Kagome was exhausted. She'd just gotten back from the feudal era late last night, had a math test at school that day, and then Eri, Yuka and Ayame had dragged her off shopping of all things! For some reason, walking all day in search of jewel shards that they were unlikely to find, and then fighting demons who were after the shards that she carried, was less tiring than hanging out with her friends. Thankfully, they'd said their goodbyes a little while ago.
Spotting a chair with what looked like a really comfortable cushion on it, Kagome headed over to sit down.
A hand wrapped around her arm and tugged her abruptly to the side, making Kagome land on a different chair to the one she'd been targeting.
"Hey!" Kagome yelped, indignant. "What was that for?"
A slightly older girl with brown hair, honey-coloured eyes, pale skin and a kind face smiled down at her.
"Muta doesn't like being sat on," the other girl said, gesturing to the cushion – which raised it's head and meowed at Kagome.
"Oh," Kagome said softly. "Right. Sorry Muta," Kagome said scratching the large cat's ears.
"I'm Haru," the older girl offered. "What's your name?"
"Kagome. Is Muta your cat?"
Haru laughed as she sat down on the third chair at the small café table. "Oh no, we're just good friends," Haru answered happily. "Had a rough day?"
"Is it that obvious?" Kagome asked, moaning a little as she slumped in her chair.
Haru chuckled sympathetically. "Only a lot," she answered. "Want to talk about it?"
Kagome looked up and blinked at this person, practically a stranger, who was willing to listen to her problems.
"That bad huh?" Haru asked, recognising the look of hope, loss, confusion, doubt and that particular spark that said 'I am going to break if I don't find someone who I can talk to this about and who will actually understand!' Haru smiled. "I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours," she offered.
"Promise not to have me committed?" Kagome asked softly.
Haru solemnly drew a cross over her heart with one finger.
The conversation was interrupted by the waiter asking for their order – Haru asked for tea and cake with cream, Kagome just asked for tea. Both were brought out quickly and Kagome was surprised to see Haru push the cake over to Muta and not give it a second glance. The fat cat promptly dug in.
"So, what am I not telling the men in white coats about?" Haru asked, pouring some milk into her tea.
Kagome took a deep breath and, for once, told someone from her own era outside of her family the whole truth – albeit the brief version.
"I'm a half-trained miko who has to find all the pieces of this sacred jewel that I accidentally shattered, but there's also this evil half-demon who's collecting the shards as well and using them for, well, evil, and I have to do this in the feudal era which I have access to because of this old well at my family's shrine, and there are all sorts of demons trying to kill me and I'm missing school and Grandpa is always giving them a new disease I've supposedly contracted to excuse me and when I'm here I have to deal with Hojo asking me out and not getting a hint and my friends are even more annoyingly determined that I should go out with him when I don't want to and they believe all my grandpa's phoney illness excuses, and when I'm there then InuYasha is always complaining that we aren't moving fast enough and comparing me to Kikiyo who's dead but who was resurrected by some witch using part of my soul and when it's not InuYasha being a pest it's Miroku being a pervert and Sango's great but just doesn't understand all the things I'm stressing about here and it's like we only just finish dealing with one threat when another pops up and sometimes that's InuYasha himself because of his demon blood and I don't get why he wants to be a full demon anyway and where he got the idea that I'd give him the jewel to make any kind of wish on when we got all the pieces together I'll never know because trying to get it in the first place is how he got the beads of subjugation around his neck and I am so sick of him thinking he can have both me and Kikiyo when I only think of him as a friend and not a very good one at that or I wouldn't have to 'sit' him all the time and it's even more annoying because my friends call him 'my two-timing boyfriend' when he's not my boyfriend and I told them that and if it's not InuYasha being a jerk then it's Kouga declaring me 'his woman' and I'm not that either and I'm going to fail middle school all because InuYasha doesn't understand that I need to study so that I can have my own life here – like he expects me to want to stay in the feudal era even after the jewel is complete, and okay I'd miss Sango and Shippo and Kirara if I never went back but this is my era and this is where my life is and I get that making the jewel whole again is my responsibility but it's not my only responsibility!"
