Class was simple, if she could focus. Now that she had the time to attend classes regularly, she was breezing through them. Kagome would never really be a scholar, and she would never attend a prestigious university, but that was fine. Her goals didn't lie in academia, had never lain in academia. She had spent too much time in the past, too much time dodging certain death even as she chased it, to ever feel satisfied with books and stuffy classrooms.
She loved Eri, Yuka and Ayumi, she really did. But the fact of the matter was that Kagome just didn't have anything in common with her old friends anymore. Sure, she could spaz about boys with the best of them, tease them about something silly going on in their lives and with all ease, pretend she really was with them, when she was with them. Even if she wasn't, even if her mind was in fact several hundred years in the past with the friends and family she had left behind there.
It never occurred to her that her three friends could sense the distance in her, the lack of actual interest, and were hurt by it, by her. So when they stopped calling, stopped inviting her out after classes, she simply assumed they had grown apart and was in truth unbothered by it. Even when they all graduated from high school and were getting ready to attend university, Kagome was unfazed by their lack of attention, which only made it all the worse.
The truth was, Kagome couldn't bring herself to care. They hadn't traveled in the past with her, couldn't possibly understand how hard it was to pretend to be interested in a trip to a mall when they had never fought for their life while ascending a sacred mountain, or fighting a demented youkai. And they would never believe her if she told them.
So while she lost friends left and right and found herself more and more alone, Kagome instead focused on what really mattered to her. Youkai. She spread her reki far and wide across Tokyo, and further, as far as it would reach, searching. Searching for anything even remotely youkai. She scoured history texts, poured over myths from even before the feudal era.
And mostly, she didn't allow herself to think of Kouga, or to hope. It hurt too much to think he hadn't survived.
A year passed spent like this, and then another, and a third, until finally Kagome's mother had had enough. Her daughter had become a ghost of the girl she once was, rarely smiling or laughing, hardly doing anything besides sifting through books and legends. She had lost the healthy tan and her hair, while still beautiful, was a wildly long, tangled mess. She had lost weight, and there was no longer a spark in her eyes like when she was younger. And she was always alone. Nodoka couldn't remember her daughter ever being satisfied with her own company. Finally, she sat the young woman down at the kitchen table.
Kagome, for her part, was well aware of her mother's train of thoughts and opinions, and was horrified to realize herself that she didn't much care. And she loved her mother, more than anyone else in the world. One look at the older woman's face, at the pain and worry in eyes as brown as hers were blue, and Kagome burst into tears. All she could say, over and over again, was how sorry she was.
And Nodoka, for her part, understood more than anyone else possibly could and for the first time since her daughter had disappeared down that magic well, asked for the full truth of everything that had happened throughout the girls travels.
The young miko obliged with her mother's demand and spilled everything. After three long years of not finding anything or anyone to share her past with, each word uttered between the two woman was a weight lifted off of Kagome's slim, too slim, shoulders. She knew in her heart that her mother would never really understand the thrill of fighting for your very survival, of the pounding race of adrenaline through panicked heart and mind. But she did the best she could and revealed everything they had suffered, everything they had celebrated, hiding only the parts where she had come so very close to death.
As mothers were wont to do, Nodoka read between the lines of what wasn't being said and understood well enough how many times she had come close to losing her daughter. And she understood even more how hard it was for Kagome to move on when she had no idea what had become of her friends, of her adopted family. She would never admit this to her daughter, but there was a part of her that wished all of her friends had died during that final battle; at least that way, Kagome would have some kind of closure, would know what had happened, and wouldn't waste her life looking for something that would never come.
She said none of this and instead focused on the happier parts of the stories, and the sadder as well. She knew, even though Kagome didn't say, that she considered the Kitsune kit her son, and in a way, that made Nodoka a grandmother. She would have very much liked to meet the boy.
