|When the Well Closed
Author: Amara Anon PM
Years after the last battle, Sesshomaru finds himself leading a quiet life away from the world of Men, until he discovers a final part he has to play. The world has changed around him. Can he change with it, or fade into obscurity? [SessKag, InuKag]Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Sesshomaru & Kagome H. - Chapters: 2 - Words: 7,097 - Reviews: 36 - Favs: 122 - Follows: 12 - Published: 10-07-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3823904
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
One day, not so long ago to me, youkai were the dominant creatures on Earth. And Men, like mindless ants building their underground tunnels, unaware of their complete insignificance, were destined to be ruled by me. But it is not so.
The Change swept over the land like a current, and I too am caught up in its wave. None can tell for certain what brought this doom upon our kind. But I have my suspicions.
A great spiritual power was unleashed here, once. Of the six youkai present to witness it, I believe I am the only one still alive to document it.
Sesshomaru set his brush down next to the inkstone and read over the scroll on which he had just written these words, pursing his lips in contemplation. Here and there he came across a word or phrase that made a small crease appear in his brow, and he took the brush and made new additions.
An hour into his precious work, he heard the slide of a shoji screen and soft footsteps indicating that someone had entered the room behind him.
"Hello, Mother," he said without looking up or putting down his brush. It was a fine instrument, white and gleaming like a fang: The stalk was made of ivory, and the hair of the brush was once a lock of fur from his youkai form. He dipped the snowy bristles in fresh black ink and continued making marks on the scroll in an elegant hand, missing the look of displeasure that crossed his mother's face.
"Why do you persist in this worthless task, Sesshomaru?" she said. "It is most unlike you. Your hands were best suited for swords, not scrolls."
"But there is no use for swords anymore, so it is a brush I must wield or stay idle," Sesshomaru said, the strokes on the paper never skipping a beat. His voice did not carry an argumentative tone, but his mother detected a hint of resentment.
"Change is the nature of the world," she said, and the flame in the lantern by the scroll flickered and almost went out. "You are like your father and cannot accept it. You cherish swords that break the natural course of life and relish in memories that cannot be relived. She is never coming back."
There was a slight swish of ink as Sesshomaru placed his brush down by the inkstone. His back, still to his mother, was unmoving, but his presence seemed suddenly to fill the small room.
"It is not merely of her I write." The statement held a finality that showed he meant to end the matter.
"Ah," his mother said simply. "But you do write of her."
Sesshomaru closed his eyes. He knew what his mother suspected, what she had always suspected all these years since he had first come to live with her in the last youkai refuge in the sky, where they could remain undetected by mortal eyes.
"You cling to misperceptions, Mother," he said icily. "I did not love her. Not the way you presume."
But the older youkai spoke over his last words in her usual dismissive manner. "And yet you remained in the realm of Men far longer than any other of our clan."
At this, Sesshomaru stood up and faced her. He was taller than her by a full head's length, and he gave her a look so cold and stern that it would have made Jaken squeal in terror, were the little imp present to see it. But the lady before him showed no hint of concern. Sesshomaru's looks never worked on his mother. "I remained," he said in a terse, quiet voice, "to ensure her safety and the safety of her children."
"And the safety of her grandchildren as well, I should think, considering how long you tarried. If she was not yours, I see no reason why you had to stay. Just because the little youkai died protecting her in your name—"
"Silence." Now Sesshomaru's voice was dangerous, a tone he rarely used with his mother in all his long years.
His mother looked at him like he was being childish. "I meant no disrespect," she said, unflappable as ever. "I liked him. But he is centuries dead and so is she, and writing of them does no good to bring them back. You can't protect them anymore."
Sesshomaru would not listen to her. Already he had turned back to his scrolls and picked up the brush again. "I do not write to bring them back. I write of them because when I am gone there will be no memory left of them in this world." His voice grew stronger and clearer with conviction as he continued. "I write of our people and my father and his legacy so that we are not reduced to the relics of legends. Legends can twist and fade and disappear in time. The written word is forever." The timber of his voice grew low, and his eyes unfocused, and he appeared to be speaking to himself now. "If I don't write this, then who will?"
