InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ The Ghost of Christmas Present ❯ Guess who's coming to dinner ( Chapter 1 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Blanket Disclaimer:

Inuyasha, and the characters therein, are the property of Rumiko Takahashi. I am in no way affiliated with Takahashi, or VIZ Productions.


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Chapter one: Guess who's coming to dinner




It was the day before Black Friday, sometimes called Black Thursday, otherwise known colloquially as Thanksgiving. Note the sarcasm. I'll tell you what I was thankful for, not having classes in the morning.

I wasn't even really interested in shopping at 4am, either. Who's brought idea was it to start Christmas sales hours before dawn the morning after everyone had stayed up late gorging themselves on turkey and starch? Come children, let's all give thanks for what we have and thank God for our blessings...so that tomorrow morning we can (sometimes literally) try to kill each other as we push and shove our way into the store to greedily yank the last *fill in the blank* out of somebody else's hands.

Le sigh.

Nevertheless, I'd had plans to pull myself from my Tryptophan-induced coma the following morning to at least nab a few good deals online, 21st century style, before promptly going right back to bed. If my professors wanted to take the day off to go camp out in the cold and then elbow their way through the aisles more power to 'em.

Of course, I felt super sorry for my cousin Sango, who works as a cashier at an electronics retailer, of all things. She had to be at work at 3am, to prepare for the store opening at 4am. Some stores were even opening at midnight! What was wrong with people these days? And because a few public, city places don't want Nativity scenes people say there's a war on Christmas. Yeah, right. Just like Jon Stewart said, there's a war on Christmas, and Christmas is winning. Thanksgiving is gone, it's just prep day for Black Friday now. Halloween better watch its ass, 'cause it's next. I wasn't aware Jack Skellington ran the local home improvement store, but that's the only excuse I can think of for why they'd put up their massive Christmas display right across from their Halloween one, mid-October! I wonder if the employees were singing 'Making Christmas' as the inflatable ghosts and ghouls watched them work?

But I digress.

The restaurant Mom works at part-time was actually open on Thanksgiving Day, but they tried to be fair about it and not force anyone to work it who didn't want to. There were plenty of employees who'd volunteered, choosing time-and-a-half over awkward visits with extended family they'd really rather not see, and so Mom had gotten to enjoy the holiday with us. Another thing I was thankful for. Although, on the other hand, if she had had to work, then I bet Uncle Hayato and Aunt Susan wouldn't have bothered coming over. There was some awkwardness I could've done without. Yeah, Dad's brother married an American woman, not that that mattered any. She wasn't the one who stuck out like a sore thumb, I was. Dinner had been painfully awkward for me, and not because I hadn't wanted to be around any of my family members. Contrariwise, I'd gotten the distinct impression that my aunt and uncle hadn't really wanted to be around me.

Last year, the Thanksgiving right after I'd just barely finished dealing with Kikyou, they hadn't been in the know. Neither had Grandpa at that time. I hadn't mentioned the holiday in last year's story because there'd been nothing worth mentioning. My whole 'sight' thing and Inuyasha's continued presence had still been my little secret at that time. Mine, Mom's and Souta's. Back then he had only been my 'ghost friend', definitely not a boyfriend, and with me still learning my gift and trying to figure out what I should do with it we hadn't wanted to tell anybody else. I'd come clean to Mom about the elevated level of our relationship not long after it'd happened, of course, and I'd bit the bullet and confessed to Eri, Yuka and Ayumi shortly before Valentine's Day. They'd all been thrilled; no surprise there. Grandpa found out in the spring like I explained in the prologue and then during the summer, while Sango and I had been making plans to go to Anime Expo, I'd decided to tell her, too. Just because I spent a lot of time with my college friends these days, it didn't mean Sango and I were no longer close. We'd practically been raised as sisters. She had definitely been my best friend all throughout elementary school and high school and at that point I'd actually felt kind of guilty for keeping it from her for as long as I had.

