"Hello," he said with a sigh. "My name is Youko Kurama. You may remember me from such works as Yu Yu Hakusho and this most recent travesty of literature. I would like to take this, our last installment, and deliver the author's thanks."
I want to thank Rumiko Takahashi for making Inuyasha. I want to thank Yoshihiro Togashi for making Kurama and pals. I want to thank all the archive sites who host us. I want to thank therhoda and Niamh, my occasional betas, and Squeakyinuears, who has kept the secret of Hojo's origins since chapter thirty or so.
"I believe we also have some shout outs," supplied Kurama.
Jane Drew and the rest all get evil cookies for figuring it out.
"I think that's it," said Kurama.
Uh huh. Thank you for reading. Now please enjoy the very last installment of the Kurama Arc:
The last installment of the Kurama Arc is available only in its scandalous, uncensored version: play format. It is available on mediaminer or sphere of silence. The content of the chapter is, as always, otherwise identical.
"I said no! Go away!"
"But," Inuyasha spread his hands, ears bobbing as his eyes got big and shiny, "...whyyyyyy?"
Shippo shook his head. That, as Inuyasha would soon discover, had been the wrong thing to ask.
"Oooooooh!" Kagome stamped her foot against the ground and seethed like a teakettle about to blow.
He flinched. Shippo was sure he saw him flinch and brace for a dive into the ground. In any case, he completely missed the still-dripping math book hurtling right for his face.
"Ow!" Inuyasha smacked his hand over the bruise. "That damn thing's heavy, bitch!"
"And you didn't notice that before?" she demanded, snatching the damp text and stomping off toward the woods.
"Hm!" Kagome sniffed as Shippo scooted up onto her shoulder, shaking his head. A few words from a patient and unbiased mediator and Inuyasha would be back on her good side, with all the benefits that that entailed.
The fox kit preened his sodden tail. Too bad for the stupid dog boy that he wasn't feeling patient or peaceable at that moment.
"Why do you put up with him?"
Shippo wouldn't have believed it – it certainly wasn't the effect he'd been hoping for – but Kagome's fury seemed to soften, just a bit, as a strange flush crept onto her cheeks. "I'll tell you when you're older."
"It would have been nice to say goodbye," sighed Sango.
"Indeed," Miroku agreed as he rifled through Kagome's pack. "To whom, my dear Sango?"
"Hojo," she growled.
"Ah yes. He did leave us rather abruptly," Miroku nodded, "though it does my heart good to know that he is returned safely to his home and family."
Sango narrowed her eyes. "You're just glad he's gone."
"I never pretended otherwise," he protested calmly. "Anyway," he changed the subject, "thank you for letting me take Kirara for this journey."
The firecat flicked her tails.
"It's no problem, so long as Kirara doesn't mind," Sango answered as Kirara gave a satisfied trill, "but I would like to know where you are going."
"That is easy enough," he said. "I am going to see Mushin."
Sango cast her eyes toward Miroku's right hand. It didn't look any different, slow death silent as ever behind the bead and cloth. "Is there something wrong with–?"
"No," he held up both hands as he answered her with something new and weary in his voice. "I'm just going to see him."
Sango felt her brow furrow. "Why?"
Miroku looked down and tugged absently at the bag's closing strap. "Can't a man show some gratitude to the person who raised him?"
"I don't mean to offend, Houshi-sama," she said carefully, "but that doesn't seem like the sort of thing you would do."
Miroku pointed his eyes into Kagome's pack and pretended to keep looking for whatever he'd been looking for. "Mushin is a high monk," he breathed at last, "but he's also a lonely old man. I'm just going to see him."
There was something strange hiding on his face, Sango realized slowly, something that had been there for a long time, peeking out around the edges of all his lighthearted irresponsibility and off-color innuendos, a heavy weariness that had worn creases into his untroubled spirit.
"Would you," the words seemed to stick to her tongue, "would you like it if I came along?" Sango asked.
Miroku turned his face toward her and Sango saw something truly rare: her artful monk in a moment of unguarded surprise. If she had blinked, she would have missed it. "My dear Sango," he began, "I—"
"Oy, Bouzu! I need to talk to you some more."