There was silence for a long time, and no movement except for the strokes of the brush and the flickering of the light. Sesshomaru would not have realized that his mother was still there had she not spoken up again. Her voice was soft and mysterious, yet full of majesty.
"And who will read it, I wonder?"
It was an answerless question, one of many that his mother seemed to like to torment him with. "Have someone bring in some more ink, will you?" he said casually, pretending not to have heard her.
"Very well," his mother sighed.
As she turned to leave, suddenly Sesshomaru felt a terrible sensation hit him, a force that seemed to take hold of his very heart. His hand jolted with the shock of its overwhelming power, upturning the inkstone, and it was too late: A pool of blackness had washed across the white scroll, burying the words in its wake. Sesshomaru's anger would have been great if he were not suddenly pierced with fear.
"Ah," his mother said, turning around with an unnerving smile. "You've finally noticed it. I myself experienced the affects this morning."
Sesshomaru faced her, more than a little annoyed by her cryptic speech and the fact that she appeared to have been withholding information from him all day long.
"Then you felt it, as well?" he said.
His mother put her nose in the air. "Of course," she said with faux-offense. "The Shikon no Tama possesses a remarkable pull on all youkai, even one as powerful as I."
The scroll representing an entire day's work ruined in black ink left Sesshomaru's mind in that instant.
"What do you mean, the Shikon no Tama?" he questioned her. His voice was hard and unrelenting, but there was a hint of disbelief also. "The Shikon no Tama was eradicated centuries ago; I witnessed it with these very eyes."
"That may be," his mother said with an air of condescension, "but it has a tricky tendency to return, does it not? This is in fact the third time I have felt its presence borne into this world."
"The third time?"
"The first time, of course, was its original creation when a miko of great power fell into a battle with youkai. Out of her body the Shikon no Tama was borne. It existed for a long time, and then it disappeared, for reasons I know not."
Sesshomaru suspected that it had gone because of that miko whom his brother had loved, but he did not interrupt his mother.
"For 50 years," she continued, "its aura simply vanished. And then its presence came again and splintered across the land."
Sesshomaru blinked. He knew that his mother was referring to the breaking of the Shikon shards that marked the beginning of his encounters with the despicable hanyou Naraku.
"But you and your half-brother took care of it, did you not?" his mother asked with a coy smile.
"I saw the jewel's destruction," Sesshomaru repeated resolutely. "So how can it possibly be back?"
His mother began to examine her claws absentmindedly. "No idea."
"Excellent," Sesshomaru said, thoroughly annoyed, and he turned back to his scrolls, unrolling a fresh sheet. If his mother wasn't going to take this new development seriously, then neither would he. The world of Men didn't concern him anymore. He had played his part in the destruction of the jewel and Naraku, and had no further duty.
Suddenly his mother spoke in an innocent, high voice, sounding very much like a bird. "Unless, of course, there is that little matter of reincarnation. It is possible that another miko of great power has just been born. One that carries the Shikon no Tama within her soul. You don't happen to know anyone like that, do you?" the lady asked, still smiling coyly.
Sesshomaru's insides froze. He lowered his head in thought. Had so much time passed already? There would be much to do now, much that he had not foreseen.
The bearer of the Shikon no Tama could only be that girl. That would-be miko. The woman who possessed the greatest spiritual powers he had ever seen. The woman who had led his half-brother to his death and destruction.
"Kagome," he said lowly.
"Ah, so you do know her," his mother said. "I thought you might. Yes, I have long suspected since the jewel first disappeared and returned after an absence of 50 years that reincarnation had a role to play in it. The jewel you saw destroyed in the past has just been reincarnated in the present. It will not be fully eradicated until we reach the point in the future when this miko returns to her own time for good."
"How," Sesshomaru began. "How is it that you felt the jewel's affects sooner than I did?"