She hadn't believed me at first, of course, thinking I was pulling her leg, but a few 'stupid ghost tricks' later courtesy of Inuyasha had her knowing it was true. At that point I hadn't wanted to keep anyone in my family in the dark any longer, and it'd hardly seemed fair to keep a secret from certain family members that other people who weren't family knew, so Sango had agreed that I should tell her parents and brother as well. Well, we'd told them that I could see ghosts, and that I had a 'spirit guide'. Sango had warned me that letting them know Inuyasha was actually my boyfriend might be a bit too much, and looking back on it, I am inclined to agree.

Thanksgiving dinner, I'd almost regretted having told them that I could see ghosts, at all.

Although I'd allowed Kohaku and his parents to believe that Inuyasha and I were just friends, the simple fact that I could see things I shouldn't be able to, was aware of things we weren't supposed to know, had clearly freaked them out. Especially my aunt. My uncle had more or less just looked at me like I was a freak, but my aunt had been downright afraid of me. They'd both known it was true, known that I was neither lying nor crazy, and that had been the worst part. It wasn't as if they'd adamantly refused to believe in ghosts and were convinced I was schizophrenic. In fact they'd already been open-minded to the possibility of ghosts existing prior to my conversation with them last summer. But my aunt was afraid of ghosts, and knowing there was one hanging around me at nearly all times had made her afraid of me, too. My uncle I think didn't like me mainly because his wife feared me, as if I was scaring her on purpose and he was angry with me for it.

Maybe they thought I was a witch.

Hell, maybe I am.

Conversation had been kept light around the table, the patchy silence filled in part by Sango playfully ruing having to get only a few short hours of sleep before going into work basically in the middle of the night. Her mother had offered her some supportive words to that, reminding her that they'd be making their way down to the store where she worked, as well, and even earlier than her in fact, so that they could get in line. Employees were not allowed to hold any of the sale items for themselves, personally, although family members could of course come in and buy them just like anybody else. It'd be downright unfair if that weren't allowed. Sango just wasn't allowed to save anything aside for her mom and so Aunt Susan had to elbow her way through the crowds with the rest of 'em.

Filling more of the silence, Sango had also said that things were starting to get a little more serious between her and this guy she'd met at a Halloween party this year, named Miroku. He had been dressed like a Buddhist monk, which she'd said had been hilarious since he was a horrible, womanizing flirt. Despite that she honestly believed he felt something special for her, and he'd even vowed that he would only grope her from now on. Laughing at that, I'd said that I was looking forward to meeting him, thanking her again for letting me borrow her anime demon slaying outfit because I had indeed sported the tight black leather that Halloween, going to West Hollywood just like I'd planned. None of the girls had gone with me, but I hadn't been alone. I'd had my ghostly chaperone by my side the entire night. I'd wanted to have a good time, not get completely wasted, so he'd helped me keep myself in check and responsibly, I'd had a hotel room within walking distance I'd retired to when it was time. In that moment during Thanksgiving dinner I'd mentioned nothing of Inuyasha's presence while I'd partied on Halloween night, of course, just thanking my cousin for letting me borrow her costume before listening to a little more about her and Miroku's developing relationship. I'd also updated her on my progress in school when she asked. All the while, I'd felt her parents' eyes upon me. Souta and Kohaku had been in their own, separate world, discussing the latest video games. Several times Mom had tried to engage her brother-in-law in conversation but she'd only gotten the occasional halfhearted response. They were watching me, while trying not to look like they were watching me, which had made it all the more obvious that they were. They'd kept glancing up at me nervously as if I were a tiger pacing back and forth in a flimsy cage and they were afraid that I might escape at any moment. It was downright annoying.

I'd never said “May I be excused?” so fast in all my life. I hadn't even gone back for seconds, although my stomach had wanted me to. Even helping with the dishes in the kitchen was preferable to sitting there under the microscope for one minute longer.

Rinsing my plate off in the sink before stacking it neatly in the dishwasher, I'd suddenly felt a pair of invisible hands settle on my shoulders. I wasn't startled, having felt his presence before he'd touched me. I was getting better and better at feeling him, that 'uneasiness' that people sometimes feel around spirits, except for me it wasn't an uneasy feeling in the slightest. In that moment I'd found it especially comforting.

