...

~~Chapter 5~~

~Secrets of the Well~

InuYasha narrowed his gaze as he peered up through the branches of Goshinboku.

"What are you doing, Inu-no-nii-chan?"

He grunted in response but didn't turn to face Souta as he continued his perusal.

"He looks like he's trying to find something," Hitomi ventured.

"I can see that," Souta grumbled. "What are you looking for? Maybe we can help you find . . . whatever it is."

"Are you sure he can hear you?" Hitomi asked dubiously.

"Yeah, I can hear you," InuYasha growled, crouching down before leaping into the branches of the beloved tree. "I was trying to ignore you."

Hitomi lifted her hand to her forehead to shade her eyes and stared up through the branches. "Not very friendly, is he?"

"Sure, he's friendly," Souta shot back. "Maybe he just doesn't like you."

InuYasha settled back against the tree trunk and closed his eyes, set to ignore both Souta as well as his little friend as he crossed his arms under the generous folds of his haori sleeves. In the length of time he'd been forced to say at the shrine, it never ceased to annoy him whenever those two ended up arguing—which was all the time. If it wasn't one thing, it was another, and that was enough to set InuYasha's nerves on edge. They'd ended up arguing over the shade of green on a flyer that had been left on the front door earlier. It was stupid. It was senseless.

It made him miss Kagome just a little more, too.

'That ain't true,' he insisted. 'We didn't fight about stupid shit . . .'

Flinching inwardly when the memories of the number of times they'd done exactly that assailed him, InuYasha couldn't help the slight flattening of his ears. 'All right; so we did fight over some hella stupid shit . . .'

He sighed. He'd been doing that a lot of late. He missed Kagome so much that he hurt. Unable to eat, unable to sleep, he couldn't even stand the sight of the ramen he used to love. Mrs. Higurashi offered it to him, but when he'd looked up to take the food, he could only see Kagome's face smiling at him. How many times had she brought him ramen—even times when she professed to be upset with him . . .?

Cracking one eye open, InuYasha shifted slightly, gazing down through the mesh of branches. To his relief, he noticed that Souta and Hitomi were shuffling toward the door. Still arguing, they were, but at last InuYasha was left in blissful quiet. Turning his attention upward, he slowly got to his feet once more. About ten feet over his head, he spotted it: the branch. Five hundred years ago, it was the one that he used to sit on with Kagome all the time. It was the branch he wanted.

Leaping up to land on another branch just below the one he'd chosen, InuYasha cracked his knuckles and drew his hand back. The thick branch gave easily, and he watched with a self-satisfied grin as it crashed down to the ground. The network of branches below slowed the decent, but the tremendous sound of the branch hitting the pavement below the tree echoed through the air. He dropped out of the tree, landing neatly beside the fallen limb. Drawing Tetsusaiga with a flash of yellow light, he grasped the hilt in both hands and raised the sword over his head as the clatter of footsteps sounded behind him.

"What on earth . . .?" Mrs. Higurashi exclaimed as she hurried over to InuYasha's side. "The branch broke?"

"With a little help," InuYasha mumbled as he shot her a dark look. "Stand back."

"He broke it on purpose!" Grandpa hollered as he pushed the door to one of the smaller storage rooms open and poked a spindly old finger in InuYasha's direction. "He's gone mad, I tell you! Mad!"

InuYasha snorted and rolled his eyes. "Ain't nothin' 'mad' about me, jiijii," he growled.

"Well," Mrs. Higurashi said quickly, glancing from InuYasha to Grandpa and back again. "The tree is still healthy enough . . . but InuYasha-kun, you really can't go around chopping off branches."

"He's trying to desecrate Goshinboku!" Grandpa yelled, stomping toward them.

"I'll desecrate you next," InuYasha snarled.

"Now, now . . . Come on, Grandpa," Mrs. Higurashi cut in as she hurried over to intercept the old man in an effort to stave off the coming altercation. "I just made some tea . . ."

Grandpa followed Mrs. Higurashi back into the shrine, muttering under his breath about irrational hanyou, foul-mouthed hooligans, and general desecration. InuYasha watched them until the door closed before he was satisfied that he was finally—mercifully—going to be left alone before turning back to the felled branch and wrinkling his nose.