"Why, that is simple, Sesshomaru," his mother said. "Your youki is fading at a faster rate than mine. You see, you hold a greater connection to the world of Men."
Sesshomaru's eyes widened slightly, but he said nothing, trying to figure out what this meant.
"In any case," his mother continued quickly, "someone will have to go down to the earth and ensure the jewel's safety. Few youkai dwell there still, and those that do have greatly weakened powers; most appear incorporeal. And yet it would be a shame if it fell into the grasp of some foolish weakling with a lust for renewed strength..."
There was a twinge in Sesshomaru's heart. If a youkai took the jewel while the miko was a helpless infant, she would never be able to travel through the Bone-Eater's well to the past. And then all that he had achieved would be for naught; Naraku's destruction was not yet ensured.
Sesshomaru stood up, the scrolls forgotten at his feet.
"I will go," he said.
The lady smiled widely. "I thought you might."
In his centuries of absence, Sesshomaru found when he returned that the world was much changed. There were great cities and loud noises; the air was darker, the water fouler; mechanical beasts prowled the land, and metal birds haunted the skies. And yet, the world was not so much changed. Men were still men. The earth was full of greed and lust and war. Civilization grows larger, but instincts remain the same.
Sesshomaru also discovered once he reached the mortal plane that he was rendered invisible to mortal eyes. Sometimes dogs would bark as he passed by, and he suspected some animals could sense his presence, but humans looked right past him and chided their pets for being rambunctious.
The miko's dwelling was easy to find. He just let the pull of the Shikon no Tama take him where it would. Finally it led him to a residence called the Sunset Shrine, and there through the window of a room he saw the infant girl who held the future and the past within her.
He decided he needed a good vantage point to keep watch from, and so he flew to the top of the tallest tree around, and sat unseen in its branches. With some distaste, he realized that he had taken up residence in the very same tree that Inuyasha had once been pinned to in death. The thought made him uncomfortable, but there was nothing for it. It was the most practical location to keep a lookout. Youkai might be invisible to human eyes, but he could still detect them.
The Goshinboku proved to be a most fortunate location. The miko had been born and brought home that very day, and already Sesshomaru saw youkai lured there by the jewel's pull.
They were no more than wisps of spirits, and Sesshomaru found to his surprise that they only succumbed to the cold touch of his father's fang, the Tenseiga, for they existed not fully in this world. His poison claws were useless on them, but they bent before the Sword of Heaven. Meanwhile, in the nursery in the Sunset Shrine, a mother and father and grandfather took turns cradling a baby and smiling to each other, unaware of the dangers their treasure was being protected from.
The days passed and Sesshomaru inwardly laughed at the developments of the Higurashi family. The grandfather was a foolish old ninny, putting up warding spells and protective charms, all for the benefit of his granddaughter. They were useless pieces of buffoonery. Sesshomaru decided that it was very good indeed that someone competent like him was around to take things seriously. Most pathetic of all was the seal the old man had placed across the Bone-Eater's Well, which resided in its own mini-shrine. Sesshomaru narrowed an eye at it, knowing the flimsy scrap of paper would be no match for a resurrected youkai bursting out to claim the Shikon no Tama. If the miko ever went near the well, she would be in great danger. Silently, Sesshomaru was thankful as the infant grew into a toddler and he saw that her parents forbid her to play near the well. It made circumstances on his end much easier. He could control the day that she was to meet her destiny.
The days Sesshomaru spent there among mortals felt like seconds to him after so long away in his mother's timeless realm. There, things were constant, but the earth was always changing. Once again he experienced day and night, the passing of the seasons. The leaves of the Goshinboku turned color and fell off and became buried under snow, only to be reborn again on the branches in the spring. They never went away for good, and that comforted Sesshomaru during the lonely winters. But Sesshomaru did not stay there all the time. Periodically he made visits back to his mother's realm, as she wanted to survey his progress.
