A/N: This is a one-shot that has been kicked around in my head for a long, long time. I never really planned to sit down and write it, but I've been thinking about it so much lately that I just had to. It's a little darker than my usual stories -- mostly because I wanted to use a neutral third party to analyze the relationship and characters. That's what this is, a character-driven piece.

This is a little blurb by the Self-proclaimed Queen of Faerie Tales and Happy Endings:

In all reality, there are very few happy endings. I like to indulge my romanticism with my stories by showing struggle and the eventual triumph of love, mostly because I nurse myself with dreams of love everlasting and finding that one person who can create a unity in your soul -- that there is another person out there that can ultimately understand you. In all honesty, I am a jaded individual, and I don't really believe in the concept of real-world love. I have been raised around people who have taught me that the only real love is what you have for yourself, and the loyalty you give to your family -- no matter how badly they mistreat you. Forgive the cynicism; the message wouldn't be the same without it.

Either way, thank you for reading and Enjoy!

Dedication: This piece was written for my Mother: the strongest, most patient person I have ever known; for my Grandmother: the bravest of women who raised three children by herself; and all those out there who know that life goes on after the ball, but still put on those glass slippers anyway.

Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha, or even the true concept for this piece. Dozens of fanfiction writers have come up with this premise before me. This is just my personal version of an older idea. I don't own the lyrics to "Baby Mine", they belong to the people of Disney. I am only borrowing them because they fit the premise and make me feel even more like crying than the text itself.

Baby Mine

Baby mine, don't you cry

Baby mine, dry your eyes

Rest your head close to my heart

Never to part, baby of mine

Little one, when you play

Don't you mind what they say

Let those eyes sparkle and shine

Never a tear, baby of mine...

It's hard to find a proper beginning for this story, because it really began long before I was around. No one asked me to tell this story, either. It was something that I decided to do for myself, and for you. Half of that reasoning is because I never wanted this story to go untold, but the other half is pure selfishness. It's a way to ease my own grief.

This is a story about love. The love of a family, the love of a parent, and the true love between two people.

Make no mistake when I say that I never believed in true love. I grew up strong, and by strong, I mean cynical. I stopped believing in faerie tales and happy endings early on in life. A lot of the talk of loving one person all of your life and having some kind of other worldly connection, just made me annoyed. I hated listening to it.

Why would a person like me tell a love story, you ask? There's a simple answer, really. Because I can. Because it's real. Because they are no longer here to tell the story themselves.

But now I'm getting ahead of myself.

I'll take this slow, and start it properly. I owe them that much.

I suppose the best place to begin would be at the beginning. But which beginning, I wonder. Theirs? Mine? Of everything? It's hard to decide, because there is so much to tell.

Perhaps it's easiest to start with this: I was born.

There was nothing terribly unique about my birth. Like all babies, I was created by my mother and my father, and after a gestation period of roughly nine months, my mother brought me into the world. She named me Midoriko, but she's the only one who ever called me that. I've always gone by Midori.

Now, like I have said, I was born. And like all babies, I was born into a family. Some children are not claimed by their own families, but by others. Some are never claimed at all, and must forge their own. I had a family; a very loving, albeit strange, family.

I was very lucky in my family, because I am one of the few in this world who can freely and honestly say was wanted. I know this with every fiber of my being, with every cell of my body. I was wanted by my family, and there was never a day that went by that they didn't let me know that. This was one of the reasons why I am devoted to the idea of family and the issues surrounding the importance of familial love over that of romance and lust. Superficial feelings fade with little effort, but your family are those who would love you without your looks, without money, and without your sweet ride.

Lovers come and go, but you're stuck with family.

Like with any relationship, family ties come with obligations. Rules, respect, and tradition.

Every family has traditions, some good and some bad. Where some families ate turkey on Sundays or went to the same beach every summer, my family took care of a tree. Well, in all fairness, it's a shrine, but the tree is the most important thing. My family has been caretakers of this particular shrine for over four generations. We've always been pretty proud of this fact, even if it can be considered rather weird.

Funny thing is, for a family that lives on a shrine, none of us are very religious. Grandpa was always infatuated with the mythical and mystical side of history, and he got my uncle hooked on that same kind of obsession. Grandma was a home-grown woman; she believed more in the power of family and love, that we all run our own lives and destinies. My mother was the one who believed in God and fate, but she never pressed me with any kind of formal faith system. They were all very liberal as I grew up, all giving me a taste of themselves in the hope of raising me to be something better than all of them. Not every child can learn from the wisdom of a great-grandfather, the common sense of a grandmother, the playfulness of an uncle, and the gentleness of a mother, all without leaving the front door of their home.

