Simply put, she felt anxious. At least that was the easiest emotion for Kagome to pick out during the entire four day journey from her bordering school to the balmy lands of her family's plantation. Why this anxiousness?
She pressed her hand to her stomach as her eyes began to recognize the landscape around her. She guessed she was only a few miles from home because there was the broken and abandoned one horse carriage her and Souta had crashed when he was learning to drive his own curricle. Her smile was meek- even that happy and ridiculous moment couldn't distract her from her mounting anxiety.
How could it? She hadn't been home in three years. She hadn't even seen her family in those long, horrible years of what felt like a prison rather than an upscale finishing school. And in those three years she had spent a lot of time thinking about this moment, the moment of her return. Hell, even making this dangerous journey (with the added danger of a freshly declared war) had eluded distracting her anxious mind.
She knew Souta was waiting for her and she looked forward to jumping into his arms. He must be so tall now and strong… Kaede was still working with the family and Kagome missed her grandmother figure immensely. Then there was Pa… Souta didn't have to write and tell me that things have gotten worse with Pa… I can just feel it…
Her eyes skimmed the line of trees slowly beginning to molt. The sight was at once beautiful and haunting. Her father's aura swallowed and dampened every inch of her family's property.
The only time she ever felt a glimmer of that oppression lifted was when she was with Inuyasha… Oh boy, I need to stamp those thoughts right away! Why entertain such insipid fantasies? It's Inuyasha for goodness sake! We bicker and argue. Besides, it was only a simple kiss… I was young and foolish and had a first crush. That's all; that's it.
Still, why was her stomach fluttering at the fuzzy image that appeared in her head of Inuyasha. He wasn't even smiling; he was scowling. He was giving her the I-ain't-impressed look that always drove her mad. Why or how could that make her feel a sudden and ridiculous giddiness? She pressed her forehead against the window of her closed carriage. Heaven help me…
The carriage began to roll slowly to a stop and quickly with a shaking hand Kagome smoothed her dress and hair. She took in a long breath as the carriage door opened.
"Welcome home, miss." The post driver smiled toothlessly.
She smiled and accepted his hand as she stepped down.
"Sis! Look at you!" Souta's familiar voice immediately calmed her a bit and she turned in the direction of his voice just in time to brace herself for his bear hug.
"Souta! Look at me? Look at you! You've gotten so big! And are those muscles? When did that happen?" She asked breathlessly after he had spun her around, effectively knocking her bonnet askew.
Souta's pearly blue eyes winked at her. "When I met my lady friend."
Kagome couldn't help but laugh at the boyish charm he still possessed despite the foot and a half he grew and the extra twenty pounds of muscle he now sported.
"That's right, I should offer you and Miss. Rin my congratulations I understand."
The post driver had finished unloading her trunks and Souta picked one up. "You will have to tell her yourself when you meet her tonight at supper." He paused for a moment shaking his head. "It is so good to have you home, sis. I'm so relieved you had a safe journey."
She smiled and had to wrinkle her nose to keep her insipid tears at bay. Her gloved hand squeezed his free one. "Me too."
They walked together towards the house and Kagome tried to shake off the feeling of someone watching her. At the door she paused and glanced over her shoulder.
There was a searing flash of amber. From the sun? No, not the sun. Molten amber orbs were boring into her, scalding her as if they were a physical touch. But only fleetingly since in the next instant the body to those eyes was walking swiftly towards the fields.
All it took was that one look and Kagome knew the reason she was feeling anxious to come home.
"Kagome?" Souta's voice brought her back.
She coughed and finally righted her bonnet. "Sorry, did you say something?"
Souta shook his head. "You still look at him that way."
"Look at who? I don't know what you are talking about." Kagome haughtily lifted her head. "Where is Kaede? And where is Pa?"
Souta didn't hide his rolling eyes. "Kaede went next door on an errand and Pa went into town to settle some financial matters."
"Financial matters?" Kagome peeled off her lace gloves and began to ascend the stairs.
Souta followed while offering an explanation. "Pa's run on some hard times. The expansion didn't help either. There was a long drought after you left, Kagome. We lost lots of money."
She quelled the sudden shock of this news by quickly asking another question, "What did Pa do?"
Souta laid her trunk at the foot of her bed and then sat down on it. "Well, we sold off what land we could to tenets and Pa had to sell a lot of the new slaves. We still haven't recovered financially. That's why it is really fortunate I met Rin; she is extremely wealthy."
Kagome bit her lip. "I thought you loved her."