Okay, maybe it wasn't that brief, but it left out most of the blood and guts while getting all the important stuff conveyed.
Kagome took a few deep breaths to calm herself down and looked up at the girl across the table.
Haru blinked once as she took all that in and processed it, brought up her arm to rest her elbow on the table and her chin on her hand then said: "Wow."
Kagome nearly cried.
"You've been needing to get all that off your chest for a while, haven't you?" Haru offered quietly.
Kagome nodded and wiped at her eyes before the tears could properly form.
"Being nearly forced to marry the cat prince really just doesn't compare to that," Haru said softly. "I mean, my crazy adventure was over in twenty-four hours. Lasting impression, but over fast enough."
Now it was Kagome's turn to blink. "Nearly what?"
Haru smiled. "Nearly forced to enter into wedlock with a male member of the feline royal family. The Cat King originally wanted me to marry his son. Lune, thankfully, had already chosen his bride, his father was just a bit behind the times. He offered me his own paw in marriage after that, but I managed to convince him I wasn't interested."
Muta interjected then with some meowing, which caused Haru to pause in her narration and blink at the fat cat.
"Seriously?" she asked. "I had no idea. Huh, I owe Baron even more thanks then than I thought."
"I'm missing something," Kagome said, looking between girl and cat.
"Oh, Muta was just telling me that after I refused the king and was making a break for the exit from the cat kingdom, apparently Baron fought a duel against the king to get him to leave me alone," Haru explained.
"You understand what cats say?" Kagome asked, stunned.
Haru nodded. "Ever since I was little," she answered. "No idea why or how though."
Muta meowed again.
"That's cool," Haru said, scratching Muta's ears again. "You guys let me know if you figure it out?"
Muta meowed again and nodded.
"Okay," Haru declared, pulling a small pad and a pen out of her handbag. "Let's work through your issues. Maybe we can figure out a way to solve a few of them."
"Really?" Kagome asked.
"I said 'maybe'," Haru corrected firmly, but then smiled. "Still, I'm sure we'll manage to figure out at least one of them!"
"Thank you," Kagome said as tears gathered at the corners of her eyes, a smile lighting up her face even as she began to sniffle.
"We'll start with the easier problems and work our way up to the bigger ones, yeah?" Haru suggested.
"Yeah," Kagome agreed. "First problem is... Ugh, my friends."
Haru smiled sympathetically as Kagome dropped her head onto the table with a thunk. She wrote 'friends' at the top of the page.
"It's like they only listen to half of what I'm telling them," Kagome complained. "And rarely ever the half that is actually important. And if you, a complete stranger, could tell that I wasn't doing well, why couldn't they?"
"Neither of the possible answers to that question are good Kagome," Haru cautioned. "Do you want to hear them?"
Kagome sighed. "Sure, hit me."
"Option one: they don't care enough to look and are therefore not good friends. Option two: they are too stupid to notice and are therefore not the kind of people you should want to be friends with anyway," Haru explained, brutally honest. "Two of the cats I had to deal with only heard what they wanted to hear. One of them was the Cat King, who didn't care what I wanted. The other was one of his advisers who was too stupid to understand that I was speculating rather than agreeing to anything. He understood when I used plain language to make my point firmly, of course I was also screaming in his face and holding him by the scruff of his neck, which may have helped, but he was just generally a stupid cat. The king wasn't exactly the brightest either, but he was more for ignoring my objections in favour of his own agenda."
Muta laughed beside her.
"I'd like to see how you handle turning into a human Muta," Haru said, her eyes on the fat cat.
Muta stopped laughing.
Haru nodded and turned back to Kagome.
"They aren't good friends, are they?" Kagome said with a sigh, stirring her tea absently a moment before taking a sip.