“Breathe... I heard him whisper in my ear.

“That's easy for you to say,” I murmured back, nearly a whisper myself, “since you don't need to breathe.”

He chuckled.

“At least Sango and Kohaku still like you.

This was true. Once Sango had gotten over her initial shock she'd found the entire situation utterly fascinating. She thought my ability was awesome, and while she'd warned that her parents wouldn't understand my relationship with Inuyasha she'd told me that personally, she didn't have a problem with it. So long as I was happy, she was happy for me. Kohaku found my ability to speak to ghosts 'super cool' and had gotten nearly as excited as Souta had when Inuyasha had first introduced himself to the boy. Even though my aunt and uncle couldn't look me in the eye anymore without flinching as if I might cast a spell on them if they angered me, at least I hadn't lost Sango as a friend, and that was what'd mattered most.

As if to prove that very point, Sango had joined me in the kitchen not a minute later. I'd felt Inuyasha's hands leave my shoulders as Sango replaced his presence behind me, murmuring in her own quiet voice, “Thank goodness Thanksgiving is only one night a year.”

“Definitely something I'm thankful for.” I replied. We both giggled.

Everyone else finished up with dinner shorter after we did. Once Souta and Kohaku were excused from the table the awkward silence was a thing of the past, replaced by the excited cries and shouts of two teenaged boys and the cursing, gunfire and squealing tires of some auto theft video game or another. Finishing up with the dishes, Sango and I headed into the living room to cheer our younger siblings on, rather enthusiastically, their exuberance contagious, at least for us, although a moment later Sango and Kohaku's mother Mrs. Kill Joy reprimanded Mom on allowing my brother such a violent game that was rated 'mature'. It was bad for the mind, she'd said, and I bit my tongue, refraining from adding my own psychological two cents because honestly, I was just relieved she had finally found a distraction to shift her focus away from me.

Personally, I only think video game violence can cause a person to obsess and ultimately engage in real violence if they have a predisposition for real violence in the first place and are somewhat wrong in the head. In that case it becomes like an addiction, and the game might satisfy for a time until it loses some of its stimulative powers and the addict then needs to seek a bigger high. It's just like how some serial killers start off with torturing animals first, before that's no longer good enough and they advance to the real thing. A normal, mentally healthy person, is perfectly capable of comprehending the fact that a video game, no matter how visually realistic, is not real. A much bigger concern, I think, are the people who become addicted to video games in the more conventional sense, and waste their lives away in the land of make-believe instead of getting out there and living, but just like with anything else that can become bad if you get addicted to it, if you play games 'in moderation' then they are harmless fun, no matter how bloody. One could argue that video games have always been violent at their core – aside from Pong – and only the technology has improved, replacing what we once needed to use our imaginations for. Can you imagine how awesomely violent Space Invaders would have been if they'd had more than eight bits to work with? How gory Frogger could've been with today's computer graphics? Snorting to myself in quiet amusement, I'd wondered idly if maybe Pac-Man being chased and killed by ghosts had had a hand in my aunt's fear of them.

Fortunately, after voicing her dissatisfaction Aunt Susan had decided to let it go. The boys couldn't play for long, after all, since they'd needed to get going shortly. That was her excuse for pulling Kohaku away from the game, rather than its contents. Everyone had to get up super early the next morning, or much later that night, depending on your perspective.

If Starbucks isn't even open yet it's too freakin' early... I kept that thought to myself as well.

Saying our goodnights to our departing guests after the lot of us enjoyed a quick round of dessert first, Grandpa, Mama, Souta and I didn't waste any time getting settled down and ready for bed once they were gone, completely unaware of the dominoes that had already been set into motion halfway across town. Crawling into my bed after kissing Inuyasha goodnight, snuggling under my many layers of blankets with the space heater going so that he could suck as much energy as was needed to make me feel it as he held me in his arms until I drifted off to sleep, my drowsy thoughts wandered back to Sango and how I did not envy her having to go to work at three in the morning. Even though we'd had an early dinner she still wouldn't be able to get a full night's sleep. Neither would the rest of her family, since they were all getting up as well, even earlier than her since they wanted to be there earlier than her in order to get in line. They were just lucky Sango didn't work at one of the big companies that had people getting in line Thursday morning, if not Wednesday. For concert tickets, I'd understand, but for a sale?

