Author's Note, 27 Jan, 2013: Please forgive me for taking so long to update. I started a new job six months ago, and before that, spent about five months battling a very unpleasant supervisor in my previous job – and it's all left me too drained to write. The new job gives me no rest. I'm already thinking of resigning from it!
The youkai were the first to know when Kagome returned – their noses and ears told them the girl was back. But her mother was only a second behind in realising that her daughter was home. She knew it through some mysterious maternal instinct, even before registering the pricking-up of Inuyasha's ears and the widening of Shippo's eyes.
Shippo was out of the kitchen and at the repaired well house in a flash, Inuyasha bounding out after him, and Mrs Higurashi and Grandpa running after them. Sesshomaru and Koga moved at a more sedate pace, content in knowing what their senses were assuring them of – the girl had come back, safe and unharmed.
Shippo looked into the well, saw where Kagome was standing, and jumped in to land beside her. He gazed into her upturned face and saw that she was tired from lack of sleep – she must have stayed up half the night talking to the other Higurashi family – and her delicate shoulders were weighed down by a backpack absolutely bursting with whatever was inside it. But there was an unmistakable glow in her eyes which told Shippo immediately that she had succeeded in doing everything she had set out to do.
She had crossed time and achieved her aim.
Filled with pride in her and the delight of seeing her in one piece after three days, Shippo wrapped his arms around her, holding her tight while at the same time relieving her of some of the weight the backpack was putting on her frame. He took the opportunity to breathe in her scent deeply and enwrap himself in her spiritual aura. He felt her arms go around him, felt and heard her sniff his neck and his hair, and knew without a doubt that even if she had changed the world for the Higurashis on the other timeline, she had not changed her feelings for him. He was still hers, and she was his.
Taking care that she was securely held in his arms, Shippo leapt lightly out of the well with her, slipped the heavy backpack off her shoulders, and let her go unencumbered to her mother and grandfather.
"Oh, Kagome!" Mrs Higurashi cried, letting go at last of all the worry she had held inside her for days – would the well take her daughter to the right place and time? Would she be in any danger in the other timeline? Would the other family believe her? Would she be held back by the first Kagome's friends who might think she was about to harm herself, or be questioned by the authorities?
"Mama, Grandpa, I'm fine. Everything's fine. Everything went well – really, really well," Kagome assured them, hugging her mother tightly. "The other Kagome's Mama – she was exactly like you – she cooks like you, even – and she's just as kind-hearted and good – but she's not you, and I missed you! And Jii-chan, you should see the other Grandpa – he's identical to you."
"I thank them from the bottom of my heart for being good to you," Mrs Higurashi whispered, stroking Kagome's hair. "I can tell that the other Mama fed you well, at least!"
"Oh, the food practically never stopped landing on my plate, even when she was asking me a thousand questions about everything and everyone in this timeline," Kagome laughed, before turning to Inuyasha.
"It's good to have you back here," the hanyou said, trying not to show how the memories were pouring back of his Kagome and all their trips back and forth through the well.
"Inuyasha-sama, your in-laws are fine, and I believe they will stay that way," the girl who was descended from him stated, smiling. "They think of you and my ancestress every day – she's only been gone a year or so over there – and they've now found the messages she used to leave for them on the side of the well. They have your letter, and the painting, the photograph, the list of your descendants, and they are thankful that their Kagome had such a full and happy life with you and your children and grandchildren."
"How exactly did you ensure that they would be fine from here on?" Inuyasha asked. "Did you do as we planned, or did you have to change some things as you went along?"
"Why don't we talk inside?" Sesshomaru suggested, sensibly determining that there was no purpose in standing around the well any more now that everyone was sure the girl was fine.
"Yes, let's," Kagome agreed cheerfully. "That way, I can also show you all the things the other family wants you to have!"
"You mean all the things that are splitting your backpack's seams?" Shippo asked, holding up the bag.
"And they'd have put even more in if I hadn't convinced them that this was more than enough," Kagome laughed, slipping her hand into Shippo's free hand, as they all turned towards the house.
Inuyasha pored over the album of photographs the other Higurashi family had given him. An album full of pictures of Kagome – his Kagome – in her teens, and as a child. He was very quiet as he studied them, and when he looked up, there was a brightness in his golden eyes that spoke of tears he did not want to shed in front of everyone.
"They shouldn't have given me these – they should have kept them for themselves – I took their Kagome away from them and spent all the rest of her life with her," he said worriedly.
"Inuyasha-sama, these are copies," the Kagome of this timeline told him. "I made very certain of that."
"So they have the same pictures with them?" Inuyasha asked, looking a little happier.
"Yes. They made many copies of the first Kagome's pictures after she left them, fearing that they might lose the originals."
"Good, I wouldn't want them to lose any more of her than they already have."
Inuyasha had also been most affected by the letter the Higurashis had written to him. Each of them – Mrs Higurashi, Grandpa and Sota – had penned something to him, telling him how they missed seeing him and Kagome, but how grateful they were to him for giving her everything wonderful that she would never have had if she had remained behind with them.