"Yes, Inuyasha," he answered without breaking eye contact. "How may I help you?"
"It's Kagome. She's being all—" the dog demon pulled up short, looking at Sango. She put her hands on her hips. He took two steps closer to Miroku and dropped his voice to a leashed growl, "I tried your stupid one-eyed flea thing. It didn't fucking work!"
"That might be because it's the Limped-Eye Plea," Miroku replied calmly. "Sango," he said, dragging Inuyasha sideways by the arm, "would you please pardon the interruption? I'm afraid our friend may need some help, man-to-man."
Sango exchanged a glance with Kirara as Miroku tugged him a few feet away. The firecat had cocked her head to one side, trilling quizzically.
"What are you two talking about?" Sango asked suspiciously.
"A moment, Inuyasha," said the monk. Then, Sango swore she heard the muttered words, "Watch and learn."
The taijiya put both hands on her hips. What was he up to this time?
"Forgive me, my dearest Sango," the monk said, sweeping both her hands up in his own and clasping them lightly, a few inches from his chest. "I hope," he said in a tone somehow less offensive than usual, "that this meager interruption has not inconvenienced you."
Sango found herself drawn into those dewy, violet eyes. She'd never noticed before how big and guileless they were. She'd never noticed before how sincere the monk's manner truly was. Surely she had been wrong to ever suspect him of the least deceit. Surely—
Kirara meered and bit Sango on the ankle. The taijiya shook herself awake and glared hard at the cringing monk.
"Eheh," Miroku rubbed the back of his neck. "You see, Sango," he said quickly, eyes normal-sized again, "I was only trying to enlighten our friend here, to help him make his peace with Kagome. I know you hate it when they fight almost as much as ...oh hell, just... not the face, all right?"
"Fine," Sango agreed darkly, hefting hiraikotsu.
A moment later, Miroku was rubbing the new bump on his head. "As you can see," he said, turning back to Inuyasha, "I'm still perfecting it myself, but it shows some promise," Sango could hear Miroku's hissing as they moved a few feet off. "I only figured out how to do it a few days ago."
"Hey!" snarled the dog demon, forgetting his secrecy. "You told me you learned this move from that drunken master of yours!"
"No, I said it reminded me of that drunken master of mine," corrected the monk, "I learned it from watching Kouga. Now can we make this quick, I think I—"
"Kouga!" spluttered Inuyasha.
"Yes, Inuyasha. Now is there something with which I might help you?"
Inuyasha growled and his voice dropped for real that time.
"I couldn't quite hear that," Miroku prompted.
"I said Kagome doesn't want to..." Inuyasha's eyes flicked to Sango, "...you know!"
"Inuyasha!" the monk clapped him on the back. "Congratulations, my friend. What did I tell you? A little training was just the thing. Although I must admit that I'd suspected a fine creature such as Kagome would last longer before succumbing to your charms."
"Eh? No!" protested the dog demon, cheeks going red as beets. "I don't mean that thing!"
It was Miroku's turn to frown. "Is there another thing?"
"Yes!" Inuyasha fumed. At the monk's continued look of confusion, Inuyasha gave another self-conscious glance to Sango and back, and then – for no visible reason – he bobbed his ears to the side.
"Ah..." Miroku put one hand to his chin. "Well, the theory of the matter is still the same. If Kagome is denying you her touch, then you must have done something to anger her."
"I haven't done shit!"
Sango couldn't hold in a snort. Inuyasha glared at her.
"It's true," she protested. "Ever since Kagome forswore that rosary, you've gone completely wild."
"I have not!" Inuyasha folded his arms, nose pointed proudly to heaven.
"She wanted to return home last night!" Sango added. "You stopped her."
"She's supposed to stay here!"
"Inuyasha," the monk scolded darkly, "did you not this very morning throw Shippo and her schoolbooks in the lake?"
"You ate all of her shampoo!"
"It smelled like food, dammit!"
"Regardless, Inuyasha," Miroku cut in, "Sango has a point. I realize that it is a relief to be free of the subduing spell, but—"
"I'm not free of it!" snapped the dog demon. "It's only a matter of time before she—"
"Owwww..." Inuyasha rubbed his head as Sango settled hiraikotsu back at her side.