A part of me had wondered idly if they were even going to bother going to sleep at all. It would have probably made the most sense to just go get in line that night and be done with it.

They really, really should have made that decision.

As it was, the plans for which I did not at that time know the details of were that they would all take a brief nap of a few hours before heading over there roughly at 2am. 'Closing time' here in the Golden State; a bad time to be on the road. Uncle Hayato was driving, the whole excursion being Aunt Susan's idea though he had gone along with it because, like a good husband, he had not been about to let his wife go off alone in the middle of the night like that. In my opinion Kohaku was old enough to be left home alone at age thirteen although honestly, I don't think they were dragging him with them against his will. He had wanted to go. It was going to be his first Black Friday experience and he'd wanted to see first hand what all the crazy was about, and probably take the opportunity to film his sister being frantically bombarded on his cellphone to tease her with the memories later over and over again.

All those plans changed in a flash of headlights, squealing tires and busting glass. It hadn't been some teenager recklessly emulating a car chase video game. It was a drunk driver in his forties that put Kohaku in the hospital.

~o~o~o~o~o~

It's never good when the phone rings at 3am. It's even worse when it's not a wrong number.

Uncle Hayato had called to tell us the horrible news as soon as he and his wife were examined and released. Well, after calling Sango first, of course. The SUV that ran a red light and t-boned them had hit the back seat area of their car, so the two of them, in the front seats, had been bashed up a bit but nothing was broken. Kohaku wasn't so lucky. He had been sitting in the side that got hit, and his head had whipped and hit the window, hard. Fortunately, miraculously, he had survived. In body, at least. With no other serious injuries they had been able to stabilize him. At the time of the phone call he had still been in surgery, so as we'd all rushed down to the hospital, Sango of course calling off work to join her parents at the hospital as well, we'd all hoped and prayed that Kohaku would pull through. When they'd finally come out to tell us in the morning light that he was critical, but stable, and in a coma, we'd all had mixed feelings of both joy and dread. Still alive was good, but coma was bad. Still, not nearly as bad as the worse alternative and so at that time, instead of having our hopes dashed we did not yet crumble into despair, clinging still to our hopes and prayers that he would indeed pull through.

Even Inuyasha was offering his own prayers, although I didn't share his well wishes with my aunt and uncle, figuring they wouldn't understand, wouldn't appreciate it. Even though I had a deeper insight to life and death than most other people did, and Inuyasha certainly had a deeper understanding of it, from a unique perspective even I didn't fully comprehend, he had not wished to see young Kohaku's life ripped away from him so soon. Life was like being at an amusement park, he'd said once, a park you were only allowed to visit once, and it really sucked if you had to leave before getting to ride all the rides. Of course, there was also such a thing as reincarnation, we'd discussed once, but that was like going to the amusement park again with amnesia, because if you didn't remember being there before then it didn't really count. You'd maybe pick up a few instinctive strategies for how to better navigate the park, as indeed life was about learning lessons each time you lived it, but if the grand universe or God or whatever you wanted to call it/Him deemed that you needed to go it again then it was out of your hands, and you wouldn't be a ghost as Inuyasha was because your soul would immediately get put back into the recycler upon your death. If, on the other hand, you had achieved Inuyasha's level of ghostdom, then you could still choose to be reincarnated, but most of the time you still lost your memories. He had chosen to stay behind, originally, because of Kikyou, and now because of me. He was aware of the other plane, though. He was aware of the spirit world, where all the 'moved on' souls had moved on to. Be that Heaven or some other dimension...he couldn't really explain it to me and said it was neither and both; it was another world and yet it was our world, all around us. He'd said I'd understand when it was eventually my time, and I'd accepted that answer. I didn't dwell on it.

