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Now & Then by Sage McMae

First Impressions

Kagome Higurashi sits on the porch of the storehouse, swinging her legs back and forth. It’s Sunday, meaning she is off from school. Kagome is eager for Mama to finish with her baby brother, Souta, so they can go to the park as promised.

Today is the perfect day for a picnic. There is a light spring breeze and the sun is shining. A few fluffy white clouds decorate the blue sky but there is no hint of rain. She hopes Mama will be ready to go soon.

Kagome thought having a younger sibling would be fun. She wants to show her new brother off to her friends, teach him about the shrine, and introduce him to Buyo.

Unfortunately, Souta’s birth coincided with her father’s car accident. Weeks after Mama came home from the hospital, their family was forced to arrange a joint funeral for Papa and Grandma. It puts a damper on the whole sibling thing.

Ever since then, Mama is overwhelmed with Souta, Gramps is busy with the shrine, and Kagome is left on her own.

At six years old, she’s too young to be permitted off-campus by herself. She is given two options— help Gramps take inventory of the store or do chores. Kagome settles for her mother’s list of chores because she’s frightened by the petrified kappa foot Gramps keeps trying to give her.

That thing is disgusting! she thinks with a shiver.

After Kagome finished sweeping out the storehouse, the list was complete, which is how she ended up on the porch. Now, she gets to play the waiting game— not the easiest task for a bored six-year-old.

Ten minutes tick by. Mama doesn't appear. From across the yard, Kagome can make out the sounds of Souta crying. She sighs and gets up from her spot. The park will have to wait.

She kicks a pebble that ricochets off the gift shop and against the Sacred Tree. Kagome winces. She hopes that the spirit of the tree doesn't curse her with bad luck.

"Sorry," she mutters.

Gramps must hear her because he sticks his head out of the store and shouts, “Don’t leave the shrine and don't play in the well house!”

His warning falls on deaf ears. She walks by the small building with no interest in what lies behind the doors. Kagome ignores the temple just as she ignores Gramps’ strange parables.

The well house isn't anything special. Hardly anyone ever visits it. Their patrons are more interested in the main shrine building and the spiritual relics in the shop. That could be because Gramps has never left the doors open.

He claims the well house is dangerous. Kagome doesn’t know what could be so dangerous about an empty well but she’d rather not give him a reason to launch into a long lecture about the shrine’s past.

She heads toward the main entrance. Maybe if she’s lucky, Eri will walk by on her way home from the market with her mother.

As Kagome strolls past the well house, she hears a noise. She glances over her shoulder. "Gramps?"

But her grandfather is nowhere to be seen.

Kagome's brow furrows. She waits. The grounds are silent. The only sound is the breeze blowing through the Sacred Tree. She shrugs and continues walking.

A whimper causes her to jump.

Kagome runs over to the well house doors. She peers through the slats, trying to see if Buyo got stuck inside.

There is a scratching sound coming from inside. It is followed by a low growl, far too deep to be a cat. She backs away from the doors, eyes wide.

What is that?

Kagome looks around. There are no visitors, Mama is inside the house, and Gramps is working. It’s up to her to deal with whatever creature has taken up residence inside.

“Alright, here we go.” She slides the door open and steps through.

It takes a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkened room. From the sunlight trickling in, Kagome seems hundreds of dust particles floating through the air. She coughs from the musty scent.

Instantly, the scratching stops.

“Hello?” she calls.

As she walks down the steps, Kagome keeps her arm up to cover her mouth like Papa taught her. She doesn’t want to cough on anyone— or anything —that might be lurking in the shadows.

“Hello?” she tries again.

There is no response. Neither whimpers nor growls echo in the tiny space.

Kagome briefly wonders if she imagined the noise. She’s been aching for a friend. Maybe what she heard was merely her desire to have someone to talk to.

Another sigh escapes her. Her shoulders slump as she heads out the way she came.

Then her foot hits the first step and the scratching sounds again.

Kagome whips around. She darts over to the well. Kagome has to stand on her tiptoes to peer over the ledge. With only the light from the doorway, it’s hard to make anything out. She angles herself to the side so the sun can cast its rays across the opening. When she does, Kagome sees a white shape in the corner.