One could say this was another of our family traditions, the passing on of ideals.

But there is another tradition in our family that is never talked about. All our children grow up without fathers.

Grandpa, my great-grandfather, was the exception to the rule. He, the father of my mother's father, outlived his son in order to care of the family left behind. My grandmother's father died when she was a baby. My mother and uncle grew up without their father. From what I know of my own father, he didn't have one either.

And neither do I.

No turkey dinners for us.

This morbid tradition of ours doesn't stop us from leading happy lives. It's a way to give us strength as we grow. Grandpa used to say we're cursed. I used to believe it.

The truth is, I never realized that I needed a father when I was a child. It wasn't until I started going to school and seeing my friends with their fathers that I realized I was supposed to have one. I would ask my mother all the time about my father, but she never really said anything about him. She would only smile and pat me on the head, but once I was out of the room, I could hear her crying. I hated making her cry, so I'd ask Grandma, or Grandpa, or even my uncle. All of them would get nervous or sad, and change the topic. Being a kid, I never noticed.

One night, when I was around six years old, my mother came into my room to tuck me in before bed. She sat down on the corner of my mattress, as she did every night, and she leaned over to kiss my cheek, as she did every night. But when she normally got up and turned off the light, she stayed where she was.

I watched her as she sighed, staring at the floor. My beautiful, young mother, with the same raven black hair as mine. Finally, she turned to look at me with her blue eyes filled with quiet resignation.

"Midori," she said to me, petting my hair. "I want to tell you a story." I was excited, because it was Grandpa who always told me stories. "I want to tell you a story about your father."

And so she did. That night, and every night after that until I was too old to want a bedtime story anymore. She would tell me long, fantastic stories about a handsome warrior who fought with an evil demon to try and stop a deadly fate from happening to the world he knew. At the end of every story she would tell me, "Midoriko, if your father had known you, he would love you every bit as much as I do." And I always believed her, because it was a deep-set fear that my father wouldn't have loved me.

She spoke of him as a hero, and so I always thought of him like that. It's surprising just how much a story can mean when you have nothing else of your father, not even a photograph.

I guess one could say that all of my problems as a child stemmed from my father; or rather, my lack of having one.

When you're a child, you don't know what words or stares mean, even when other kids are the ones staring. They, the other kids, learn from their parents, who learned from their parents, which is why prejudice is something that lingers. Growing up, a child who does the staring only does so because they think it will please their parents while the child who is stared at does not remain a child very long.

Needless to say, I was stared at.

I never really noticed in the beginning because I never knew what it meant. At the time, I didn't recognize words like "bastard" and I didn't understand why they called me a "mistake". It only made me puzzled. When I brought it up to my mother, she burst into tears and hugged me so hard it hurt. My grandmother tried to comfort her, but in the end she started crying too.

My uncle was the only one with any sense in that situation. He hefted me up into his arms and took me into the yard to play while the women collected themselves. When I started asking him what the words had meant, he took me by the hand and got to his knees in front of me.

"Midori," he said, making sure he was eye level with me. "There will always be stupid people who will say hurtful things about you because they don't understand. These people think what they think because no one ever taught them differently, and no matter what you say, it won't make them think any differently. Do you understand?"

I nodded, though I really didn't.

"You never have to listen to anything they say to you, Midori. You are not a mistake. You are loved."

We played soccer after that. When we went back inside, my mother and grandmother were back to normal and no more was said about it.

I guess you could say that was the moment I stopped being a child and started to grow up. It took me several years, but I became well acquainted with the word and meaning of "bastard", and how it applied to me. Through whispers and rumors around the neighborhood, I became accustomed to what everyone else thought about me and my family.

Although I wanted to listen to my uncle and believe what he said, I let it bother me. It bothered me that people thought they could pass judgment on me and my family. It bothered me because I saw how my mother cried when I'd come home, black and blue, after yet another fight with the neighborhood children. I hated making my mother cry.

My family never really addressed the rumors, at least not while I was around, and I didn't really understand them until my teen years, but what I did know, I pieced together on my own. I never talked about it at home, never tried to verify my questions, but I knew enough from broken conversation to make out the basics of the story.

My mother had me when she was sixteen. She wasn't married or engaged or even formally dating anyone, which made it a kind of neighborhood scandal. This is a fact that I heard from my uncle, who had been arguing with my grandmother after I had broken my arm in a fight with three older boys. I was ten years old at the time.