He'd told me in that moment, as we were listening to the doctor explain Kohaku's condition, that he could sense Kohaku's spirit, and it was confused. He was both everywhere and nowhere at the same time, like what used to happen to Inuyasha when Kikyou would drain him of his energy to make him disperse. Kohaku was dispersed. He'd assured me it was temporary, a result of the trauma, but as it was, neither he nor I could reach him. But Kohaku wasn't dead; he was still alive and as such, the bond that connected the soul to the body was still intact. That bond only broke when the body died and could no longer house the soul. What was happening to Kohaku now, this was what happened to some people in tragic accidents, he'd explained. Kohaku was having an 'out-of-body' experience. Once the confusion settled, he should – hopefully – rejoin with his body and wake up, perhaps with a vague memory of having heard voices and seen a tunnel of light, or maybe looking down on his body from floating somewhere above.

With the doctor telling us one person could stay by Kohaku's side and his mother immediately jumping at the chance before anyone else could, as was her right and nobody thought to argue, Sango and her father broke off to have a conversation while Mom, Grandpa and Souta approached me. They were more understanding of Inuyasha and his unique insight, and had caught my brief interaction with him so they'd been curious what he'd had to say. Quietly, so that my uncle wouldn't overhear, I relayed what he'd said, which was good news indeed, at least I thought. Sure, it would've been better if his soul was still tucked inside his head where it belonged and he was dreaming, but his soul hadn't moved on so he wasn't brain dead. He was just in shock and needed time to put together what had happened. He'd be fine. Nodding their understanding, grateful for my insider information on the subject, Mom and Grandpa offered more prayers, hoping for Kohaku's speedy spiritual recovery, since that was what truly needed to heal now that his body was in stable condition.

Tearfully hugging Sango goodbye for the time being as I prepared to leave with my family, a woman in an old-timey nursing uniform staring right at me from the edge of the hallway captured my attention in that moment.

Promising Sango that we'd stay in close contact, I told my mom I'd be right back. I told her the truth, that a nurse from the '60s wanted to talk to me about something. Her eyes widened a bit in deeper understanding and she nodded, telling me they'd wait for me in the car.

Nodding, I walked away and then asked a living nurse where the restroom was. A quick gesture had the ghost nurse following me and once we were alone I asked her politely what she needed.

“I was surprised at first, when I saw him talking to you.” she began, gesturing to Inuyasha who had of course entered the bathroom with us. “You are one of the special ones.”

I wanted to ask her if she had a point, but I also didn't want to be rude. Surely she didn't just want to say hi, under the circumstances. I immediately found out that I was right about that at the next words to leave her seemingly tangible lips.

“I can keep an eye on your cousin for you, if you'd like.”

“You...you would do that?”

She explained her situation to me then. Politely introducing herself – even though she wrote a name tag that said her name was Mary – she explained how she was in no way, shape or form a troubled soul. She'd worked at that hospital since the 1960s, as her appearance would suggest, but then she'd told me that she hadn't died on the job, and she hadn't died in her twenties. She'd lived for over forty more years and had died at home in the middle of the night, from a heart attack. But she'd devoted her life to that hospital, never having retired; she had indeed still been employed at the time of her passing, and now, she was dedicating her afterlife to it, as well. Before, she had helped the living patients, so now, she helped the newly deceased ones, she'd said.

Indeed, hospitals were usually chalk full of confused, lost, tormented souls. I'd thought that maybe I was just blocking them out because of my grief for and concentration on Kohaku, but I'd now found out that the reason this particular hospital wasn't crawling with ghosts was because this one particular ghost acted like an angel of death of sorts, calmly and patiently explaining to each newly deceased person what had happened, helping them to move on. It was a bit of nostalgia that had caused her to choose her younger appearance, in uniform, not wishing to appear for all eternity as an elderly woman in a nightgown. Indeed, even Inuyasha had since mastered the ability to change his appearance out of the Halloween costume he'd died in. Not that I didn't find the Phantom costume striking in its own right, but his favorite jeans and red shirt were just as appealing. The clothes you died in were kind of the 'default' setting, he'd explained, but since ghosts were nothing but energy and you were projecting an image of yourself, if you had enough power and concentration you could alter the image you portrayed. It did take some effort, though. He'd told me he'd never thought to bother altering his appearance until he'd had someone in his unlife who could actually see him. My desire to see him in other clothes in my dreams had been what'd caused him to learn to master the ability outside of my dreams as well. This nurse was plenty powerful in her drive to help others and considered her young nursing self her truest self, so it had been easier for her, and plus being in a hospital meant there was plenty of electricity to feed from.

