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Across the Stars by Sage McMae

Chapter 1

It started with Shippo’s nightmares. His memories of the Thunder Brothers left scars. Losing his father and his place in their village was hard on him. 

Despite the tough act the kitsune put on, Kagome knew he missed having a permanent home. Their constant travel made it difficult to provide stability. To provide some sense of normalcy, Kagome created a routine. 

The mornings started with face washing and teeth brushing, followed by breakfast, then walking for a few hours in search of the shards. When they broke for lunch, Kagome would work with Shippo on his illusions, primarily his shapeshifting abilities. She also taught him how to make ramen, in case he ever needed to cook while she was at home in the future. 

The afternoons were for continued travel, making camp, and dinner preparation, followed by bathing and bed. Nighttime was the hardest for Shippo so Kagome introduced storytime. Each night, as the kitsune laid down, she told him a story. 

Shippo’s favorite quickly became Momotaro. Not only was the main character on a quest, like they were, but he was aided by his friends. Shippo could relate to the protagonist and started attempting to transform into a giant peach instead of a pink balloon.

About a month after Kagome began telling him bedtime stories, Shippo asked for a new tale. It was only the three of them that night. Sango had gone off in search of Kohaku taking Kirara and Miroku with her. Kagome offered to recite the story of Urashima Taro but the kitsune wasn’t interested. She suggested Kintaro, thinking Shippo would appreciate the boy who was raised in the wild, like him. Once again, the kitsune rejected her idea. 

“He sounds like Inuyasha,” Shippo muttered, unimpressed. “I already know that story.” 

Kagome sighed. “Alright then. What about Tanabata?” 

“What’s that?” 

“It’s the story of the stars,” Kagome told him, pointing above their heads to the Milky Way. 

“Quiet,” Inuyasha snapped, suddenly on his feet. His hand rested on Tetsusaiga’s hilt. 

Kagome stared at him, caught halfway between annoyance and concern. “What is it?” 

“I can smell him.” 

Her brows creased. “Who?” 

He unsheathed Tetsusaiga, aiming the sword toward the forest. “Sesshomaru, come out!” Inuyasha demanded. 

Kagome watched from her sleeping bag as the Lord of the Western Lands stepped into the clearing. He combed his clawed fingers through his silver hair, appearing completely at ease. 

Inuyasha slung his sword over his shoulder, puffing out his chest as he did. Kagome rolled his eyes. Between the two of them, it was hard to decide who was vainer. 

“What the hell do you want?” Inuyasha snapped. 

“My presence has nothing to do with you,” Sesshomaru replied. “I seek the miko.” 

“Huh? Whatcha want with Kagome?” 

“You can’t have her!” Shippo cried, standing in front of Kagome with his arms held out. “She’s telling me a bedtime story." 

“That is why we have come,” Sesshomaru shared. He stepped aside to reveal he wasn’t alone. 

“Rin,” Kagome gasped. She unzipped herself from her sleeping bag and approached the child. 

“Hi,” the little girl waved, giving her a toothy grin. 

“But this is my story,” Shippo muttered, flopping down in the dirt with a frown. 

“Don’t be like that, Shippo. I’m sure Rin would appreciate the tale too.” 

“You said this one is about the stars,” the little girl remarked. 

Kagome stared at her, unsure how she could have heard that from inside the forest. 

“Lord Sesshomaru tells me the stories. He can hear for miles around,” Rin said proudly. 

“Eh,” Inuyasha grumbled, taking a seat by the fire. “That’s nothing special.” 

“Can you hear that well?” Rin asked with a hint of challenge in her voice. 

“Listen here, ya brat, I’m more powerful as a half-demon than Sesshomaru is. This sword proves it.” 

Rin didn’t hesitate before grabbing Tetsusaiga off of Inuyasha. With a gleeful cry, she ran over to deliver the weapon to her lord. Shippo shouted at Inuyasha, blaming him for being weak, which resulted in the half-demon smacking the kitsune. Kagome had to break them apart, sharply reminding Inuyasha that it was time for bed. 

“You can’t just rile him up like that,” she chided. 

“He started it,” Inuyasha complained. 

“Well you shouldn’t have let a kid take the sword from you,” Shippo retorted petulantly. 

“Give it back!” snarled Inuyasha, realizing Rin had the Tetsusaiga. 

“Not so strong now, are you?” she taunted. 

“Rin.” 

All it took was a single word from Sesshomaru and the girl dutifully, albeit begrudgingly, returned the blade to its rightful owner. 

“Inuyasha, say thank you,” Kagome urged. 

“Why? She stole it,” Inuyasha argued. 

“And she gave it back! The least you could do is be grateful,” she insisted. 

“I am grateful. Grateful that Sesshomaru taught the brat manners.”