Haru shook her head. "Not according to what you've told me of them," she agreed. "So, what are you going to do about it?"
"Stop hanging out with them I guess, and listening to them when they try to pressure me into doing things," Kagome decided, her resolve getting slightly stronger as she spoke.
Haru wrote it down. "Next problem?"
"Hojo," Kagome answered firmly. "He doesn't get it! I'm just not interested in him that way! I mean he's cute and sweet and always happy to lend me his notes if I need them – and I need to borrow notes a lot – but he's just not what I'm looking for in a guy, if I was even looking right now at all!"
Haru cocked her head to one side. "I find that it's best to be honest about those sorts of feelings with the other person," she advised.
"Does that even work?" Kagome asked.
Haru nodded. "Don't be timid about it though," she said. "Be completely honest. Tell him you're not interested in him, tell him that you're not interested in having any kind of relationship at all at this point in time and particularly not with him, and you should probably find someone else to get notes from. Preferably a girl so they won't think you're asking for notes because you have a crush on them."
Kagome nodded, a relieved and grateful smile on her face.
Haru made note of this advice as well. "What's next?"
Kagome pulled a face. "I'm not sure if Grandpa's stories of illness should be next, or the likelihood of my failing middle school because I'm always absent should be."
Haru considered for a moment. "They're related to each other really," she allowed. "You want to continue your education, right?"
"Of course!" Kagome answered.
"But being away from school means that you miss stuff, and means your grandfather has to give the school an excuse. It's your being away from school that causes both problems," Haru explained.
"I know that," Kagome said, dropping her head onto the table. "But with InuYasha always bugging me about finding more jewel shards, and it's slow going, travelling in the feudal era. The distances that only take an hour to cover now take all day back then, so I can't just hunt for jewel shards after school and on weekends."
"Do you take your books to study in the feudal era?" Haru asked. "That might help."
Kagome sighed. "I do," she answered. "It doesn't really help much. There's no one I can really ask for help if I get stuck."
Haru nodded in understanding. "Have you thought about alternative schooling options?"
Kagome's head snapped up. "Huh?"
Haru smiled. "Well, I just finished middle school last year, and my mum and I were looking at all the high school options. There are a few dozen campuses I could attend of course, but I decided to enrol in a British high school distance program. They send me stuff to study, I send them my homework and can email the teachers with any questions I have. For tests, my mum times and supervises me according to the procedures that the school sends us – like, I have to be done within two hours of beginning and I'm only allowed one page of notes or something like that. I can do them at the kitchen table any time within a week of the test being sent to me, as long as Mum verifies that I didn't see the test before I sat down to take it.
Kagome was a few small steps away from rapture at the concept being laid out before her.
"Do you think they'd do that for middle school students as well?" she asked hopefully.
Haru smiled. "Fairly sure," she confirmed. "You'd have to check though. I'll write the name of the school down for you, but you might decide you like a different school that's running a similar program."
"Thank you!" Kagome said, bowing in her seat.
Haru chuckled. "If you do this, then you also don't have to worry about your friends or Hojo as much," she pointed out.
Kagome really was in rapture now, tears of joy streaming down her face.
Muta laughed quietly.
Haru smiled as she scratched the fat cat behind the ears.
When Kagome snapped out of it, she had fire in her eyes. "Next problem!" she declared happily, sure that her new acquaintance would be able to help her solve a few more of her issues before she had to head home for dinner.
"Yes?" Haru prompted.
Kagome deflated a little bit. "InuYasha," she said.
"Same advice as for Hojo," Haru said, blinking slightly, as though the answer was obvious. "Tell him how you feel."
"You sure that will work?" Kagome asked doubtfully.
Haru shrugged. "Just from what you said earlier, I'm a little confused on whether you are actually interested in him that way or not. Still, I can't think why it wouldn't."