The branch was heavy, sturdy—more than adequate for what he had in mind. 'It's all that damned Souta's fault,' he mused as he grasped the branch under one arm and dragged it toward the well-house. He'd mentioned that modern girls liked silly things like weird trinkets that were entirely useless and just sat around on decorative shelves made expressly for displaying those ridiculous things, and InuYasha wasn't entirely certain why, but he'd been obsessed with that idea ever since he'd heard it.

The inside of the building smelled stale and dusty. Ignoring the offensive stink, he pushed the branch down the steps with his foot, flattening his ears momentarily as the wood crashed against the side of the old well. It shuddered and shook but didn't break. He didn't expect it would. That thing had been standing for over five hundred years. He had serious doubts that anything could actually bring the sides down, especially not a paltry bit of timber.

Stomping down the steps after the fallen branch, InuYasha crouched down and scowled at the wood. It was simple enough to strip off the bark. It fell on the earthen floor under his deft fingers. Using his claws to carve deep into the branch, he carefully started to chip away hunks of wood, gaze glowing in the dim half-light as he settled down to work . . .

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:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:

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"She's doing better, don't you think?"

Sango glanced up from polishing Hiraikotsu to watch Kagome. The miko was kneeling on the ground near the fire, carefully scraping a couple fish that Shippou and Bunza had caught for dinner. The two children were far from getting along. Since hearing the story of InuYasha's disappearance, Bunza had seemed almost hostile toward Kagome. Maybe he blamed her for the fact that InuYasha wasn't there to help him save his tribe. Still Sango knew that Kagome blamed herself for his disappearance, too, and hearing the same thing from the youngster just wasn't something that was going to help anyone in the end. Miroku had taken to dragging Bunza everywhere he went, mostly to keep Bunza from saying things to Kagome that would only serve to deepen her depression. It helped, but Sango had to wonder just how long they could keep the child away from Kagome before he said something bad.

"Better? Maybe . . . she still misses him."

"I'm certain she does," Miroku agreed, thrusting the end of his shakuju into the soft earth beside the fallen log Sango was using as a bench. "She cared about him more than she wanted to admit."

"Sometimes it's difficult to admit your feelings to someone when he seems a little distant," Sango remarked, carefully keeping her eyes on Hiraikotsu and stubbornly refusing to inflict any emotion at all into her words that might give her away. He'd been distant himself of late. At first, she'd thought it had something to do with InuYasha's sudden disappearance. She had to wonder, though, if that really could be the case. Something about his behavior . . . She sighed. 'Maybe,' she told herself as she rubbed to remove a blemish from the weapon's smooth surface, 'I'm just reading too much into things . . .'

If Miroku sensed Sango's underlying meaning, he didn't remark on it. Hunkering down beside the log, he turned his head, staring off into the distance. "I suppose some things just aren't meant to be," he finally said, his voice quiet, tinged with a sort of bitterness that Sango felt deep inside.

"Houshi-sama . . ."

He turned his head slightly, gazing at her out of the corner of his violet eyes. "Don't worry, Sango. Everything will be as it should be. Fate is unavoidable."

Frowning at the sadness in his eyes, she watched as he stood up and headed off to gather more firewood. She had the feeling that he wasn't simply talking about InuYasha and Kagome, but was talking about them, instead.

"After we defeat Naraku . . . will you live with me? Bear my children . . .?"

Wincing at the memory of those words—words that had thrilled her even as they had frightened her, too—Sango bit her lip and stifled a sigh, unable to shake the notion that he was trying to push her away.

'But he promised . . .' she told herself with far more bravado than she was actually feeling. 'He said that was what he wanted . . . Houshi-sama never would have said it if he didn't mean it . . . He promised . . .'

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:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:

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The forest was darkened with the shadows of descending night as Chiyo moved through the trees. The gurgle of water somewhere to the distant east drew her toward the place where she said she would meet Tadao, but she didn't quicken her pace.

She was late, and he would be irritated, but that was of no real consequence. She'd heard all of his complaints before. He never had been able to grasp the concept of being patient. It was one of his flaws.

Stepping out of the trees near the small clearing near the stream, she wasn't surprised to see Tadao pacing to and fro near the water's edge. Indulging in a moment of watching him, she almost smiled to herself before ambling over to announce her presence. "Come now, Tadao. I'm not that late."

The dragon-youkai whirled around to face her, narrowing his ruby gaze as the tip of his forked tongue flicked out of his mouth for a split second. "You try my patience, Chiyo. What did you learn?"

