Timeline: Post-series. Much hypothetising abounds.
Author's Ramblings: This is one more of my ex tempore, impressionistic (and sentimental) one-shots, born one afternoon in the university computer classroom. Think of it as a counterpart for Spring Snow, since it addresses the same theme of mortality and endings as that story.
Time was taking its toll at last.
He had fought it for so long, the stiffening of his joints and the gnawing ache that had gradually spread through his inhumanly sleek, powerful limbs. There had been a time he could run so it was almost flying, a dazzling, near-aerial ride across the land for hours on end, hardly halting, lost in the trance of the movement. No earth-bound creature, save for another youkai, graced with the same preternatural speed, could have outrun him then.
He wished he could still run. It did not matter nearly as much that the sword forged from his father's fang was becoming too heavy for him now, or that to nap in a tree was to invite a backache that took the best of the village wise-woman's herb poultices and a long bath to banish. But he missed the pleasure of the movement, the energy surging through his muscles, the gentle weight of the girl on his back, the way the wind tossed her hair into his face...
He had never really stopped carrying her like that. It had been what they both had first known, and either of them rarely left on a journey without the other. He would insist on protecting her when she went to see a sick child in a nearby village; she would demand to be brought along when there was a rogue youkai to be vanquished.
It had been something of a shock when she had first told him that she could not come: the trek would be rough, and she was too weary to travel at his pace. Her arrows had lost little of their accuracy, but her body was growing frail.
Then he had realised how long they had already been together. It had seemed such a short while.
The grain of the planks of the porch was rough beneath him. The wood used to build a veranda was never smooth; the porch drew a tangible line, a boundary, between the orderly sphere of a human dwelling and the natural chaos of the surrounding world. It was a good place to wait for a transition; a borderline between two things, nature and settlement, demon and human, this world and the next.
It had been a long time, but it was not long now, not any more.
He remembered how he had dreaded the end of their quest. Somehow, the more fragments of the shattered jewel they found, the less enthusiastic he was about completing it. After all, once it was finished, it would mean Kagome would no longer have a reason to return from her faraway homeland.
During the last battle, Naraku had consumed the perfected Shikon no Tama. Kagome had pierced the jewel, incandescent inside his dark body, with an arrow and the meshing energies of purity and corruption had carried the half-demon to his death. He had only nightmarish memories of the fight itself, and merely slightly more coherent recollections of the aftermath: Sango's brother was brought back from the verge between life and death; Miroku, almost mortally wounded, lay with his head in the huntress' lap and stared at the smooth palm of his right hand with fever-glazed eyes; he himself embraced Kikyou, hardly more than a broken husk, as her soul finally fled the prison of earth and bones into which it had been trapped; Kaede-babaa rushed to meet them when they limped back to the village; Kagome screamed with horror, shrill and intermittent and awful, as she realised she could no longer pass through the Bone-Gobbling Well.
He held her as she cried and cried, speechless before the intensity of her shock and sorrow. Day and night became insignificant as she fought through the incomprehensible truth that she could never go home, and he could do nothing save stay by her side and soothe and calm her best as he could. They never learned precisely what had shut the gateway between the two eras; perhaps it was still there, past and present - or present and future - connected by the deep roots of the sacred Go-Shinboku tree. What was clear was that with the destruction of the jewel, Kagome had lost her ability to make the transition.
When, after he had long since lost count of days since the beginning of her ordeal, she woke in his arms and gave him the slightest of shy smiles, he felt like the first day of creation had dawned there in the twilit room.
Their little band had, apparently, become so close-knit that even after Kagome recovered, each of them seemed loath to abandon the sanctuary of Kaede-babaa's village. Sango and Kohaku slowly rebuilt the young hunter's life; Miroku and Sango were married in quite a hurry as the bride's state was becoming increasingly troublesome to conceal; Kagome began learning Kaede's herb craft. The elderly priestess had need of a successor, and Kagome gratefully accepted the offer. He had smiled in secret pride for her then, and a ghost of that smile nudged at the corners of his mouth now as well.
Shippou had departed to live with his kin in the north, though he still visited them frequently. He had had to admit, with a grudging kind of brotherly pride, that the cub had grown - or spouted overnight, as it seemed - into a fine young trickster.
The following years seemed, at large, calm and agreeable. Perhaps it was the spectre of their days spent on the road in a frantic search that made the lull of normal, settled life appear so attractive - he never lent it much thought. There were hardships and sorrow, of course. Shippou spent an entire winter in the village since abundant snowfall and bitter cold had made the wilderness a hazardous place for a lone kitsune still not out of childhood, and his ilk never cared much for watching over their kindred - independence was a virtue to a creature most often on the run from one wronged party or another. Sango's first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage; that was the sole time he ever saw Miroku near tears as the monk clutched at his arms and stammered, over and over again, that she could not die.
But there were more good times than bad ones, and he was content to act as a protector of the village and the shrine, observe as Sango resolved to carry on the legacy of her family and began taking students while herding her own growing family. Of course, she always had Kagome to help her, even after Kaede passed away and the young miko had to shoulder the full responsibilities of a spiritual leader. Perhaps helping her friend also alleviated her own hidden sorrow that the two of them never had children. He did not know whether it was she or he himself that was infertile, and he never cared much. She was the one he would spend his life with, the one he would live for.