“How did you get down there?” she asks the puppy.

The only answer he gives her is a stony stare.

But his untrusting glare is paired with glowing eyes.

Kagome beams in awe. “Wow.”

Carefully, she pulls herself up and over the lip of the well. The drop doesn’t look too bad—

—until she’s falling.

Hmph.

She lands in the dirt with a groan.

Belatedly, she realizes why Gramps didn’t want her coming in here. Kagome is lucky she didn’t break any bones. Mama rarely gets mad but an emergency trip to the hospital definitely wouldn’t go over well.

She rolls onto her side and gazes across the floor to where the puppy is standing. His golden eyes are focused on her. From his stance, Kagome can tell he doesn’t trust her. What she can’t figure out is how he fell into the well in the first place.

“How did you get in here?” she asks as if the animal can understand her.

Kagome brushes herself off and straightens up. It’s quite a drop.

Thankfully, the dog doesn’t appear to be injured. Kagome is glad. They’ve only ever had Buyo. She doesn’t know the first thing about dogs but she suspects he must be scared. After all, he’s alone and trapped.

“I’m by myself too,” she tells him.

Kagome sits on the ground and extends her hand to the animal.

His gaze shifts to her palm but he doesn’t close the distance between them. He just stares at her.

She pouts. Buyo always lets her pick him up and cuddle him.

“I thought dogs were man’s best friend,” she says, “but you’re not very friendly, are you?”

His expression is impassive.

“If you came here looking for food, you’re in the wrong place. You should have come to the house. Mama’s cooking is great. Just stay away from the office. Gramps has some weird stuff in there. I don’t think you want to end up like those kappa feet.” She makes a face and shivers.

The dog doesn’t even blink.

Kagome thinks he's listening to her, though it's hard to tell. He barely moves. If she didn't see his sides rising and falling, she'd think he was a statue.

“I wonder if you belong to someone in the neighborhood. I’ll have to ask Eri. Her mom knows everyone’s business, at least that’s what Mama says.”

Kagome claps a hand over her mouth.

"Oops! I wasn't supposed to tell anyone that. But you won't say anything, right? It's not like you can speak."

The puppy remains quiet.

“Right, well, this will just be our little secret, okay?”

She takes his lack of response as confirmation.

“I wish I brought some snacks. You must be hungry. How long have you been stuck in here?” Kagome questions.

He tilts his head to glance up at the mouth of the well.

“I can’t believe you didn’t hurt yourself,” Kagome remarks. “You must be really strong to have survived the fall without even a scratch. I wish my Papa had been strong like you.”

She hugs her legs to her chest and drops her chin to her kneecaps. “He’s gone, you know. We lost him right after my brother was born. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to him. One day he was here and the next...he wasn’t.”

Kagome hears her voice cracking. It doesn’t stop her from going on.

“Sometimes, I’m angry at Souta even though I know it’s not his fault. He’s only a baby. He didn’t cause the accident. Still, I wish Mama had more time to spend with me. I feel like I lost both her and Papa that day.”

More tears fall. Kagome can barely see her hands as she attempts to wipe her face clean. She doesn’t notice the boy with the alabaster skin until he speaks.

“My father is dead too.”’

Kagome gasps. She scoots as far away as she can, stopping only once her back hits the side of the well.

“Who are you? How did you get down here?” she demands.

His brow creases and she spots a crescent tattoo on his forehead. The moon isn’t his only facial marking. His cheeks are adorned with magenta stripes. He looks to be about her age, maybe a year or two older. His age is the only similarity between them. Where her hair is black as night, his is as white as snow. Her eyes are the same shade as the blue sky while his are as gold as the sun. 

He’s beautiful. 

It isn’t a word Kagome has used to describe a boy before. Then again, she’s never seen a boy who looks like this one. She wonders if he’s the dog’s owner. Glancing around him, Kagome finds the corner empty. 

“Where’s the puppy?”

He frowns. “I knew humans were ignorant creatures,” the boy mutters, turning away from her.

“Hey! Who are you calling ignorant!” Kagome snaps as she stands.