“Sit boy!” 

Thump. 

Kagome shook her head and went over to the little girl. “Thanks, Rin.” 

“Are you still going to tell a story?” 

“Sure. Would you like to sit with Shippo and I by the fire?” 

Rin glanced over her shoulder at Sesshomaru who gave her a nod. “Yes,” she cheered. 

Kagome settled in front of the flames with Shippo on her right and Rin on her left. Across from her, Inuyasha sat grumbling under his breath. He paused every once in a while to glare at her but Kagome ignored him. 

“That cluster of stars up there is called the Milky Way,” Kagome began. “Legend says that these stars divided Princess Orihime and her lover, Hikoboshi, the cow herder. The Princess was a great weaver who crafted the most exquisite clothes. Often she worked late in the evening, never socializing with those around her. Then one day, she met Hikoboshi and it was love at first sight.”

“Boring,” Inuyasha drawled. 

“Quiet,” Sesshomaru commanded from where he had taken to leaning against a tree behind Rin. 

“Pfft, whatever.” 

“Princess Orihime’s father was not pleased she had given up her craft to be with Hikoboshi, so he separated them, placing his daughter on one side of the stars and the cow herder on the other.” 

“He made them break up?” Shippo asked. 

Kagome nodded. “Princess Orihime pleaded to be reunited with Hikoboshi but her father only permitted them to see each other one day a year. That’s why on the seventh day of the seventh month, we have the Star Festival. We honor the lover’s sacrifice and celebrate their return to each other.” 

“Wow,” Rin said dreamily. She turned to stare over her shoulder. “Is that true, Lord Sesshomaru?” 

“I have not heard such a story before,” he replied. 

Kagome was surprised he didn’t deny it or remark on how it was a simple human custom. Maybe being around Rin was making him soft. 

He turned toward the forest. “Come. We must find Jaken.” Without another word, he strolled off. 

“Kagome, can I come and hear another story some time?” Rin inquired as she rose to leave. 

“Sure. Just stay clear of Inuyasha, okay?” 

“Okay!” She gave a wave and scurried off after Sesshomaru. 

“Great, now that brat’s going to come around all the time,” Inuyasha mumbled once they were gone. 

“She’s just a kid,” Kagome pointed out. She readjusted her sleeping bag. 

“Who’s traveling with Sesshomaru,” Inuyasha retorted as if that changed things. 

“Just give it a rest, Inuyasha,” Shippo grumbled, curling up along the edge of Kagome’s sleeping bag. 

“Yeah, go to sleep,” Kagome told him with a yawn. 

“Whatever.” 

The next time Rin came, she was accompanied by Jaken. 

Sesshomaru’s loyal servant appeared rather put out by his babysitting task. He did not attempt to conceal his feelings regarding anyone in their group, including Kagome. After he called her a weak human for the third time, Inuyasha smacked him. 

Kagome shook her head, annoyed that they couldn’t get along. 

Shippo and Rin, on the other hand, had made progress. The kitsune offered a piece of his chocolate to the little girl as they sat by the fire. Kagome was glad to see them bonding. Shippo didn’t have any friends his age. Spending time with Rin gave him the rare chance to be a child. 

“What story do you want to hear tonight?” Kagome asked as she took her place beside the two. 

“Tanabata,” Rin requested just as Shippo cried, “Momotaro.” 

“What about a new story?” she tried to compromise. 

“No,” both children wailed. 

She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “I suppose I could tell Momotaro and Tanabata.” 

“Yay!” 

“You’re too nice, Kagome,” Sango commented from where she sat, stroking Kirara’s ears. 

“A generous heart is a pure one,” Miroku observed. 

“What would you know of generosity?” Sango inquired. “You practically stole those goods from that family.” 

As Miroku and Sango launched into a debate over his latest demon exorcism, Kagome began to tell the children the tale of Momotaro.

“There once was an old couple who lived near a river. They prayed daily to be blessed with a child and, one day, the gods answered their request. While the woman washed her clothes in the river, a peach floated by.”

“A peach?” Rin questioned, looking confused. 

“Shhh! You’re interrupting the story,” Shippo scolded. 

Kagome continued. “This peach was no ordinary fruit. It was great in size and hidden with was the answer to the couple’s prayers. When they attempted to eat the peach, a boy came out. The couple named him Momotaro.” 

Shippo nudged Rin and she grinned. There were no further interruptions as the children listed to Kagome tell of how Momotaro met his friends and went on to battle a band of demons. 

Several meters away, the Lord of the Western Lands listened to the miko’s voice and contemplated why the sound soothed him.  