"I'm not," Kagome said. "We're friends, sort of, but it hurts that he'd run off to Kikiyo at the slightest hint of her presence when she only wants to drag him to hell, and insults me when I only want him to be happy. It hurts even more that he'd defend her before me when she's technically dead, and is always comparing me to her just because I'm supposedly her reincarnation," Kagome explained, then sighed. "I have actually tried to tell him stuff like this before," she admitted. "It always leads to him getting defensive or aggressive. He won't stand to hear a bad word about Kikiyo and doesn't like dealing with his own emotions anyway at the best of times."
"How you feel about him, and how you feel about his feelings for Kikiyo, are separate issues," Haru said firmly, and frowned at the page she'd been taking notes on. "Weren't there a couple of other guys you mentioned?"
"Kouga is determined that I'm 'his woman'," Kagome complained.
"And you have told him you're not?" Haru prodded.
"I gave up after the fifth time and he didn't listen. He's an alright guy, if stupid, so I mostly just treat him as a friend and ignore the proclamations," Kagome explained.
"That's a problem," Haru said. "You've stopped discouraging him because he's fallen into the category of 'friend'. Object every time he makes the claim. Every time he ignores you, get louder, be more firm."
"He's a wolf demon," Kagome put in. "If that makes a difference."
"Assert yourself as an alpha who will take none of his attitude," Haru put in. "Wolves defer to their alpha, if you've stopped protesting, then you have basically deferred to Kouga as your alpha. If you have to work together on something, don't follow him, make him follow you."
Kagome's eyes went wide. "How do you know so much? Where can I learn it?"
Haru chuckled. "It's not the same with cats," she admitted, "but my time in the cat kingdom got me interested in psychology and, more to the point for helping you, animal psychology."
"If I said InuYasha is half dog-demon, does that change your advice?" Kagome asked.
"You've got to make sure he knows you're the alpha as well," Haru said with a shrug. "All canines defer to the alpha. That's the way their psychology works. The duties of the alpha vary from species to species within the canine grouping, but the alpha is always the boss. Any other guys?"
"Apart from Naraku, the evil guy who's also after the jewel so that he can do whatever the hell he wants? No. And I don't think telling Naraku how I feel about him is going to help any," Kagome answered.
Haru chuckled. "No, probably not," she agreed.
Kagome sighed. "I need more miko training to deal with him," she said. "Hell, the only 'training' I have with my miko powers I figured out by myself in the first place, and my archery has only improved through necessity than being given time to practice in a safe environment."
The waiter chose that moment to return and collect empty tea cups and the plate that Muta had cleaned of cake.
Kagome checked her watch. "I need to be heading home," she said, staring in surprise at her time piece. "I didn't think we'd been talking so long."
Haru smiled and tore out the paper she'd been writing on. "Here," she said. "My phone number is on there too, if you ever need someone to talk to. Besides, I'd like to know how things work out."
Kagome smiled. "Thanks," she said, accepting the paper and tucking it firmly into her pocket. "It's not all of my problems solved, but I don't feel like I'm going to fail at everything any more."
"You're welcome," Haru said. "I like helping people where I can."
Haru raised an eyebrow at the cat. "There is no need for you to take that tone," she said firmly.
Muta snorted and curled up on his seat.
"Do I want to know?" Kagome asked, amused by the exchange.
Haru shook her head. "It requires some context, and you just said you need to head home."
Kagome nodded. "I hope I'll see you around Haru," she said, laying the money for her tea on the table and standing.
Haru stood too. "Likewise Kagome. Now go on, off with you!"
Kagome laughed and ran off.
Haru sat back down, pulled money out of her purse and set it with the money Kagome had left behind.
"She seemed lighter when she left, did you notice Muta?"
"Yeah," Muta agreed, albeit grudgingly. "She's still got the big problems to deal with though."
Haru smiled and scratched Muta behind the ears. "But without all the small problems weighing her down as well, the big problems will be at least a little easier to face."
"That sounds like something the Baron would say," Muta grumbled.
"The Baron wouldn't have left her with the big problems still to face," Haru countered. "But it's nice of you to say so."