As the miko grew from a toddler to a child, Sesshomaru found himself following her around on schooldays to make sure she was safe, even when there was no sign of youkai present. But danger didn't just come in the form of youkai. He once pushed her out of the way of traffic when she tried to chase a ball into the street, and he watched as the little girl shook her head, confused, when the ball rolled back to her as though an invisible hand had nudged it. And then there was the time when a mean, older boy tried to hassle her on the playground and wound up tripping into a puddle mysteriously, and ended up covered in mud. Later Sesshomaru convinced himself that the boy had posed a threat to the jewel somehow.
Nothing stayed the same here. Not only the trees, or the seasons, but the little miko's family too. He watched, separate as through a pane of glass, the mother bringing home a baby boy… the father leaving for work and never coming back… the young miko dressed all in black for the funeral… a lost kitten wandering onto the premises, staying there, and beginning to grow into a fat, lazy cat…
The cat proved to be a nuisance and a hindrance to Sesshomaru's work. Often it followed him around as though he smelled of fish, never ceasing to trail him. Luckily the family didn't think much of the cat's odd behavior, though Sesshomaru sometimes wondered if the little boy suspected something was amiss.
As the years passed, the councils with his mother grew less pleasant. Sesshomaru found himself wishing to get back to Earth right away, convinced that some form of evil or accident would befall the miko. And he realized he hated the stagnant clouds, unchanging in his mother's realm, and longed for the sound of wind through trees. His mother, too, was growing increasingly bossy.
"Have you completed your task yet?" she said one year without preamble when he arrived at her court.
"She is not ready," he said, avoiding her gaze.
"Really?" his mother wondered. "And yet I feel time is running out. The fate of the Shikon no Tama is soon to be determined. You must ensure the miko is sent back. It has been 14 years since the jewel returned to this world. What makes you tarry still?"
Sesshomaru was adamant. "I cannot send her yet. She is just a girl."
His mother narrowed her eyes, staring down at Sesshomaru coldly from her high throne as he lingered on the steps to her court, in between the two worlds.
"You are reluctant to send the miko into danger," she said without sympathy, "because she reminds you of the girl you used to protect—do not interrupt! You must not lose yourself to sentimentality, Sesshomaru. The miko is different from other humans. She has the power to defend herself, once she realizes it. You must not be afraid to let the natural course of events happen."
Sesshomaru's face was blank, and this time he looked directly into his mother's eyes.
"It is not danger that makes me hesitant," he said, "but sending an innocent girl to her death."
There was a silence, and his mother's face softened, and her eyes held a hint of sadness. "And yet," she said gently, "if that is the order of things, who are you to stand in its way? We must preserve the past as it was."
Sesshomaru knew his mother spoke wisdom. Even he, a youkai, had no power to change the past for good. All he could do was ensure the events played out as they had, or take no action and allow them to grow worse.
"One year," he said finally. "I shall set her on her path in one year."
His mother looked at him, searching his face for a long time. "That is acceptable," she said finally. "But no wait no longer than that, my son, or I fear it will be too late."
The year passed much too quickly for Sesshomaru. The miko now looked exactly as he recalled she had when he first met her, from the way she wore her hair to the ridiculous uniform she donned for school.
Sesshomaru watched as she celebrated with her family at a festival, never knowing that it was to be the last day of her normal life. She looked radiant, all smiles, cheeks as pink as the yukata she was wearing, her hair pulled up in a bow. He stood next to her the whole time in awe, thankful that she couldn't see his staring eyes. He wanted to capture her face in his mind forever; he wanted to remember what innocence looked like. He had none left for himself.
The next morning, Sesshomaru descended from the Goshinboku with pursed lips. He moved past the house, silent as a ghost. Soon the cat came out to follow him, just as he knew it would. He led it to the mini-shrine in the yard, down the dark, dusty steps where the well itself stood. Then he waited among the spider webs.
A noise came from above. The boy was calling the cat's name. This was no good; Sesshomaru hadn't counted on the boy finding the cat first. But then Sesshomaru heard a sound that simultaneously filled him with joy and dread: The miko's voice. Kagome was there. Luckily the boy was too scared to go down the shrine by himself.