Souta laughed like a genuine fool in love. "I do. Endlessly. It's just very convenient she is loaded as well. Her dowry will go a long way to keeping us a float this winter."
Kagome joined Souta on the trunk, removing her bonnet before leaning her head on his shoulder. Her family's financial ruin could wait; if there was one thing that could distract Kagome, it was a good love story.
"Tell me more about Miss. Rin."
Souta let out a long, hopeless sigh. "I don't even know where to begin. She is the peaches, Kagome. That girl is perfect, I swear. Almost as perfect as you."
Kagome smiled into her brother's shoulder. It felt good to have him around in her dark little world, especially being home. She didn't want to know how bad their plantation was. Or ask if Souta would move out when him and Rin married. She just wanted to hear his cheerful voice tell her something nice and happy. Something simple and uncomplicated. Dutifully, his voice rattled on as she relaxed further into him.
She must have fallen asleep because the next instant she felt arms around her lifting her up and gently putting her in bed. Hands untied and removed her half-boots and lips softly touched her forehead.
Kagome awoke several hours later to a gentle hand shaking her shoulder. Her eyes fluttered open to a welcome abet wrinkled face.
The elderly woman smiled and accepted a hug from her charge. "Ye have grown so much, Miss. Kagome."
The young woman dimpled. "Grown enough to no longer need chidings?"
Kaede smoothed her aged hands down the front of her apron. "We'll see about that, child." Her good misty blue eye took in the young woman before her. "My, how you have changed."
Kagome couldn't help noticing the changes time had on Kaede as well. Her eye was never as clouded as it was now and her shoulders were always held with a refined dignity. And so many wrinkles…
"Didn't think I could do it, huh?"
Kaede shook her head and smoothed Kagome's sleep ruffled style. "No, ye can do anything, child. But only what you wanted to do. I'm proud of ye."
With chagrin Kagome smiled and readily replied, "Thank you very much."
It was a surprise when Kaede lifted her apron and dabbed at her eye with a self-deprecating laugh. "Anyway, I've come to wake ye because supper is soon and Miss. Rin would like to meet ye."
"Oh that's right! Goodness, I must have been asleep awhile. Is Pa home yet?"
Kaede's only working eye averted. "Yes, however, he won't be joining ye tonight. He is under the weather after his travels this morning."
Kagome felt a strange mix of relief and disappointment. She hadn't missed her father as she probably should have during the last three years but it troubled her that he wouldn't even greet her after her long absence. It was only getting harder and harder for her to remember him as the once happy and doting man he was when her mother was alive.
"I'm sorry to hear that. Souta tells me he has been under the weather a lot since I've been gone."
Kaede nodded and picked up the dining gown she was to wear for tonight. "Aye, times have been tough lately."
Kagome nodded as well but decided to change the subject. "So, tell me how much you've missed me since I've been gone."
Kaede laughed that ancient, deep chuckle that Kagome always loved. "More than I can say, child. More than I can say."
Kagome found Rin to be a very pleasing girl. She was younger than herself, barely sixteen years old, yet her mind was sharp and mature. Rin was exceedingly charming as well as beautiful and the way she looked at Souta made Kagome feel confident they were truly a love match.
Dinner was unlike any Kagome had experienced the past many years in this plantation house. It was lively and full of fun conversation. It was also great to have someone else to joined her in teasing her easily embarrassed brother. And while he flushed and threatened both the young ladies, she could tell he secretly enjoyed seeing her and Rin's easy friendship.
By the time Rin had left, she had congratulated Souta again, and Kaede helped her dress for bed, Kagome was feeling the same anxiousness she had earlier that day. She also felt a familiar guilt creep through her as she realized she wasn't really going to bed when Kaede snuffed her candles and closed her bedroom door.
She was going swimming. And simply acknowledging this made her crawl with excitement. She hadn't been swimming since she left and she couldn't think of a better way to ease her tension than by doing one of the few things she ever did for herself.
She slipped out of bed and searched in the back of her dresser for her swimming clothes. She smiled when she found the 'borrowed' pair of Souta's breeches and nightshirt crumpled in the back of the drawer. Right where I left them!
She pulled the breeches on, surprised that they still fit, they had become a bit snugger in the hips and even the nightshirt clung tighter to her shoulders and breasts. She covered her scandalous attire with a dressing gown and silently exited her bedroom bare foot.
As it was all those years ago, the house was dark and quiet. She soundlessly slipped out into the night. She relished the feel of the cold damp earth on her bare feet and the crisp breeze of night air. It was glorious to be like this - like no time had ever passed.
