Back to Chapter 29: Paving the Road to Hell
Chapter 30: Righteous but Not Right
Kagome had woken to the muffled sound of Souta’s alarm. She blinked at the ceiling for a moment, her brain slowly returning to wakefulness and the realization that she was at home. Saturday. Souta has soccer practice. Dragging herself out of bed was difficult; she felt as though she hadn’t slept at all. Strange dreams which she could only remember fragments of had kept her tossing all night. She showered and dressed and ate two large helpings of breakfast with her family before her little brother dashed off to carpool with his friends and her grandfather left to open the shrine for tourists. She told her mother she had work to do, and would have lunch with them before she returned to the feudal era. Gen had agreed, and asked her to be safe, but the older woman seemed strange. Not anxious or worried, only – preoccupied.
She had completed a brief meditation the night before but was not able to sense any youkai nearby. Knowing that she needed to be thorough, Kagome grabbed a school bag with a list of assignments she needed to complete for the next quarter of her distance nursing program. She stopped at the neighborhood pharmacy – her face the color of a tomato while she paid for her pills. Then she took the bus to the library, planning to take the notes she needed, pick up a few books at the store, and then stop at a park on the way home to undertake an exhaustive search for youkai. Her trip was uneventful. The library clerk was helpful, all of the books she needed were available at the first store she went to. Still, there was something bothering her.
Kagome tried to shake it off as she entered the park, nearly empty given the winter weather. It was as if she had forgotten something. The niggling feeling, of a task left undone or a date overlooked, tugged at her awareness. She tried to brush it away, seating herself in a secluded spot deep in the park. She had learned through trial and error that being close to nature made it easier for her to meditate and work with her reiki. Kagome connected ear buds to her phone and laid it out – not playing anything – on an open book. Hopefully it would be enough to keep anyone from bothering her, if they did happen to come upon her. It was unlikely, but she didn’t want to chance having to explain to anyone why she was sitting outdoors in the winter. It also feels like having a piano dropped on my head when I’m pulled out of deep contemplation, she thought wryly.
Months of practice enabled her to settle into a state of self-awareness rather quickly. Kagome was accustomed to the mental space she arrived in. It was a white place, bright with sunlight from an unseen source. Pale pink fog rolled across the ground, a few inches high, and the scent of flowers and heavy dew filled the air. She cupped the fog in her hands, concentrating on what she needed to see and focusing her energy. When she pulled her hands apart, the fog parted, and it was as if she was looking down on herself in the park from a height of a few dozen feet. The world around her physical body was muted in darkly saturated colors with little hue. Her body, however, glowed with a pink light – so intense it was almost white. She was surprised to see how much brighter it was than the last time she had meditated.
She widened her view and her mental image scrolled outward so that she could see the whole park. Several acres around her filled the space, fading into the fog at the edges. She had done this many times in the feudal era, searching for other youkai or humans that might be near their campsite. Tiny pin pricks of yellow light bobbed and moved about the park scene. Those were animals, Kagome knew. A group of humans – teenagers excited about something, she guessed from their bouncing energy – gathered at the edge of the park, near the picnic area. Their bodies were revealed as duller lights in soft, pale colors. No youkai were in the area.
Kagome concentrated, drowning out the animal, insect, and plant life around her. When she had in her mind firmly that she was looking only for humans or youkai, she widened her view again. She searched the blocks around the park, and then the district. Several times she thought she caught something. An aura with the intensity of a youki would catch at the corner of her eye, but as soon as she focused on it, it would disappear. Still, she did not give up. She could feel the strain on her mind, on her reiki, as she finally held an image of all of Tokyo before her. Millions of human lights. Several hundred holy beings, of various levels of power. A few even took notice of her inspection. None shined as brightly as her own white energy in the center of the spiritual map. She relaxed her gaze, about to let the vision go, and something flickered at her.
Her eyes snapped to attention, but it was gone. Again, Kagome prepared to dismiss the map, but another heavy twinkle of power brushed the edges of her sight, this time in a different location. It went on for what seemed like hours. Every time she thought she found a demon, the signature would disappear before she could be sure. It was so frustrating she wanted to scream. Finally, she could hold her meditation no longer. She came back to herself with a startled gasp, as though her head had been underwater and she could only just then breathe. Her hands were shaking and sweat trickled down her back and beaded along her hairline. She would have pulled on her hair in exasperation if she weren’t exhausted. She had hoped to be able to tell Sesshomaru that youkai were alive and well; that they had changed the future – just enough to save demons, but not enough to alter reality as Kagome knew it. At the very least, she figured nothing would have changed, and she would have to report that she simply didn’t know if they were successful. The teasing information she had learned was somehow worse than finding no youkai at all.
