Continuing Tales

The Wind and the Mountain

A InuYasha Story
by Mearasama

Part 56 of 60

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"When you have decided what you believe, what you feel must be done, have the courage to stand alone and be counted." - Eleanor Roosevelt

Four days passed and every long minute wore a little more than the last against her soul. Classes resumed as did old habits. She dove into her studies just as she had the last time. It was the only way to compartmentalize the ache every time the wretched organ inside her chest contracted and expanded.

She was leaving the library after another long day when her name rang out from across the large atrium. Cringing, she turned warily, half expecting to see Hoshi somewhere in the vicinity. The ex-housekeeper had been showing up recently in the most unlikely of places. The older woman always feigned surprise, but Kagome couldn't quite bring herself to believe that the chance meetings were unintentional.

Ayumi, her old school friend, was waving wildly. Kagome took a deep breath, relief making her light headed. Ayumi was just finishing a graduate degree in molecular biology, so they rarely had time to spend more than a few moments catching up via text or email before one or the other had to dash off to the next class. A genuine smile broke the tension she had been carrying on her face as she hurried through the busy crowd.

"How's it going?" she asked as they embraced, genuinely happy to see her old friend. It was a piece of her youth she welcomed. The gentle reminder of a happier time spent hunting shards and jumping between worlds. Ayumi had always handled Kagome's odd behavior and long absences with quiet support. It was a character trait she had not been able to see the value in until recently.

"I am amazing, simply amazing! I just got the best news. Do you have time to grab a coffee? If I don't tell someone, I'm gonna burst!" her friend's brown eyes sparkled merrily and Kagome gravitated to it like a moth to flame. She needed to be around happy people as much as possible, even if it hurt.

"I'll make time!" she smiled back and readjusted the bag on her shoulder. They made their way toward the small coffee shop at the edge of campus catching up on the latest family news, meandering steadily through the throng of people passing between classes. Snow was falling lightly, the warm pavement melting it on contact. They talked about Sota starting college soon and Ayumi's older sister marrying in the spring. Kagome's heart constricted at the news, feeling like a terrible person for being jealous about something that was obviously bringing joy to an entire family.

By the time they were settling into a comfortable corner booth with steaming mugs in hand, Ayumi was fairly bubbling with impatience. Kagome took pity on her friend and inquired nonchalantly as she stirred her coffee, "So…tell me all about this big news."

Ayumi shrieked softly as she grinned, "I have an interview for a research residency at a teaching hospital in New York City. They've asked me to come and visit with them next week to see if it's a good fit."

Kagome couldn't help but feel Ayumi's excitement. Molecular biology required a Ph.D. and Ayumi could only hope to advance if accepted into a program that paid for her schooling in exchange for research. Since her father died a few years ago, Ayumi was completely dependent on scholarships to continue her education. "That's awesome! I'd wish you all the luck in the world, but you hardly need it. They'll accept you in a heartbeat."

Ayumi grinned, "I don't need luck, I need a damn miracle, but thanks." She sipped her coffee and regarded Kagome thoughtfully as if seeing her for the first time. "Is everything okay? You look like you haven't slept in days."

'If she only knew,' Kagome thought ruefully. "Really?" she tried to sound surprised, "I'm fine. Things have been a little tough this semester, that's all." Kagome stirred her cup again, trying to think of a way to change the subject.

Ayumi didn't give her a chance, "Is it a man? They're the worst, you know."

Kagome laughed, heart a little lighter than it was all morning. She forgot how nice it was to hang out with Ayumi. Her friend was notoriously single because a man just didn't fit into her plans at the moment. She was thoroughly committed to her current boyfriend, molecular biology. Realizing that Ayumi was waiting for an answer she added hastily, "Yeah, they're the worst. Who needs them, right?" she tried to keep her voice light.

"You can say that again." Ayumi considered Kagome another minute before blurting out, "Why not come with me to New York? They gave me two tickets in case I wanted to bring someone, but everyone's so busy with my sister's wedding that I was going to have to go alone."

Kagome stared at her friend like she had grown another head. "I can't just up and go to New York."

Ayumi snorted, "Why not? Your professor's won't even care. You're the sacred Lotus Foundation scholarship winner, right? You walk on water here."

Kagome cringed inwardly at the reminder that her status in the university was bought and paid for by Sesshomaru. She pushed away the feeling of guilt that tried to surface at blowing off that gift to fly across the globe on a whim. "It would be fun," she murmured more to herself than to Ayumi.