The rumors of the neighborhood go that my mother doesn't know who my father was. She never gave his name when asked about it, so that is what they assume, but that is a lie. I know what his name is, as does the rest of my family. My mother just never wanted to spread it around and give the gossips the opportunity to gossip more. I know that she didn't marry my father because she never had the chance. He had died before she even realized she was pregnant with me.

I know that makes me a bastard, a child who was not claimed by a father, and that makes my mother subject to ridicule. I do not have my father's name, or access to his lineage.

I was given the name of Higurashi, and I was raised to be a Higurashi. Even if I had been claimed by my father, that fact wouldn't change. Nothing can change who I am, no matter what others might think.

Despite my lack of paternal influences, I grew up with an uncle who always looked after me. I didn't really use the title of "uncle" when I talked to him -- too many syllables for a person who had a bedroom next to yours all of your life. I simply called him Souta.

He was four years younger than my mom, an uncle at twelve. He grew up taking care of me, and I gave him valuable tips for picking up women at the park with my "I'm lost" routine. Mom wasn't happy when she found out about that. Still, she never stayed mad with him long; neither did I. He was the kind of guy who's great with people and always knows the right thing to say, and when. My mother would always laugh and say how such an irritating little boy grew into such a good man. Then he'd pull her hair and they'd run around the living room.

Souta and I were always pals. He taught me how to play soccer, and climb trees, and always helped me with my math homework. He helped me cover up some bruises and bloodied lips from my fights. In fact, he taught me my right hook -- a move that took down many a playground foe. Although he always told me not to fight with other kids, he knew my nature well enough to know that I would stand for no foul words against the people I loved.

If Souta was not enough masculine reinforcement in my life, there was always Grandpa Higurashi, my great-grandfather. It was always a mouthful for a two-year-old to say "great-grandpa", so we shortened it to what everyone else called him. He was always spry and funny, so it was hard to tell he was actually my great-grandfather in the first place. This was a man who spent hours telling me tales about demons and ways to kill and seal them, although none of what he said was really true. I always loved listening to him anyway, because I loved his enthusiasm. He was the one who taught me most of what I know about myth and lore.

I was the one who took over the job of sweeping out the yard when his arthritis got too bad. And although there are children who become awkward around the elderly, I never felt that way, even when we were in the supermarket and Grandpa would make a scene over a nickel extra charge on his heart medicine. I always quite enjoyed his company.

I was never at a loss for male guidance and love, even if they weren't from my father.

Because I am a girl, I spent most of my time around women; my mother and my grandmother to be exact. Although I could out kick a pro, and could knock a tenth grader on his back when I was still in sixth grade, I was still a girl. My temperament was honestly more mild than aggressive, though my mother often joked that I had the famous Higurashi temper.

Grandma was the one who taught me about the meaning of family, and the responsibilities of faith and love. She once told me that being a mother is its own kind of religion, and I'm sure being a grandmother is the same way. Grandma always made time for me to do things with her, like bake cookies or go to the market. I always just loved to watch her go about her tasks with such happy diligence. She was like a rock of strength that everyone else in the family leaned up against: the one to get advice from, the one to vent problems to, and the one to put your worries to rest.

There are plenty of women out there in this world who would have been less understanding to a pregnant sixteen-year-old daughter. Grandma is no fool, and knew from day one the kind of treatment that would be given to her family once word got out that I was going to be born. I don't think there was a moment where she paused to think about a different outcome; she loved my mother, and she knew she would love me.

This is the kind of woman who raised my mother.

That is perhaps the best tradition of the Higurashi family: the breeding of strong women.

I know that there was never a doubt in my mother's mind when she discovered my existence. Naturally, she was young and alone, so she was afraid and probably more than a little sad, but she wanted me more than she had ever wanted anything before in her life. She wanted me because my father was gone, and she wanted a piece of him left with her. She wanted me because she needed someone, something, to love with all of her heart again. And she wanted me because that is just my mother. That is just Kagome Higurashi: she finds good in people who believe there is no good left in them, and she loves those who believe they have no hope of being loved.

My mother was my inspiration, my best friend. She was the one who dried my tears, and held me when I was scared, and kissed all the scraped knees. My mother was the one who always encouraged me to have faith in what I thought was something important, from family to my favorite soccer team. When I got into fights, she would cry when she thought I couldn't see. I had seen the way other parents at my school would refuse to talk to her, and how at the supermarket everyone would get quiet when she walked in, but their treatment of her never bothered her. Mom was the kind of woman who could deal with whatever other people thought of her without a backward glance. It was their treatment of me that hurt her.