The night was approaching; the evening breeze was turning chilly. At dawn, they would come and find him, the children of the children of his friends, in whose features he could still see faint traces of the people he had once known and loved: the people beside whom he had laughed and fought and suffered.
He missed them so.
Miroku had died out in the wilds, returned from near-retirement to face the challenge of a demon plaguing a Buddhist temple. He had gone forth alone, but his wife had had time to bid him farewell before he perished from his injuries after the battle.
He had not been there to see his oldest friend go, but Sango had delivered him and a stricken Kagome his love and goodbyes. The former demon huntress had held her head high as she had returned with her husband's body draped across the back of her cat-demon companion. She had broken down only after the burial ceremony, and closed herself into their room for nearly half a moon.
He still remembered the plum blossoms raining down on the gravestone as his mate, Sango's dearest friend, knelt next to it to place a stick of fragrant incense into the winter-frosted earth.
Sango had continued teaching her children and the other youths who had come to her for guidance in the skills of demon extermination. It had been the routines of her everyday life, the needs of her students, and above all the gentle persistence of her priestess friend that had at last drawn her away from her grief.
He smiled at the recollection of Kagome. That had been one of her many strengths, that indomitable determination mixed with so much caring and forgiveness. She had made a wonderful miko, and there was no other he had rather shared his life with.
Sango had followed Miroku nearly fifteen years later. She had attained a remarkably venerable age, and even after she rarely left the warmth of the fire pit she could redden the ears of any hardened lord who had complaints about the work of her students. He would never forget the tongue-lashing she had given him when he lovingly called her scarier than a mountain hag.
It was twilight now; the sun had set, leaving the heavens clad in the colours of smoke and lapis stone, bright as the layered robes of a coy lady of the court. In the distant west swirls of coral and amber still clung to the hem of the sky, but the blue of the night was already regnant.
Tilting his chin, he waited.
As the last red hues shrank from the clouds, they were left glowing a rare shade caught somewhere between shale and bluebell. There it was again, her eyes in the sky, the heavens in her clear gaze. That was why he came to the veranda at nightfall.
That one word left his lips like a prayer to the gods he had never much heeded in his life.
He stood, slowly, for the long lounging on the porch as the temperature fell was numbing his legs. It had been so long since he had embraced her for the last time as she lay on the pyre, wreathed in white. It had been so long since the fire had swallowed her body; while she had grown old, he had remained young and wild, feral and beautiful for always. She had never seen him age.
He had lived a sharp, brilliant, brief youkai life, like a burning arrow shot into the sky, still blazing as it tumbled, inevitably drawn by the pull of the earth, its flight exhausted. Then, after a period that seemed insignificant in its shortness to his immortal kin, the heat of his demon blood was extinguished, and he had to content himself with the quiet of a human existence. His powers had not fallen into eclipse like when the moon was dark - the change still came and went, as regular as the cycles of the moon - but rather waned like the leaves wither with the coming autumn. It was no curse unless age was one, and for the most part he bore it with dignity.
His life had not been bad, no. He had been satisfied, even happy at times, living among the humans in the village where he had first met the miko protector of the Shikon no Tama. Miroku and Sango's descendants had always been kind to him, even after he lost his usefulness as a guardian of the shrine and the village. Now, he was a wellspring of lore to them, and time had finally graced him with the patience and wisdom it took to share that knowledge with others who did not have his considerable memory.
From warrior to teacher, like Sango had gone. It was a good way, he supposed.
He stretched his still lean frame, feeling his stiff limbs gradually relax as the movement warmed them. He stood upright, without support, raising the sword before him as if offering it to someone. The last of his companions was still with him now. And Shippou, of course, was still plaguing the unsuspecting somewhere in the wide reaches of the land.
He smiled serenely, but not without a spark of amusement as he thought of the young kitsune, and held up the sheathed blade he these days used mostly as a walking cane.
They would come, and they would find him. They would lift the trusty blade from beside him and take it to be purified, sanctified and enshrined in highest honour. They would take his body and wash and clothe him, and keep watch beside him for a night. They would place him atop a pyre built during the night and send their prayers and blessings to trail him on his journey.
In time, as he would become more myth and less reality, they would weave him into the lore of the shrine and, from the sprawling branches of the god tree, he would watch over their offspring in the centuries to come.
With the dull sound of wood upon wood, the battered scabbard of the sword tumbled down the steps of the shrine porch.
But by then, Inuyasha the half-demon, son of the Lord of the Western Lands, seeker of the Shikon no Tama, guardian of the shrine of the Go-Shinboku, lover and life-mate to Kagome, protector of the Shikon no Tama, friend and comrade-in-arms to Sango of the Taijiya and Miroku who carried the Kazaana, and bearer of many other titles most of which he never had a use for, would be long gone. He would walk into the colours of the sky, following the laughter shining in the eyes of the one who had waited for him to the last.
"Kagome, beloved. I'm coming."
End Notes: exitus (lat.) 1) going out, going forth, exit, end, finish. 2) withdrawing, outlet.
It simply was a good word, I had to use it. For the record, I do not know what Japanese folklore says about youkai-human offspring - insofar as Japanese folklore includes such a concept - and their life spans, but this has always been my view on the matter: the human blood in half-demons shortens their lives to only a few times the maximum age humans can reach.