"He is gone," she said simply.

A cold smile surfaced on his face; a hardened glimmer of satisfaction brightening his blood-red gaze. "So the prophecy cannot come to pass," he mused, more to himself than to her. "Excellent . . ."

She didn't confirm or deny his assertions. In truth, she was rather perplexed by it, too, and while she had yet to have another vision, the fact that InuYasha didn't seem to be anywhere didn't offer her the same level of reassurance. It was too . . . easy, she supposed, too neat and tidy, and if she had learned nothing else during her lifetime, she'd learned never to trust anything that appeared to be that simple.

"This calls for a celebration," he decided, casting her a calculated grin.

Chiyo shrugged and turned away. "Celebrate if that's your wish," she tossed over her shoulder. "Just remember that altering the future isn't as simple as you believe. If I were you, I'd make certain that what I have foreseen does not come to pass. There are more effective ways of ensuring that than simply relying on happenstance."

She left him standing there beside the water's edge as she disappeared back into the forest once more. He'd be angry, of course. He despised it when she left before he granted her leave. She'd learned long ago that he needed her. He relied on her abilities far too much to lose his temper with her, after all. 'Let him sit and stew over things for awhile . . . I am not as foolish as he. There is still a very real threat, whether he wants to believe it or not . . . those same dreams that foretold of his failure . . .'

Her pale violet eyes narrowed as she moved through the trees.

She could still feel the truth in those dreams, couldn't she?

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:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:

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Kagome sat on the edge of the Bone Eater's Well, clutching the slip of paper that fluttered in the breeze. She wasn't certain when the idea had occurred to her. It had started more as a passing whim than a concrete thought. She'd been looking through her backpack at a notebook that she'd used to work math problems, and she'd just started writing a letter to InuYasha.

She wasn't sure she actually expected him to get the letter. She just felt closer to him when she was here, at the well. Unfolding the letter, she heaved a sigh, her eyes hot, dry, burning.

:

'Dear InuYasha,

'I don't know why I'm bothering with this letter. I don't really think you'll get it or anything. I suppose I just wanted to find a way to tell you that I miss you. I think about you every day in a part of me that hurts when I remember even the good times we shared. I feel as though I've broken the promise I made to you; the one I made when I said I'd never leave you.

'Bunza is with us now. He came here looking for you. He needed your help in saving his tribe. We went with him, and we tried to help, but we got there too late, and, well . . . We brought him back with us.

'All I wanted was to stay with you. That was the wish I'd made. I ask myself every day what went so wrong, and yet I know that your wish . . . you wanted to stay with me, didn't you? You gave up everything you knew? You did all of that just to stay with me . . . and that means more to me than you'll ever know. I only wish there were some way I could tell you all of this. A piece of paper can't last five hundred years, can it? Manmade things aren't meant to last, are they?

'I see you every time I turn around: in the whisper of the wind in the trees, in the constantly flowing waters of the streams we've crossed . . . I see you in the stars—I only saw the stars with you, did you know? Tokyo, even at night, even at the shrine . . . You can't really see the stars so well there. I guess you know that by now, don't you?

'I miss everyone—Mama and Grandpa, Souta and Buyou . . . but I miss you most of all, and I think about the silly arguments we've had, and I'm ashamed. I let my temper get the better of me, always taking for granted that you'd always be there. I catch myself thinking a thousand times a day, 'Oh, wait! I want to tell InuYasha about this . . .'

'And then I remember, and remembering hurts.

'I doubt you'll get this letter. I just wanted to write all of this down. I miss you more than you'll ever know, but I hope that you'll find a way to be happy in my time. If by some miracle you do get this, though, know that you're always in my mind and heart. Be well, InuYasha.

'Kagome.'

:

Wiping away a tear that streaked down her face, Kagome refolded the letter and pressed it against her heart. Every day she woke up and tried to smile until she remembered that InuYasha really was gone. Every day she told herself that it was okay; that whatever was meant to be, would be. Every day she forced herself to go through the motions of living so that she wouldn't worry her friends, and every day, she felt as though a part of her was dying . . .

She loved him, didn't she? She'd loved him for a long time. Grouchy, curt, arrogant, and oftentimes impossible, she couldn't remember a time when he wasn't there, and no matter what happened back then or even now, nothing could change her feelings, could they? Nothing could erase the sense of complete and utter loss; of desperation and despair that twisted her stomach until she felt as though she was going insane.