Taking that as an opening, Ayumi plowed through, "It would be. Neither of us has been there before. We could see the sights, hit the bars. Do a little shopping." She wagged her brows at this last statement. "Besides, I could use the moral support."

Giggling, Kagome felt temptation grip her heart. The thought of getting away from Hiraiku's persistent phone calls, Hoshi's surprise visits to check on her and the deafening radio silence from Sesshomaru was enticing on many levels. "Maybe I will."

Ayumi finished off her coffee with an impressive gulp and plunked her cup down with gusto, "So it's settled. I'll add your name to the ticket." She stood and slung her bag across her shoulder. "Pick you up on Sunday… and be sure to bring your most scandalous outfit. I intend to break a few American hearts while I'm there."

The wind was particularly biting during her drive to the shrine the next morning. Her eyes were red and puffy from lack of sleep and outbursts of emotion that far too easily overtook the control she struggled to maintain. The drive up the steep hill to the shrine was icy, shredding her already weary nerves. The car's engine whined at the effort but with one final lurch, it coasted onto the flat circular drive that curved in front of the door.

Shifting the car into park, she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Her mother hadn't really known about her relationship with Sesshomaru, only that she had been seeing someone, which was why she'd been so preoccupied. With some difficulty, she had been able to steer her mother's questions away with vague and noncommittal answers, but now she would have to tell her that there was no longer a need to continue hinting about meeting her mystery man. Kagome wondered if her mother would remember meeting Sesshomaru four and a half years ago after she turned up battered and bruised from the feudal era. She couldn't help but think about what might have happened had things not fallen apart. 'That would have been an interesting evening,' she thought wryly about the first time she would have shown up at her family's home with Sesshomaru in tow.

Digging deep, she steeled herself against the coming hours and got out of the car. Her mother met her at the door and enveloped her in a warm hug.

"How are you doing my gentle girl?" she murmured into Kagome's hair.

"Okay," Kagome answered through the lump that had risen in her throat. There was something about a mother's hug that could make even the most deeply buried emotions rise to the surface. With effort, she separated herself and followed her mother inside to help prepare tea.

"Your Grandpa is napping in the other room so I thought we could stay out here."

Kagome smiled and nodded, helping her mother finish moving everything to the low table that had served the family her entire life. Her hands ghosted over the wood and she paused. Its worn surface caught her attention like never before as each scratch, gouge and groove brought back a memory. She ran her hand along the top and it wasn't lost on her that though it appeared to be mostly smooth, she could feel the toll that everyday life had taken on it. Sympathy flooded through her. Never really appreciating its steady presence before, she couldn't ignore the sudden realization dawning inside her like a sunrise. Life was full of things that existed in the background that were taken for granted. She almost laughed aloud at the irony. This neglected table was like her heart, unappreciated and showing the wear and tear of the past. It hid its damage from the world until someone took the time to stop and feel it.

The sound of crunching gravel caught the attention of both women. Mrs. Higurashi went to the door and peered out. Kagome watched curiously as she stiffened and turned slightly to the side without meeting Kagome's eyes. "It's our neighbor. I'll only be a moment."

Kagome watched her mother slip outside without putting on a coat and when she didn't return immediately, she got up and grabbed one hanging next to the door. Stepping out onto the porch, she glanced around and froze, heart dropping through her chest and into her stomach.

Sesshomaru stood next to her mother and they were deep in conversation, his BMW idling a few feet away. Kagome clutched the coat to her chest and tried to make sense of her mother's false words and her youkai ex-lover standing in the courtyard of the shrine with a hand on her mother's elbow.

Her mother's familiar voice drifted over to her from across the small space, "She's here right now, so I think you should come back later."

Sesshomaru stilled and looked over her mother's head. Their eyes collided and held for only a moment before Mrs. Higurashi turned and saw Kagome too. The older woman's eyes went wide and she took a step forward with her hand out, "Oh, Kagome. You shouldn't have worried about a coat," she said falsely.

Kagome released it and her mother shrugged it on. She had to know that Kagome knew who was standing in the middle of their driveway. Her mind swirled with questions as Sesshomaru stayed by the car, silent and expressionless. Impatiently Kagome pinned her mother with a hard stare, "Do you know who this is?" Her mother blinked rapidly as an uncomfortable silence stretched. "Mom?"

"Well, um, of course," her mother stuttered, "This is Yamamoto-san…our…our benefactor."

