Tying Up Loose Ends
Kagome's fingers reverently traced the ancient, faded etchings on the oldest sections of the Bone Eater's Well casing. As she touched the markings, she looked up with a smile of delight at the Higurashi family – Sota and Grandfather were with them now – and said to them: "Inuyasha told me that the first Kagome carved brief messages into the wood once in a while – she did not want to damage the casing too much and cause it to wear down faster over time, but she also hoped that some of the messages would reach you, even if your timeline had become different from hers. It looks to me like they did!"
"You see?" Mrs Higurashi whispered to her father-in-law and her son. "I told you that those markings I noticed a few months ago had never been there before. I knew they were made by our Kagome."
"I thought this etching with my name was the one Nee-chan and I had made when I was four years old," Sota murmured in wonder as he stared at the words carved into the wood. "But I remember now – we were being naughty and etched our names over on that other side of the well, not this side – we never scratched the well again after you sat us down and explained to us why we shouldn't damage things, Mama. So Nee-chan really carved this – from long ago…"
Sota and Grandfather were still torn between studying the etchings and studying the face of the girl who knelt beside them by the well – the girl who was the very image of the one who had left them one day and never returned.
"The well is magical – it bridges time – it was able to transmit my ancestress' messages even when the timeline that followed her life in the feudal era became a different timeline from your era," Kagome told them. "She never forgot her first family, all her life. And Inuyasha said she remembered that this side of the well was the side that would get the most light through the front wall of the wellhouse. So this was the side she used."
Mama… Grandpa… Sota… I am well… Life is good… I miss you… My life is whole…
"Thank you, Kagome – both of my Kagomes," Mrs Higurashi said, caressing with her fingertips the words of love that had reached her through time.
The second Kagome smiled back at her, and at the old man and young man next to her, and understood at once that this world was starting to heal.
Things had gone more smoothly than either Kagome or Mrs Higurashi had anticipated with regard to Grandfather and Sota. They had feared disbelief, accusations of deceit and a generally bad reaction. However, the first Kagome must have been blessing them from across time and space, because there had been no chaos, no anger and no distress.
When Grandpa Higurashi stepped indoors after his trip to the herbal medicine shop – and later in the afternoon, when Sota came back from school – Mrs Higurashi had carefully explained to them what had happened, and had done her best to communicate who it was who was upstairs in Kagome's room.
To her relief, the males of the family were calm, and more or less grasped the matter of the different timelines intellectually. Still, it was astonishing for each party concerned to see how identical the other was to the one or ones they knew from their own world.
"Is it really not you, Kagome?" Grandfather had asked in wondering disbelief, his old hands cupping the young girl's face gently. "How can it not be you?"
"Ojiisan," Kagome smiled kindly. "You are exactly like my own grandfather."
Upon Sota's returning home from school, more wondering words and kindness emerged, as Kagome said: "My little brother is named Sota too – and he looks just like you."
"Nee-chan," Sota said in a hushed voice. "I can call you Nee-chan, can't I?"
"Of course you can."
Grandpa and Sota had sat down together to hear what had become of their granddaughter and sister. Like her mother, they both cried over the fact of her death hundreds of years back, but laughed to see the paintings and computer illustration of her, happy with her family, happy with Inuyasha.
Then the Higurashi family – and the girl descended from their Kagome – sat down to plan out what she could do to prevent them from getting into difficulty because of questions that could never be answered outside of the family concerning the fate of the first Kagome Higurashi.
Kagome spent the whole of that late afternoon sitting in a cafe with Eri, Yuka and Ayumi, whom she had rung up and asked to meet. Fortunately, they were all still living in the city because they were at the University of Tokyo, just like her own friends were. She had compared notes with Inuyasha yesterday, and with Mrs Higurashi and Sota today, about what experiences their Kagome had had with her friends, so that she would not slip up when pretending to be her ancestress.
In the end, little of it mattered, as her friends were so thrilled to see her that they only wanted to know what she had been doing, and where she had been, and if it was true – was she really married to that bad boy they had met years ago at her home? The mixed-race one with platinum hair and amber eyes? Where had she been living? Why hadn't she rung, texted, e-mailed or written?
"Yes, I really am married to him. He's grown up a lot. He's not that same bad boy any more."
"But why haven't we heard from you at all?" Eri asked. "We've asked your mother, and your brother, and they said they were not in touch with you either."
"It's true. No one – not even my family – has been in touch with me this past year. And I'm afraid it will probably continue to be the case from now on."
"But why?" Yuka cried, not understanding.
"I thought it might be easier to explain things to the three of you, considering that you were present at the shrine four years ago, when I disappeared for a few days…" She had been told of that episode by Inuyasha early this morning – when he gave his account of how he had managed to yell through the meidou to Kagome's family when the Bone Eater's Well vanished, and they and her friends had shouted back to him. She had also just heard Mrs Higurashi's account of it from her side – the family's terror when Kagome's means of returning home disappeared into thin air, and the hope that came with hearing Inuyasha's voice promising that he would find her and bring her home.