Mom was always the person I loved most in the world because I knew she loved me, more than anything else. Whenever someone stared at me, or made a comment, I knew that they didn't matter because my mother loved me. We were opposites like that. Growing up, I would fight with other children because they would make fun of her, and she would tell off snobby neighbors when they made fun of me. We lived for family, and the love we had for each other. And if it ever came down to it, I could live off of my mother's love.

There had to have been a million times when I'd ask Mom, or Grandma, why we stayed in this neighborhood, if people were so horrible.

"This is our home, Midori," Mom would say. The expression on her face was always the same, shifting between a smile and a frown. "This is where we belong."

Maybe, maybe not.

Sometimes I thought she wanted to stay here so badly because of my father, because of her memory of him and how much a part of him still lingered in this place.

If I were completely honest, I would have to say that I didn't want to leave the shrine. It was my home too, and I loved it there. The lofty buildings, the sacred tree, and even the old well house, were all things of my childhood that are burned into my mind and even my skin. I think that if you were to take a Higurashi away from this place, they would shrivel up into something else. We would lose our shine, so to speak.

Like I said, we are a strange family. A breed of our own.

One normal thing I can say about myself is that, growing up, I went through the natural stages a kid goes through when they grow up with a single parent: ignorance, indifference, longing, and anger.

Ignorance comes first because, when I was a child, I didn't know that there was anything different about my family. I didn't know it wasn't "normal", according to the standards of others. All I knew was what I had, and I loved what I had.

Indifference came next because even once I become aware that there was something lacking, I didn't fully understand it. When you've never had a father, you don't know what you're missing. So I never had a father, big deal. So some of the other kids have a mom and a dad in the audience at the school play; I had a grandmother, an uncle, and a great-grandfather with my mom.

Longing happened when I got a little older, around nine or ten. I think it was because I started puberty and I fought with my mom a lot more than I had before. I was feeling alone and I wanted someone there to be on my side. I hurt my family a lot during that time, because I pulled the "dad" card. I even went so far as to scream "you're not my father" at Souta when he tried to discipline me for doing something stupid. He didn't talk to me for a few days, and my mother was furious. We made up, of course, but it took a while for our relationship to heal.

But after all the ignorance and indifference and longing, there came anger. And I was angry for a very long time.

It was easy to blame my father for everything because he wasn't there to defend himself. It was easy to blame him for the stares, and the fights, and how my mother cried. It was easy to blame him for why I had very few friends growing up, and for how it was hard for my mother to find a good job, and for the nasty things I said to my uncle when I was a kid. It was easier to blame a phantom than to blame a person, especially myself.

I don't find myself to be unique among teenagers. Most are the same way I was, feeling lost and angry; that feeling of being filled with unjustified angst and depression. I had that selfish feeling that no one in the world had it worse than me, but I still tried to be happy for my family. I'd put on the brave face and smile. But when I was alone in my room at night, looking out my window at the huge tree and the stars behind it, I would be angry. I would fume and brood and, eventually, cry, because as much as I hated my father, I desperately wanted to know him.

I wanted to meet the man my mother had loved so devotedly.

And she was devoted, always had been, even to a memory.

Grandpa had told me the story when I was around fourteen, when I was sweeping the yard and he was sitting nearby with some lemonade for the two of us. Mom and Souta were at work, and Grandma was at the market, so it was really just the two of us with an afternoon alone. It had taken me a long time to work up the courage to finally ask him, but I knew out of anyone, he would give me an honest answer.

"Grandpa," I said, sitting beside him, fiddling with the broom handle. "Why doesn't Mom ever date?"

It always bothered me that, even when I started becoming interested in the opposite sex, my mother never went out. Not once that I could ever remember.

"Because she's still in love," Grandpa said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

"With my dad?"

He nodded.

"But he's been gone so long."

"There is no time limit on love, Midori. Your mother found her life's love in your father, and she will carry that for all of her life."

It made me think, but I still wanted more information. I wanted to know why I had been denied a father, even if he hadn't been truly my own. "But people fall in and out of love all the time, and Mom is beautiful, I'm sure she could find someone else."

"It wasn't as though she was never asked," he told me, sipping his lemonade. "When your mother was pregnant with you, when it first became known to everyone, there was a young man named Hojo who wanted to marry her."

I had never heard this, and my heart stopped beating in my chest when he said the words. "What?"

