Kagome and Inuyasha stayed with Miroku and Sango's till after lunch. But eventually, Kagome remembered that Kaede had wanted to speak with her and had asked her to return.
"I think it's time we should be heading back to Kaede's," she said aloud to the room.
"So soon?" Sango didn't try to hide the disappointment from her voice.
"Yeah, Kaede wanted to talk to me about something and asked me to come back."
"Ah, okay, well, will we see you tomorrow?" Sango asked hopefully.
Miroku smiled at his wife. It had been hard for her to be without her closest friend all these years. If for no other reason than the happiness that Sango felt at having Kagome returned to her, Miroku wanted to celebrate the young Miko's return.
"Of course, Sango!" Kagome moved to give Sango a swift hug and a reassuring smile before she and Inuyasha waved at the rest of the family, calling out some quick goodbyes before heading out the door and back into the street.
But the walk back to Kaede's was nothing like their earlier walk had been. Now it was the middle of the day and life in the village was in full swing. Men and women came and went along the dirt road, as children ran and played in front of the homes that they passed.
And here and there, Kagome could also see small groups of men and women huddled together, speaking in hushed tones. She sighed, clearly the gossip and whispers of her return had spread like wildfire.
Sure everyone was very polite, calling out greetings to the great Lord Inuyasha and Lady Kagome, but it was the slack-jawed staring that really did Kagome in, until the now-legendary Priestess began feeling very much like a freak on a side-show stage.
'I've walked through this village hundreds of times before,' she thought. 'But it was never like this.'
Before, she'd been something of an oddity, with her strange future clothing and the fact that they all knew she was Kikyo's reincarnation. But this? The unadulterated awe at her very presence was just too much for Kagome. It felt wrong.
"Who's that, mama?" Kagome heard a little girl ask as she pointed toward the pair.
"Hush, child, and do not point!" It was an older woman, likely the child's grandmother spoke. "Ōji-sama and Miko-hime will hear you!"
Inuyasha could smell Kagome's discomfort as he watched her shrink in on herself. He stopped walking.
"Come on, Inuyasha, let's just hurry and get back." She tried to grab his hands and hurry him along, but it was like trying to hurry a mountain. He didn't budge.
"Hey." He said again, trying to get her attention enough for her to look at him.
"What?" She finally looked him in the eye.
"Remember what I said yesterday? You just gotta ignore it. You can't let it get to you. You're still you, just like I'm still me. It doesn't matter what they think."
His gaze bore into her, willing her to accept the truth of his words.
"I know it's just… When I came back, I wasn't expecting everything to be so different, but now I have all of this new power and the people here think of me as some kind of living legend… But I didn't ask for this." She signed before continuing. "Last night, in your– our hut, when I said that I didn't care what the villagers said or thought about us, I guess I was expecting anger or bigotry. I wasn't expecting this."
She waved her hand as though to encompass everything, then gave Inuyasha a small smile before continuing, "Sometimes I forget that you're a prince."
He growled at that. "I ain't no prince."
"But you are, Inuyasha. It doesn't matter that your mother's family cast you out or that your brother rejected you. You've always carried yourself with the nobility and honour of the royal houses that bore you. That sense of honour and the strength behind it is just one of the many reasons why I fell in love with you. Not because it makes you a prince, but because it makes you you."
She was thoughtful a moment before continuing. "Part of me always wondered if that was why, after a while, Sesshōmaru stopped trying to actually kill you. Maybe, hanyou or not, he realized that you were an honour to your father's blood."
Inuyasha really wasn't sure what to think of Kagome's words. He felt pride swell within him at the faith she had in him, as though seeing himself through her eyes for the first time. And he wasn't so dense that he hadn't noticed the change in Sesshōmaru , but he hadn't really given much thought as to what might have been behind it.
He shook his head though, "I doubt it. I think any change in that bastard has more to do with Rin than it does with me."
Kagome considered this. "Maybe. Maybe not. Or maybe it's a bit of both–"
"Lord Inuyasha! Lord Inuyasha!" Kagome was stopped from saying anything else by a man's voice approaching. She looked up.
"That man, he looks familiar…"
"He should," said Inuyasha. "That's Rikichi, the village headman. I'm sure you met him at some point during the hunt."
Kagome thought back. Yes, she had met this man several times, though she hadn't known he was headman at the time. In fact… "I think– I think he was there when I came out of the well the first time."
"That would make sense," Inuyasha agreed. "That's kinda his job, after all, overseeing stuff."
Inuyasha couldn't say he liked Rikichi much, though he was an honourable man who held his position in the village with great respect. He knew that Rikichi valued Kaede's wisdom and experience and had often followed her lead when it came to dealing with their Pack during the shard hunt – heck, it was probably why he had invited them all to settle here – but a headman was still a headman. It was their job to uphold the traditions and laws and to oversee the smooth proceedings of life within a village. Inuyasha knew from his decades of experience that it usually meant that most headmen were, if not closed-minded, then at the very least very conservative in their opinions… And Rikichi was no exception.
Finally reaching them, he stopped and gave them a bow and a good-natured smile. "Good day to you, Lord Inuyasha. I see that the rumours are true and that the great Lady Kagome has returned to us!"