"Goodness, yes, I remember that dreadful time," Ayumi gasped. "You never did want to explain it to us all through high school."
"I couldn't. It was not something I fully understood myself. I can only say that I was somewhere else, trying to get home. I did, eventually, with his help. It was something of a spiritual experience."
"Spiritual – yes, exactly. That's exactly how it seemed," Yuka nodded. "How could an ancient well just disappear into thin air like that, and then come back out of nowhere? How could we hear that boy's voice as if it was coming from inside the ground? I still don't understand."
"Neither do I," Kagome said with perfect honesty. "I just have to say that it's partly related to that experience – that spiritual experience – the reason why I wish to withdraw from the world with my husband. We went through something life-changing together, and I… you could say that I made a vow – a vow to leave everything I've known all my life and embark on a different life where I will no longer be in touch with the ones I knew before. At least that's the plan. If things change in time, well, we'll take those changes as they come. For now, though, I really am here to say goodbye."
"Kagome…?" Ayumi intoned curiously. "Are you joining some kind of… cult group… or something? Is it some kind of weird religious order that requires you to live in seclusion?"
"Well, yes and no," Kagome replied a little uncertainly, wondering if it was not too much of a stretch to consider the world of youkai as a cult group. "I suppose it's something along those lines, but I can't really elaborate, and I promise you from the bottom of my heart that it is nowhere near as sinister as any of those cult groups that get strange ideas in their heads and then harm lots of people with poison gas or bombs, or who commit suicide, or anything of the sort. I swear."
"So you're going to withdraw from the world for religious reasons?" Eri asked doubtfully. "That is so unlike you."
"Well, her grandfather is a priest," Ayumi reminded Eri.
"True. But still…"
"But it is the way it must be. I cannot be in touch with any of you again, unless things change. I just want you all to know that you have been wonderful friends, and I would never have made it through school without your support and help."
"I still don't understand!" Yuka insisted, a little angrily.
"I know. But please try to respect my decision. My mother and all the rest of my family and friends will not be in contact with me either, so please do not ask them where I am. They won't know."
"Your husband – that bad boy – he's the one who put you up to this, isn't he? He's from some cult, isn't he?" Yuka demanded, quite upset.
"No, it's my decision. It was always my decision."
"This is all so strange…" Eri remarked. "But…"
"But if it is truly your decision, we will respect it," Ayumi stated at last. "I can't say I am at all happy to hear that I will probably never be able to speak to one of my friends again, but if this is the way you must live your life for reasons of your own, we will respect your choice."
"Thank you," Kagome replied, with genuine feeling. "Thank you so much."
"Will you at least try to call or write sometimes?" Eri asked.
"I can't even promise that, but we shall see." She and Mrs Higurashi had discussed the possibility of her writing a few general letters while she was here, so that the Higurashi family could read them to her friends every few years if they called.
"Not even an occasional letter?"
"I daren't promise, Eri."
The next morning, Kagome called on Hojo and several of her other old classmates and former teachers still living in Tokyo, saying that she would be going away for religious reasons, to a place where she would not be able to communicate with anyone.
A couple of her old teachers asked her suspiciously if she was doing anything dangerous – or if she was trying to tell them that she intended to commit suicide. Kagome gasped at the suggestion – she had not considered the possibility that someone might think she was going through a pre-suicide farewell ritual!
"No, no, no!" she assured them. "No, I intend to remain very, very much alive. It's just a religious vow I made. It's secret. I cannot really say more."
Hojo was rather upset by her goodbye and bewildered by her reasons for it, but he took it better than she had hoped. After all, this Hojo had not had the privilege of keeping Kagome in his life from high school to university. He had lost her immediately after school, heard of her marriage to someone from another country, and had emotionally begun to leave her behind from that time.
It was therefore not too hard for him to accept her farewell, for he had just begun to date a girl from university, and had a view of the future that did not require Kagome Higurashi's participation in it, even though he thought of her from time to time.
Kagome wished him all the best, and parted from him on good terms.
In the afternoon, she took the money Inuyasha had given her, and went to consult a lawyer.
"Is it legal for me to want to sever all contact with my family and friends, and never communicate with them or with any of the other people I used to know? I want to withdraw from the world for religious reasons."
"I don't see why it should be illegal, provided you are not planning to assume a false identity for criminal reasons, or do anything against the law from your place of hiding," the lawyer said. "In fact, you don't need to consult a lawyer if you merely wish to become a hermit."
"No, but I would like to leave everything as tidy as I can for my family, and not leave them a mess to deal with later. Can you please draw up a document stating my wishes so that anyone who asks can see that it is my choice, and not that I have been imprisoned or murdered or anything of the sort? And can you please help me draw up my will, to say that I wish to give all my possessions and anything I may have by way of finances – savings accounts and whatnot – to my mother, with immediate effect? I wish to give it all up and change my name and never be contacted again."