The boy shakes his head. He walks over to the vacant corner, sits down, and stares at her.

Kagome doesn’t like his attitude. He’s what Mama calls ‘arrogant’. She crosses her arms over her chest and glares right back at him. If he thinks she’s going to help him get out of the well, he’s wrong. She doesn’t help jerks who are rude to her.

There is something familiar about his eyes. Their unnatural honey color is the first thing Kagome notices. Then someone slams the well house doors closed, extinguishing all light.

Kagome jumps to her feet and cries, “Gramps!”

Her grandfather will have a ladder. He can get them out of her— well, he can get her out of here. She thinks the boy should have to stay down here as punishment for being so mean.

“Gramps! I’m down here!” she calls up.

Kagome holds her breath, waiting, but the doors remain shut.

He didn’t hear her. He left her alone in the dark.

No, she thinks, shaking her head and dropping down into the dirt.

“As I said, humans are ignorant. Your own kin did not even recognize your absence,” the boy says haughtily.

“Listen, jerk, I didn't ask for your opinion,” Kagome snaps.

“No one addresses me like that,” he returns.

“Well, maybe they should so you learn some manners,” she retorts.

A hand wraps around her arm, hauling her to her feet. “Do you know what happens to those who disrespect me?”

Kagome doesn’t but she is saved from having to answer him by the strange light that appears. Where they are connected, a pale pink glow illuminates the well. The boy flinches, releasing her. Kagome places her hand against the wall for balance.

The light fades away until they are left in darkness once more.

“What was that?”

“You do not know?” he inquires skeptically.

“Maybe I’m dreaming,” Kagome muses. “This feels like a dream.”

“It is no dream, miko.”

“Huh?”

“That light distinguishes you as a priestess— a powerful one at that. No miko has ever managed to harm a Taisho before,” the boy explains.

Kagome stares at her hands— or at least where she thinks her hands are. It’s hard to tell. The bottom of the well is pitch black.

“What’s a Taisho? Is that your family name?” she asks.

“It is,” he confirms. “My given name is Sesshomaru.”

“Sesshomaru,” Kagome repeats. “I’m Kagome.”

She holds her hand out and is surprised when he takes it. Kagome shakes his hand. He is tense at first as if he expected her to do something else, but as she lets him go, she feels his arm go slack.

“Now that we are acquainted, return me to my home,” he demands.

“Your home? What do you mean?”

“I can tell from the scent of this place that this is not the same well I climbed down into. Your abilities must have transported me to your village. I need to go back,” Sesshomaru tells her.

“But I didn’t do anything,” Kagome insists. “I heard someone crying and I came to see— it was you!”

“I do not cry.”

“You’re the dog!” she exclaims.

“Indeed.”

“How can that be?”

“You are unaware of how youkai transform?” Sesshomaru questions.

Yep, definitely dreaming.

Maybe Gramps put Sesshomaru up to this. Perhaps it's just an elaborate ruse to keep her from playing in the well house. Considering how eccentric her grandfather is, Kagome wouldn't be surprised. But if it's a trick, how come Sesshomaru's eyes are glowing? How did Gramps manage that?

“Is there a problem?” Sesshomaru inquires when she doesn’t answer.

“If you’re a demon, aren’t you supposed to be powerful? How did you get stuck in a well?” Kagome asks.

“I felt a surge of energy and came to investigate. I thought it was another demon,” he answers.

“Oh, like one of your friends?” Kagome surmises.

“I do not have friends. I was seeking an opponent.”

She laughs. The boy can’t be more than eight or nine. He’s talking like one of those macho men from the action films Gramps watches when he thinks Kagome has fallen asleep.

“I fail to see what is humorous about my intentions,” Sesshomaru comments.

“It’s just that the way you talk is so outdated. You sound ridiculous,” she tells him, continuing to giggle.

“You are the one who sounds ridiculous. Your informal manner is offensive,” he mutters, annoyed.

"Sorry, I wasn't trying to be mean," Kagome quickly apologizes. "I've just never heard someone speak so formally before. My family doesn't act like that. We're laxer."

“Clearly.”