To each of the three surviving children Kagome had borne, and to Shippo, the adopted son, the Mrs Higurashi of the other timeline had written letters. The letters were not sealed, and Mrs Higurashi had told Kagome that the children's father – or fathers – were free to look at them. Shippo was given his without anyone else reading it, but Inuyasha and Sesshomaru looked over the three letters for the part-demon, part-human children. Words of pure love and hope filled each letter, along with a special memory of their mother for them to treasure.
My first grandson, Hikage,
I have only just learnt that I have grandchildren, and that you were the first child born to my daughter, Kagome. I see how handsome you are in that painting I have just been given – how very like your father Inuyasha you are. To you, I wish to give the memory I have of my firstborn child – your mother – just after she came into the world. She was a perfect baby, so beautiful, so full of health and life. She cried out strong and loud when she took her first breath, but she quietened down quickly the moment the nurse put her into my arms for the very first time. She snuggled against me at once when I held her close to me, as if she knew immediately that I was the one who had carried her inside me for nine months, and that I would do all in my power to keep her as safe as I could for as long as I was given...
My dearest granddaughter, Tamatsuki,
In that painting I have of you as a child, I see how much you look like your mother when she was a child. The colour of your hair and eyes are of course like your father's, but your face – oh, your pretty face – is just like your Mama's was when she was as small as you were in that picture! I hope you will agree that there is a strong resemblance between you as children when your father shows you the photographs I have sent to him. In this letter to you – perhaps the only letter you will ever have a chance to receive from me – let me tell you about the time when your mother was four years old, and took it into her head to help me with the cooking of dinner one evening...
My third grandchild, Shirakori,
You are clearly the most strikingly beautiful among your siblings. It may sound odd to you for me to write this, as your picture shows me a splendid hanyou child with brilliant silver hair and golden eyes, who looks pure inuyoukai, but there is something in your face that reminds me of my husband, your maternal grandfather. I always thought he was the handsomest man I had ever seen, and I knew as I spent more time with him that he was the kindest man I knew – the best husband, and the best father of my children that I could ever have dreamt of having. With you, I want to share the memory of a spring day when your mother was three years old, and her father took her out to the park near our home to look at the sakura blossoms...
To the Higurashis of this timeline, they had sent blessings and charms from their shrine, with a penned message: Although we understand that our shrine and yours are identical, we, your ancestors, send our very best hopes and wishes through these charms, and pray that the kami-sama who span time and worlds may keep your family and all that is sacred to you in safety, abundance and wholeness.
There were gifts of silk stoles from Grandfather Higurashi and Sota to everyone they had heard of from their Kagome and the second Kagome in this timeline. That grandfather had a collection of them from which he would select good designs for important visitors and guests, and he had just raided the collection for these descendants and relations of his, telling Sota that they would share the cost of replacing the items over time. Even Koga, whom Mrs Higurashi remembered her daughter telling her about, received a stole.
The gifts distributed and the letters read, Kagome was now able to go into detail about what she had done to ensure that the Higurashis in the other timeline would not get into trouble over the apparent disappearance of the first Kagome.
"Do you think I overdid it?" Kagome asked, a little concerned, after she had described her discussions with her ancestress' friends, old classmates, teachers and the lawyer. "Do you think they'll try even harder to hunt her down now?"
"Well, if they do, they'll fail, and they will have to eventually accept that she has chosen to leave them behind," Inuyasha replied.
"Besides, there wasn't much else you could have done," Shippo added. "It's not like you could say something vague like 'I'm leaving the country for good', because if anyone were to check later, there would be absolutely no record at customs and immigration of Higurashi Kagome ever leaving Japan – and then there would be even more questions."
"I wish I could have taken her passport and left the country," Kagome sighed. "Then there would have been a record of her leaving and not returning. Except that I would have had no idea after that how to get back in and return to the well without passing through customs – it's not like I would have had the help of someone like Byakuya over there to vanish from one place and reappear back at the shrine, you know."
"So there were no youkai that you sensed with your growing powers, over in that timeline?" Sesshomaru asked.
"No, none that I could sense," Kagome replied. "I can only assume that at some point in the history of that timeline, youkai died out, or went deep into hiding, or left Japan for some reason. But in this timeline – the one that is the result of my ancestress leaving her family to start a life with Inuyasha-sama – youkai have thrived because of her. The first Kagome knew what her world was like, what the coming world would be like, and she prepared her youkai family and friends to survive well in such a world. In her original timeline, history did not have a Higurashi Kagome, and perhaps because of that, demons didn't fare so well. I am quite sure that with my newfound priestess' powers, I would have felt it if any demons had been around in Tokyo, even if they were concealing their nature."
"So we're all here today because of the first Kagome," Shippo mused aloud. "And none of us would have made it into the present age if she hadn't travelled through the well and split the timelines."
"I'm glad my ancestress made the choices she made," Kagome said. "But I thought it such a shame that her courage to begin a new life in another time should mean that everything which came after her would be cut off forever from all that made her who she was to begin with, which is why I asked the Bone Eater's Well for a favour..."