Over the weeks, Rin’s visits became more frequent. She always came after dinner with Jaken in tow. The imp had calmed down considerably since his first evening amongst Inuyasha’s group. Though he said very little, when he did address her it was with respect. Kagome wondered if that had anything to do with his master or if it was his fondness for Rin that was making him more amendable. Whatever the reason, Jaken grew comfortable with their arrangement. 

Sango and Miroku, though initially skeptical, came around too. Miroku even joined in by sharing tales he’d heard while traveling. On these occasions, Kagome noticed how Sango watched him. She smiled to herself. 

When is she going to admit how she feels? Kagome wondered. 

When are you? a traitorous voice asked. 

Kagome sighed. She glanced at the figure perched in the tree to her left. Inuyasha didn’t approve of hosting his brother’s traveling companions. He was convinced it was a ploy to steal the Tetsusaiga. 

It seemed unlikely. They hadn’t seen Sesshomaru in weeks. While the demon lord appeared to have no issue with allowing Rin to visit, he kept his distance. 

Kagome tried not to let his absence bother her. What did she care if he stayed away? It’s not like they were friends. They were barely allies. She hadn’t forgotten how had he tried to kill her. 

But he saved me too. 

She couldn’t make sense of his actions. His cruelty toward Inuyasha bothered her. Of course, Kagome couldn’t discount the fact that Inuyasha was just as mean. After all, he had been the one to cut off his brother’s left arm. 

Kagome studied her hands, reflecting on her powers. Could she restore it? Would he even let her try? 

“Kagome?” 

“Huh? What?” 

“Aren’t you going to tell us a story?” Shippo asked. 

“I like your stories better than the monk’s tales,” Rin said. 

“Which one would you like to hear?” Kagome inquired. 

She wasn’t surprised by their answer. 

“To us, the Milky Way is a range of stars, but to Princess Orihime and Hikoboshi, the Milky Way was a great river, separating them from each other.” 

Hidden from sight, Sesshomaru watched the miko recite the fable. He knew the half-breed could smell him. From the stiff way Inuyasha sat, Sesshomaru understood his presence was not wanted. He remained unseen by the monk, the demon slayer, the kitsune, and the miko. His sole purpose for coming to their camp was for the story. 

He gazed up at the heavens and listened to her tell a tale from across the stars. 

With the summer came heat and fireflies. Sitting around the fire wasn’t comfortable, so Kagome opted to take the children into a field. Jaken approved of the plan and together the four of them marched away from camp. 

The cool grass was refreshing and while they laid on their backs, the children pretended the glowing insects were the stars, rearranging themselves so the princess and the cow herder could be reunited. 

Kagome listened to them make up their own stories. Jaken was perched on a rock nearby, serving as a look-out in case of danger. Kagome closed her eyes, grateful to have the night off. 

She’d have to return home soon. Finals were coming up. Kagome frowned. She hadn’t studied nearly as much as she should have. Hopefully, the exams wouldn’t be as bad as she’d heard. 

A vision of her failing out of school came to mind, followed by one of Sota graduating before her.

“May I join you?” 

Kagome blinked several times, convinced she’d stumbled into a dream. Sesshomaru stood at her side, waiting expectantly. 

“Oh, no. I mean yeah. Yes! Sorry, I must have dozed off for a minute there,” she apologized, quickly sitting up. 

He sat beside her, as silent and unmoving as stone. 

She nervously meddled with her sock, pulling it up and then rolling it down to its former position. Kagome pinched the hem. She toyed with the fabric, keeping her eyes on the white cotton. She’d never been good with prolonged silence. 

“If you are uncomfortable, I will leave.” 

“It’s not that,” Kagome insisted. He stared at her with an unreadable expression. “I just thought you hated me.” 

“No.” 

“No?”

“No,” he repeated. 

Her face relaxed. “Oh.” She planted her hands in the grass at her sides and leaned back. “Alright then.” 

They watched as Shippo and Rin chased fireflies, both running at full speed in their attempts to catch one. 

Sesshomaru didn’t speak again but Kagome found she wasn’t bothered by it. 

Finals came and went. Kagome was overjoyed to have passed. To celebrate, she loaded her backpack with treats for everyone, including Jaken and Rin. Her hand paused over the fastenings. Should she bring something for Sesshomaru too? 

He’d been visiting now and then, though only when Inuyasha wasn’t around. Kagome had asked Rin about it but the girl merely shrugged and ran off to play tag with Shippo. 

She wished she knew more about the demon lord. A generic gift would seem disingenuous. Kagome scoured her room for an appropriate offering. As she thumbed through a stack of notes on her desk, one of her textbooks fell open. 

That’s it!

“Mama, I’m going out.” 

Kagome clambered out of the Bone Eater’s Well, struggling against the weight of her pack. Just as she reached the top, her foot slipped. With a yelp, Kagome fell backward. 