“Why are you looking for someone to fight? Don’t you want to make friends?” she asks.

"I do not need friends," Sesshomaru says. "I require power to prove myself and secure my inheritance."

“I thought inheritances came when you were of age?”

“My father left stipulations for how his will was to be carried out after his demise.”

“He was killed?” Kagome asks.

“Murdered,” Sesshomaru confirms.

She gasps. “That's awful! I’m sorry. My dad died unexpectedly too. It was a car accident. I lost my grandmother that same day,” she reveals.

“What is a car?” Sesshomaru questions.

Kagome snorts. “You don’t know what a car is?”

“You did not recognize me as a demon,” he points out.

“Fair enough,” Kagome relents. “If we could get out of this well, I could show you. You can see them from the front gates, but— Ah!

A pair of arms wrap around her and, suddenly, they are soaring upwards. Kagome clings to the boy’s shoulders, squeezing her eyes shut as the air whips past. Her hair flies everywhere. It’s going to be a rat’s nest when she tries to comb through it later. 

“We are no longer in the well,” Sesshomaru announces, setting her down at the doorway.

“Uh, thanks,” Kagome says, glancing around him. When her gaze returns to his face, she asks, “Why didn’t you do that when you were trapped?”

“This is not my home,” he reminds her. “I was attempting to find a way to return. I assumed since the well brought me here, it would be how I returned. There was no need to venture outside. It was an uncalculated risk.”

Kagome nods. His reasoning makes sense. Then, something else clicks in place.

“Wait, so are you saying I’m not a risk?”

He smirks. “You are human and ignorant of your own abilities. I doubt I need to be concerned.”

“Then I guess I don’t need to show you anything,” Kagome decides.

Sesshomaru grabs for her. “You said—.”

He stops the instant the pink light returns. Kagome watches his expression change from sullen to shocked.

“You have advanced,” he observes.

“I- I don’t know what’s happening,” Kagome confesses.

He scowls. “Your family has not trained you?”

“Trained me for what?”

Kagome feels slightly panicked. Shouldn’t having super-powers feel cool? She doesn’t feel cool. She’s scared. What if she does something wrong? What if she hurts someone?

“Calm yourself,” Sesshomaru commands.

It isn’t until he speaks that Kagome realizes the light has intensified. Her hands are not the only things glowing. Her entire body is illuminated in pale pink light.

She staggered backward. Sesshomaru instinctively reaches for her. As soon as his hand makes contact with her wrist, he flinches.

“Sorry!” Kagome cries.

The instant she speaks, the light ceases to shine.

“Your power is linked to your emotions,” Sesshomaru discerns.

To test his theory, he reaches for her again. Kagome holds her breath as his hand wraps around her arm.

Up close, she can see his nails extend far longer than hers. She was stupid to think he was human. Humans don’t have facial markings, glowing eyes, and claws.

“You need to find a master to instruct you. Learning as an apprentice will ensure you learn control of both your abilities and your emotions,” Sesshomaru tells her.

“A master what?” Kagome asks.

He frowns. “This is your village, is it not?”

“Yeah.”

“You have a priestess?”

Kagome scoffs. “If we had a priestess, I think I would know. I live at a shrine.”

“Your mother?”

Kagome shakes her head.

“Grandmother?”

Again, she shakes her head.

“How can that be?” he questions.

Kagome shrugs. She slides the well house door open and leads Sesshomaru across the yard toward the main gate.

As they walk over, she tries not to stare at his ears. They remind her of the elf drawings that pop-up around the winter holidays.

“Your village smells strange,” Sesshomaru remarks. “And those sounds...” He winces.

“The traffic?” Kagome asks, confused. How far away does he live?

His honey-colored eyes go wide.

Kagome feels his mood shift. She’s not sure how, but she can sense how the sight affects him. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Where are we?”

“Tokyo,” she answers. “Why? Where do you live?”

“The Western Lands,” Sesshomaru answers.

“You mean Shikoku?” she prompts.

He doesn’t respond. His gaze is on the skyline. If she relied on his expression, Kagome wouldn’t be able to tell how he was feeling. His face is an expressionless mask. Apparently, her new abilities allow her to sense changes in his aura. His mood darkens as he glances from the towering buildings to the street below.