Kagome crossed her arms over her chest, "Yes, and?" She watched in shock as her mother looked over at Sesshomaru with a pleading expression. He kept his eyes on Kagome and she could see his stubborn streak rear its head. Kagome's temper exploded, "Someone needs to explain, now!"

In a placating tone, her mother reached out and put a hand on her arm, "There's nothing to get upset about. Yamamoto-san stops by occasionally to check in on the property."

Kagome drew back as if slapped, "Stop lying to me. You must remember that this is InuYasha's half-brother. What I want to know is how you know each other now? Why is he here?"

Sesshomaru finally spoke, his voice rolling over her like a caress and she hated that her body betrayed her with a jolt of longing. "You forget something that happened only four years ago for you, but I remember it over five centuries?" His eyebrow raised and she wanted to punch him.

"No, believe me I remember. What I want to know is why you're here and my mom's keeping secrets from me." She looked back and forth between them as an icy feeling swept over her, "Wait, are you two…?"

Both stepped away from each other and Sesshomaru's dark expression confirmed their emphatic "NO!" Her mother turned more fully toward her and an envelope caught Kagome's eye. She recognized it as from the Lotus Foundation stationary and marched forward, snatching it away before her mother could stop her. She yanked it open and found a check made out to her family account for a large sum. Swaying slightly, she looked up and found her mother's stricken expression.

"Wh…what is this?" her voice quavered.

"Kagome, you have to know that everything I've done was because it was best for you. For Sota. I wanted to give you every opportunity you deserve," her mother answered insistently. She was wringing her hands in front of her as she watched Kagome intently. When there was only silence, she blurted out, "It was the only way I knew you would come back to me! He promised."

Turning her eyes on Sesshomaru, he didn't wait for Kagome to respond, "My support of this shrine was never a secret. You've no reason to be angry."

His words only increased her anger. "Don't you dare tell me how to feel. I'm so pissed right now," she hissed at him and then turned to her mother, "and you! I spent a year being controlled and manipulated by a monster, and here you two are doing the same thing. How could you?!" the last words broke from her body like ice from a glacier.

Whirling around, she ran inside just long enough to grab her things and came out, bounding down the steps toward her car. Her mother rushed to stand in front of her, tears gathering in her eyes. Kagome was beyond caring at the moment, her own hurt and embarrassment in finding that she was still the weak and naïve girl from the past drowning all other thoughts. Her normal compassion was muted under layers of shock and confusion. She glanced down at the Sesshomaru's check crumpled in her fist. She held it out stiffly to her mother, "Here, this is yours."

"Please, Kagome. Let me explain why. I need you to understand."

"It doesn't matter, mom. I told you what happened. All of it. If you understood, then you'd know why this would never be okay." Glancing over her shoulder she sent a withering glare at Sesshomaru that froze the air between them, "And you know better than anyone."

His jaw twitched, but he remained stonily silent. She added, "And you still think that it's okay, don't you?" she asked dumbfounded. As if in a daze, she walked up to him until she was within arm's length. "Tell me why," she whispered in a pleading tone, hoping he would say something to make her understand…to make it better. She needed him to make it better.

"You already know why."

Kagome drew back in disappointment, "Did you tell her why?" she asked, gesturing toward her mother, who was now crying.

"She had her own motivation."

Kagome saw red as her mind and body separated. Before she knew what she was doing, her palm was sailing toward Sesshomaru's cheek. He caught it easily and stared down at her with a mocking expression. Breathing heavily, she yanked her arm back as she said caustically, "You're just like him. Only you didn't need some stupid crown to twist me to your bidding."

It felt like her heart was dying. She got into her car and spun the wheels on the icy gravel, shutting out the sound of her mother calling her name and momentary glimpse of Sesshomaru's flickering emotions. She had hurt him with her words and she was glad. He needed to know that he couldn't treat people this way. Speeding along the snowy road, she didn't slow down until reaching her apartment. It was a miracle she didn't get in an accident.

With a ragged sigh, she pushed on toward her room to dig her suitcase from the back of the closet. New York just became the best thing that ever happened to her.

Saturday flew by and Kagome found herself rushing around to complete a laundry list of last minute errands before she left the following morning. Standing in her bedroom, she stared down at an open suitcase mentally checking off items before carefully tucking them into the cramped space. Her eyes strayed to her phone lying nearby. Three missed calls from Hoshi and one from Hiraiku were only from the past four hours. She thought about calling Hoshi to let her know that she would be leaving for a few days, but decided against it when she thought through the conversation a bit more. For some unexplainable reason, she knew that something would happen to her flight, or ticket, to prevent her from leaving if the outspoken woman knew her plans. It was the kind of thing Hoshi could orchestrate in her sleep.

