After the End, Chapter 1
After the End
Chapter 1: Homeward Thoughts
Two months had passed since the fall of Naraku, his dark spider self burned away in a blast of pure pink light. Two months since a wish was made to heal the hearts of all those touched by his darkness and to release the souls so long trapped in the fight of dark and light in that small round bead. Two months since the well sealed forever. Two months to heal and try to make sense of things.
It wasn't a lot of time gone by and living with this new reality wasn't always easy. Sometimes, the lack of focus, the end of the all-consuming quest that had dominated them for so long, let all the differences in the world come crashing down.
Like this day. Today it was Kagome's turn to feel lost.
Today was not the first time the homesickness for her mother and family had touched her, and InuYasha was not surprised to find her where she was when they had told her she was not in the village. As he drew near to the Bone Eater's well, he could smell the sadness in her scent, a touch of salt from her tears long before he saw her.
She seemed like a small, lost waif curled up next to the old well. Her left cheek pressed against the rough wood of the well's top edge while the rest of her body, dressed in a simple blue yukata curled up against the old wooden wall, her small frame looking even smaller than it was. Her eyes, reddened, stared away into someplace not there. He knew where -- about five hundred years into the future.
He sighed as he walked up to her. Besides the worry about her safety, still a real threat between bandits and those youkai that didn't succumb to Naraku's call, at moments like this, he always felt the sharp touch of guilt in his heart. Somehow, he felt her being caught here, so far from her family was because of his own selfish need to be near her, and if he had been stronger, maybe she wouldn't be going through this. But trying to keep all the negatives out of his voice, he simply said, "Oi, Kagome. Thought I might find you here. Kaede was worried when you didn't come back."
"Hello, InuYasha." She looked up into his amber eyes. His white, unruly bangs cast shadows over his forehead, but the look of gentle concern was easy for her to read. She smiled at him, patted the ground beside her. "I told her I was going for a walk. I really didn't know I was going to end up here."
She sat up straighter, resting her back against the well. "Today is Souta's birthday. I know it's silly of me, but I guess I came here because it was the closest I could get to him."
He sat down next to her. "Kagome..." he started.
Kagome looked up at him, her stormy blue eyes tear touched, but not anguished, looking carefully at her companion, seeing the discomfort, the tinge of guilt in his eyes, how he held his ears, his mouth. "I don't regret it, you know," she said, reaching out to take his hand, "promising to always be with you. Sometimes, though, I just wish they weren't so far away."
He didn't say anything, afraid to say the wrong thing, but allowed his other arm to circle around her as she laid her head against his shoulder. They sat there for a time, InuYasha resting his cheek on Kagome's head.
"InuYasha," Kagome said at last
"We probably ought to get back. Kaede might send Shippou after us."
InuYasha let Kagome go, and reluctantly got to his feet. Reaching out his hand, he helped her to her feet. "Better now?" he asked.
She nodded, and gave him one of her special smiles. They headed back to the village.
InuYasha and Kagome walked back quietly. A group of children dashed in front of them playing chase and called out, "Konnichiwa, Kagome-sama!" as they flew by. One of the farmers, an older man that InuYasha had helped out with firewood once when the man was injured, passed them by and bowed slightly in greeting. Kagome briefly thought there were more people she actually knew here than back in modern Tokyo, outside of school.
"InuYasha, if you were going to call one place home, where would it be?" she asked.
"Don't know," he said after a moment, idly flicking one triangular ear as he thought about her question. He looked down at Kagome, into her grey-blue eyes which looked at him peacefully. "I lived moving around so long. Here's been where I come back to longer than most places. Why?"
"Oh, just curious," she replied, smiling softly. "I was just thinking about how this village came to seem more like home than the world I grew up in."
"Maybe it's cause you spent a lot more time here the last year than back in that world you grew up in?"
"Maybe," she said, looking up into his amber eyes, "it's because who's here."
He stopped, reached out and took her hand in his, brushed his other hand against her cheek, then sighed. "Shippou's coming." he said. "You were right when you said Kaede would send him if we stayed gone too long."
Looking down the path, they could see Shippou running up to them, his red pony tail bobbing almost in time with his tail. "There you are, Kagome!" he yelled.
The boy looked at Kagome, sniffed, then gave InuYasha a dark look. "Are you okay, Kagome?" the little kitsune asked. "InuYasha didn't hurt your feelings, did he?"
"No, Shippou," she said, laughing gently and giving the small child a bright smile. The tug of war between the hanyou and the kitsune for her attention was an old one, and it amused her somewhat to see him so protective of her. "Nope. He made me feel better. I was thinking about my brother earlier and got sad.. Today is his birthday, and I was just thinking about him and how much I miss him. Then InuYasha came by and made me smile again."
"Oh." he said, looking as if he didn't quite believe her, then held up his arms. Kagome reached out and picked him up, and he put his arms around her neck. "I hope you stay feeling better," he said, staring at her with his big green eyes.
"I'm sure I will," she said, then put him back down. "You are just getting so big, Shippou!"
"Kaede asked me to work in her garden this afternoon. Said something about how younger backs than hers are better at getting the weeds."
"Oh did she?" Kagome said, knowing that probably Kaede was ready for a break from the little fox, beyond any aches she happened to have. With Sango and Miroku visiting the old slayer village, the fox child didn't have very many adults to entertain him. "Maybe I'll help you then."
They walked back to the hut, pushed aside the mat door, and walked inside. Kaede was sorting through some bundles of herbs she had dried and was putting them into containers.
"Ah, I see InuYasha found you, child," the older woman said.
"He did, Kaede-sama," Kagome replied. "I had wandered over to the well. I'm sorry if I made you worry."
"Nonsense. I just wanted to make sure all was well. I could see a heaviness about you today." She looked at Kagome with a knowing eye. "But I see some of that has passed. And that is good."
"I was remembering..." Kagome started. "But Shippou tells me that your garden needs work. If you don't need me for anything else, I would like to help him."
Kaede assented, and Kagome went to get the gardening tools.
"Kagome likes working with you," InuYasha said as they left the hut. He sat down next to the older woman.
"Aye, and I am glad she is here to help. I don't wear my years as well as you, InuYasha. Come and talk with me," she said, taking the tea kettle off of the fire.
InuYasha watched her preparing her tea things. "Now that Naraku is dead and gone, what do you plan to do?" she asked.
"What do you mean, Kaede-baaba?" he said as she made the tea. “ I do what I always do. Fight dangerous youkai, hunt, take care of my people. What else should I do?”
"It's been two months since Naraku was defeated, and nearly as long since Kagome lost her way back to her own family.” Kaede began. “ She is now a young woman without family, InuYasha. She has no means of support save the c0harity of her friends. The village elders are starting to talk. They ask me if I am taking her to train her as a proper miko."
She handed him a cup of the hot liquid.
"Kagome has been mourning her family, you know." he said, sipping on the pale green liquid.
“I know,” Kaede said. “But she's not the first girl to be separated a great distance from her family, InuYasha. People here are tired. After the damage from Naraku and his people, people just want life to be normal again. They want to know where you stand in all of this. They are uncomfortable watching a single woman with no position or place or famly. They want to know how she will fit in with their lives if this is going to be her home. I do not think she wants to be a shrine maiden, although I would be happy to train her if she wants this life."
"Keh," he said, crossing his arms and stuffing them into his sleeves. Blushing slightly, he said, "She is under my protection. I will provide for her."
Kaede sighed. She wished the monk and the slayer were here, and long for them to return. It might make things easier.
"Build her a house, InuYasha. Maybe that will be enough.”