She splashed water from her water bottle on her face and neck, and used the edge of her scarf to dry off. She slung her bag over her shoulders. The weight of her books felt like it had doubled since the store. Despite her tired limbs and grumbling stomach, she elected to walk the mile back to the shrine rather than take the bus. Her mind needed time to work out the puzzling information from her vision. There were probably demons in her era – she had never sensed even a flicker before. But they can either sense me sensing them, and avoid detection, or there aren’t really any demons and I’m going crazy.
As she rounded the last corner to the shrine and saw the group lounging against the stairs, she groaned. I am crazy. Crazy, ill-fated, and probably born under some sort of cursed star. She actually took one step backward, hoping to avoid a confrontation, but it she was too late.
Her old school friends jumped up when they spotted her, and Kagome forced a smile onto her face and gave a weak wave. She had always been terrible at confrontation; she hated telling people no, and her friends, nice though they were, were very hard to say no to. They also did not know anything about the well’s secret. The depth of experiences, and mountain of lies, that had grown since she was fifteen now separated her from them in a way that they didn’t seem to understand and she could not explain. She continued forward, and they met her halfway, turning to walk beside her. Eri linked Kagome’s free arm with hers.
“Kagome, it is so good to see you! Yuka and I met Hojo at the store earlier, we’re on break from University, and we decided we should come visit you!” Eri’s soft brown eyes – they reminded Kagome of Sango – sparkled with warmth. Her breath fogged in the air a bit, but her cheeks were pink with cold and her black coat and pink scarf gave her the appearance of a fashionable college student. Rightfully so, Kagome thought, for the first time without a hint of wistfulness.
“How are you feeling, Kagome-san?” Hojo touched her shoulder lightly with his gloved hand to get her attention. She felt her smile falter at the quiet concern and devotion that still burned in his face. Apparently, he had not yet given up hope that Kagome would return his feelings. She sent a prayer to whatever kami were listening, again, that he would find a girlfriend. Preferably one who lived in Osaka.
Yuka interrupted her, “She obviously isn’t feeling well, Hojo-kun. Look how pale she is! You should help her up the stairs.” Kagome’s head turned around so quickly she nearly got whiplash. She threw everything she had into glaring at Yuka, but the girl just offered a sly grin and a wink. As if she had done Kagome a favor.
“Are you sure you’re all right, Kagome-chan? You haven’t been injured, have you?” Eri looked concerned, and Kagome was distracted by her odd turn of phrase.
Hojo’s soft, almost cloyingly sweet voice interrupted her chain of thought, “Please, Kagome-san, let me help you with that.” He actually reached for the strap of her bag and Kagome gripped it tightly. A little growl escaped her, I don’t want your help, and she blushed when she realized she had made the sound. “Or I could just walk with you. I have been meaning to call again, now that I am home. I wanted to discuss with you your plans for a nursing internship. My father has an opening at his clinic-” Kagome could feel her heart rate increasing. There was no way she could let herself get talked into working with Hojo’s family.
“Oooo!” Yuka squealed and clapped her hands. “That is perfect, Hojo-kun! She would be so close to the apothecary your uncle runs – you know how those remedies you used to bring Kagome made her feel better! You could keep an eye on Kagome-chan. You would see her every day, since your new apartment is right upstairs from the clinic!” Kagome’s eyes bounced from her pushy, hormone-crazed friend to the boy. She couldn’t think of the slender, soft-spoken milk-toast as a man, no matter how old he was. Hojo’s eyes seemed to have gone sort of soft and dreamy. He and Yuka made plans for how Kagome could get to work every day while Eri looked on, concerned. If Kagome didn’t say anything, they’d have her engaged to Hojo before she had made it up the stairs.
“I already have an internship,” she blurted. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs, for a moment torn between elated surprise that she had finally said something to stop Yuka’s schemes and Hojo’s oppressive niceness, and horrified wonder that she had lied so easily. Now she just had to keep up the lie. They all stared at her; Eri was the first to break the silence.
“That’s great, Kagome! I know how much you like helping others, nursing is sure to be the right career for you. You should call or email me and let me know how it’s going!” The intellectual girl, usually so focused on her studies, impulsively hugged Kagome and whispered in her ear. “Don’t let them bully you!” Kagome blinked in surprise.
“Yeah, Kagome-chan,” Yuka followed up half-heartedly. “Great. So where is this internship?”
