"

"I don't know. I don't really want to know..." she murmured. But she had to. Holding out her bags, she motioned to them. "Could you take this stuff inside, Mom? I've got to sort this out."

Once she'd been relieved of her grocery bags, she strolled over to Ayumi and Shippou, who were so busy drawing whatever it was they were making that they didn't notice her presence. They did notice her daughter, who was playing a game of her own making that involved jumping from line to line, scattering colored sand everywhere.

Calling out to her daughter, she instructed the girl to move away from the drawing. After all, she didn't really know what it did. Her daughter seemed disappointed at being sent away, but it was for her own good. And as she watched her retreating back, Kagome was trying hard no to be mad. Really, there had to be a perfectly logical explanation for all this.

Ayumi was the first to approach. She had a large smile on her face and dirt streaks on her cheek. "You like it?" she asked, spreading an arm backwards to indicate the concentric sand circles currently decorating the shrine grounds.

Kagome crossed her arms and looked at her blandly. "What is it?"

"Fionn's Wheel!" she exclaimed, gesturing animatedly with her hands; not noticing how Shippou surreptitiously slunk away as he understood, keenly, the amount of trouble they were in. "It's a sort of divinatory device used by ancient druids as a way to focus power. See, I found this ancient Roman binding spell that I wanted to use, you know for that Saito guy... demon... whatever he is. But I was thinking that it might not be powerful enough. From what Shippou told me, this guy has to pack a serious whallop. And the Sator Rotas square spell is really for protection and the binding of one's enemies. It's sort of a mid-grade paralyzing spell, so I figured there had to be some way to augment it and BAM! Fionn's Wheel or Ogham's Window, depending on who you're talking to... but I suppose that doesn't matter. Anyway..."

Kagome held up a hand. "Okay, either that made no sense or I'm crazy. Right now, I'm going with the whole not making sense thing. Just tell me, in small words, what in the world this thing is."

"I already told you, it's Fionn's Window... see it's a Celtic thing and it amplifies your power and stuff and..."

"And what's it doing on my shrine?"

"Well, I thought about doing it closer to the house, because it'd be easier to lure him into it. What with you having dinner with him and all, but Shippou thought it'd be a bad idea..."

"It's a bad idea here! How... why... I mean, we have perfectly good exorcism scrolls for this kind of thing. We have loads of sacred sake that I made myself. A whole library full of spells collected over the years by my ancestors... and you pick this? Some crazy Druid thing with a Roman... thing?" Kagome massaged her forehead, hoping rub away her confusion. "What have you been watching lately? Is it Hagaren again? Because I swear, if I have to clean up any more transmutation circles, or whatever the hell they are, I'm gonna..."

"No, it's not!" Ayumi challenged defensively.

"Ah, the X-files, then?"

"No."

Kagome wracked her mind, trying to think of every series where Western magic was used. "Kay... Buffy or Witch Hunter Robin?"

"Witch Hunter Robin," Ayumi muttered piteously. "It'll work, this time. I swear it will. Souta and I tried out a small one with Shippou. It kept him paralyzed for nearly an hour... think of what this one could do! I mean, it'd paralyze him completely and make it loads easier for you to put the whammy on him... permanently!"

"Oh, I don't know..."

"But -- but it works! Seriously!" Ayumi whinged, putting extra emphasis on 'seriously' as if that one word was all that was needed to convince anyone of anything.

"Yeah, well, I just don't like the idea of using some spell concocted mainly from something you saw in a television show..." And Kagome was preparing to make further argument when she was roughly grabbed from behind and given an unnecessary amount of noogies directly to the top of her head.

"Aw, c'mon sis, it's a good idea," Souta joked jovially, turning to Ayumi with a pleasant smile as he let go of his struggling sister. "So, I take it she didn't like it."

"No, not so much."

"No, I didn't like it so much," she agreed acidly, smoothing out her hair as she glared at her brother. "Souta, how many times have I told you not to do stuff like this?! Demon slaying is..."