For Kagome, the telling of the story was as cathartic as finding an actual youkai might have been, though only barely. When everything was said and done, it was well into the next morning and the two woman had stayed awake the entire night talking about a distant past only one of them really truly knew anything about. "I miss them so much Mama," she whispered, her eyes moving from her mother's face to the brightening sky outside the kitchen window. "I don't feel whole without them; it's like a part of me is missing, will always be missing, until I know."
Taking a sip of her tea, Nodoka wished there was something she could do to help heal the pain in her daughter, but there wasn't. This was the kind of hurt that healed only with time, and with acceptance of what was, and what wasn't. "What would your Inuyasha say if he knew you'd spent so much of your time looking for him, for all of them, rather than focusing on your future?"
A choked laugh escaped Kagome, and a few more tears slid down her cheeks. She swiped at them almost uselessly. "He'd call me an idiot and tell me to stop moping."
Chuckling, her mother set the tea down and leaned across the table to take Kagome's hands in her own. "Then what are you waiting for?"
At first, it was easier said than done. It was all Kagome could do sometimes to make herself get out of bed in the mornings, to help around the house. To avoid the well house. She couldn't, wouldn't, allow herself to go there anymore, to climb down to the bottom and wallow there, wishing for the magic to touch her skin, for the portal to send her back. Even if back was the only place she could remember being happy, and whole.
All her books on myths and legends and history were packed away and stored in one of the many storage rooms clustered throughout the shrine. Her bow and arrows and miko garb were almost packed away with them, but Kagome couldn't bring herself to hide those away. It was one thing to stop looking and living in the past, it was another thing entirely to ignore it completely.
For a while, she contented herself with helping her grandfather around the shrine. It was there she felt the most at peace, anyway. Selling tokens, giving blessings, taking care of the more domestic duties; it wasn't the same as being in the feudal era, not at all, but it was there that Kagome began to find herself again.
She couldn't stop her hands from shaking, even just the slightest, as she waited her turn. Nerves danced across her spine as Kagome watched her three competitors and she had to fight back the nausea, the urge to turn heel and run. If Inuyasha could see her now, he'd probably shake his head and laugh at her, before calling her an idiot for being so scared.
'They're pretty good,' she thought as she watched, making note of their forms and different techniques. But she knew she was better, even if she was scared to prove it.
"Higurashi, Kagome. You're up."
Startled, Kagome glanced up from her musings and turned to the person who had called her name. He gave her a bored look and motioned to the field.
"Oh…right." Taking a deep breath, Kagome hefted the bow she'd brought back with her from the feudal era, a gift given to her by Tōtōsai towards the end of the journey. The same bow she had used to help kill Naraku. Moving across the field to the first target, she took heart at the odd looks she was receiving and was grateful Mama had persuaded her to wear her miko garb. The fabric was rough, but a welcome memory and it gave her confidence.
Drawing the first arrow she glanced only once at the group of people standing off to the side watching. She knew they were judging her, but only on her skill, and form, and marksmanship. It had nothing to do what-so-ever with her appearance or attitude. Letting loose the breath she'd taken earlier, she nocked the arrow, took careful aim, and fired. And stared in dismay as the arrow went wide, veering off into the bushes behind the targets.
There was silence, before one of the other competitors snickered. Kagome didn't spare the other woman a glance. Her thoughts drifted to the first arrow she had ever shot, the one that had shattered the Shikon no Tama, and she smiled. 'I am the Shikon Miko,' she reminded herself. 'Shooting an arrow is life and death, not a game. This is the same.'
Taking another breath and letting it go, Kagome closed her eyes and pictured the family she had left behind. A year ago, just thinking about them would have brought her to her knees; now, they gave her comfort where nothing else did. Nocking another arrow, she focused carefully on the target and loosed it; and smiled when it split the arrow in the center of the target. From there, she moved down the field, firing over and over again, sometimes one arrow, sometimes more than one, but always landing in the center.
There was a stunned silence, before Kagome bowed her thanks to the 'judges' and returned to her position against the fence towards the back of the field. Maybe it had been rude to show off as she had, but the snickers had irritated her, and the lack of respect had hurt. She was used to the deference shown to miko's, not to snickers and disbelief.
