Cursed Touch

By Rurouni Star

Epilogue

"To love is to receive a glimpse of heaven."

                                    -Karen Sunde

                She stared at the well.

            It was… strange. It felt almost empty.

            Always before, there had been that spark, that jump of power that she felt just by being near it. As though a storm were brewing at the bottom of the wooden bone-eater's well.

            With a deep, trembling breath, she stepped forward anyway.

            It's okay… I'll take care of you.

            "I know," she whimpered. "I know… but I have to know. I couldn't live and not know…"

            Her hands caught her on the well's edge.

            What will I do if I can't come back?

            A thrill of terror rippled through her at the thought. But her family… they deserved to know, if she could possibly tell them…

            I have to. He knows. He'll understand.

            He always understood.

            With a shuddering breath, Kagome heaved herself up and over the well's edge, her feet trailing before her. The sensation of falling assaulted her again…

            The ground rushed up to meet her quickly. More quickly than it should have. The thought flitted through her mind – why isn't it changing by now? – just before it hit.

            Her knees tore; her ankles went taut with the effort of landing. The grains of dirt and bone ground into her skin unmercifully, and the clogging dust rose into her face. Kagome coughed heavily, trying to rise desperately. Had it changed? Had it changed at all?

            She knew, of course, what she would see when she looked up.

            But it didn't make the cheerful sunlight, the green branches, the chirping birds, any easier to handle.

            Something warm and sticky ran down her leg, mixing with the dirt. She put a hand to it numbly and pulled it back immediately with a breath.

            Blood.

            The first tear was so easy. It just came without invitation, without need, traveling down her cheek.

            Mama… Souta… Grandpa… their faces flashed by, memories of them weighing on her heart like wet cotton. Her friends – the people that cared about her - even people that sometimes annoyed her…

            I remember when they tried to cheer me up, she thought with a shuddering breath. Yuka, Eri, and Ayumi… I remember when they went through all that work to make me feel better…

            The remembrance of the awful episode made her smile painfully, even as her chest heaved in the first sob. And when Mama took care of me all those times when I got back… all the little things she did for me, the things I took for granted…

            Souta's look of accomplishment, when he had given her all the homework she'd missed, even though she hadn't thought to ask anyone. See? his expression had asked. See how I thought up something you didn't? See how I'm taking care of you? The memory of his glowing face led inevitably to his first A, to his first girlfriend, to his fascination with Inuyasha…

            And Grandpa, when he'd worked so hard for her, even though it never meant much besides the thought. "There's no demon that can ever get through those seals…" She laughed in spite of herself, the irony of the situation apparent. How would things have changed if she'd never gone back after that? Would she always have wondered, always have stopped on her way home to stare at that well and try to remember that dog boy and his shards… wondered if it could have been a dream…

            She realized then that she had, at some point, curled up against the side of the well; that the few trembling tears had turned into a wash of salty grief. It was almost as though they were dead… all of them, all at once. It was more than she could handle, just at the moment. So she let herself cry. And she tried to remember that she couldn't have done anything about it.

**

                "So you and Kagome are getting married and having children by the dozens, is that what you're saying?"

            A pause.

            "Well… yes." Although I really should ask about it first…

            "Oh."

            Another pause.

            Miroku decided that Inuyasha was taking this far too well. Perhaps the monk should have brought Kagome with him, just in case the half demon needed to be hurled into the ground a few times.

            At his somewhat edgy look, Inuyasha sighed.

            "Look, I'm not sure whether to take it as a joke or not… but it doesn't matter."

            At this very surprising response, Miroku's mind decided the hanyou was definitely acting suspicious. Perhaps he'd meant to add on a last part, a resounding BECAUSE YOU'RE GOING TO DIE FIRST, BOUZOU!

            The monk twitched, ready to leap backward out of claw's reach.

            But Inuyasha just sat down heavily.

            "I can't possibly ask… anything… of her," the inu hanyou said. "I left her to die."

            Cautiously, the priest took a seat beside him. "You were somewhat busy saving Sango's life, if I recall," the man said gravely. "Kagome certainly understands that. Do you think she would fault you for not leaving her best friend to die?" His expression turned slightly amused at that. "In fact, she would probably have killed you herself."

            Inuyasha snorted. "I wasn't thinking of that, bouzou, and you know it."

            Miroku arched an eyebrow. "I do?" he asked, intrigued.

            The hanyou looked over at him with a confused expression. "…don't you?"

            Miroku shook his head slowly. "I've been somewhat preoccupied lately. I'm afraid… how did he put it?... my abilities of perception have not been the best. So you may have to elaborate."

            Inuyasha shifted uncomfortably, and Miroku had the idea that he felt like running. Apparently, the hanyou had been expecting Miroku not only to tell him what he was thinking, but to also immediately give him a solution to some problem. One corner of the priest's mouth twitched involuntarily, but he kept the amused smile from his face with effort.

            "…I was thinking about her," Inuyasha mumbled finally.

            Miroku felt the smile widening, despite his efforts. "Inuyasha, that tells me absolutely nothing. Who?"

            The other glared at him, as though to say I know I'm trying to get your opinion, but shut up. "Sango."

            "Ah."

            Well.

            Well.