"A dangerous business, yada, yada, yada. I know, I know," he said, rolling his eyes. "I'm not a kid anymore, Sis. This is a good idea..."

"And I'm going to take your word for it? Are we forgetting who the experienced demon slayer is here? That would be me – ten years and running – and I think, maybe, people should listen to what—"

"Except for when you're wrong, which you are now. Anyway, it wasn't Ayumi who thought of it – and by the way, 'Yumi, I wouldn't take that kind of abuse from someone who still listens to Morning Musume – it was Shippou's plan."

"Buh... wuh... My musical tastes have nothing to do with—" Kagome shouted, emphatically pointing a finger at him. Then something in her brain clicked into place. "W-a-a-a-a-ait a minute, Shippou? Shippou thought of this?"

"Yup."

"I'm sorry Ayumi, I'm going to have to murder your boyfriend now," she intoned coolly. And with that, she turned and went after the sneaky little fox demon who thought he could avoid her wrath.

As it turned out, she didn't murder Shippou, but she did give him a dressing down he'd never forget. Once she was calmed down – meaning they fed her, because a hungry Kagome was an angry Kagome – they were able to talk a bit more rationally. Sure, she was irritated they wouldn't let the "Fionn's Wheel" idea go but she listened anyway (mostly because they just wouldn't shut up) and after an eternity of badgering, she agreed to reserve judgment until after a demonstration.

All in all, it seemed pretty simple – the spell was a bit explosive for her tastes, and she could see why it wouldn't be wise to have the large scale version near the house. Still, it worked and worked well, so she decided to give it a chance. They spent the next hour practicing more small scale run-throughs with her, before everyone retired to their various homes for the night.

Breakfast was a large and rowdy affair at the Higurashi household, despite the fact that it everyone was up at a rather ungodly hour. This particular morning, found the youngest Higurashi, but by far the tallest, sitting in the family room and watching a DVD of PythagoraSwitch with his niece, who sat next to him with her legs crossed, head bopping in time as she quietly mimed the Algorithm March.

The little girl paused in her bopping momentarily, lifting her nose into the air and discreetly sniffing. She turned around and beamed brightly, launching herself at her mother so hard that she literally knocked her over. After she recovered herself, Kagome listened to her overexcited daughter joyfully recount her morning, most of it revolving around how much her beloved Uncle Souta spoiled her. He had bought her a deluxe sticker and stamp set. She just knew she'd be spending the next few months washing stamps from the walls and pulling stickers off every available surface.

Her daughter happily handed her something. Kagome felt a wave of useless aggravation; her cell phone was already encrusted with a thick layer of revoltingly pink stickers that sparkled in the palm of her hand. And there was very little she could do about it, other than smile tersely, thank her daughter and glare over her head at her obviously amused younger brother.

And when the little girl turned away, attention caught by the smells of breakfast as it was laid on the table, Kagome took that moment to mouth a message to her brother silently: "You're dead." Souta laughed uneasily, taking a sudden interest in the food just set in front of him.

Her mother had prepared Belgian waffles topped with powdered sugar and a variety of fruits. It was a bit of a trial to prepare, but it was her granddaughter's favorite. Everyone dug in happily, and soon the room was filled with soft, contented grunts of enjoyment and the occasional bit of groggy conversation.

Eventually, Kagome, her daughter and mother left everyone else behind to their post-breakfast bliss, while they went upstairs to prepare for the day. It was March 3, Hina-Matsuri, and her daughter had been afforded a great honor. She had been invited, rather at the last minute, to assist the shrine priestesses at Awashima Shrine with the hina-nagashi, a local tradition during Hina-Matsuri which involved filling several ceremonial boats full of dolls and setting them into the ocean.

Truth be told, Kagome had to pull a bunch of strings to get her daughter in. Luckily, she'd helped the head priest over at Awashima; exorcising a possessed doll that someone had left in one of their donation bins. She hadn't really asked for any payment, so he pretty much owed her one.

