I could remember every detail of my last moment with him – the solid strength of his arm around my waist, the scent of the trees and earth that clung to his fire rat haori, the contrast of his silver hair against my ebony strands as they spilt over my shoulder, the warmth of his breath on my cheek…

If I closed my eyes, it was almost like I was there again, right back in that moment when Fate decided to part us. There were so many things that I wish I could've said to him, things that would never have the opportunity to be heard.

It had been three years since that moment and I still couldn't move past it. I refused to accept that this, this life, this boring, un-fulfilling, meaningless existence was my destiny. It felt wrong, in every way; it felt empty.

The truth was, I was lonely and I missed him.

Not a night went by when I didn't dream of sleeping beneath the stars in the countryside with him at my side. In class I sat there wondering what he was doing and imagining the adventures we'd be having if I were back in his world. Each day that I got up, put on my uniform and headed to school was a reminder that this world I now lived in was mine, forever, and the world I longed for, his world, could never be mine again.

After my 225th failed attempt at jumping through the well, I'd tried to tell myself that I was happier this way. That other life had been nothing but a lot of excess emotional baggage anyway, hadn't it? Near death adventures, saving the world from evil, painful love triangles – I didn't need those things complicating my life! Besides, now that I wasn't halving my time between school and the feudal era my grades had improved. I had free time to go to the mall with my friends and stop for ice cream after school. And for the first time in my life I could go on a date without worrying that a certain irate hanyou would suddenly show up and cause a scene.

It was true, life was simpler. Life was everything I had wanted it to be and yet, I'd never been unhappier.

I could remember thinking back then that this was all I wanted – for my life to go back to normal. I'd moaned about my fate, at times wishing I could be a regular teenage girl again with no obligations of hunting jewel shards or slaying demons. I'd been so determined to get back to this place, so headstrong when it came to living some semblance of a 'normal' life. Now I had everything that I'd wished for and I'd give it all up if it meant that things could go back to the way they were before.

I'd gladly sacrifice trips to the mall, movie dates with Hojo, even my high school diploma, if it meant that when I peered inside this well he would be waiting for me at the bottom, ready to take me home. I held my breath and peered down into the well's inky black hole.

Hope rode high in my chest, swelling my heart and constricting my lungs as it always did. I don't know why I still hoped anymore. Three years had gone by and not once in all that time had the well let me through. I don't know why I expected this day to be any different.

I rested my hands atop the worn wood grain and thought again about that last moment we'd shared together and all the days that had come since. As I recalled the tears that'd been in my family's eyes when we'd reappeared in that pillar of light, I began to wonder if I was the reason the well had separated us. In that moment, all I'd thought was how relieved I was to see them again and how thankful I was to be home. Once I was in my mother's arms I'd felt no desire to ever leave the safety of their protection. My thought had been resounding and final – I'm Home.

With a sinking feeling in my stomach I began to realize that it was my own fear that'd kept us apart. My hands gripped the lip of the well tighter as I fought back a cry of agony and frustration. Of course, it all made perfect sense now that I'd pieced it together.

After spending so many days alone in that dark place my thoughts had only been of home. My mind was preoccupied with making my family happy again and the only way I could do that was by staying safely in the modern world. I'd wanted to do that for them. I'd wanted to graduate high school for Mama and watch Souta grow up a little more. I'd wanted to make sure Gramps was okay and that someone would be there to help him take care of the shrine. I'd wanted to enjoy what was left of my teenage life – to be reckless and immature and boy crazy just a little while longer…

I'd wanted all of those things and it wasn't until each of them had been accomplished that I would be able to go back to him without regret. I would never wonder what could have been. I'd stayed, I knew. I understood what came next for me here as clearly and as readily as I understood that I would never truly be truly happy again unless I was at his side.

I'm ready now, I thought. I'm finally ready. Please, take me back to him.

I stared hard into the furthest depths of the well, straining my eyes against the dark shadows. I waited a while longer and concentrated hard; too scared to breathe for fear that I was wrong.

What would I do if I was never able to go back? I shook the thought out of my mind, stubbornly unwilling to contemplate anything but success. When two people loved each other as much as… When two people needed each other like we did, was Fate cruel enough to keep us apart?

"Kagome? What are you doing down here?"

My mother called to me from the stairs, patient understanding underlying her tone. She'd been so good to me these past three years, indulging me each and every time I determinedly jumped into the well. She'd never once scolded me while dabbing antiseptic on my cut knees. Never once did she suggest that I forget about him and move on. She'd never know just how much I'd relied upon her strength to help me through those first few rough patches. She'd never once complained, never once let me down. She'd been my rock, my strongest pillar of support for three years, and compared with that a mere 'thank you' sounded so inconsequential.

I heard her slippers clap softly on the stairs as she made her way down and then her hands was on my shoulder, warm and strong.

"The well…"

We gasped in unison as the midnight black depths of the well shifted and changed. The tiny space appeared to warp and expand, collapsing in on itself and bridging out until it looked as through we were staring through a small window at a beautiful, sunny sky.