"Oh, he and your mother had gone on a date once or twice, I think. He loved her, I suppose, but she was in love with your father. But he died, and she was left here, alone with you. I suppose Hojo was doing the honorable thing because he would have claimed you, knowing you weren't his own, but your mother refused him."

"But why?" I whined. "Did she ever think of what I would have wanted?"

"Every day!" Grandpa suddenly boomed. "You were always the most important thing to her, Midoriko, and never think otherwise." I fell silent, too fearful to even correct him on saying my full name. "You have to understand, dear, that your mother loved your father. She loved him, and you, so much that she would never want you to have a replacement, even if that meant you never having a father."

I didn't really understand. I couldn't fathom Mom loving someone, other than me, that much. "Why won't she let herself love anyone else?"

"It's not that she won't," he told me. "It's that she can't. In her heart, Kagome will always love Inuyasha. Dead or alive, now or then. That is the forever kind of love, Midori. And that is the kind of love that created you."

I never asked my mother about Hojo, the man she had rejected. And I never brought up my mother's love life to my family again.

Still, I worried about my mother. As I got older, she seemed to get smaller. When I was fifteen, she seemed to get sick very often. I kept telling her to go to the doctor, and after weeks of my nagging, she would go and come back saying the same thing. "I'm fine." But she wasn't. She was getting worse.

Grandma and Grandpa would looked after her, and worry, but not like I worried. Souta would take her to the doctor and fill her prescriptions, but did not become as fearful as I did. It was like they knew something I didn't. Like everyone wanted to tell me something, but held back.

I didn't have to wait long, really. A month after my sixteenth birthday, my mother collapsed in the living room. She was rushed to the hospital, unconscious, and slept for two days. After she woke up, and tests were done, they told me.

Mom was dying.

I was numb for days. I would eat meals, and go to school, and do my chores, then go to the hospital to visit Mom. Everyone at home watched me like I was a bomb about to blow, and in truth, I was. After a couple days of being a zombie, I cracked. Straight down the middle. Like Humpty-Dumpty. I crumbled to the floor in the kitchen in the middle of washing dishes, and just started sobbing. Once I started, I couldn't stop, not for hours.

Souta carried me up to my room, and Grandma sat with me as I wept, crying herself. She was the one who told me the awful truth.

"Your mother had a complicated pregnancy. Your birth was very rough on her, and afterwards she caught an infection. It weakened her system, and she needed two surgeries. They warned her that if she didn't have treatments and more operations, that she didn't have more than ten years. But she refused, and she's been with us for sixteen years."

I felt dead. I felt empty. "So...it was my fault?"

"No!" Grandma said to me, hugging me close. "Your mother is stubborn. Once she makes up her mind to do anything, she never goes back. Who she helps, who she loves, what she does with her life: what that girl decides is set in stone. You know that, Midori. You're just like her."

I didn't feel like her. I felt like a pathetic failure. I felt like a mistake, like a true bastard. Mostly I felt guilty, because no matter what Grandma said now, she couldn't un-ring the gong. Mom was dying because she'd given birth to me. Her embarrassment.

I skipped school the next day to visit my mother. Grandma and Grandpa were at home, waiting for me to go back, and Souta was working the early shift so he could spend afternoon visiting hours with us. They would be angry that I skirted my responsibilities, but I didn't care. I just needed to see her, to talk to her. Alone.

Because morning hours hadn't started yet, I had to sneak past the nurses' station and into the wing where her room was. When I snuck through the door, I saw she was sleeping, so I tossed my bag on to an empty chair and collapsed into the one next to it. I watched her sleep: the steady rise and fall of her chest, moving in rhythm with the humming and beeping of the machines around her. Each beep on the monitor was another second less I had with her, like another piece of sand through an hourglass that was almost empty.

I can't say when I started to cry, but it began with a single tear, and became one of those knee hugging, body trembling, sobbing into your jeans kind of crying. And it was little wonder that it woke Mom.

"Midoriko?" she whispered. I heard the creak of a mattress, the shuffling of sheets against skin. When I lifted my head, she was sitting up, and looking at me with such a sad expression. She held out her arms to me, open and inviting. "Come here, baby." I was across the room in two strides, and then I was in her arms. Holding her, hugging her, knowing that for this one moment she was here and alive and with me. She rocked me, back and forth, like when I was a child. She hummed the lullaby she sang to me as a baby, and eventually I quieted.

"I skipped school," I whispered into her shoulder.

"I'll forgive you this once," she replied, stroking my hair.

"It's my fault, Mommy," I said, eyes welling again. "I made you sick."

"And where did you hear garbage like that," she said angrily, pulling away so I would have to look her in the eye.