The trip to the shrine would be rather long as Awashima was located in Wakayama Prefecture. It wasn't an ideal situation, but... well, anyway, it'd get her daughter and her family out of the shrine for a day and a night. If this plan was to go right, she had to know they were safe, otherwise fighting would be way too hard. It didn't help that her daughter would be difficult about it. She loved Girl's Day, and would fight not spending it with her mum. Not only that, but this would mark the first time her daughter had ever spent the night without her mother.

It would, no doubt, be hard on both of them, but it had to be done.

At the moment, the little girl was mostly content, though a little fidgety. She had inherited her mother's natural energy and was unable to sit still for a long time, which made stuffing her into a formal kimono a bit of a trial. Kagome and her mother were making the best of it (i.e. Kagome was trying hard to distract her while her mother put the kimono on), so while her mother tugged and pulled and tied things to other things, Kagome was playing the part of the emperor in her daughter's self-directed little play – which she thought might be her take on the legend of Issun-boshi, but she wasn't entirely sure. Her daughter had a wild imagination (another lucky inheritance from her mother).

They had gotten the little girl a cheap set of Hello Kitty themed Girl's Day dolls, because she had a tendency to play with the very expensive ones that'd been handed down for four generations. It had survived the war and so many other tumultuous times, and Kagome thought it'd be a pity if it couldn't outlive her rambunctious daughter. She and her mother had hoped buying ones she could play with would deter her. For the most part, it did, though Kagome would occasionally notice her daughter's longing looks when she passed by the small platform in the sitting room.

She smiled fondly even as her daughter corrected her for not doing the voices right while her mother secured the final touch, tying the obi-jime so that it was centered properly. They then fussed with her hair and the little girl couldn't help but complain a bit, before going back to whatever new little imaginary game she was inventing with her dolls. Once they finished, they softly closed the door and let the little girl assess herself. Tears came to her eyes as Kagome watched her daughter touching her hair carefully. She looked up at her mother and smiled.

"I look pretty, Mama."

"Yes, you do, sweetie."

Mother, daughter and grandmother stole a secret moment together as the pale morning light filtered in slowly from the window. Assured of their success, they paraded her downstairs and her appearance was greeted with several appreciative 'oohs' and 'aahs' – along with a trademarked Ayumi squeal which was shortly followed by her exclaiming: "SHE LOOKS SO CUTE!"

About a thousand pictures were taken, most of them in front of the God Tree. It had been a mild winter and an even milder spring. The air was crisp but gentle. Above them, the Goshinboku shook happily in the breeze, its iron branches full of bursting leaf buds. Kagome eyed it serenely, thinking to herself that it was going to be a beautiful summer, if one were to judge by leaf buds alone.

The camera's bulb flashed one last time. Everyone began to prepare for imminent departure. The hina-nagashi began precisely at eleven o'clock and the ride down to Wakayama would take at least two and a half hours by Shinkansen. They'd have to leave now if they hoped to make it on time. Kagome felt a familiar tug on the leg of her jeans. She looked down and smiled, trying to hide the sadness in her eyes. Her daughter looked up at her, not hiding hers at all.

"Mama, are you sure you can't come?"

Kagome sighed, she had explained this so many times to her – the inability to take an answer at face value was an interesting trait that almost all five year olds possessed, but it didn't make answering 'why' for the thousandth time any easier. "No, Sweetie, I can't. We already talked about this, remember?"

"I know," she grumbled, pouting and toying with the tasseled fan that matched her kimono. "But I want you to come. Can't you just ask Saito-san to come with us?"

"'Fraid not. Saito-sensei is a very busy man and he doesn't have the time to travel all the way to Wakayama just for me." Kagome could feel the beginnings of a tantrum. One she intended to stop by changing the subject. "You like Saito-sensei a lot, don't you?"

"Yeah," the little girl answered in a small voice.

"Well, he does seem like a nice man," Kagome commented, putting an unnatural emphasis on the word 'seem'.