By the second night of her arrival, things had quickly gone down hill. Her swim last night, while liberating and nostalgic, left her feeling oddly dissatisfied the next morning and she couldn't at first fathom why. There was a hollowness inside her that grated on her nervous and by mid morning she was snapping at anyone that looked at her twice.
Her mood improved slightly when a nervous and hesitant servant brought her a note. Quickly Kagome opened it, surprised to see it was from her school mate Sango. Sango was her age and came from a wealthy blacksmith family in the North. Sango was perhaps the only reason Kagome was able to find finishing school tolerable.
The note opened with the usually niceties but when those were done, Sango had a major favor to ask of Kagome. Her father and brother had joined the Union army and since her mother was also dead, asked to come live with Kagome. Sango, a resourceful girl, reassured Kagome she would be able to procure a safe passage if Kagome could answer shortly. After all, West Virginia had only just split from Virginia to join the Union, meaning Sango wouldn't have to travel much further from Union territory to get to Kagome. Besides, Kagome had just made the trip herself with little inconvenience. Still, the sooner Sango got on her way, the better.
Immediately Kagome penned her affirmative that Sango was welcome in her home for however long she needed to be. On a second thought, Kagome wrote a PS telling Sango not to mention her Union roots when she arrived. She had a feeling Pa wouldn't be welcoming of a Union sympathizer.
Feeling slightly better that Sango should be arriving in a few weeks time, Kagome decided to find Kaede and mend her horrid treatment to her from this morning. Upon reaching Kaede, Kagome smiled shyly.
"Kaede I wanted to apologize-"
"Mr. Hojo is here to see ye, child."
Kagome blinked, momentarily caught off guard. And before she could recover, Hojo's red head peaked around the corner.
He smiled sheepishly. "Good afternoon, Miss. Kagome."
Instinctively remembering the education that was drilled into her head for the past three years, Kagome bowed her head and gave a small curtsy. "Good afternoon, Mr. Hojo. I wasn't expecting you or I would have had tea prepared."
Kaede dismissed herself and Hojo stepped forward. "I heard you arrived yesterday and I knew you would need some time to be caught up with your family first. I wanted to see you as soon as possible though, to be assured you had a safe journey."
Kagome smiled out of genuine fondness for Hojo's thoughtfulness. "Thank you, my trip was entirely uneventfully. The war has only just started so I didn't expect to run into any troubles. Would you like to sit down, Hojo?"
He shook his head. "I'm glad to hear that, Miss. Kagome. No, I was only stopping by on my way into town. Perhaps, I can call on you again tomorrow? Around this time?"
Kagome nodded cordially. "Yes, I would like that very much."
Hojo smiled too. A smile Kagome always felt would be boyish no matter his age. But it was familiar and warm to her and she wouldn't have it any other way. Hojo hesitated a moment before quickly grabbing her gloved hand and pressing it to his lips.
It was like being dosed in cool water. Kagome suddenly realized why last night had left her empty. Inuyasha hadn't been there, it hadn't been the same. And now, even her genuine affection for Hojo had soured a little at his intimate touch. It reminded her of a promise she was sure to make soon. A promised that made Hojo's kissing her hand a given right to him.
She smiled all the same through her chaotic thoughts and walked him to the door. At the gate at the edge of their property, he turned and waved. She waved too. As she turned back inside she caught a flash of amber and felt the warmth of the sun on her back.
After a long and confusing day of ignoring some emotions and trying to rationalize others, Kagome finally slipped away into the darkness for some solace by the river. She was surprised, pleasantly in fact, to find someone standing on the bank when she arrived.
"Inuyasha." She breathed through a smile; she instantly dropped her towel to run to him. She was barely able to keep herself from leaping into his arms. Relief, excitement, all coursed through her veins in a heady rush. "I can't believe you're here. I've been thinking about you all day. I tried to make up a million excuses to see you today but I didn't get the chance." She couldn't stop the truth from slipping past her lips if her life depended on it.
He shrugged casually, very traditional to his character. "You only just got home yesterday; you've been busy."
She smiled and brushed some hair behind an ear. "It's great to see you, Inuyasha. I've missed you so much." Again, the blatantly honesty that she had barely admitted to herself.
He frowned before asking, "How was… it?"
Not the answer she was looking for but regardless she rolled her head back and laughed. He had such an affect on her, she nearly forgot what it was like to be in his company.
"Horrible." At his surprised look she smiled again. "Honestly, boarding school isn't all its made out to be. I had to learn etiquette, and other womanly arts all day long. We hardly ever got to go outside."