"This is a rather strange decision from someone as young as yourself, Miss Higurashi, but I can draw up a document or two that would make it possible for your mother to execute what estate you may have in whatever means she sees fit, without anyone having to wait for you to die before touching any property or finances you have. I cannot create a document that will command the rest of the world to leave you alone, but I can reflect your wishes and your will in it, and leave no doubt that you wish to give power over all your material resources to your mother."
"Thank you so much."
"You are not planning to die, are you, Miss Higurashi?' the lawyer asked seriously, peering at her from over his spectacles.
"No, no, no – I hope to live for a very long time yet!"
"Do you think you could have the documents drawn up by today?" she asked with a smile. "I'll pay you in cash – lots of cash."
"Why are you in such a hurry?"
"I just want to spend the whole of tomorrow with my family, before I leave."
"I'm sure all that I've done will forestall most difficulties," Kagome remarked to the Higurashi family the next day, over breakfast. "But it still seems like so very little."
"It's already tremendous, everything you've done," Sota assured her. "I can tell you I've had some awkward questions asked by your friends this past year – I mean, by my sister's friends. I've not known how to answer without sounding like I was hiding something. Now, at least I can tell them honestly that I don't know any more than they do what's happened to you – I mean, what's happened to her."
"But if only I could find some way to return occasionally, just to show that I'm alive…"
"No, Kagome," Mrs Higurashi said. "The Bone Eater's Well has already done us all this great favour by letting you pass through from your world and your time to ours. Based on the fact that it shut its doorway after my daughter went to live with Inuyasha for good, I believe it would not intend to keep that doorway open. Surely it would not want to risk the splitting of any more timelines, if another girl were to travel back and forth between different times and worlds. You must stay in your world. I know what it is like to miss a daughter badly. I would never want your mother to suffer what I have suffered, if something should ever go awry, like when Kagome was trapped in the place she called the meidou. You must always remain in the same timeline as your own mother."
"You are as kind as my Mama," Kagome smiled as she took another spoonful of the breakfast rice porridge. "And your cooking is just as good."
"I'm only glad I can nourish you with my cooking the way your mother does!"
"I am grateful, and my mother will also be deeply grateful for your care. But I still feel strongly that there must be something more I can ask of the well. Something more that I can do."
"Kagome, please relax and rest today, and just spend the time telling us more about my granddaughter's family, and about yourself, and about Inuyasha and Shippo," Grandpa Higurashi said. "You have done so much these two days past, it's time to just sit here with us and tell us all you can."
Mrs Higurashi and Sota nodded. Sota was taking the day off from school, to spend it hearing more about what this Kagome knew of his sister's life.
So she told what more she knew, and what she herself observed of Inuyasha, Sesshomaru, Shippo and Kagome's children. Inuyasha's letter and the list of Kagome's descendants, and Shippo's painting and drawing, were taken out and looked at over and over again. Kagome told of how even the first Kagome's adopted child – Shippo – was included in the list, telling them that he was as much a part of the family as her biological children were.
"So you're dating your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great et cetera grand uncle?" Sota asked with a raised eyebrow.
Kagome blanched and held up her hands, palms outward. "Oh dear, no. When it comes to Shippo and me, we just think of ourselves as, erm, very distant cousins."
"Wow. I would never have guessed that my sister's reincarnation would have such an interesting love life."
"Sota!" Mrs Higurashi chided, but with a helpless laugh. "Apologise to Kagome for that!"
"No, it's quite all right," Kagome said, chuckling. "He's not the first to remark on the strangeness of Shippo dating his mother's reincarnation."
As she spoke of Shippo and thought of him, Kagome realised with a jolt how very much she missed him. It was almost a physical pang that she felt right there under her ribs. She wanted him to be with her, holding her in his arms as she wrapped her arms around him, inhaling the pleasing scent of his rich, red hair and demon-pale skin.
Mrs Higurashi looked kindly at her and asked softly: "You're missing Shippo, aren't you?"
"Yes, I am."
"Tomorrow morning, you will see him again."
So they talked the rest of that day and half the night, then in the morning, Kagome got her things together, as well as some things that the Higurashi family wanted to give to Inuyasha and Kagome's children, and to the other Higurashi family.
They walked her out to the Bone Eater's Well, and helped her climb into it, her backpack bursting with the gifts and letters they had entrusted to her.
She waved goodbye, pressed her palms to the side of the well, and spoke to its magical power: Please send me home to where I belong now – but before letting me out at the other end of your portal, please may we have a word in private? I just need a few minutes alone in your magical dimension to discuss something of importance. Please.
The magical force of the well buffeted her, gathering her up in its heart the way it had when it brought her here three days ago. And as the family of the first Kagome watched, the second Kagome Higurashi disappeared into the portal of the well, and was gone.