"Kagome has given you her promise," Sango said simply. "Stop testing her word and accept it."
Inuyasha growled but didn't say anything else until Miroku cleared his throat.
"As I was saying," continued the monk, "the theory of the matter is the same. If you wish to gain Kagome's favor, you must put her in the proper mood for it."
"How?" growled the dog demon.
"Well, I could mention any number of techniques that my master learned in his travels, but for Kagome..." Miroku scratched the back of his neck as Sango smiled. "Let her go home when she needs to," he counted on his fingers. "Be nice to Shippo. Let her study. Don't call her names." Miroku put his hands down. "That should do it."
"But those are all the things that—" Inuyasha clutched the air. "She used to—" A thundering growl shuddered from his throat.
Kagome seethed to herself, trying to unstick the pages of her dripping math book. Now there was a big dent in it from where it had so deliciously hit that stupid boy right between the—
The girl froze as a booming yowl shook the nearby trees.
"Jerk," she muttered. At least he seemed to be regretting it.
Sango's ears rang as the half-demon pounded the earth with both feet, snarling incoherently. "KNEWIshouldda dammit damn damn fuckdammitt!" Her heart wrung in consternation.
"It's not so bad, Inuyasha," Sango tried. "It's still better than getting sat."
The dog demon spun on his heel, stabbing one clawed finger in her direction.
"Oh hell yes," he insisted, then stalked off again, muttering to himself and gouging the air with his claws.
"And start by apologizing!" Miroku called after him. "Master Mushin always said—"
"Shut up, Miroku!"
"Yes, there was that, but about apologizing he said—"
"Shut up, Miroku!"
The monk gave a chuckle. "Inuyasha would do well to realize that not everything is about him." He regarded her with a smile that she didn't often see. "About your question, my dear Sango..."
"Hm!" She tossed her hair behind her shoulders, flicking a still-damp math page out of her way.
"Kagome, I wanna talk to you."
"Oh I think you made it perfectly clear that talking isn't first on your agenda!" She turned and fixed him with a blazing glare. "You're only apologizing because you want me to ...you know!"
He blinked. "Who said I was apologizing?"
Inuyasha frowned. This wasn't going as well as he'd hoped. The dog demon folded his arms. Two could play at this game. "So what if I were going to say sorry?"
"What does sorry matter if you're just going to do it again?"
"I'm not! I mean it!" he said, trying to do that big-eye thing that the monk had taught him. It still wasn't working, because Kagome turned up her nose again.
"Stop that!" she hissed. "Oooooooh, I should have guessed that this was what you were up to, all those talks you've been having with Miroku!"
Inuyasha felt the corners of his mouth slink up. "I don't think you should worry about Miroku too much," he said. "He couldn't even figure the real reason why you didn't go home last night."
Kagome's mouth dropped wide open as her face turned the color of a pink carnation. "You better not have told!" she hissed, staggering to her feet.
It was at that moment that Inuyasha realized something: she wasn't going to sit him. She was as mad – or embarrassed or both – as he'd ever seen her, and she just wasn't going to sit him. Something inside him seemed to settle. Maybe a promise was a promise after all.
"Of course I didn't tell!" he answered, holding out both hands. "What, you think I'd let the monk know about—"
"Oooooooh!" Kagome stamped her foot. It was then that Inuyasha realized a second thing: this was going to take a lot longer than he'd thought. There was a big difference between not getting sat and getting... well...
Bright gold eyes trailed the back of Kagome's head as she stomped off again, probably to that damn well. His smile didn't seem to want to fade. He had a plan. Hell, if he could do Kouga's limping flea thing, then Hojo's advice shouldn't be too hard to swallow.
"Thank her when she does something for you. Tell her she looks nice or that she did a good job. And for the love of heaven, stop calling her a stupid bitch all the time!"
After all, he was smart, strong, good-looking, and on the day they'd met, he'd saved her from a giant bug. He could do this.
"Kagome, wait up!" he called and hurried after her. He could catch her before she made it to the well. He was still new at this whole "making up" part of the argument, and in a lot of ways it only complicated things. He still had a promise to Kikyo that he was honor-bound to keep, but... But there was more to this whole Kagome thing, and he wanted to find out what it was, as surely as he'd wanted any jewel shard.