"All that sounds completely useless." He scoffed; once again, not impressed.
Kagome's blue eyes turned sad along with her smile. "Unfortunately, it won't be useless for me." She looked off into the surrounding woods. "I had to learn how to become a plantation owner's wife. How to mold perfectly into this society." She let out a shaky laugh and shook her head, all the while feeling embarrassed. "Anyway, I'm home now and it feels great. Never thought you'd hear me say that, huh? But its true, I actually prefer home to that horrid school."
Inuyasha was just standing there. She could feel the uncomfortable weight of his gaze on her face. She bravely faced him, trying to regain that intoxication that had made her giddy only minutes earlier. He looked sullen but this was the first chance you had gotten to actually look at him. Look at him good.
He was hardly the boy she remembered him being. He had grown quite a bit as Souta had, though he was probably taller than her baby brother. He had filled out impressively; he made Souta's muscles look minuscule. As her eyes skirted over his smooth, exposed chest, she felt embarrassment brush at her cheeks. The only part of him she recognized was his hauntingly inhuman eyes.
She sensed the awkwardness of the silence and tried another subject. "Funny I should run into you here. I thought you only came at night to teach me."
"I come here every night." Inuyasha replied simply, a little too easily.
She shook her head. "You weren't here last night."
His lips tugged up on one side. "Yeah, I was."
She stared at him for a moment before understanding swelled in her cheeks, hot and pink. "You saw me swimming and you didn't make your presence known to me? Inuyasha! That's… that's… improper!"
"Why?" He slinked closer to her. "We used to swim together all the time." An unfamiliar deepness to his voice shot a thrill down her spine.
He was trying to get under her skin again, like old times. She straightened her back, desperately trying to compose herself; after all, she wasn't the same hot-headed fifteen year old he used to know. She couldn't let him get the satisfaction of ruffling a lady.
"Well, we both have grown quite a bit since then. It isn't proper for a boy and a girl to swim together at our ages." Her voice only wavered slightly from his intimidating proximity.
His innocence was too clearly feigned. "Why not?"
That flustered her all over again. "You-You know why not."
He shrugged and took yet another step closer, her chest began to rapidly rise and fall. "Tell me, what does your fancy learnin' say about that?"
Ouch… The harsh, biting tone of his snippy question instantly cleared her mind. How rude of him to say that to her. She had just told him how miserable her education had been and now he was throwing it back in her face? Fine, two can play at this game.
"You can't figure that one out for yourself? How dull. I'm going to bed." She replied haughtily and boldly brushed right past him.
Her footing faltered when she heard his low growl and almost immediately felt the warmth of his body directly behind her. The tension had been thick before, but now, it was palpable. She had seriously set him off with her dismissal. She would have turned around on her own if his hand hadn't closed painfully around her arm and jerked her bodily to face him.
She looked up with mixed fear and curiosity. She couldn't fathom, even in those split seconds that he would hurt her. Yet, she was arrested by the sharp intensity of his eyes, the harsh lines of his cheek bones, and his firm body now pressed intimately against her. She wanted to speak, but to say what?
He issued another growl, this one blowing her bangs, "You're not going anywhere."
And then he kissed her.
There was momentary shock as her mind reeled to process the turn of events. Her anger had diminished the instant before when he grabbed her, but she hadn't had time to decipher what to feel about his aggressiveness before this kiss.
His lips were surprising gentle and still for a moment. Then the began to withdraw but only slightly before descending again. Kagome couldn't help it, she was suddenly weak, emotionally, physically, she kissed him back with no hesitation.
He muttered something against her lips, and his hand released its numbing hold on her arm but only so both his arms could wind themselves around her back to draw her nearer still. Kagome followed his example by burying her fingers in the hair at the nape of his neck. She clung to him as tightly as he was clinging to her.
It felt effortless and natural when the kiss progressed and she felt the light brush of his tongue on her lip. She merely sighed and opened to him. She was falling deeper and deeper into whatever abyss he was leading her into. Everything felt surreal and incredibly perfect. So perfect, so, so perfect. Better than the first…
Inuyasha's body stiffened and his eyes snapped open. He extracted himself from her arms and held her at arms length.
She dazedly tried to gather her wits. "Inuyasha?"
"Who is it?" There was a huskiness to his voice along with a distinct rage.
"Who is- What?" She tried to pull him closer to her, she felt oddly cold without him holding her.
"Who have you kissed before?"
Kagome felt her blood drain from her face. "Why would you think I've kissed someone before?"