"Grandma told me you got sick because of me, because I was a complicated pregnancy!"

"That's not what made me sick," my mother said, catching my face with her hands. "I got an infection, which is nobody's fault."

"Why didn't you get treatment?" I yelled, suddenly jerking away from her touch. "Why didn't you do something to prevent this?"

"I had two operations, Midoriko," she told me, accepting my anger patiently. Mom was a fire cracker, but she always held it in for me. "They wanted to keep me in hospitals all over the country. I would have had to stay in bed for months and go through countless treatments. I would have missed your entire life, baby."

"But at least you would have been alive!"

"For an extra handful of years, maybe." The mighty Kagome Higurashi lowered her head, fatigued. I was quickly at her side.

"Mom, do you need something? Water? The doctor?"

"No, no I'm fine," she assured me, her hands on my arm. "You have to understand, Midoriko. They said that, even with the treatment, I would have twenty years at best. But here, I have seen sixteen without their poking and prodding." She looked tormented as she touched my face. "I wanted to be able to be there for you. To pack your lunches and bandage your wounds and go to your school plays. If I had let them have their way, I never would have had that. You would have had to visit me every weekend and sit next to my bed for two hours, and tell me about everything I had missed."


"I was selfish, Midoriko. I wanted to be with you as long as I could, as healthy as I could. I wanted to run around and play with you, and tuck you in at night. Forgive me, please."

I hugged her then, tightly. "I love you, Mom."

She cried. I cried. We were like that until a nurse came and threatened to throw me out. Mom stopped her with a well placed pout and use of attitude.

When we were alone again, and pulled a chair over to the bedside and we talked about things we had never really talked before. We talked about what I wanted to do with my future, about the kind of money I would need for college, about things I would inherit and what legal things had to be done when she was no longer around.

I was still a minor, so Grandma would become my guardian. Things wouldn't change too much, except that she would be in charge of my finances and legal documents. Things wouldn't change too much, except I would be an orphan.

Mom trailed off in her talk for a while. We ate, time went by, and then she looked at me again. "You look so much like your father," she said to me.

I was taken back initially because everyone had always told me that I was the spitting image of my mother. "What do you mean?"

"You have my hair, and my nose." She touched each in turn. "But you've got your father's chin. Whenever you'd pout, I'd think of him. You have his face, a little softer, but it's him. And oh, you have his eyes. Big and gold, just like Inuyasha's."

I had been told that before, that I had my father's eyes, but not by her. My mother never talked about my father except in her stories, which stopped when I was twelve. "Mom," I said, my mouth very dry. "Tell me about him."

"What do you want to know?" she asked me.

"Anything," I breathed. "I'll take anything."

"He was many things, Midoriko," my mother said. "He was frustrating and arrogant, but then he was scared and lonely. He was a perfect hero and a villain at the same time. But overall, he was just a man, like any other, even if he was partly demon blood."

"Stop it!" I snapped, turning away from her, clenching my fists. "This is not a game, Mom. This is not a story. I never got to know my father, but you did. I just want to know who he was, because you were the one who knew him the best." I looked back at her then, watching me pensively. "You're leaving me soon," I whispered. "Then I'll lose both of you."

"Midoriko," she said to me, taking my hand in her own, "whatever it is you believe, you must believe me when I say this: all the stories I told you were true. When I was fifteen, I fell down the well, and I came out the other side to meet your father."

I was getting angry. "Mom--"

"I didn't believe in magic or demons when I was your age either," she said. "But haven't you ever wondered? Hasn't it ever seemed odd to you that you were so good at fighting? That you were always so much stronger than the other children, even the boys?" I opened my mouth to comment, but closed it. I had always wondered. "It's because your father was half demon, and some of his strength was passed to you."

"I'm...not human?"

"Oh, of course you are," Mom said, pulling me into her embrace once more. "You are Midoriko Higurashi, a beautiful, smart human girl, and nothing I say can ever take that from you."

"Why did he have to leave us, Mommy?" I asked her, crying again.

"I don't know, baby," she said. "But I do know that, if he had known you, he would love you every bit as much as I do." I believed her, like I always did.

Of course, I had heard the story. Everything about a jewel and a villain and a sad woman with a cloudy soul. I knew the ending, all blood and sacrifice and honor. Of how my mother had picked up the broken pieces of her life and her heart and did the right thing, even when she had no strength to do it. I knew that my father had died as he had lived, like a hero.

It was first time I really mourned him instead of myself not having him. I also mourned for the love he shared with my mother, because I always thought that it was dead with him.