"You asked the well for a favour?" Inuyasha echoed. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I asked that even if it would not allow anyone to travel through it any more so as to prevent any more dividing of timelines, would it please let us send things like letters through, so that at least we could stay in touch."
"And what did it say?" Inuyasha asked, quite forgetting that the well never said things.
"It didn't actually say so in words," Kagome replied. "But I didn't really hear a 'no', you know..."
"So..." Inuyasha began before trailing off, not knowing what her not hearing a 'no' meant.
"So maybe we can try putting letters in – maybe in a few days, when the well's had enough time to mull over my proposal."
"Do wells mull?" Sesshomaru asked in perfect seriousness, never having had any direct experience of time travel through the Bone Eater's portal, or any form of communication with it.
"I think they do," Kagome answered, equally seriously, although Shippo could not quite manage to hide his own smile at the genuine curiosity in his taiyoukai father's voice. "I really think it's thinking about my request."
"Then we'll have to give it time to consider," Shippo said.
"Hmm," said Sesshomaru, still not convinced that mental processes of any sort were taking place in a hole in the ground.
"Don't mind him," Inuyasha chuckled to the others as he nudged Sesshomaru in the ribs. "He's just worried that if the well turns into a post office, he'll now be obliged to write a thank-you note for his very beautiful, white silk stole."
Sesshomaru glared at Inuyasha, but Kagome giggled, Koga snorted, and Shippo laughed out loud before shutting himself up at once when those intimidating golden eyes smoothly shifted their focus from the hanyou beside him to the disrespectful son in the chair across from his.
"I thought he was going to eat you," Kagome giggled to Shippo, when they were alone in her room upstairs.
"So did I," Shippo whispered, as they sat side by side on the edge of her bed. "But there've been countless occasions over the centuries when I thought he'd absolutely kill me, and he never did."
"Your fathers love you."
"I don't think any of us have ever really consciously thought of it as love," Shippo mused. "I think I – and my siblings – know it in our heads that they do, because of all the protection, guidance, discipline and even affection they've always given us. But when we think of parental love, we really just think of our Mama."
"There's nothing quite like a mother's love," Kagome agreed. "I saw you opening your grandmother's letter to you downstairs – what did she say to you?"
"She said that out of all her grandchildren, I was the one most familiar to her, because my Mama often spoke of me to them whenever she was at home. She said that from the very first time Kagome told her about me in the feudal era, she thought of me in some way as her daughter's first child, and now, that idea she had of me has actually come to pass, because Kagome and Inuyasha did adopt me even before they had Hikage. She addressed me in her letter as the first grandson of her heart. She thanked me for all the times I helped to save her daughter's life, for all the times I brought her cheer, and for all the smiles that she says she knows I gave her. She ended by saying that she believes I will also bring smiles to you from now on, and she truly hopes we will have a life together that is full of joy, with no regrets."
"We will," Kagome stated without hesitation, and with no uncertainty or fear in her voice. She looked directly into Shippo's eyes as she spoke, and he saw nothing but clarity and love when he looked back at her. Her journey across time seemed to have burned away the lack of confidence and the tremulousness that had held her back all these years from discovering what she truly wanted for herself, and now, she was looking with full assurance at the one she had decided that she wished to spend her life with.
Shippo felt his will merge and flow eagerly and seamlessly with the current of her desire, and he pressed his mouth to hers in a kiss that communicated to her the message: We will, and I would never want any less than to have you beside me as we raise a family of our own, and if I have to move worlds to find a way to keep you with me forever so that you will be able to watch our children grow up, I will move all those worlds to do so.
Kagome had come upstairs on her mother's orders so that she could have a good, long, daytime nap to make up for her lack of sleep last night, so Shippo eased back from the kiss though he wished it would go on for hours, and pulled her gently from to the edge of the bed to the middle of the mattress, where he made her lie down and close her eyes.
"I'll kiss you again – and again – when you wake," Shippo whispered. "But right now, you need sleep, and I'm here to make sure that you get as much of it as you need."
"Are you going to mother me like this for the rest of my life?" she murmured.
"Do you want me to?"
"I wouldn't expect any less."
"You couldn't stop me even if you tried."
"Well, I won't. I think I'm quite enjoying this."
"Shhh. Go to sleep, and when you wake, we'll write the first of our letters together to my grandmother, and we'll tell her that we're going to make all her hopes for us come true."
"You sound sure that the well will deliver our letters."
"I think it cannot but be moved by a heart as pure as yours, the way it was moved by my Mama's desire to be with Inuyasha after three years apart."
"Mmm," Kagome mumbled sleepily as her tired body began to succumb to the deep rest it needed. "I was afraid I wouldn't see you for three years if something went wrong... missed you so much while I was over there..."
"Missed you too," Shippo murmured with a smile, as he snuggled up against her back and held her against him.
"Stay with me..."
She slept, and he joined her in sleep though he did not need to, so when Mrs Higurashi and Inuyasha opened the door an hour later to check on them, they found them curled up together in dreams – the girl who had crossed streams of time to put things right, and her protective fox who had had the courage to let her go, but whose arms around her promised that from now, he would hold her forever.