Sesshomaru held his breath as Kagome plodded down the steps. Just a little bit closer, he thought, and the pull from the Shikon no Tama within her would release a youkai from the well. Suddenly he heard creaking coming from inside the well itself; his nose instantly picked up a foreign scent. And he watched as Kagome picked up the cat, and the seal on the well broke open, and the girl was dragged in by a gigantic centipede youkai.
The cat yowled and jumped away; the boy cried out. There was the clatter of boards to the earth, and the boy ran down the steps to the well. He did not know it, but he was standing right next to Sesshomaru, and they peered into the well together. Kagome was gone.
Sesshomaru remained grim as he saw the boy run, screaming, back up the steps and into the house, calling for his mother and grandfather. Now Sesshomaru was alone except for the cat rubbing up against his leg. Guilt crept up the back of his throat, not only for the boy and his family, but for the miko as well. He knew what perils she faced ahead, or rather, in the past; and not least of which was his own past self, which he knew would try to slaughter her on more than one occasion. But there was another emotion seeping into him, a slight tinge of annoyance. He had just sent her directly into the arms of his idiot brother.
"It is done," he told his mother when he returned to her court, lowering his head.
"Good," she said. "Now you can settle down here once more."
"Not yet," he said. "To have come this far and then abandon circumstances to luck is foolishness. I have decided to remain at my post and see to it that things fall into place as they should."
His mother regarded him with searching eyes, and after he felt that she had peered so hard that she must have seen into his very soul, she spoke agreeably. "That would be wise, I think," she said, not betraying her thoughts, and let him leave.
As the weeks passed, Sesshomaru spent much of his time working on his historical account of youkai and all that had happened to his father, and his own adventures fighting Naraku. Also he watched with one eye for the times when Kagome came home. For years there had no longer seemed to be any youkai left in the present, or at least any that were foolish enough to attack Kagome when he was around. And so he did not realize the terrible truth until the day when a possessed Noh mask tried to steal the Shikon shards that Kagome had brought back with her on one occasion: His youki had faded much further than he'd realized. He had not noticed the changes that had taken place in him over his years in this world. He had no choice but to let Inuyasha take care of the Noh mask by himself, and he returned angrily to his mother for a short time.
But his mother only laughed softly at his predicament. "Surely you knew this would happen?" she said.
"I did not," he spoke through gritted teeth.
"We are fading, all of us, but what is left of our power lingers still while we remain here in this immortal land. Of course spending time among the humans again would diminish you. Have you not glimpsed your reflection of late?"
A small mirror was brought to the lady, and she held it up for her son to see. Sesshomaru frowned as he surveyed his appearance.
"It will only get worse the longer you stay there," his mother said. "Will you continue to journey back, now that you understand fully the consequences?"
Sesshomaru was silent, as though he were holding an argument inside his head. "I will go back," he said slowly, thinking of the miko, "but only because it will not be long now."
Whenever Kagome came home, Inuyasha was sure to follow. Like a little lost puppy dog, Sesshomaru thought with disgust. Often he saw Inuyasha sneaking in her window, or playing with her cat, which to Sesshomaru's mild annoyance no longer seemed interested in him. Time and time again he witnessed Inuyasha come there to take Kagome back through the well because she was "taking too long," and Sesshomaru realized ever more clearly just how much his brother loved—had loved, he reminded himself—Kagome.
Once or twice he was compelled by a sudden urge to confront Inuyasha, to speak to him once again after so long, but he always stopped himself, determined not to alter the course of the past. For a short time he wondered why Inuyasha could not see him, or at least smell him—the miko never seemed to notice his presence either. Then he realized just how changed he was. His aura was almost undetectable; his very scent had changed. He was a shadow of a figure. For the first time in 15 years, he found himself wishing that someone could look him in the eyes instead of always seeing past him.