"He is a nice man, Mama!"

"Oh, I see," she teased, giving her daughter a little tickle under the chin. "And how do you know that?"

"I can just tell!"

"Really?"

"Really, really! I already told you he smelled like home!" the little girl cried insistently.

Kagome half laughed, half sighed. Ever since Shippou had told her about scent memory, specifically as it related to youkai and their offspring, she'd been pulling that trick out of her hat. Every single male acquaintance or even strangers they passed on the street suddenly smelt like home – which was Shippou's euphemism for the smell he associated with his mother and father. She could kill the fox for using that metaphor. Sighing deeply, she pointed out that every man, everywhere smelt like home.

To which her daughter promptly replied with: "Nuh-uh!" The little girl huffed as her mother raised her eyebrows at her dubiously. "'Sides, there's more than just that. The air around him is different."

Well, that was interesting. "What do you mean by that, sweetie?"

Her daughter fumbled with an explanation for a second or two before landing on something that seemed right. "Everything around him sort of goes like this..." And she wiggled her fingers while making a strange kind of humming sound. Then she stopped abruptly and gave a little frustrated sigh; something about it didn't entirely satisfy her.

"Is it like a vibration?" Kagome suggested helpfully.

"No, more like... more like something around him is singing all the time. Singing just like daddy's sword sings or Uncle Shippou – he sings too. You and Uncle Souta sometimes sing, but not as loud. Saito-san was very, very loud."

She was talking about auras – she could feel Saito's youki but she just didn't know how to describe it yet. Her training hadn't progressed that far. "I see. And because he's so loud, you like him."

"Mmm-hmm. His song is real pretty, too. Mommy, do you think that maybe after you and Saito-san are done with business, that he could visit me sometime?"

"Oh, I don't know, sweetheart." Kagome's heart broke at her daughter's crestfallen look. Cursing her weak heart, she lied. "But I suppose I could ask him." The little girl's face brightened. "I can't make any promises, though. Okay?"

"Okay," her daughter happily agreed.

Kagome stiffened when she felt Shippou's hand lightly touch her shoulder. "It's time," he whispered quietly, giving her a bit of a squeeze before backing away.

The little girl looked from her uncle to her mother, tears in her eyes. "Mama, I don't wanna go."

Heaving in a sigh, Kagome steeled herself. "I know, sweetie. But that doesn't change anything..."

"But... but I don't want to go without you!" she whined, her lower lip now trembling as she burst into tears.

She wanted to breakdown and cry with her daughter right then and there. Instead, she took another deep breath and forged forward, drawing her daughter into a gentle embrace.

"It is what it is, sweetheart. I can't come and you have to go," she explained, smoothing her daughter's hair as she rocked the little girl softly until the sobs died down. Gently cradling her daughter's face in her hands, she wiped away the tears and whispered words meant just for her. "You're gonna have a great time with Uncle Shippou and everyone else and you'll be back sooner than you think. So no more tears, okay?"

"Yeah," Shippou agreed, having hunkered down silently moments earlier, "we're gonna eat sakura mochi and all sorts of other sweets – plus the hotel we're staying at has a pool."

This was enough to perk her up a little bit. She gave her uncle a hesitant smile which disappeared as suddenly as it came when she turned back to her mother and wrapped her tiny arms around her neck. "I'm going to miss you, Mama."

Kagome caught the sob that almost forced its way out of her throat. "I'm going to miss you too, sweetie."

And she had to watch stoically as her daughter was lead off the shrine, towards the waiting cab that'd take them to the train station. Her throat tightened when her daughter turned back to give her a small wave before descending the stairs. Once the little girl was out of sight, she allowed herself to cry, leaning on her younger brother's shoulder for support until it passed. And pass it did. Wordlessly, the siblings separated to begin preparing the spell so it'd be ready for that evening. It took most of the afternoon to finish.

Carefully pouring the last bit of sacred sand into place, they waited as the magic sunk in and the Fionn's Wheel they so carefully constructed disappeared into the ground just as it was designed to.