When Grandma, Grandpa, and Souta got to the hospital and found me, they were understandably angry, but Mom told them to relax. She even went so far as to say it was her idea, because she wanted to talk to me alone. They were more worried about her than angry at me, so the topic was dropped.

We spent the day there, at the hospital. Souta left earlier because he had work the next morning. Then Grandma and Grandpa left, because visiting hours were over. I lingered, promising to get home before it got too late, but I think they knew I was lying. I wanted to stay here, to talk with my mother a little longer.

So I stayed, and we talked and joked, and it got later. When we had fallen into a lull, where I was holding her hand and she was resting against the pillows, I looked at my mother, so small and frail with her hair spread out and her skin so pale, and part of me cracked. Not out of pity or anger, but because I loved her so deeply, and I couldn't even imagine what my life would be like without her in it. This was Kagome Higurashi, my one and only mother. She was the one who gave me my life, who gave me my name and my personality.

I looked at her and saw the two of us jumping into a pile of leaves after Souta had just spent an hour raking them up. I saw us making snowmen in the yard, and washing dishes in the kitchen. I saw countless shopping adventures and dozens of fights over meaningless things that we would forget about ten minutes later. I saw nights on the couch watching television, and playing cards until two in the morning, and singing off key to music on the radio.

I looked at her and saw everything insignificant thing we had ever done in the past sixteen years, and something inside me began to break.

Mommy, don't leave me. Mommy, you can't go. Mommy...Mommy...please.

She could see something moving in me then, that maternal instinct at work. She moved over on the bed, giving me enough room to climb in with her. We held on to each other then, ignoring the hum and beeping of the machines, and the tubing that was attached to her skin.

It scared me, how small she was, pressed against me. I had always seen my mother as infinitely larger than myself. But in this room, in this bed, I was the bigger and stronger of us. It was then that I realized my mother didn't need me to be a weeping mess. She needed me to be strong for her, to help her find the peace she needed.

There is never enough time in life. The human experience is so unfairly short when you are an inch from death. My mother would not have long, the doctors drilled this into my skull. The time she did have, would be for us. For me and my family.

So I held my mother close and hummed the lullaby she always sang to me when I was a child. I sang softly as she wept against my chest. I rubbed her back, letting her take my strength. For the first time, I sang her to sleep in my arms. It was the first time I understood how scared she was.

Two weeks later, my mother was dead. My beautiful, wonderful, perfect mother, went to sleep and never woke up. We were all beside her; I was holding her hand.

I grieved, naturally, but I was strong for my family. Mom and Grandma had planned out the arrangements beforehand, so everything was set. We held the funeral, and people shook my hand and said they were sorry when I knew they really weren't. They didn't know her. They made comments about her, and ignored her. They had no right to even speak her name. But I put on a face and I accepted their condolences, and I respected them. It was more than they ever did for her, but it was what she would have wanted from me.

The night of my mother's funeral, I went out to the well. The one that started the entire mess. Everyone else was asleep, out of grief or exhaustion, so I knew no one would bother me.

I will admit that over the years, under the influence of my mother's stories, I had tried to crawl into the well and into other worlds, but it had never worked. When I jumped in the well, I usually wrenched my knee and got dirty. That was it. This time, I wouldn't accept it.

I placed my hands on the wood of the well, braced myself, and jumped over. There was that brief moment of air rushing past my ears, of free-falling, and then I landed on the bottom. It knocked me off balance and I fell back. I felt defeated and wanted to cry, but anger came to my rescue.

"No!" I said, flipping on to my knees. I buried my fingers into the dirt on the ground. "You can't do this to me. I won't let you!" I cursed as I dug, fingernails blackened and face smudged. "You took my father," I half-screamed, half-sobbed. "You took my mother. You took everything from me! I won't let you lock me out. I don't care if I have to dig my way through, you will let me in!" I didn't even know who I was yelling at. All I knew was that this well connected me to where I came from, and I had nothing else to lose.

One minute I was digging in dirt, and then the bottom fell out of my stomach. Wind rushed past my face again and I was falling. Falling in slow motion through what felt like water, even though I wasn't wet. There was a bright light in the distance and I was moving toward it. Maybe this was what my mother had always felt, always experienced, as she was passing through worlds to my father.

The light came to meet me, and I was gently placed on solid ground again. A dusty, dirty well bottom floor. I was on the other side.

My chest seized. It was a moment I had been waiting for. My mother had been telling me the truth all along. This was real. This was part of me, a child of two times. I stumbled in my haste to get to my feet, and I climbed the ladder. But when I got to the top, I was scared. What would I see? What would it mean? Had I just lost my mind with grief? Was I dreaming?