The months grew. Sesshomaru was sitting unseen at the top of the Goshinboku. He was able to hide his scrolls and writing equipment in a large knothole in the tree trunk and write unobserved. His lips were pursed and his brow was furrowed in deep concentration. The ink brush quivered in his hand. He was just finishing the final sentence, and then his years of hard work would be complete. The concept both excited and terrified him. Terrified, because then, what was he to do? He would have to return to a life of tedium in the clouds soon. And his mother was right. All his toil was pointless; now that he was finished, there was no one to read his story.
Suddenly he grew angry with himself for being so foolish all these years. He threw the brush out of the tree, where it sailed through the air for many meters before falling in the grass far away. Then he dropped the inkstone to the earth where it shattered with an almost satisfying crack. Finally he gathered up his scrolls, ready to tear them to shreds, when suddenly he perceived the faintest trace of a strange scent. His nose was only a shadow of its former power, but he definitely smelt something coming from the wellhouse. A scent he hadn't experience in 500 years: Naraku's poisonous shouki.
The scrolls were left forgotten in the knothole—Sesshomaru leapt from the tree and raced to the mini-shrine that housed the Bone-Eater's well. He flew down the steps and peered into the well's dark center. There on the earth below him was a body, covered in burns. The scent of miasma was strongest here. Sesshomaru felt suddenly sick, but not from the stench.
He jumped into the well, and lifted the scarred and battered body over his shoulder, and carried it out of the shrine. Then he laid Kagome's dead figure on the earth underneath the Goshinboku in the light.
She bore the marks of war. Her otherwise unnaturally white skin was marred with angry red scorch marks, and her black hair was stiff and charred: The final evidence of Naraku's last stand. Sesshomaru remembered it well; it stood out even among all the carnage he had witnessed in his long life.
It was as though Sesshomaru himself were suddenly sent into the past, for he was standing near the very spot where the last battle had been waged, with the Goshinboku overlooking their struggle from not far away.
Naraku had used the completed Shikon no Tama to become a youkai of previously unheard of power. But there existed still a fragment of light within the jewel. And as Kagome aimed an arrow at the jewel using the bow of Mount Azusa, all her spiritual powers were unleashed. They soared through the air, fueling the arrow, and sending a current throughout the land. Naraku must have realized his doom in that moment, for just before the arrow hit the jewel, not shattering it but purifying it, multiplying the light within, he unleashed all his evil in a wave of miasma that showered straight toward the miko. Inuyasha, realizing the danger too late, tore off his robe of the fire-rat, and made to cover Kagome with it. But it was not enough. The miasma, stronger than the acids of hell, ate through the robe. In his last conscious moments, hoping to save Kagome, Inuyasha threw her form into the Bone-Eater's Well, where it was sent through time, out of harm's way. And then Inuyasha succumbed to the poison, his own weak hanyou body ruined, while his friends looked on, horrified. At the same moment, Naraku's body was eaten away by the purity of the complete jewel, and the Shikon no Tama fell to the ground, unharmed, through his dissolving vapors.
It was a terrible silence that fell on the land as a fresh wind came to blow the foul, black air away. For a moment, no one moved, not yet in their right minds. Then Sesshomaru walked to the jewel, and picked it up in his hand, and let his fingers enfold it.
Silent as a corpse, he stepped toward the taijiya, who was still sobbing quietly over her brother's unmoving body. The houshi was there beside her, holding her tight.
"Kohaku was an innocent before Naraku manipulated him," Sesshomaru's voice sounded strangely small in his ears. "I can think of no greater victim of Naraku's crimes, nor of a wish more pure…"
Suddenly the hand that was holding the Shikon no Tama closed into a fist. The taijiya let out a cry. Kohaku had opened his eyes. When Sesshomaru opened his hand, the Shikon no Tama was gone.
He did not know for certain if the miko was alive on the other side of the well, though he suspected she was not, but there was nothing he could do for her then. She was 500 years out of his reach.