"Mama… I…"

Her hand on my shoulder tightened briefly before she pulled me into a strong hug. She understood, just as I did, that I wouldn't be coming back this time. When I pulled back I'd expected to find tears and hear desperate pleas for me to reconsider and stay. I was only half right. There were tears in my mother's eyes, but she was smiling at me as though she were seeing me for the first time.

"I'm so proud of you."

Her words struck a chord and I felt the tears in my own eyes bubble over.

"Mama, I'm going to miss you so much!" I sobbed before wrapping my arms around her once more. I felt like a child, crying the way I was, but she didn't seem to mind. She soothed me with quiet words and gentle strokes of her hand against my back until I'd calmed down.

Taking me by the shoulders, she pushed me away and offered a reassuring smile.

"Everything's going to be fine, Kagome. We'll miss you, but we'll be okay here. Don't worry about us. It's time to go to him. I'm sure he's missed you, too."

I nodded and my eyes slipped to the well. I let out a sigh of relief when I saw that the blue sky was there, the same as before. I still had time, but there was no knowing how long it would last.

My mother suddenly looked thoughtful as she made her way to the well steps.

"Perhaps I should pack a few things for you to take along? I think your yellow knapsack is still in the hall closet…"

She pursed her lips in thought over that one, no doubt trying to remember where she'd seen it last. I shook my head, suddenly certain that there was nothing from this world that I wanted to bring with me. If I was going back to that place I wanted to have a fresh start, a new beginning, with no excess baggage from my past.

Mama smiled, understanding the way mothers do, and motioned for me to stay put while she disappeared out the well house door.

The wait felt long but she was only gone a few minutes. I spent the entire time staring down into the well, willing that window to remain open just a little while longer. I wondered how different it would be, being back there. Would I feel like an outsider all over again? Or would things pick up right where they'd left off?

I wondered too about my friends and how they'd changed. How much more grown up would little Shippo be now that three years had passed? And Sango and Miroku, had they finally married now that his curse was lifted? A smile flitted across my lips as I wondered if Sango had had any luck curbing his lecherous ways.

And Inuyasha, who'd been such a constant presence in my thoughts, I wondered about him too. How was he? Had he been keeping himself out of trouble? Had he changed like I had or was he still the same stubborn, ill tempered, rash hanyou I'd fallen in love with? And maybe more importantly, would he still care for me even now that so much time had passed?

My heart didn't have time to linger on that last worrisome thought. My mother was back with an object in each hand. She smiled as she handed our most recent family photo to me. Her and I stood side by side, wearing identical smiles on our faces. Souta was looking off to the side, clutching his stomach and laughing hysterically. Gramps seemed to be looking in the same direction wearing an expression of abject horror. What you couldn't see was Buuyo, just out of camera range, treating one of Gramps' newest acquisitions like a scratching post. I chuckled at the memory and felt my eyes mist up as I tucked the photo into my skirt pocket.

"Thanks Mama," I whispered, barely able to get the words around the lump in my throat.

"And don't forget this, too!" I stared down at the offering and blinked. Of all the things she could've given me I really hadn't expected this to be among them.

"I guess you might call it an omiyagi; from our world to theirs," she explained with a wink.

I smiled and shook my head as I took it from her and set it on the lip of the well. I couldn't resist glancing down once more, just to be sure. The window was there, just as before, waiting for me to jump through it. I was beginning to feel anxious that I was wasting time. I'd never forgive myself if I missed the only chance I would ever have to return to him.

"Mama…," I began, not sure how to say 'goodbye' to my mother for the last time.

"I know, sweetheart. It's time to go."

I nodded and stepped forward, accepting her hug. The tears in my eyes blinded me as I whispered, "I love you."

I felt her kiss the top of my head and her hand stroked my back as she replied, "I love you too, baby. Now go, before it's too late."

Feeling numb and anxious, I stumbled to the lip of the well and eased myself onto it as I had so many times before. I'd once taken for granted how simple it was to travel between our two eras. Not any more. With my omiyagi in hand, I glanced over my shoulder to offer one last parting glance to the world that had been my home for eighteen years. I could already feel the nostalgia setting in.

And then, with a hopeful glance at my mother, I jumped.

oOo

It was warmer than I'd expected it to be. The late March air in the modern era had felt crisp, still on the cusp of Spring. This atmosphere here was different – warmer and more humid. I breathed in deep and noticed that the air was heavy with the perfume of the flowers growing in the field and the rich damp earth all around me.

My hands went instantly to the walls in search of some wayward vine I could use to climb my way up. Instead my fingers found gouges, like claw marks, carved into the wall in segments of five, here and there.

Inuyasha…

I bit my lip, feeling instantly guilty for having kept him waiting for so long. How many times had he tried to come for me? How many times had the well denied him access? I wasn't sure I wanted to know the answer. If the pain of separation had been anything for him like it'd been for me… My heart already ached.