'Mama will help him, and Souta will, too,' she told herself as a wan smile surfaced on her face. Trembling and unsure, it flitted over her lips like a feather on the wind, and she sighed as her tears prickled her nostrils. A sudden, savage pang ripped through her, and she gasped, doubling over, nearly toppling headlong into the well. She didn't care. For the briefest of moments, she'd felt him, hadn't she? As close as he would have been if he were standing directly beside her, his youki had seemed so real, so encompassing . . . so comforting . . .

"Kagome-chan!"

Turning at the sound of her name, she hurriedly dashed the back of her hand over her cheeks and swung her legs out of the well, waiting for Sango to catch up. "Yes?"

Sango hurried over and sank down beside Kagome, clutching the wooden lip of the well as she shot her a timid smile. "Kaede is looking for you. She wants to know if you're interested in starting your training."

Kagome nodded, digesting Sango's words. "I should, shouldn't I?" she said slowly, biting her lip as she pondered the options.

"That's up to you. If you don't want to, then don't. Just because you've got spiritual powers doesn't mean you have to be a miko."

Kagome sighed. "It's not that. I should learn how to use my powers. It's just . . ."

"You're tired of the comparisons to Kikyou?" Sango asked when Kagome trailed off.

"No . . . sort of . . . not really . . ." She sighed and shrugged, unsure how to explain her feelings to Sango when she wasn't at all positive that she understood them, herself. "It's just . . . a miko should be at peace; tranquil . . . and I'm not. I can't help but question and wonder and . . . and be a little angry. I mean, look at Midoriko. She was a miko, and I know she didn't have regrets, but she gave her life to fight youkai, and because of her, everything . . . and then Kikyou . . . Didn't she pay the ultimate price just because she fell in love with InuYasha?"

"But, Kagome, the Shikon no Tama is gone now. It can't hurt you anymore."

Stubbornly shaking her head, she blinked quickly to stave back the angry tears that rose up fast. "Don't you see? It already has, and I . . . I don't know if I can find the peace inside me to . . . It seemed so easy before. I thought . . . I thought I'd be sent back to my side of the well, or I thought that maybe I'd be allowed to stay here with InuYasha, but I never . . . I never thought that I'd be here without him."

"Anger is difficult to deal with," Sango agreed. "But I'm sure InuYasha wouldn't want you to be angry or to be sad . . ."

Standing abruptly, Kagome couldn't help the surge of rage that shot through her. "I can't help it!" she exclaimed. "I just can't!"

Stomping away, she broke into a sprint, unconsciously heading for the sanctuary of Goshinboku. Sango watched her go and sighed, heading back toward the path that led to the village.

Neither girl had noticed the folded paper sitting on the lip of the well after Kagome made her hasty retreat. The breeze caught the folded edges, pushing it closer to the edge of the wall. A light gust blew across the meadow, and with a whisper of movement, the paper teetered on the lip before careening down into the blackened depths of the well.

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:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:O:

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Perched on the edge of the well, InuYasha stared down into the murky depths with a melancholy sigh. He spent a lot of time here, and maybe he really thought that if he stared at it long enough, it would somehow open, and Kagome would appear. It was wishful thinking, surely, but he couldn't quite help himself, either.

He jumped into the well daily, all in the desperate hope that it would open up beneath him, and while he knew that it just wasn't going to happen, he couldn't help himself, either. The one day he didn't try it was bound to be the one time it would work . . . Then he'd spend an hour or two fighting off the overwhelming hopelessness inspired by the desolation of being alone.

He hated the stagnant smell of Tokyo; despised the noise and the constant motion. The only place he had to escape all of it was here, the well. Even the forest that stretched out behind the shrine wasn't immune to the 'modern conveniences'. The sound of the trees couldn't drown out the hundreds of thousands of noises that made up the world he was stuck in.

Scratching his chest—he despised the strange feel of the cloth of what Mrs. Higurashi had told him was a 'tee-shirt'. It wasn't rough, no, but the feel of it just felt disturbing, almost like he wasn't wearing anything at all. She'd dealt him dirty, waiting until he was in the bathtub—also her idea—before she barged right into the bathroom and snatched up his clothes with the promise of washing them for him and leaving behind the irritating and strange things she called 'jeans' along with the stupid tee-shirt. It had taken him nearly twenty minutes before he'd figured out that he was supposed to wear the thin cotton short pants—she called those 'boxers'—as underwear, and the jeans? He grimaced. How the hell he was supposed to fight in these things was completely beyond him . . . Then to add insult to injury, he'd located his regular clothes lying neatly on Kagome's bed. But they smelled like soap and fake scents. The washing machine had laundered out the last lingering remnants of Kagome, and that . . . Well, that pissed him off far worse than the clothes she'd bought for him . . .