She told me that a few times, some of the doctors and nurses had seen her. There were rumors that their hospital was haunted by her, even though they didn't know who she really was; none of the staff had my gift and so she had never been able to actually sit down and have a conversation with anyone before. Knowing her primary purpose was to aid those newly deceased she'd let go of the idea of talking to her old friends, going about her business whether they sometimes got a passing glimpse of her or not. She'd then told me that if there was the slightest change in Kohaku's condition she would come to me immediately. I started to tell her where I lived so that she could find me but she waved me off, saying that now that we'd met, she could find me easily by the feel of my soul. All she had to do was pass on to the other side first, and once there you became aware of everything, so then she would be able to find me.

I'd nodded my vague, half-comprehension to that concept, knowing enough to believe that it was true.

I left then, not wanting to keep my family waiting any longer. It was a somber ride back home that Black Friday morning, way too late in the day for any of the online deals I'd wanted to buy to still be available, like I'd given a shit. Depressed and exhausted, I hadn't done anything but go back to bed when we got home. Inuyasha approached me in my dream but didn't attempt anything seductive, for which I was grateful. Instead, he held me and let me cry. I'd wondered, I'd worried...if Kohaku did die, would his parents let me relay his final message? Would they believe me? Would they want to believe me? If he died, would they...blame me? That last fear was silly and irrational, I knew, but if there was one thing grief could be at times, it was irrational.

That weekend kind of went by in a haze. I was in constant contact with Sango, who was in constant contact with her mother who was by Kohaku's side in the hospital. Things had been touch and go for a while there but he was stable. That was the good news. The bad news was that there was still no recordable higher brain activity. It was far too soon to give up hope, of course. He had not been deprived of oxygen in a situation that could have resulted in brain damage that way. It was only the head trauma, and sometimes, the mind had ways of repairing itself that seemed impossible at first. Maybe a few things were rewiring themselves. His vital signs were stable and we were holding out hope. With my insider information and that nurse's promise to let me know the second anything changed on a spiritual level, I still clung to my hope that Kohaku's soul was still just out and about as it was because his brain needed more time to heal first. Even as a ghost, it was like he was unconscious, or halfway, at least. Inuyasha couldn't reach him, and the nurse couldn't reach him, but the feel of him was strongest near his body and that was good.

Knowing there was nothing either I or Inuyasha could do at the moment I'd attempted to get on with my life, as stressful as it was with the constant worry of my poor cousin in the back of my mind at all times. I went to all my classes that week, and per her parents' insistence Sango went back to work on Monday as well after having taken the weekend off. She and I were still in constant contact, texting each other during whatever breaks we came by. Yuka, Eri and Ayumi offered their support, and Eri especially was understanding of the fact that I would be mopey for the time being, not trying to cheer me up. I had my own car now at that point, just a used clunker but hey when it's your first car, it's a beauty no matter what it looks like, and so I was able to go visit Kohaku myself in the evenings after class without inconveniencing anyone else or taking the bus. Either my aunt or uncle was by Kohaku's side practically 24/7, which made visiting him more awkward than it should have been since I always got that feeling from them that they were nervous around me, but they never verbally asked me not to come by and so I wasn't about to let their uneasy vibes keep me from checking in on my cousin. He was family, damn it.

I think they thought I was like the messenger of death or something, and that with me being there it would make Kohaku's soul come out, would make him die. I didn't want that. I didn't want that at all. I didn't have the balls to actually confront them on whatever it was that bothered them specifically, though, and so I would just pop in for a few minutes, ask them how he was doing, receive a nervous, shaky reply that he was still the same, and then after silently getting confirmation of that from the ghost nurse Mary I would nod and leave. Things stayed the same for the next three weeks or so, until suddenly, the night before Christmas Eve, everything changed...forever.