“It’s, ah, it’s in the West,” the lie slipped out, and Kagome felt like maybe she could do this. Usually Gramps did all the storytelling, but if she really wanted to get away from Hojo, she needed a long-term excuse. She just needed to stick as close to the truth as possible. Miroku said that was the best way to create a believable lie.
“What kind of place is that? Are the people there going to look after you?” Hojo looked even more worried. The expression was irritating.
“Where, exactly, in the west?” Yuka looked disbelieving, her eyes narrow and her thin, shaped brows beetled.
“Actually,” Kagome took a deep breath, “It’s with Inuyasha’s family. They own the clinic for the town they live in.”
“That punk owns a clinic?” Yuka still didn’t look like she believed Kagome.
“I thought you broke up with that boy,” Hojo frowned. “He didn’t seem right for you.”
“Inuyasha doesn’t own the clinic, his family does. And,” she swallowed hard and managed a tight-lipped smile, “I probably won’t see anyone much after today. I’m leaving soon – I’ll be staying at their house while I am doing the internship.”
“That sounds really exciting, Kagome,” Eri brushed passed the other two and began herding Kagome up the stairs. “You probably have a lot of packing to do, so we’ll let you get to it. Send me an email when you get there!”
“So you’ll be living with that, that gang-member?” Hojo looked fretful still, but a note of surprised anger had entered his voice. Kagome didn’t have time to be concerned about his feelings, she was starting to feel her own temper rise.
“Inuyasha is not a gang-member, Hojo, and please do not say things like that about my friends. Besides, it is his older brother I’ll be staying with.” Yuka tried to grasp her hand, she looked ready to explode with questions, but Kagome jerked away and started up the stairs. “Have a good time at University,” she called over her shoulder. “Eri, I’ll be sure to send you an email, just as soon as I get a chance!” She thought she had made a clean getaway, but Hojo took the stairs two at a time, catching up to her and seizing her shoulders in his hands.
“Kagome-san,” his voice was as soft and sweet as always, but his mouth and eyes were firmed with a new sternness, “please do not feel that you must put yourself in an uncertain situation. What do you really know of this brother? If he is related to that gan- er, ex-boyfriend of yours, he most certainly does not have your best interests at heart.” She opened her mouth to interrupt, but Hojo pulled her forward suddenly, squeezing her in a hug. His cheek brushed against hers and she could feel his warm breath puffing against her hair. She couldn’t have been more surprised if Jaken had hugged her. “Your health has been so delicate,” he murmured in her ear, pulling back after another squeeze to gaze soulfully at her, “let me advise you on this. That brother character would try to take advantage of you; I can help you, care for you, you don’t have to make decisions-”
Her shock finally wore off and she pushed his arms away from her. “Hojo-san,” she said firmly. “I understand that you say these things out of concern.” A soft, hopeful smile split his face and he looked like he wanted to say something. Kagome didn’t let him. Her temper was barely in check. How dare he assume that she couldn’t make her own decisions. “However,” she put stress on that word and it nearly hissed out between her clenched teeth. Kagome was very conscious of Eri and Yuka watching from the bottom of the stairs. Yuka looked horrified and fascinated. Eri looked apprehensive. “However,” she said again, “not only are your assumptions incorrect. It is also highly inappropriate for you to express them. I will say this to you only once: do not ever presume to know what is best for me. Ever.” She narrowed her eyes at him, and the little flame of hope in his face flickered.
At least partially mollified, she turned to Eri, “I’ll be fine with Sesshomaru, and I’ll try to send you an email as soon as I’ve settled.” She ignored Yuka, smothering the twinge of guilt she felt over slighting her old schoolmate. The girl was supposed to be Kagome’s friend, but she never listened to what the miko had to say. If she thinks Hojo is such a catch, maybe she should grab him.
She powered through packing a small bag on her irritation and the swell of pride she had in herself for finally putting a pin in Hojo’s dream. No more of that nonsense. Books, pills – she blushed while tucking a three month prescription inside a medical text, a few trinkets for the children, her homework, and other supplies were shoved in an old bag and left waiting by the front door. She changed into another pair of old leggings, thick socks, and a second-hand hoodie. Lunch went by quickly with her family and soon she was ensconced in the kitchen with her mother, who had insisted they have a private talk. Kagome was dreading it. Her mother had threatened to discuss the birds and bees – youkai version, and there were about a million things Kagome would rather do.
Final exam for chemistry. Clean all of the shrine storage sheds. Kiss Jaken.
Okay, maybe not that last one.
“Kagome, dear, Inuyasha came back this morning with a note from your Sesshomaru,” Gen began.