Her thoughts drifted back to the conversation she'd finally had with her mother a year ago, when she had spilled every detail about what had happened in the past. And how sharing it with her mother had helped her accept, even if just a little, that nothing was ever going to be the same again. Now wasn't any different. Miko's were the stuff of legends, same as youkai and reki and magic.
But she would find a way to bring it back, if only for herself. She wanted the world to remember what it was like to believe in magic, in strength of will. More than anything, she wanted to share her love of nature and all that came with it, everything she had learned in the past, with anyone who cared to learn.
"Welcome to Usai Dojo, Higurashi-san."
Kagome glanced about the inside of the dojo and smiled. It felt like home. "Thank-you, Misano-san. I look forward to my work here."
Misano Yuki was a tall man, and muscular, if his face was a touch on the effeminate side. He smiled at her in return and gentle took her elbow to lead her around the room, and didn't say a word when she, equally gentle, pulled away to simply follow him. "We look forward to having you here. We've already spoken with your students and they are equally excited to meet you."
She thought of those students and wondered what they would think of her. She wondered if they were as eager to learn the bow as she was to teach. She wondered if any of them had spiritual powers. That would be the next best thing to sensing yōki.
Startled, she snapped out of her thoughts and offered up an apologetic smile. "I apologize, Misano-san. I was simply caught up admiring your Dojo. What was the question?"
Pleased, he patted her shoulder almost affectionately. "Quite alright. I merely wondered why you wear the outfit of a miko. Surely you don't believe in such nonsense."
She tensed and took a careful, propriety step out of reach. "As I'm sure you read in my application and resume, Misano-san, I was born and raised in a Shrine, and taught everything, including the traditions and lessons of Miko lore. I very much belief in what I was taught, and it is a sign of respect to the Kami that I wear this." Irritated, she couldn't help but to let her reki rise around her. It was nothing but a comfort to her, and helped her to relax, but to anyone who didn't have such powers, it could be un-comfortable. "It is also rude and disrespectful of you, employer or no, to inquire about my own spiritual beliefs."
"O-of course. You have my most sincere apologies, Higuarshi-san, you are quite right. Forgive me; I will not make such a mistake again." He looked suddenly nervous and uneasy, but he met her eyes and did not back down.
Bowing her head in acceptance of his regret, she smiled. "Of course. Now, will you introduce me to my students?"
As far as Asagawa Ajita was concerned, archery was for girls. That thought was compounded by the fact that he was one of only four boys in a class of twenty of the giggling ninnies. In fact, the only reason he was even in this stupid class was because it was court mandated.
His thoughts on the subject didn't change when the teacher walked in, even though she was beautiful. Blue eyes alerted him to her mixed heritage, and that was all that was really alluring. But those eyes, even to his eleven year old mind, were full of sadness and history and maybe even a little bit of hope. They stirred something inside of him, but he ignored it, and her.
Instead, he focused on the conversation the other boys were having, talking about action figures and cartoons, all four of them equally unwilling to be here. He felt the slightest bit of guilt that they were all ignoring the new Sensei while she introduced herself, but it couldn't be helped. He wasn't going to be labeled as the class pet.
Kagome looked over all the youthful faces and wondered if she had ever looked so young, so innocent and full of excitement for the world. Quietly, she cleared her throat and began. "My name is Higurashi Kagome. You may all call me Higurashi-Sensei or Miko-san."
A hand shot up and most of the class went silent. "My name is Miki, Sensei. What's a miko?"
"A shrine maiden, stupid," called one of the boys with a jeering laugh.
Unfazed, Miki simply ignored the boy and asked another question. "My Papa say's there's no need for shrine's and temples anymore. Why are you a shrine maiden?"
"It's simply what I am, Miki-chan. I've yet to find another calling that suits me as much as being a Miko." Amused, she glanced once at the boys who had gone back to ignoring her. She nearly lost her words though when her eyes landed on one of the smaller boys. His eyes….god, he looked like Miroku.