I didn't know anything, really. I had no certainty.

In the end, it was that desperate desire to know where I came from that urged me to pop my head out of the well just enough to look around. And when my eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight, and when I had gained the courage to survey my surroundings, I soon saw that I was not alone.

Two people were standing across the clearing around the well. They were having a loud argument, and paid no attention to me. I began shaking when I truly recognized who they were.

Small and dark-haired, her body tensed with temper and her voice high with annoyance, my mother stared down the greatest of opponents with an iron nerve. She was always at her prettiest when she was mad, and this was no exception. I marveled at her, at how young she looked and how familiar she was despite that. My hungry eyes ate the sight of her, knowing that this would probably be the last time. Kagome. Mom.

Across from her, just as furious and just as real, stood a young man all in red. Although I had never before seen him, I knew him for who he was. Long silver hair, the flashing golden eyes, the boisterous yelling, he faced her fire with one every bit as hot. Mom was right, I did have his chin. Inuyasha, my father. A man I had never seen. It was funny that I had spent so many years hating him and cursing him, but the second I laid eyes on him, I knew I loved him every bit as much as I had loved my mother.

My parents, together and alive, fought just a few yards away from where I hid. Part of me wanted to pop out and tackle them, but they wouldn't know me. This was before I was even conceived. In all likelihood, Dad would think I was a threat and attack me. So I stayed where I was, watching them, weeping silently. My heart was so full I thought it would burst, and I was shaking so badly I knew I would lose my grip soon.

I watched them fight, then almost make up before fighting again. It was so funny and so real, just like how I imagined they would be like. I tried to picture what my life would have been like had Dad been there when I was growing up. Mom would have been happier. There wouldn't have been any stares or fights, probably. But then, would I be me? If I were to pop out of this well and scream a warning to them that Dad would die unless he did this or avoided that, if I changed their futures, it would change my past. Right?

Who would I be? What would I be? Too much. It was all too much. I couldn't make that decision.

I closed my eyes and listened to them argue. But then things got quiet and something happened. I opened my eyes and saw them embracing one another. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. So I did both, silently.

I couldn't make that decision because it wasn't mine to make. It was theirs. And they had made their choices and lived their lives.

And I was the result.

My mother had loved my father. My father had loved my mother. Looking at them together, all the doubt that had once crowded my heart disappeared.

"Thank you," I whispered, letting go of the ladder. I fell back into the well, back through the water that wasn't water, and landed on the ground once more. I looked up and saw darkness. I was home.

When I climbed out and walked into the yard, I was filled with so many things at once I didn't know where to start. It had begun to rain and I turned my face up toward it. The rain would wash me clean, and I laughed.

I laughed and I spun and I danced, because I was happy. I was so happy that I couldn't ever begin to explain it.

There is no time limit on love.

My mother was dead, but her love for me was not. I could still feel it, wrapped around me like a blanket. I could still live off of her love for me. For the first time, I truly understood what she had tried to tell me for sixteen years.

My parents had been in love, that bottomless, soul-searing, forever kind of love. The kind of love that transcends time. The kind of love that transcends death. Even though my father had been gone, his love for her remained. They had shared that rare love that is timeless and ageless and pure. It was from that love that I was created.

That love lives on in me.

From love I was born, in love I will live, and when I die, that love will go with me.

No one told me to tell this story, but it has the right to be told. I was not there during great battles and daring adventures. I was there after the pieces had settled into place, and after the damage was done. I was what came after the faerie tale ends.

True love can exist, I do believe that, but there are very few people who can bear the burden it carries. Not all faerie tales end with a happily ever after, sometimes they just end, and everyone else has to carry on. But we do carry on. And we all carry that hope that one day we will get our own chance at true love, and we will be worthy of it.

I still dance in the rain. And tomorrow I will tell you a story about two people who triumphed over time and magic in order to find their love. They are part of me, and I can feel them still. Now and forever.

Everyone is born with love and the ability to love. If the family you are given does not love you, then you can make your own family with love. But never forget that everyone can be loved, and that you are loved. So sleep now, my baby. My love. Sleep well in knowing that you were born with my love, and carry it with you wherever you go. For always and ever.

If they knew sweet little you

They'd end up loving you too

All those same people who scold you

What they'd give just for

The right to hold you

From your head down to your toes

You're not much, goodness knows

But you're so precious to me

Cute as can be, baby of mine

The End