Chewing her bottom lip, she picked the phone up and dialed another familiar number instead.

The gruff voice of her brother answered almost immediately, "Hey sis."

"Hey Sota. What's going on?" Kagome smiled into the phone.

"Oh not much. We're just trying to keep Grandpa from breaking his other hip. He thinks he needs to inventory the storage room again."

Kagome chuckled. "You better lock him in his room, or we'll be at the hospital again."

She heard her brother sigh on the other end. "Yeah, it might come to that." After a brief pause he asked, "Is everything okay?"

Shaking off the lingering melancholy, Kagome pasted on her best fake smile. If her brother suspected anything, her plan wouldn't work. "Actually, everything's great. Ayumi has invited me to go to New York with her for an interview. I leave tomorrow actually."

There was silence for a moment and Kagome held her breath. Finally her brother asked with skepticism, "What about your classes?"

"Oh, I got a pass from my professors. It's only a couple of days so they didn't mind." This wasn't a lie, most only cared that she completed her assignments on time. She paused, not wanting to add that they would never cause a fuss because of her association with the Lotus Foundation, one of the largest donors to the university.

"Is it safe for two girls to go alone?" her brother's worried tone caused her heart to sink inside her chest.

In a last ditch effort, she answered in a playful tone, "No more than Tokyo. I really want to go." Almost as if the words were not her own but from a person hiding inside her, they slipped out and into the air like a curse word in a silent church, "My heart needs the break."

"Oh," was all her brother said in reply. An uncomfortable silence followed as they both searched for the appropriate words to fill the space after her brutal admission. Finally, he said a little too warmly and she knew that he understood, "Well Kagome, I think it's a great opportunity to see a place you've always wanted to visit. And I'm sure Ayumi will need the extra support. You're a great friend,"

Releasing the breath she was holding, she smiled into the phone. "Thanks, Sota. You're not too bad yourself."

Kagome and Ayumi landed in New York late in the evening after a slight delay from a recent snow storm. By the time they had taken a taxi to their hotel from the airport, they were exhausted. Collapsing onto their beds, they slept until the following morning. When she woke up, Kagome had a hard time believing it was technically only a couple of hours later than when she had left her apartment in Japan.

As Ayumi was getting ready to get into the shower, Kagome tried to behave nonchalantly. "Hey Yumi, can I use your phone to call my Mom and let her know we're here safe? Mine must have died."

"Oh yeah, it's on the table." Her friend wasn't paying much attention as she rummaged through another bag, stuffing bottles under her arm.

"Thanks," Kagome answered sheepishly. She wasn't going to admit her phone wasn't dead, but actually turned off. She also wasn't going to tell her friend that she didn't want to use her phone because she was pretty sure that a certain technology based security corporation with military connections could track her down halfway across the globe if its owner felt so inclined. No, using Ayumi's phone was the best way to fly under the radar. And yes, perhaps she was a bit paranoid.

The water turned on in the bathroom and Kagome flipped open the phone and dialed her brother. When he didn't pick up she rolled her eyes at his voicemail message. "Hey Sota, your greeting is dorky. Listen, if you need to get a hold of me while I'm in New York, call Ayumi's phone. Mine isn't working for some reason. Let Mom know too, but only if she asks. Okay, bye."

Putting the phone down, Kagome tried to ignore the feeling of guilt prickling from deep within. Lying was not something that came naturally, especially to those she loved most. She looked toward the bathroom again and grabbed her purse to fish out a crumpled scrap of paper buried in its depths. 'Thank god she takes a long shower,' Kagome thought gratefully. Grabbing the room phone, she dialed the number, chewing her bottom lip as it seemed to ring forever. When it switched to voicemail, she left a hurried message, "Hey, it's Kagome. I'm in New York with a friend. I'm at the Hilton, room 304. I need to see you, but I don't want anyone else to know, so please keep it between the two of us. Talk to you soon." She hung up quickly with a worried look at the door. Tucking the slip of paper back into her purse, she smiled as Ayumi emerged from the steamy bathroom wrapped in towels.

"Ugh. Airplanes really make you feel scummy."

Kagome laughed. "What do you want to do today?"

With a sly look, Ayumi dropped down on the other bed. "First, food. Then I say we go be pesky tourists," she added with a wink.

Kagome couldn't help but laugh. "Deal."