That thought made me all the more determined to find my way out of this well. I needed to find him. I needed to apologize for making him wait, for hurting him the way I had by our separation. It took a few moments of scrambling around before my hand slipped over a vine that was strong enough to hold my weight. I hoisted myself up awkwardly, embarrassingly out of practice, and planted my foot against the wall. The fingers of my other hand tucked my omiyagi into my shirt and then searched for another strong group of vines to use as a hand hold.

It was a slow procession - one hand and one foot at a time. The climb that I'd once accomplished with relative ease now felt infinite. My muscles were sore from disuse, but I refused to give up. Each step brought me closer to the bright, beautiful blue sky above me. Each step brought me closer to him. How could I dare give up now?

It was as I was searching for one last hand hold to hoist myself up that a dark shadow suddenly blocked out the brilliant sunlight. I gasped in surprise and stared up at the hand being offered to me.

Smooth pale skin, razor sharp claws, and long, graceful fingers that wrapped so protectively around my own. My heart leapt in my chest as I placed my hand in his, shocked at how real his touch felt against my skin. He was so warm and strong and, more importantly, real.

I couldn't bear to look away as he pulled me up those last few steps, from the darkness of the well into the light of the afternoon sun. The breath caught in my throat as I read the emotions swimming in the depths of his amber eyes that for once weren't hidden beneath layers of fear. Love and hope, anxiety and thankfulness, they all seemed rolled into one and I smiled as I realized that for the first time our eyes were finally casting the same reflection.

"Inuyasha, I'm sorry. Were you waiting?"

They were the first words out of my mouth, and the most important ones for him to hear. He needed to know that I'd never meant for things to happen the way they had. I'd never meant to abandon him. I'd never wanted to hurt him by leaving him behind without so much as a goodbye.

He spoke my name with awe, the word just above a whisper. I smiled at him while doing my best to blink the tears out of my eyes. Hearing my name on his lips and the tenderness that was there sent a tidal wave of emotions crashing through me. It'd been so long since I'd heard his voice that I'd started to forget how soothing the raspy baritone could be.

I struggled to find the next thing I wanted to say to him, kami there were so many, but my mind was a jumbled mess and I couldn't find any way to sort the words out right to make them coherent. The struggle didn't last long.

"You idiot. What've you been up to?"

His words were harsh and wounded but the tone behind them was gentle. I had no doubt of that when he wrapped his arms around me to pull me into a hug. I nestled against him, perfectly content to lay my head on his chest and listen to the steady drum of his heart.

The old Inuyasha and Kagome would've blushed and leapt away from each other at the thought of being so close and showing such unguarded emotion, but this was different. This felt so right there was no need to run from it.

I sighed, content, and breathed the scent of him in – trees and earth, just as before, but with a touch of wood smoke now too. He dipped his head and buried his nose in my hair while his arms tightened around my back. I memorized the rough feel of his fire rat haori beneath my fingertips and the softness of his silver hair against my cheek. I listened quietly to the healthy, racing beat of his heart and the shaky breaths of warm air that tickled the crook of my neck.

I've missed you so much more than you could possibly know, I thought as I pulled away to stare up into his eyes.

There was a glimmer in the honeyed amber that I recognized, but it wasn't something I'd seen often. I knew what would come next as he pulled me closer, his eyes intent on mine. It felt as though I'd waited an eternity for this moment between us, the moment when we would finally break down that last, final barrier between us.

I almost groaned aloud with frustration when he suddenly pulled back half way through our almost first real kiss to take the omiyagi out from under my arm. He held it up and stared at it confused until he realized what it was. Then, a wide, broad grin spread instantly across his face.

"You brought me ramen?"

At that point I had to laugh. I nodded and answered through the giggles, "It's a present from Mama. She thought you might like it."

"Like it? Do you have any idea how many times I've craved this stuff since you left? I've tried to find substitutes in this world in towns and stuff but there's just nothing like it here! Man, do you have an idea how frustrating that is?"

"You know, I think I do," I admitted, sending him a knowing smile.

He was still grinning at the ramen when I discreetly slipped my hand into his. His fingers folded over mine as though it was the most natural thing in the world, as though my hand had belonged there all along. I looked up to find him grinning down at me, the ramen in his other hand momentarily forgotten. The truth of the moment left me momentarily winded, but even so, I'd never been more certain of anything in my entire life.

I was finally home.


Author's Note: I wrote this for LJ's iyfic contest weekly drabble challenge. The theme for week 172 was "Baggage" and this little piece won 1st place! Many thanks go to Forthrightly for nominating this one-shot for an IYFG Award as well ;)

Ever since the end of the manga I've been wanting to do a one-shot like this as a way to explore what Inuyasha and Kagome (specifically Kagome) must have been going through during their three years of forced separation. I couldn't have been easy on either of them. I hope that emotional struggle came across in this piece.

In any case, I hope you enjoyed the read. Feel free to leave a review.