"Well, that's that," she said, feeling a bit satisfied with her work as she clapped away the dust on her hands.

Souta grunted, dusting himself off vigorously. "I'm going to be cleaning sand out of every crevice for the next month, I just know it. Have you noticed all the spells Ayumi designs are invariably dirty and labor intensive?"

She cast her brother a side-long glance. "Whiner."

He gave her a dirty look and she laughed. They gently teased each other as they cleaned up, walking over to the shrine's main office to put away all the implements used to cast the spell. "So, d'ya think it'll work?"

The question came out of the blue, and it made Kagome more nervous than she'd like to admit. "Uh, it better." She paused for a beat. "Having seconds thoughts?"

"Yeah, well, it's just... if this demon is as powerful as you say... I've been thinking about it and, well, it might not work."

"Bit late to bring that up, don't you think?"

"Well, yeah, but... I was just thinking maybe I should stay. You know, just in case you need backup or something."

"Souta, are you worried about me?" Kagome sing-songed, ruffling her brother's hair affectionately.

"Well, yeah!" he stammered, flushing. "You're the only sister I have!"

"And you're the only brother I have and you haven't been doing this as long as I have..." He gave her a dark look that stated exactly how little that meant to him. "It's too dangerous, and I don't want you getting hurt."

"You act like I'm some stupid kid, Kagome. I've helped you out before..."

"But this isn't the same."

"Isn't it? It's just another demon extermination, I don't see why you're always so stubborn about this whole Shikon business."

"The Shikon is my duty – mine alone. And I refuse to lose anyone else to it."

"That's crap."

"That may be. But you're leaving before Saito comes, one way or the other."

Souta sighed, relenting as he met the immoveable gaze of his sister. "You sure you'll be okay?"

"Yeah, if the spell doesn't work, I'll just kill him the old fashioned way."

"Your confidence is kinda scary, Kagome," he commented, taking in her determined stance. She was several inches shorter than him now. Had been for some time, yet she still seemed to loom large in his vision. Her strength would always astound him, and for not for the first time, he wondered where she got it from. "Well then, I'm going to take off." He stepped over and gave her a hug, which she returned. "Be careful, okay?" She nodded patronizingly. "I'm keeping my phone on tonight. If anything –anything – goes wrong, don't hesitate to call, okay?"

"Will do."

"I mean it, Kagome. If things get out of hand, you call me."

"I promise, Souta. I'll call you if something goes hideously awry. Now go."

In the end, she practically had to push him out the door, leaving her little over an hour to prepare herself for dinner and a demon slaying.


AUTHOR'S NOTES

HOLY CRAP! Filler chapter. But it's still an update. It is for making happiness. Once again, I thank you all for being so patient with me. It's been a long journey and I'm glad you all came along with me! It's almost over... seriously. Anyway...

A few notes on this chapter. Hagaren is sort of short-hand for Hagane no Renkinjutsushi -- better known here in the US as Fullmetal Alchemist. I thought it was a cute nod to another popular Japanese television series. Pythagoraswitch is another popular Japanese television show. Mostly known through various Youtube clips of the various Rube Goldbergian devices used on the show as well as the rather famous Algorithm March. (It really is that awesome.) The bits about Office Ladies and Salarymen I did some pretty exhaustive research on. I also did quite a bit of research into single mothers in Japan -- the stuff about being listed simply as 'Girl' on the birth certificate is quite correct. Sad, really. All the stuff about Hina-Matsuri are also correct -- as far as the research I did was concerned. The Awashima Shrine really does exist! (And frankly, I think it'd be a little creepy to visit. What with all the dolls all over the shrine and stuff.)

Also, I inserted a bit of real world experience in there. When my sister was two, she actually had an infection in her lymph node, and it did swell to the size of a golf ball. It was disgusting. And the doctor had planned to hospitalize her to lance it. Fortunately for my sister, the damned thing popped before it came to that. Blech.

Anyway, till next time!