He was fully mature now – more than twice the age Inuyasha had been back in the feudal era – but he so often found himself feeling exactly like the child he had been amongst adults five hundred years ago.
Shippo heard Sesshomaru out as he gave them his assessment of the situation. He perfectly understood with his intellect what the taiyoukai was saying, for he was a brilliant young fox demon; but on an emotional level, he could not grasp it.
"I don't understand," he spoke up at last after listening for some time, his emerald-green eyes flashing impatience. "What do you mean she isn't Kagome? I saw her, and scented her – it's Kagome and no one else. We thought long ago that she wouldn't be the same person because of the different timelines we discussed over and over again, but it is her. She's exactly her! We've waited four hundred years, and it's her all over again – except that she hasn't discovered the Bone Eater's well yet."
"It is not her, and she will never discover the portal in the Bone Eater's well," Sesshomaru stated, leaning back against the exquisite fabric of his favourite armchair.
"Shippo," Inuyasha said quietly. "The girl you saw is Kagome, but she's not our Kagome. She never will be."
The half-dog-demon's golden eyes were touched with a sadness that could only be eased, but never erased, by time. That sadness made Shippo's heart ache, for he loved his adoptive father, and hated to see him hurt. They had fought and sniped at each other endlessly in Shippo's childhood and the immaturity of Inuyasha's young adulthood, but mutual affection and respect had been steadily nurtured as both of them grew up in their own ways.
Shippo wanted to stop asking questions to avoid wounding Inuyasha more, but he had badly missed his adoptive human mother since her death more than four hundred years ago, and he wanted her back. So he pursued the matter: "I know that Kagome created two alternate timelines from the moment she fell through the well when she was fifteen, and I get it that the timelines were severed ever since the Shikon Jewel was wished into non-existence and the well closed. But still, I saw her, and I sensed her. It's her."
The taiyoukai at the other end of the coffee table looked straight into his eyes, and Shippo realised he was pushing it. At once, he lowered his own eyes out of deference. Sesshomaru was the greatest dog demon alive – indeed, many believed he was the most powerful demon of any species ever to walk the earth. He had protected him and saved his hide more times than Shippo could count, so he deserved all the respect he could yield. But even if he had not been so powerful, Shippo would have respected him all the same, for Sesshomaru was their pack leader. He had been another father to him these few hundred years.
"Shippo," said Sesshomaru in his deep, authoritative voice, tempered now with understanding and patience. "I know it is hard for you to accept that your adoptive mother is lost to us forever. I know you had hoped to see her again by waiting until we reached the era to which she originally belonged. Indeed, you would have seen a very close version of her again if she had not wished that the Shikon Jewel had never existed. Because then, the jewel would have been born all over again inside her body in this age, and she would have travelled through the portal of the Bone Eater's well on her fifteenth birthday, and she would know us once again from the past. But because she made the unselfish – and correct – wish of ending the jewel's existence, the Shikon Jewel is gone forever from all ages and eras, and will never return. Therefore, the timelines she was able to connect by travelling through the well have been severed. This Kagome you have just seen was never born with the Shikon Jewel inside her; she never can and never will travel through any portal in the well, for no such portal is accessible now; she may indeed be the reincarnation of the priestess Kikyo or of the first Kagome, but she is not our Kagome. Our Kagome left her own time to live in ours, and she died in our time. This one we have just seen is a different girl, from the linear timeline we have just lived five hundred years of. She may have the same DNA, possibly even the same priestess' powers, but she won't ever leap through wells and meet Inuyasha in another time. She doesn't know us; she doesn't know you."
"I'd hoped to see her again too, Shippo," Inuyasha said. "I missed her so much for so long, and I still love her. I waited and watched for her birth in this age. I wanted to see if the Shikon-no-Tama was really gone forever. I learnt that it really was. The girl-child born nearly fifteen years ago had no jewel inside her. She's Kagome, but not ours. She never knew, doesn't know, and never will know anything of who and what we are, or what her previous incarnation meant to us all."
"You've been keeping an eye on her for fifteen years and you never told me?" Shippo asked, startled, a little angry. "Why didn't you tell me that? I thought you'd only just found her recently..."
"We didn't tell you because we knew that you would want to rush in and try to turn her into who she isn't," Sesshomaru said.
"That's the reason, Shippo," Inuyasha added. "This girl shouldn't be dragged into our complicated lives."
"Would you be saying what you're saying if you hadn't found love with another demon?" Shippo asked, looking at his two adoptive fathers.
Shippo asked the question so earnestly that Inuyasha could not get upset with him. The half-demon only ached on behalf of his fox-child, who had never settled on a suitable mate for himself.
"Having a demon mate I love and who loves me has given me more strength than I could have hoped for since Kagome passed away," Inuyasha replied honestly. "But if I knew that this Kagome was my Kagome, I would not hesitate to be with her all over again. And I'm not afraid to say that in front of Sesshomaru, because he understands where I'm coming from. She isn't mine, however. She's just a different person with the same face and the same scent. I'm not going to make her acquaintance and try to turn her into our Kagome, only to lose her all over again in a few decades' time."
Shippo nodded, stood up and excused himself as he felt sudden tears prickling at his eyes. He was fully grown-up now; crying like a child was foolish. But he couldn't help it. The pain came rushing back as he remembered himself as a little kit, crying oceans of tears as the Kagome he had known finally faded into death after a long, fruitful and happy life, leaving behind children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a devastated half-demon mate, a village that loved her – and a broken-hearted little fox demon who was losing his mother, friend and comrade all in one.
As he dropped with a sigh into bed that night and pulled the covers over his body, he thought of how he had never really known his birth mother, for she had been killed by enemies of his fox-demon tribe when he was only an infant. His father had raised him alone until his death at the hands of the Thunder Brothers, whom Inuyasha had later slain.
The priestess Kaede had been a grandmotherly figure to him; the taijiya Sango had been like an aunt; Sesshomaru's adopted human daughter, Rin, when she was grown, had also played a maternal role in his life. But Kagome was the only true mother he had ever known, the one who had protected and loved him through a critical period in his formative years, and he would never get her back now. Cruelly enough, she was there, but not there, because the girl he had seen after four hundred years of waiting was her, and not her.
Note: Yes, this is another one of my stories where Sesshomaru and Inuyasha are a mated couple – but as they do in Wolf At Her Door, they keep mostly to the background, leaving the front of the stage to other characters. This story belongs to an adult Shippo and a young Kagome.