“Ow,” she moaned, rubbing her aching backside. 

At least, no one had seen her. She could only imagine how Inuyasha would taunt her. 

“Miko.”

Kagome jolted. “Uh, hey, Sesshomaru,” she greeted him, embarrassment burning her cheeks. 

“Are you unwell?” 

“I’m fine,” she assured him. “Just lost my footing.” 

He extended his hand down to her. With one firm pull, Kagome came soaring out of the well. She landed with a light laugh, not noticing the way his hand ghosted at her side. “Thanks.”

“It was nothing,” Sesshomaru remarked. He turned to leave and Kagome grabbed the sleeve of his kimono. “Wait! I have something for you.” 

“For me?” he questioned as his golden eyes fixated on her grip. 

“Sorry,” Kagome hastily apologized. She set her backpack on the ground and knelt to open it. “Here,” she said, retrieving the sealed tube. 

He stared at the object. “What is it?” 

“Open it.” 

Sesshomaru speared the end cap with one of his claws and ripped it free. The parchment slid out. Carefully, he unrolled it. Kagome watched his golden eyes scan the print. It was a reproduction of an ancient art piece from the Edo period depicting a great white dog flying across the full moon. 

To anyone else, it would have looked like a painting of the artist’s superstitions, but Kagome recognized the figure in the painting if only from the stories she’d heard. It was Inu no Taishō. 

“How did you come across this?” Sesshomaru inquired. 

“Where I’m from, it wasn’t hard.” 

“Thank you.” 

“I’m glad you like it,” she said. “Oh, before I forget, I brought these for Jaken and Rin.” Kagome handed him a pack of strawberry pocky for imp (he had a secret sweet tooth) and a Kumihimo braid bracelet for Rin in colors that matched her kimono. 

“It is not a holiday,” he stated. 

“I passed my finals so I wanted to celebrate with everyone,” Kagome informed him. 

“You wish to include me in your celebration?”

“Of course. We’re friends, aren’t we?” 

He didn’t respond. His gaze flickered from her face to the parchment in his hand. 

“Kagome!” 

She glanced around the demon lord to where Shippo was running up the hill. “Whatcha bring me?” he asked as he approached. 

Kagome ducked her head, searching for Shippo’s candy. When she straightened up, Sesshomaru was gone. 

That night, while her group of friends reminisced in Kaede’s hut, Kagome felt a pull. Her gaze was drawn away from the flames and out into the night. Slowly, as if waking from a dream, she rose from the circle and stepped outside. 

She saw him standing alone at the edge of the village.

Kagome moved toward him when a hand landed on her shoulder. “Don’t go,” Inuyasha warned. 

“He won’t hurt me,” she insisted. 

“You can’t trust him,” Inuyasha snapped. 

“Let go,” Kagome said sternly. 

He released her. His face twisted into a grimace. “Don’t think I’m going to come save your sorry ass if he tries something.”

“Inuyasha.” Kagome sighed and shook her head. 

“Idiot,” he grumbled. He went back inside the hut. 

Kagome stared at the doorway for a moment before deciding to follow her instincts. She climbed up the hill to where Sesshomaru was waiting. 

“You didn’t come down to the village,” Kagome pointed out. 

“My presence was unwanted.” 

“I invited you,” Kagome reminded him. “I wanted you there.” 

He didn’t comment on her bold assertion. Kagome felt her stomach churn uneasily. She hadn’t realized how much she meant the words until she said them out loud. Feeling foolish, she made to leave. 

“Miko.” 

Kagome paused. 

“Your tale of the weaver and the cow herder— is there a chance they can be reunited indefinitely?” 

“I don’t know,” she answered. Then, with a grin, Kagome added, “I hope so. I prefer happy endings.” 

Sesshomaru watched her walk down the hill and rejoin her friends. He thought on her words long after the hut went dark. 

After the final battle against Naraku, Kagome was left in her own time. Each year, on the night of the Star Festival, she would gaze up at the night, reflecting on the stories shared and the relationship which ended before it ever began. Even though she was surrounded by her friends and family, her heart ached with loneliness.

Her quest to collect all the jewel shards had come to an end. She felt lost. Even after graduation, Kagome wasn't sure of her purpose. She had always planned on going back. To him. Kagome's eyes focused on a trail of stars giving off a purple hue. She tucked her hair behind her ear with a hopeful smile. Someday. We'll see each other again one day soon.

Across the well, five hundred years in the past, a lone demon stood gazing at the sky. He closed his eyes, picturing her face, thinking, One day

When the well opened for the last time, Kagome made her choice. In her heart, she knew where— and with whom —she belonged.

They both found that one day would never be enough.

 

INUYASHA © Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan • Yomiuri TV • Sunrise 2000
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