And she kept making the cutest little sound when he rubbed her neck.
"But Shippo," Sango protested, "it's just a visit to Miroku's master. I'm sure you'd much rather stay here with Kagome."
"Yeah," the fox kit stubbed one toe against Kaede's doorstep, "but you might need help making Miroku behave."
"He has a point there, Sango," suggested the priestess. Miroku sighed.
"Well," she shrugged, "I suppose it would be all—"
"...and you might run into trouble in the woods. Or Kirara might come across a patch of catnip again. Or you might need someone to send a message for you. Or you might need my skills as a warrior. You really should take me with you, Sango!"
Miroku rubbed his chin. "Inuyasha and Kagome made up, didn't they?"
"Yeah," Shippo muttered into the grass.
Something was amiss. She could tell that before Kirara had set two paws on the ground. Mushin's home seemed empty and yet—
Kirara gave a thick growl and Shippo jumped nervously to Sango's shoulder. Half-faded spatters against the doorframe gave voice to it. There was blood nearby. A crunching noise, a few feet off, drew her attention. Sango loosened hiraikotsu against her back as Miroku slid to the ground, looking as fierce as she'd ever seen him.
"Master!" came a squeaky voice from the side.
"Hachi?" Miroku called back.
A squat figure hurried into view. Miroku's youkai companion wouldn't meet Sango's eyes. Hachi has always had a nervousness about him, Sango remembered, but not like this. Something is wrong. Something is very wrong.
Miroku seemed to sense this as well. "Tell me what happened," he demanded without preamble.
"I think—" the badger demon wrung his hands, twisting them thumb-for-wrist, never breaking Miroku's gaze. "I think—"
"A nogitsune, Master." Hachi managed at last. "I think a nogitsune found him outside the temple." "He made it back and tried to..." the shivering youkai looked away. "I think he'd been there for some time before I found him. I—" the creature cowered again. "I didn't know how long it would be before—"
"—I'd be back," Miroku finished, eyes hidden beneath his bangs.
"A kitsune of the wild tribe..." Sango breathed. "It must have worked up some spite to attack a monk of Mushin's caliber."
"Master Mushin has kept the..." Hachi clutched his gray-furred hands against his chest, looking from Sango to Miroku and back, "...the rougher sorts from working mischief against the villagers. Perhaps one of them grew angered by his interference."
"My father told me about them," she heard Shippo breathe from her shoulder, one small paw-hand scratching gently against her neck. Shippo's voice stilled. Miroku didn't look toward them. "They prey on weakness. Maybe one of them caught him unawares—"
The fox kit stopped as Miroku stepped away from them, past Hachi.
"Master?" squeaked Hachi. "Master, you don't want to s—"
"Yes I do." Miroku didn't look up, didn't break stride as he walked toward his master's house.
"Come on," Sango said quietly to the others. "This isn't the first time we've dug a man's grave."
"So he is finally dead," Miroku breathed against the grass. "A proper burial stone," he said to no one in particular, his haphazard body low-slung against the earth, "and a proper blessing."
It's more than I'll get.
Miroku pushed the thought away. None of this was about him, none of it. No attachment, that was what he'd been taught. No attachment, but...
He felt her kneel down on the soft earth behind him, heard her clap her hands. In his mind's eye, he saw her bowed head, the perfect curve of her spine, as if this were her own father's grave, miles away across the mountains.
Sango placed one hand against his shoulder and squeezed gently. How odd... There were times when he let her see him without anything in the way, but she never knew them for what they were. It was his own fault. How odd that this moment, blazing white as Mushin's burial shroud, should be the only one.
"He deserved better," Sango murmured softly.
"No he didn't," Miroku answered with a bitter laugh. He could hear her breathing behind him, felt his own breath heavy in his lungs, as heavy as the stone beside them. "I was sure I'd die first," he whispered like a confession. "There were so many things I still wanted to ask him, Sango. There was so much he never taught me." He felt something warm on his cheeks. "I know he was a worthless drunk," something spilled hot from his throat to seep, wasted, into the ground, "I know he was, but something about him just—"
He felt her kneel down behind him, pressing her forehead for a moment against his shoulder. "It was the same when my father died," she admitted. "No matter how much time we have, it's never enough."