Now, 500 years later, Sesshomaru stared down at Kagome's scorched body. She looked just as she had when he'd last glimpsed her before she plummeted away across time, but she was not the same miko he had once known. She was not just the girl in the strange clothes, or the woman Inuyasha loved. Now Sesshomaru knew her too. He had watched her from the very first day she was born; he had protected her life; he had witnessed her many kindnesses and come to realize her beauty. She wasn't a stranger, she wasn't an ally. She was, in a way, the only friend he had known in years. And seeing her now, knowing she would never move or speak again, filled him with a longing he did not know he was still capable of.
Suddenly something strange happened, something that had not occurred in centuries: Tenseiga was pulsating at Sesshomaru's hip. The rattling of the sword in its sheath seemed to echo in his ears, but he made no move. He had done his duty; he had ensured that the Shikon no Tama was eradicated for good. He owed this woman nothing, nor was he meant to alter the past.
But as Sesshomaru looked at Kagome's face, still beautiful and delicate despite being marred with burns, he realized there was no harm in altering the present. With a trembling hand, he drew the sword from its sheath and held it before him. The blade glinted like adamant in the light.
Figures appeared before Sesshomaru's eyes, the pallbearers of the afterlife. They were surrounding Kagome's body, carrying her soul away—no more. Sesshomaru swung his sword, cutting the otherworldly beasts with one stroke. They disappeared. The burn marks faded from Kagome's skin, and she opened her eyes slowly.
"Inuyasha!" she cried instantly, trying to sit up.
It took a moment for her eyes to focus. She looked around wildly. There was no sign of Inuyasha or Naraku or any of her friends. There was only—
"Sesshomaru…" she said, only he looked different than he had a few moments ago when the miasma had washed over her. He looked… more human. He seemed slighter, perhaps because his mokomoko and armor were gone; his pupils were rounder; his ears less pointed; his claws more like nails. The crescent moon that adorned his forehead and the stripes on his cheeks appeared faintly, as though they had faded over time.
"You can see me?" Sesshomaru looked and sounded genuinely surprised, which bothered Kagome more than his altered appearance. She wasn't sure she had ever seen him surprised before.
"Of course I can see you," she said, looking around frantically again. "Where's Inuyasha? Where are the others? We were fighting Naraku…"
"Naraku has been gone for 500 years," Sesshomaru said absently. He was just realizing that somehow using the Tenseiga had rendered him visible to Kagome… perhaps to all humans.
But suddenly Kagome realized that she wasn't in open woods anymore; her family's shrine was in the distance. "Wait, you mean I'm on the other side of the well?"
Before he could finish his sentence, Kagome had leapt up and run to the wellhouse. She dashed down the steps and jumped into the well yelling Inuyasha's name.
Sesshomaru could still hear her yelling from inside the well. She came out again, confused and panicked.
"What's going on?" she said, her eyes growing large. "Why am I still here?"
"The Shikon no Tama no longer exists," Sesshomaru said simply. "The well is closed to you now."
"But Inuyasha—the others—" Kagome's words were coming in gasps. "Are they okay—? Oh no, I remember—Naraku was—"
Sesshomaru made Kagome sit down, and he took her hands in his, and tried to keep them from trembling, but his unusually kind action only did more to unnerve her. Whatever he had to say must be serious. He related the entire tale to her, in as calm a voice as possible. He told her how she had succeeded in destroying Naraku and purifying the jewel, how he himself had used the jewel to wish Kohaku back to life, how the Shikon no Tama had disappeared. He saved for last the news of Naraku's miasma, and Inuyasha's valiant attempts to save her, how her dead body was sent through the well, and how Inuyasha died moments later.
Kagome was trembling worse than ever now, racked with silent sobs. Then, Sesshomaru recounted his own story, leaving out much information for brevity's sake. But he told Kagome how he had come back to her world, her home, to ensure the safety (and thus the destruction) of the jewel, and how he had found her body in the well, and resurrected her with the Tenseiga.
How this young woman could process this much distressing information so well was beyond him, but Sesshomaru felt admiration growing in him as the minutes passed and Kagome grew more still and silent. Her tremors diminished, and he let go of her hands, suddenly realizing they were no longer needed.