Kagome opened her mouth to deny that he was her anything, but another thought stopped her. “A note for me?” It was strange, she would see the daiyoukai in a half-hour; she couldn’t think of anything good that would not have waited. “Why didn’t you tell me right away?” She held out her hand for the note, trying to calm the race of her pulse while she considered how terrible something would have to be before Sesshomaru would send her a note – with Inuyasha.
“No,” Gen shook her head with a smile, “a note for me.” Confusion swamped the miko’s brain. She wasn’t aware she had ever even told Sesshomaru her mother’s name. “He wanted to introduce himself, and he asked permission to start the pursuing ritual.” Kagome blinked. Her ears didn’t seem to be connected to her brain. Her mother was watching her with a twinkle in her eye and an understanding expression that didn’t make anything clearer. “He used formal words, but that man would like to court you – and marry you if things go well.”
“Youkai, not man,” Kagome corrected numbly. Court me. Marry me. Sesshomaru? She felt a sweat starting to build. She was too hot, but also chilly. Goosebumps rose on her arms.
“He is very traditional, which make sense, I suppose, given his time. He sent a bride gift.” Gen stood and reached into the cupboard next to the sink and pulled out a porcelain box. Kagome recognized her name, as well as the symbols for Miko no Mao and Shikon worked into an intricate design. It was beautiful, but it still did not make any sense to her. Her mind swirled in foggy circles. She wasn’t a bride; Sesshomaru hadn’t said anything about marriage, or even courting. Sure, they had kissed and…done other stuff, but marriage wasn’t something she had ever considered. Not with him. Not with anyone. I’ve only really known him for a month! She had been thinking about a relationship, exploring the possibility of caring for him, loving him, but marriage…
Kagome was very conscious of her open palm, still hanging in the air between them like a beggar’s cup. She moved to retract it, but her mother settled the box there and Kagome automatically moved to secure it with both hands. She tried to focus on her breathing, but her lungs weren’t working properly.
Sesshomaru seemed to enjoy her company. He obviously enjoyed being intimate with her, and he intended to continue that sort of behavior and take it further – if his actions in the spring were any indication. She had accepted and prepared for that – hence the prescription. She didn’t even blush at the thought – that was how strange and unbelievable the situation appeared to her. She liked Sesshomaru. She had already decided she would see where a relationship with him might go, but that had only been a week ago – and most of the intervening time they hadn’t even been together. They had never talked about anything like this; they had never been on a date. She had never even held his hand.
That started off a downward spiral of fluttery desire, shame at the pace of their intimacy, and a spark of outrage that burned in her stomach like a hot coal. “Well,” her mother said in a calm voice, “I think you should open it.” Kagome set the box gently on the table and stared for a moment. She knew she should be happy that Sesshomaru wanted to take things further with her. After years of one step forward, two steps back with Inuyasha and predictably boring and uncomfortable dates with Hojo, she should be happy that the daiyoukai was serious about their relationship. Unfortunately, she couldn’t seem to move past the part where he sent a note to her mother about a wedding before he had even asked her on a date. Kagome had always known Sesshomaru was arrogant, most of it was deserved, but this act was unfathomable to her.
In a daze, still unsure about her own feelings, she lifted off the lid. “Oh, my,” Gen breathed. Kagome felt her mouth fall open, but no words came out. Her eyes were wide enough that she was distantly aware that she should blink before they dried out, but she could do nothing but stare.
Nestled in the box was a white dog, approximately six inches long, with three tails, carved out of pale, nearly colorless, jade. Under his feet, a darker jade had been carved in whorls and swirls that resembled clouds. Discrete hinges and a clasp identified the cloud as a hinged case. Where the jade parted and whirled apart in intricate carvings, she could see what was inside. A gold bar. Stamped with Japanese kanji. It was the size of two candy bars laid side by side. That alone would have been excessive in the extreme. The gold with the jade cloud was beyond gratuitous. The elaborate dog carving was lavish and probably priceless. However, it was the last item in the box that sent Kagome over the edge. Nestled in the open jaws of the dog, like a spoil of battle, lay a smooth, oblong stone the size of a quail egg. The red color was unblemished except for a thin white star pattern at its heart.
A ruby, her mind stated. Even her imagination couldn’t begin to settle on an emotion. It has to be worth…she couldn’t even guess. The whole thing belonged in a museum somewhere, perhaps at the national palace with Japan’s imperial relics. Sesshomaru either thought so little of the expense that he buried it under a tree for her family, or he thought so much of her that he buried it under a tree for her family. She wasn’t sure which was preferable. He buried this. He sent my mother priceless artifacts to ask permission to marry me. He sent a bride gift – her brain locked onto that. Suddenly, painfully, the hazy fog that had been numbing her disappeared and she was left with a single realization:
He never asked me.