She felt pain well up inside of her heart, but squashed it down and focused on the boy. She knew what it was to be confused with a ghost, and the last thing Kagome wanted to do was force those feelings onto this child.
As if sensing her attention on him, Ajita glanced her way and frowned. She was staring at him and he had the oddest feeling he was about to be singled out. For what, he wasn't sure, but he knew that look, had learned to be wary when people got that look in their eye's around him.
Kagome almost asked him his name, but something about the way he tensed under her gaze, stopped her. It was almost as if he were…scared. Letting it go for now, she turned back to the class and continued to answer questions and asking some in return. He was a mystery she had to solve, but it could wait.
Four and a half years ago, Kouga had pushed her down the well and she had been trapped permanently in the future. Four and a half years and two weeks ago, she had helped face down the most evil creature that ever threatened the world. And now she was facing down the parent of a kid who didn't particularly want her help, or interference. And she was so much more worried than when she had faced Naraku.
At her side, Ajita scowled. "I already told you there's nothing wrong at home….Sensei."
Kagome shook her head. She'd seen the bruises on his slim arms, noted that he always wore clothing that covered the entirety of his body. And he had been skittish around her for the first two weeks of class. Even now, she wasn't entirely sure what had made him open up to her, but he had and though he hadn't told her about anything that was happening at home, she wasn't blind, or stupid. "Are you scared he's going to hurt you?" she asked softly as they made their way to his home.
He looked away from her and his hands fisted at his sides. Invariably, she always treated him like a child when in truth, he hadn't been a kid for a very long time. He trusted Higurashi-Sensei more than he trusted any other person in the world. He could see her, and he knew that she could see him. He had never told anyone about the things he saw around certain people, and though he hadn't discussed it with her yet, he knew they would. It was the only reason he was here. And he knew there was no stopping her at this point. "I'm scared he's going to hurt you," he corrected.
Not for the first time since she had met the boy, he melted her heart. At first, he had reminded her of Miroku, if only because of his appearance, but he was as different from the perverted monk as she had been from Kikyou. And so maybe she still got a little nostalgic if she just sat and looked at him, but it passed the minute he looked at her in return. "He won't."
It wasn't actually a promise, Ajita knew. But Kagome's promises were like that. Her word was her law, even if no one else knew that. He was filled with a new kind of love for her that only children can know, a kind of love that was utterly unconditional and utterly pure. And he believed her.
So when he let them into the tiny apartment his small family occupied, it was with utter faith in her abilities and for the first time in his young life, hope. A hope that grew as she gathered his parents in the tiny kitchen at the ugly, stained, yellow table and very concisely explained what she knew was happening.
His love grew for her, in that completely innocent way that the love of a child often does, when she calmly stated that she was taking him away and that they would do nothing to stop her. She explained how her family shrine had a new program that took in young children and trained them in the art of Shinto and Buddha in order to pass on old traditions to new generations; how Ajita was a perfect candidate, how it would be at no extra cost to them.
His father was the only one to object, loudly and harshly. Kagome, utterly unfazed, simply smiled and waited for him to run out of steam. Her gaze moved between mother and father, and with every loud word, every curt explicative, the woman flinched. She took careful note of the long sleeves and skirt that slid to her ankles; it was easy to see the same fear in this woman's eyes that Ajita tried so fiercely to hide and deny.
The man, apparently unsatisfied with the attention he was receiving form the miko, turned on his son and hauled the boy across the table by his neck faster than anyone else in the room could react. However, Kagome was no wilting flower and she moved only slightly slower than the father. For a big man, there was little actual substance to him and it was no feat to have him slamming into the wall behind the table, a small tanto pressed to the ugly folds of his neck.
It was Ajita's mother that earned Kagome's respect that day, by willingly allowing her son to leave the house with the solemn promise that he would never return, though she could have cheerfully throttled the woman for phrasing it just that way, especially in front of the child.
When all was said and done, Asagawa Ajita was proud ward of the Sunset Shrine and if Kagome had her way, no one would ever lay a hand on him again.