Rikichi had been there in the field beside the well when the great Miko had been pulled into the Meido. He'd seen the Bone-Eater's Well disappear only to reappear several days later. When he'd asked, Lord Inuyasha had said that the Miko was safe, but the headman still had many unanswered questions, and it was his job to be informed in all things that affected his village.
Rikichi began, "May I ask, Lady Kagome, how did you escape the Meido? We thought you lost to the underworld!"
Kagome glanced at Inuyasha. She wasn't impressed by these pointed questions. The villagers knew that she travelled through the well. However, they didn't know that she travelled through time, and she wasn't about to explain one of the most painful experiences of her life to an all-but-total stranger.
"Well… Inu– Inuyasha saved me."
"I see, I see. And where you have been all these years."
Kagome seemed taken aback by his bluntness. "Uh, me? I've been… home… with my family."
Rikichi pressed on. "Your home? Is that where the well takes you when you jump into its depths and disappear?"
Inuyasha started to growl. He knew exactly why Kagome was hesitant to answer Rikichi's questions. "Look Rikichi–" He began, but Kagome cut him off with a gentle hand on his arm.
"I thank you for being concerned about what happened to me and where I've been, Rikichi-san, but all that matters now is that I am fine and I am here… and here is where I intend to stay." She hoped that the finality of her statement was enough to stop the curious headman from asking any more unwanted questions.
Her statement seemed to catch the headman's attention, "Is this true, Lady, that you will be settling permanently in our village? What a blessed event this is! I would ask for your blessing that we might prepare a great feast in celebration of your return if you would allow us."
Kagome gathered her frayed nerves. After this morning's announcement fiasco, she was the one who'd demanded she be allowed to announce their engagement to everyone else. She glanced at Inuyasha before clearing her throat and continuing.
"Thank you, Rikichi-san, for the kind offer and for your warm welcome. But might I suggest that you delay your offered feast for six days?"
"Eh?" Rikichi seemed confused. "Why delay?"
"Well, in six days time, it will be my 19th birthday. It will also be the anniversary of the first time I ever set foot in this village, the day I released Inuyasha from the Goshinboku… and… well… Inuyasha and I have chosen that to also be the day of our wedding."
Rikichi was dumbstruck at her words. He'd known that the hanyou lord and the young Miko were close comrades and travelling companions, and he'd sensed that Inuyasha had sorely missed the girl when she hadn't returned even after the well had reappeared, but he had not been expecting this.
"But… But…" He stammered. "You are the Shikon Miko!"
"Yes?" Kagome didn't see his point.
"Mikos do not marry." Rikichi shook his head.
After the stress of his earlier questioning, Kagome found his presumptuous statement highly annoying. "Oh yeah? Well, this Miko has every intention of marrying."
Rikichi didn't seem to take the hint, "But is not your power tied to your…ahem… purity?"
Kagome felt her face turning red, though not in embarrassment this time. She could have the patience of a saint, but when she came to the end of it? Well, the number of Inuyasha shaped craters that lay scattered around Edo could attest to what usually happened next. None of this was any of his business, but somehow he was weighing in with an opinion about her love life?
'Oh, HELL no.' she thought.
The power of Kagome's aura swirled around her slightly, just enough to lift her hair and give her body a shimmering pink glow.
She began, her voice rising in pitch the longer she spoke. "I don't see how that is any of your business, Rikichi-san, headman or not. And even if it was, even if being with Inuyasha meant that I'd lose every drop of power that I have, I'd still make that choice a thousand times over! He is the only reason I returned to this place and I intend to marry him six days from now, whether you like it or not!"
Her aura swirled even more, the pink glow would likely now be visible to anyone, whether they had spiritual powers or not.
"Kagome…" Inuyasha tried to warn her what was happening, but his throat closed when he looked at her face and realized that her eyes had been engulfed and were also glowing a bright pink.
Kagome glared hard at the man who had insulted her. She felt a bit weightless, as though she might, at any moment, start floating up off the ground. It was almost as though she could look inside Rikichi… look right through him.
"Kagome!" Inuyasha finally grabbed her arm, singeing his hand slightly. But it was enough to release her from whatever strange trance she'd begun falling into.
She panted, taking a few deep breaths, before biting out the word, "What?"
Inuyasha gave her a strange look before Rikichi finally recovered from his shock enough to speak. He broke the silence with a faltering voice. "It is as you say, Lady Kagome. I apologize for any offence I may have caused. Good day to you both."
Rikichi turned and quickly walked away from the couple. The young Miko was clearly even more powerful than the stories of the final battle with Naraku had ever let on. He had never in his life experienced a reiki aura of that much intensity and power. No, Rikichi would not make the mistake of questioning her or her authority again. Better to have her as a powerful ally and member of the community than as an enemy, curiosity be damned.
A number of people had stopped with curiosity to watch the exchange between the great Miko and the headman, but they hadn't expected this. They all silently stared at Kagome, as though none of them were willing to even breathe.
Finally, as her rage subsided, she felt their combined gazes on her and began to squirm uncomfortably, looking around at the gathering crowd.
After a moment more, she looked at Inuyasha, and in a quiet voice only he could hear, she asked, "Why are they staring at like that? I wasn't that rude was I? Do you think it was something I said?"