Inuyasha growled and let her go completely. He stepped back and gestured at both their disheveled looks. "Because you seemed pretty sure of yourself there."
His accusation hurt, his anger at her hurt even more. Instinctively, her humiliation and embarrassment boiled into her own anger. "I don't have to answer you."
He stared at her for a moment before scoffing. "Guess not. Goodnight, Miss. Higurashi."
As he was disappearing into the surrounding trees she whispered, "Hojo."
Kagome waded into the iridescent water that looked almost black in the moonless night sky. Black, like her mood. It had been a week since her return and the biggest accomplishment she had had was appearing tolerable for other people. She was beyond fighting with Kaede, Souta or her Pa. She had been borderline emotionless since her night with Inuyasha on the river.
This was her first night back at the river since the kiss and she couldn't tell if she was relieved he wasn't here. Probably better this way… What would she say to him anyway? Just today Hojo had visited her again, a reminder that she had to start acting the part she was sent away to learn.
Her fingers trailed lightly over the top of the surface. She had never experienced these kind of emotions in regards to Inuyasha. They always had an easy connection, she had never really yelled at him or hurt him or talked down to him… What had become of her? And of them?
They weren't little kids anymore, they couldn't pretend to be equals like they used to. She couldn't run around barefoot with him and never think twice before stripping to her underwear in front of him to go swimming. She couldn't laugh and flirt with him anymore. She couldn't even talk to him; and that was the hardest to come to terms with. That, and she couldn't kiss him either.
She sighed and slowly lowered herself onto her back, floating gently in the still waters. She had spent all those years in boarding school learning right and wrong, learning how to think like a lady, act like a lady, dress like one. But she still couldn't accept it. She honestly thought she could when she returned but she was wrong and she knew it the instant Inuyasha walked into view that night.
All those repressed thoughts, all those interesting stirrings she had had while she was away, awaked inside her. She was different yes, but it had little to do with the education she had received- it had everything to do with Inuyasha.
Was he ever that far from her thoughts these past three years? Wasn't he the first person she missed when she was sent away? The one she wanted to write to above others? The one she cried over with longing? The one she thought of when she was instructed how to make a home comfortable for a man? Wasn't it his name her head screamed when Hojo began visiting her up North to court her? Inuyasha, Inuyasha, Inuyasha… with every soft, hesitant touch from Hojo, it was Inuyasha.
Kagome stood up in the water. She wasn't dimwitted; she knew what had happened to her the moment her heart was separated from his.
She felt like she was drowning; she was too consumed in something so impossible. She couldn't see the end or the way out. She loved Inuyasha more than that mere childhood crush she thought she had on him. He was something of herself, he had a part of herself that she wasn't ever going to get back. She would spend the rest of her life wishing and yearning for something that could never happen. That is why she had refused to dwell on him since coming home, because seeing him again was bound to make her love of him a reality. She couldn't play it off as a simple childhood crush anymore.
She started to make her way to the bank, pausing when she felt something warm drip down her cool cheek. She brushed it away with mild agitation; she was crying- again. And because of him. More tears sprang from her in frustration and it was another minute before she could finally wipe them away enough to see. But before she had them clear, she could sense him; Inuyasha was here again.
Her sparkling blue eyes cast up the bank and saw him watching her carefully. She didn't move and couldn't summon the courage to respond to his presence; to push him away like she should, or to pull him closer like she wanted.
Luckily for the both of them, he made the choice for her. He stepped into the water and waded to her. In the hip deep water, she stared up at him wordlessly. How was she to explain her behavior of that night, her behavior now…
I can't do this… No, I can't do this. I can't kiss him again. I have Hojo. This is too sudden; I'm still so confused. I want to so bad but…
She dropped her gaze and looked away from his face. Her body stiffened when she felt a finger dragging her chin up. She reluctantly kept her eyes closed.
"How about we race? First, one to the other bank and back wins." Inuyasha's voice whispered gently, he sounded unsure.
Kagome opened her eyes and thought he looked sad but it was only a momentary expression across his heavy brows. In the next instant he gave that challenged half smirk that used to boil her blood -it still did- and dove sideways into the river bed.
She watched him for half a second before smiling and diving in after him.
Maybe he understands…
A long chapter for the long wait! I think from here on out they will all probably be about this length. There is going to be a lot going on in the chapters to come; I have a lot of history to fit into the next couple of years in the story!
Anywho, let me know what you think :) AND A SPECIAL THANK YOU to all my lovely reviewers so far! I really appreciate all the excitement/feedback I had gotten thus far! You guys rock (not to sound cliche- it's just very true)!