It was two days into their trip and Ayumi's interview was scheduled for later that afternoon. Kagome listened quietly as her friend paced, chattering nervously about the importance of this meeting and how if it went poorly, she had no future and her life would be ruined.

"Everything will be fine. You'll be great as usual," Kagome answered distractedly as she glanced at the clock next to the bed. Had Ayumi been less anxious, she would have noticed her friend's odd behavior, but luckily she was too distracted.

"I know… Do I have my latest research summaries?" she mumbled more to herself than to Kagome as she rifled through her binder again. It was the sixth time she had said and done the exact same thing.

Kagome couldn't help but smile at the girl that used to be so gentle and sweet in middle school. The woman who stood before her now was an outspoken beauty who looked so professional in her gray pinstriped suit, ebony hair pulled back into a low bun at the back of her head. "Yes, we went through it three times last night and again this morning. You couldn't be more ready for this Yumi-chan."

Ayumi straightened and turned around. With slumped shoulders she whined, "I've been a pain in the ass." As if the words seemed to finally register, her face brightened as she added with a twinkle in her eye, "Tonight we celebrate!"

With a laugh, Kagome helped her friend gather her belongings and wished her luck as she watched her head down the hall and press the elevator button. She had barely closed the door when a soft knock had her pausing.

"Who is it?"

"It's me."

Letting out the breath that had frozen in her chest, she opened the door to Shippo's emerald eyes.

"Dude, your friend is hot, but sort of a head case, huh?" he asked with a perplexed expression.

"No, she's just nervous. How long have you been here?" she asked as he came through the door and surveyed the area.

"Not long. I could hear her yammering on, so I waited in that little lounge at the end of the hall." He walked around the room, picking up things here and there.

Kagome waited for the question that she knew was inevitable. When he finally turned around, she was a little taken aback by the anger that he seemed to be holding just below the surface. "So why have you come here? Did that pompous ass hurt you somehow?"

It was as if someone had shoved a crowbar into the rock holding back the dam. The tears that she had been keeping behind strong walls spilled over, choking her voice and strangling her heart. Stumbling forward, he met her half way across the room and enveloped her into his lanky frame. She sobbed as the ice that had encased her heart melted, adding to the tears that spilled from her eyes. Maybe it was because she was tired of holding her feelings back, or maybe it was because she was with one of the few people who knew how vulnerable she was underneath the carefully crafted exterior she presented to the world. Regardless, something about this moment forced her to face exactly what it was that she feared.

"Heh…heez jus a big jerk who… dozen unerstan… anything!" she garbled through a snotty nose and hiccup filled gulps of air.

"Yeah, I know that better than most," he answered soothingly as he steered her to an armchair in the corner where he sat down and pulled her into his lap. She went willingly, needing the soothing comfort of an embrace more than anything else to fight the emotions that were ripping at her insides. He rubbed small circles on her upper back as she went into how she and Sesshomaru had parted ways, and how he viewed her wishes for a true relationship based on equality.

Shippo listened silently, nodding frequently and giving small squeezes of encouragement as she faltered and shed more tears here and there. When she finally stopped and just sat there in silence, he leaned back a little to try and catch her eye, "I think you need to go and see Kikyo. She'll help you more than I ever could." He wrapped his arms more firmly around her and hugged her tightly as he added deeply, "I'm a youkai after all, and a male at that. I solve problems with my fists, not my head or my heart."

Kagome burst out with laughter at his rueful smile. It was so true it was funny, and her exhausted mind could only latch on to the irony of how similar youkai and human males were. They both came from the school of thought that you hug a crying female until she stops, and punch any male that gets in the way or might be a threat.

Shippo stood up and placed her on the ground in front of him. A pair of sunglasses were pushed onto her face and he walked to the closet next to the door and grabbed her coat. "Come on, let's go."

Kagome scribbled a note and left it next to Ayumi's computer. With dragging feet, she let Shippo bundle her up and usher her from the hotel into the waiting car parked at the curb. Kagome wondered briefly if this car was paid for by Sesshomaru, but chided herself for even thinking that it might not be. If she was going to have contact with her friends, she was going to have to deal with the connection that would always exist. Steeling herself against the pain, she tried to look forward to their destination, but the iciness was starting to grow into a ball in the pit of her stomach. With a shuttered breath, she watched the people and buildings pass as they headed to the lower end of Manhattan and to the woman that had at one time haunted her dreams.

The Wind and the Mountain

A InuYasha Story
by Mearasama

Part 56 of 60

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