"So…" her voice came out weak, small, and timid, as though it hadn't been used in a long time. "So… I can never go back."
"Your duty is done," Sesshomaru said. "You are no longer needed there."
"Just tell me, please…" Kagome said, staring up at Sesshomaru's eyes. His jaw tightened. "Tell me that Inuyasha was okay without me in the past. Unless," her voice rose hopefully, "is he still alive now too?"
Sesshomaru swallowed hard. "I thought you understood," he said uncomfortably. "Inuyasha died. Naraku's shouki killed him."
Kagome stared at him in disbelief. "You mean… you didn't… you brought him back with Tenseiga, didn't you? You couldn't have let him just die, your own brother!"
All of a sudden Kagome was beating him across the face and chest as hard as she could, screaming through her sobs. "Cruel, heartless bastard… cold, worthless bastard…" she repeated over and over. Sesshomaru made no effort to defend himself. He stood there still and grim, letting her hit him until she collapsed to her knees, exhausted.
"Inuyasha would have saved you…" she moaned. "If it had been you who died, he would have done it for you… but you hated him…"
Suddenly these words set Sesshomaru off. Gone was his pity for the moment.
"Listen to me," he said with such force that Kagome instantly quieted. "Don't you understand how it was then? You were gone, beyond the well forever, dead. And Inuyasha had just given up his life to protect you! Who was I to make light of that sacrifice by undoing it? How could I bring him back to a world where he lived knowing that he had failed to protect you? I couldn't. No. It would have been the greatest injustice in the world to him. He had a good death. He had a better life. There was nothing for him to go back for. No, it was better to leave him as he was."
Tears were streaming from Kagome's eyes, but they were more peaceful; she was no longer sobbing. Then, Sesshomaru told her how her friends had buried Inuyasha's body underneath the branches of the Goshinboku, and how he had summoned Totosai to destroy the sword Tessaiga.
"Totosai took your bow, too. And you'll be grateful to know," he added, "that the houshi and the taijiya lived a long, happy life together—and had more children than I think was decent."
Kagome couldn't suppress a small smile at that. "I'm surprised you kept in touch with them that long."
"I had to," Sesshomaru sighed. "Rin married the taijiya's brother."
Now Kagome outright giggled through her tears, though they were still falling. She began wiping her face, staring up at the Goshinboku behind her.
"He should have a gravestone," she said softly. "Why doesn't he have a gravestone?"
"He does…" Sesshomaru said, and he stood up, and Kagome watched, perplexed, as he began tearing down strips of bark from the Goshinboku until a smooth patch with red writing was revealed on the trunk. "The kitsune wrote it in jinxed ink so that it would last forever."
Kagome leaned toward the tree and gasped. Next to Inuyasha's name in red ink was her own.
"They wanted you to be together," Sesshomaru murmured. "They hoped you were alive, but I think they knew… although I suppose now you're here, there's no need for this anymore." Sesshomaru raised his hand to scratch out the marks.
"No, wait," Kagome said, her eyes glistening. "Keep it. I want part of me to be with him forever, too." And Sesshomaru watched, complacent, as Kagome raised her hand to the Goshinboku and left it there for a long time.
"Are you certain that this is what you wish to do?" Sesshomaru's mother asked him.
"It is," he said.
The lady paused, weighing her words. "Tenseiga is the only connection left binding you to the youkai-world. If you relinquish it to the Meidou, then soon you will lose your youki completely and you will never be able to return to this realm."
Sesshomaru was silent and solemn, considering his mother thoughtfully. Then, he detached Tenseiga from his hip and laid the sword at her feet.
The Lady of the West watched as her son descended from her land with a smile on her face. Sesshomaru no longer feared change. He had passed his father's last test well.
And as Sesshomaru flew down through the clouds, his mind wandered to the scrolls safely tucked away inside the knothole of the Goshinboku, and his heart lightened with a sudden realization. He had a feeling he knew someone who would like to read them.