Later, much later, some tiny part of her might argue that she was not being fair. She was leaping to conclusions and attributing modern sensibilities to someone who had no concept of sexual equality or inherent individual rights. In that moment, all of the indecision, shock, confusion, and other immense, deep feelings that were too much for her to consider were shoved into the background as she latched onto her temper. It was easier, simpler, to focus on how wrong his deed appeared, rather than sort through how right his intention might have been. It was easier to let her ire build than to sort through the enormity of what it could mean.
Kagome snapped the lid back on the porcelain box, not even noticing Gen’s wince as the delicate china clicked together. “I have to go now, Mama,” she said through clenched teeth.
She stood, hugging the other woman woodenly and moving out of her arms and towards the door even while Gen reached for her and called out, “Now, Kagome, wait. Don’t let your mouth run away with you!” The young miko hefted her bag and nodded, but continued walking. Gen followed her. “I think you might be jumping to conclusions, dear. You should really talk to him about this, if it upsets you.”
“Talk?” Kagome snorted, “Yeah, clearly we do a lot of that.” Why should I talk to him, she thought acidly, when he did this without talking to me?
“Really.” The censure in Gen’s voice made Kagome pause and look over her shoulder. “Consider when you have had the opportunity to do so with him.” A smile quirked Gen’s mouth, “Or have you used such opportunities for other things? Things that might have given him certain expectations?” Kagome’s face burned, and she held onto her slipping temper with tight fists. “I am not judging you, or him, but ‘a greeting is the local deity who turns up providentially’.” The proverb was something her grandfather often said, and it ate at her as she continued, more slowly, to the well house. She wasn’t sure if she was truly looking for a fight where there was none, as her mother had implied. Sesshomaru was in the wrong. He should have spoken to her first. No matter how it pained him or hurt his stoic image, about something so important, so personal, he should have talked with her first.
Her famous temper in full evidence, Kagome jumped down the well. Blue power engulfed her, and her eyes narrowed. The Saidai Mao was about to find out exactly what his mistake was, in great detail. Even if she had to pinch his pointed ear and speak directly into it to make him listen.
“The demon gave this for her?” Grandfather Higurashi’s eyes were round as he stared into the little box on the kitchen table. His daughter-in-law was being far too complacent for his tastes. A demon, the lord of all demons if it was the same Sesshomaru that was mentioned in the shrine scrolls, had asked permission to court his granddaughter. Without consulting him, Gen had agreed. The two were engaged. Engaged to a demon! His Kagome, the heir to the Higurashi holy power and future keeper of the shrine was going to marry a demon. It was utterly incomprehensible.
“Yes, although Kagome wasn’t too pleased with it.” Gen turned her back on him and continued cleaning up the kitchen.
“Not pleased?” He snorted, “Kagome’s a good girl – pretty, smart and full of holy energy, but there isn’t a dozen girls in Japan worth this much.”
“Grandpa!” Gen scolded, snapping at him with a tea towel.
“What?” He folded his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair, frowning and staring at the box. “It’s true.” He warmed to his favorite topic: the laziness and thoughtlessness of young people. “Children today don’t know how good they have it. Don’t understand their responsibility to their family – or proper respect for tradition. The girl should be tripping over herself to say yes to a man with this kind of money.” His voice dropped and he muttered the next sentence, “Even if he is a soulless cold demon.”
“Higurashi Jirou!” Gen’s tone was harsh and booked no argument. He knew that tone. His late wife had only used it a handful of times, but its meaning was clear: that woman would not be ignored. “The choice is Kagome’s and hers alone, do not even think that you can order her who to marry. And if I hear you say one unkind word about his heritage where he or either of my children can hear you, you will be taking care of your own cooking and laundry – do you understand me?”
The patron of the Higurashi clan knew who really ran his household. He was vividly aware of where the power in their little family lay. He would hold his tongue about the demon, but he refused to admit he was wrong. He pushed back from the table and headed for the back door and his shrine duties, there at least he was listened too – if only by the tourists. He muttered to himself the whole way, “Don’t see why she has to ruin a good thing. No demons in the family in my day. Ancestors would be turning over…” He kept up his diatribe even after he reached his little office next to the gift shop, and sat down to write out blessings of fertility for the new couple to receive on their wedding day. “Don’t know how they expect the shrine to function under these circumstances. Unheard of…”
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