“It’s pretty cool, huh? That’s a car, by the way. Over there is the main part of the city. Most of the skyscrapers are in the Nishi-Shinjuku district and they say by 2012, we will have a building that stands over 634 meters,” she tells him.

Sesshomaru’s focus returns to her. “What year is it?”

Kagome’s forehead creases. “1987.”

“Impossible,” he scoffs.

“Why?”

“The year is 1467,” Sesshomaru informs her.

Kagome rolls her eyes. “Yeah right.”

“Come.” Sesshomaru heads back toward the well house.

She has to run to keep up with his long strides. He may be only a few years older than Kagome but he’s more than a head taller. One of his steps equates to three of her own.

He pauses by the well. Kagome’s gaze flickers from Sesshomaru to the opening and back to him. “Are you going down there?”

“No. We are.”

Before she can object, he picks her up and jumps over the side.

Kagome screams as they descend into the darkness.

For a moment, her cry echoes off the walls but then something changes. She feels Sesshomaru shift. Curious, Kagome opens her eyes and gasps.

It feels like jumping into the school pool. Her clothes remain dry but there is a weightlessness about their fall as if time has slowed in this realm. They sink through a purplish, blue haze. The walls are gone. There is no dirt floor beneath them. All she can see is the ambiguous atmosphere that surrounds them.

Part of her returns to the notion that this is a dream. Kagome pinches herself.

“Ouch,” she cries.

Sesshomaru glances down.

“This is real.”

“Time travel,” he explains.

Gently, they come to rest on the ground. Kagome looks up. The well house is gone and she can see a clear blue sky above them.

“Oh my gosh,” she gasps, just as Sesshomaru leaps up.

When he lands in the grass outside, Kagome has to accept he is right. Time travel is the only explanation for what she sees.

Where the shrine should be, there is an undeveloped forest. There isn't the rumble of cars on the highway or the smell of smog in the air.

Sesshomaru sets her down. Kagome wanders around, inspecting the trees and heading toward one in particular.

The Sacred Tree.

She recognizes the wide base and deep roots. The Shimenawa is missing but apart from that, the tree appears the same.

Kagome places her hand to the center of the trunk. Just as she can feel Sesshomaru’s emotions, Kagome can feel the life force of the tree. The energy signature is unlike hers or Sesshomaru’s. She’s not sure if that is because it is a plant or if there is a deeper reason.

“How’s this happening?” Kagome asks, glancing over her shoulder at Sesshomaru.

“I am uncertain,” he admits, “but I do know that it is your power that drew me into the well and brought me to your time.” 

“I didn’t even know I had powers,” Kagome says.

"There is a miko in a village not far from here," Sesshomaru tells her, pointing past the Sacred Tree. "As there is no one sufficient in your time, I suggest you seek her out. She will be able to train you."

Kagome begins walking in the direction of the town. Sesshomaru doesn’t follow.

She freezes. “Aren’t you coming?”

“I am unwelcome there,” he informs her.

“I don’t want to go by myself,” she complains.

“If you wish to learn more about your abilities, you must.”

“Where will you be?” Kagome asks.

“I must return to the West,” Sesshomaru replies.

“Will I see you again?”

She senses his surprise at her question. ”How would that benefit me?” he inquires.

“You said you wanted an opponent, right? Who better to train with than someone like me?”

“You are human.”

“Yeah, but I have powers you haven’t seen before. You said so yourself— no one in your family has ever been affected by spiritual abilities. Maybe that’s why you can sense me and I can sense you,” Kagome points out.

Sesshomaru considers her. After a moment, he says, “I have obligations to attend to. Once I have seen to my studies, I will return. If I am allowed to pass through the well, I will find you.”

She grins. “So I guess this makes us friends, huh?”

“I do not have friends,” Sesshomaru insists. He leaps into the air and flies over the treetops.

Kagome keeps smiling as she watches him go. He may seem like an arrogant jerk, but she knows what he’s feeling.

Sesshomaru can lie to himself but he can’t lie to her.

 

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