His ears flattened as he grimaced. He still couldn't bring himself to go into that room. Her scent was still too strong in there, too overwhelming, and too comforting. The problem was that the comfort he garnered from it hurt him, too. He couldn't help but feel completely overwrought with guilt if he allowed himself to take comfort in anything that should remind him that she was stuck in the past because of him . . .

The kicker, though, had been her nonchalant announcement that Houjou would be arriving within the hour for his daily tutoring session. InuYasha had stomped out the back door with Tetsusaiga in hand, and now his beloved sword was doing the greatest task of all: it was lodged through the door handles, barring entrance against anyone who thought to interrupt his solitude.

With a sigh, he pushed himself off the edge of the well, dropping into the darkness and grimacing when he lit on the hardened earth beneath his feet. The familiar surge of sadness swept through him, and he couldn't suppress the half-moan that spilled over. "Kagome . . ." he whispered, closing his eyes against the darkness. Leaning forward, fists resting on the compacted dirt, he drew his arm back only to slam his fist into the ground. The earth shook, dislodging dirt that fell around him like rain. Pulling his other hand back, he punched the ground once more but blinked suddenly. His fist had smashed against something almost smooth. Scowling in the darkness, he saw the faint outline, and he picked up the item in question, staring at it with an expression akin to grudging curiosity writ in his gaze.

Leaping out of the well, he strode up the stairs and jerked his sword out of the door handles. Sunlight flooded the well house when he opened the doors, and he blinked for a moment as his eyes adjusted to the bright light of day. Turning the slip of folded paper over in his hand, he frowned. 'InuYasha' was written on one side of it, and he recognized the handwriting as his heart skipped a beat.

Vaulting over to the base of Goshinboku, he leapt into the branches, thankful for the cover provided by the thick foliage. Examining the paper, he scowled. It looked like it was crumbling before his very eyes. Wincing as he tried to use his claw to separate the weathered paper, he carefully managed to pry the first fold open before it broke in half. He could piece it back together, couldn't he? If he could get the bits apart, he could piece it together so he could read it . . .

The next fold wasn't nearly as easy to maneuver. The paper was just too old. Having spent five hundred years sitting in the bottom of the well—he could only figure that being in the enclosed well was the reason that it hadn't disintegrated long ago—but he desperately needed to read whatever Kagome had written . . .

A sound akin to a whine escaped him as another bit of the paper crumpled to dust in his hands. All he had left was half of the folded letter—the half with his name written on it. Swallowing the bitter wash of disappointment that assailed him, he tried to take comfort in the idea that she'd written him the letter, even if he couldn't read it.

'Kagome . . .'

Ears flattening as the sound of her laughter echoed through his head, he wrapped his arms around Tetsusaiga and tried not to think about how often he's sat in trees—this tree in particular—with Kagome. Too many times to count, and how often had they just sat without saying a word? They hadn't seemed necessary, after all, had they . . .? He winced. No, they weren't necessary at all because . . . because Kagome knew him better than he sometimes knew himself . . . Carefully clutching the remnant of paper as though it was his last lingering hope, he sighed again and let his head fall back against the tree trunk.

'Some way, somehow I'll find a way, Kagome,' he vowed. 'I'll get back to you . . . just . . . wait for me . . .'

.

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... ... ... ... ... ...

A/N:

Shakuju: Miroku's ringed staff.

Hiraikotsu: Sango's weapon.

Houshi-sama: Sango's 'pet name' for Miroku … a very archaic way of formally addressing a monk.

Miko: Shinto Priestess.

Chiyo: Thousand years; eternal.

Tadao: Complacent; satisfied.

...

Final Thought from InuYasha:

Damn it … what did it say …?

...

Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic (will apply to this and all other chapters in Desideratum): I do not claim any rights to InuYasha or the characters associated with the anime/manga. Those rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi, et al. I do offer my thanks to her for creating such vivid characters for me to terrorize.

~Sue~