"I knew," he heard himself answer, slowing. The silence pressed down on his half-lidded eyes. "It would have been nice to say goodbye." He felt a dull shake in his throat, as if he'd tried to laugh without knowing.
"What is it?" Sango asked.
"Something Hojo said to me about funerals," he answered. "He seemed to think that they were less for the dead than for the living. Something about saying goodbye. I was so angry with him that I'd all but forgotten it until now." He let the fingers of his good hand, his pure hand, his other hand lace just a little into hers.
No smooth skin for her, just as there would be no long life for him. Perhaps calluses would form against his doom. His eyes shut, suddenly wet again.
Her hands were on his shoulders. Why? Unseeing, his fingers rested light against her jaw, felt wet lines drip down her cheeks. His eyes opened to find hers not a hand's breadth from his face, wide as the world beneath tears he hadn't earned.
But then, Miroku never had been much for honest living.
There was no memory from the master for this, no lesson. It was only natural. His hands curled behind her neck and he accepted. If Sango had ever kissed a man before, he wouldn't have guessed it. It was sad and awkward, and the sweetest thing he'd ever known.
She broke the kiss just enough for him to feel her breath against his face. He hadn't wanted her to be sad. He hadn't wanted a lot of things.
A flash of color caught the corner of his eye. He pulled away in time to see a scolding young kitsune with a yellow flower in his hand. "And I thought Inuyasha and Kagome were bad," he muttered wearily, hopping sideways onto the stone.
Miroku straightened, "Shippo," he said immediately, stretching forth one hand, "don't stand there."
The kit cocked his head at him, "But I was only bringing a flower..."
The monk lost Shippo's words like leaves into a whirlpool.
"Houshi-sama?" Sango's alarmed voice fell in, wheeled madly and vanished into the icy maw of his dark thoughts.
This chill in my heart.
Miroku's breath stilled, as if he'd heard a voice from—
Like someone's walking over my grave.
His heart pounced as he scrambled backward, without time to get to his feet, fighting back echoes of the conversation he'd had with Hojo as they'd walked back from the battle with the serpent demons. ...Hojo explaining how he'd known, and so wrongly, that Shippo wasn't an innocent.
"Wouldn't mind being reincarnated as one." It was his own voice, smirking at Inuyasha.
"Wouldn't mind being reincarnated as one."
"After one lifetime with you for an apprentice, he'd deserve it!"
It was just a stone, just a grave, just a dead man underneath. It couldn't laugh.
Hojo the Natural.
Hojo not foolish, but innocent.
"Between lives..." the words escaped his memory and fled out into the air.
A boy knowing Mushin's lessons without being taught.
They'd been wrong. Hojo had known the difference between reasonable demons and monstrous ones, with the sole, unreasoning exception of—
"Miroku," Shippo's eyes were wide as he finally stepped away from Mushin's grave, "what's wrong?"
Hojo only stumbling when he found himself in unfamiliar space, as if he'd forgotten the details but retained the wisdom, especially—
You'll end up a lonely old man.
The dust gathered against his wrists, stuck to one wet palm. Still he slid away.
I know this end and you don't want it. You'd better be listening. Don't turn your back on me boy.
Miroku obeyed, scrabbling backwards away from the grave. "No..." he gasped, shaking his head.
The two voices in his memory blended and fused, lost all identity in the unknown that lay beyond time. An older Hojo dying. A young one being born, and a fool of a boy trapped in the middle ...only not the fool he'd thought.
Everything happens for a reason, Miroku, but it's not always a big reason. Maybe not the one you think.
"Maybe she was sent back in time just to give him closure or something."
The monk clamped his hands over the memory in his ears.
"To give him a chance to say what he needed to say."
"It can't be that," the words escaped him. "That can't be it."
A last chance gone, and all of time in between.
"Houshi-sama!" Sango gripped his shoulders, hard this time. "What did you see?"
His mind stilled and his breath returned. He finally looked up.
"It can't be..."
You may notice that one character is conspicuously absent from this epilogue. We will hear no more of him or what becomes of him in his new life.
Here's to you, Bachan.