            That was a surprise. How had he missed that?

            You were extremely preoccupied, his mind supplied smugly. Ah yes. The memory of Kagome's lips on his, her hands raking through his hair-

            "So?"

            Miroku blinked.

            "So what?" he asked.

            Inuyasha frowned. "Were you not listening at all, you bastard?" the hanyou demanded.

            Miroku chuckled. "I suppose not. Reiterate, if you will?" The cross expression on Inuyasha's face made him wonder just what he'd missed.

            "I asked whether you think I should help her rebuild the village!" the boy near-snarled. "She's going back, but there's no way she'll be able to do it with the condition she's in!"

            The priest laughed again. "Ah, Inuyasha, my friend!" he said. "Now I see. In fact, it's much more clear now."

            A horrified expression worked its way to the hanyou's face. "Wh-what?"

            Miroku winked. "Of course, I'm sure the lady wouldn't mind. The question is if the children would have silver hair or black hair… or maybe a mix…"

            There was a resounding clunk! that could be heard from far away. Followed by a curse. It is best left to the reader as to which man uttered it.

            "I don't know what the hell you're thinking, but you don't see anything!" Inuyasha growled. "Don't know why I even asked you… what was I thinking, asking a guy whose mind's on one thing…" His eyes narrowed. "And you better not try anything with Kagome she doesn't want," he added, as though just thinking of this. "Just because I'm not busy killing you right now, that doesn't mean I won't hesitate to do it later if she says anything-"

            Miroku held up his hands in submission. "Of course, of course!" he said hastily.

            The hanyou snorted and leapt to his feet in one smooth motion. "Last time I ever ask you anything…" he muttered crossly as he stalked off.

            But his face was suspiciously pink.

            It was better this way. Miroku couldn't simply tell him how to make a decision like that. Besides, he had the idea that Inuyasha had already made it for himself in the first place…

            "So… getting married, are we?" Kagome asked from behind him.

            Miroku's eyes widened; he jumped in fright. "K-Kagome…" he laughed nervously. "I… did I say that?" he asked. "I said… I said…"

            Hm. There didn't seem to be much of a possibility that she'd misheard.

            She sat down with a sigh behind him, not deigning to comment. It surprised him. Most of the time, she would at least make some kind of remark on his incorrigibility, his inability to keep his mind on track…

            This Kagome was too quiet.

            Miroku frowned and turned around.

            She was staring down at the ground, her arms clutching her knees close. At first, he missed the scratches and the blood… but her sleeves were torn stained in places, just close enough to spot. He moved forward immediately, his hands pulling her arms away from them hesitantly.

            Dirt still clung in some places – the lacerations had begun to clot, making a mess of her knees. He frowned and pulled out his water, unstoppering the top and pouring it over the skin. Kagome flinched momentarily, but allowed him to dab at it gently.

            "How did you…?"

            "It's nothing," she said softly. "Not anymore."

            He looked up then and saw the tear tracts and the red skin of her face where she'd rubbed it raw.

            Kagome bit her lip.

            "I'm sorry," she said. "It was… it was really stupid of me, I know…"

            Despite her defiant resolve, her decision that she wouldn't cry again, her voice was dangerously close to breaking.

            His hand came to rest on hers, slipping beneath the fingers and squeezing it reassuringly. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.

            She sniffled. "It's okay. It's… it's better, I guess." Her other hand came up to wipe at her eyes. "I'd have just had to say goodbye… and it's harder when you have to do that… it's actually sort of a relief…"

            But she was crying again, because he was still being so kind even though she may have really left without a way back…

            His thumb reached up to brush at her cheek, and she smiled achingly.

            "Goodbye?" he asked softly. "Why?"

            She blinked and laughed sadly. "I… because I was going to come back, obviously…"

            His breath hitched, and she looked up to see him staring at her, his eyes wide. "You… were going to come back…"

            And she remembered the reason she'd decided that; she remembered how much she'd given up for him and how much he had been there for her and how much she loved him…

            And quite suddenly, he was holding her tightly against him, his face in her hair.

            "You were going to come back," he repeated in astonishment, as though he'd never considered it. "I…"

            She let him hold her like that, because it was what she'd wanted more than anything. When she'd hurt like that… the remedy was him. It would always be him.

            "Kagome," he breathed. "I didn't say anything. I thought it would be better to let you go, if that was what you wanted…" his voice wavered slightly, unsure. It was something of a first for him, when dealing with women. "So…"

            She leaned into him, her arms twining around him again. "So?"

            A comfortable pause stretched between them as he searched for the words. Apparently, he decided on the ones that had served him best before.

            "Will you bear my child?"

            She blinked.

            He had the idea he'd made a mistake.

            And then-

            "Yes!" she cried. "Yes, of course I will!" Kagome laughed, then. "In a few years, you…you lecher!"

            He grinned, one hand snaking downward (as it had been wanting to do for so very long) and forging into that forbidden territory, squeezing oh-so-gently…

            Kagome made a noise of indignance.

            "Well!" she huffed. "Well!"

            A pause.

            "If you really must, right now," she said authoritatively.

            He blinked.

            Kagome bit her lip to keep from laughing. "Honestly, you should have seen your-mmph!"

            Miroku covered her lips with his own hungrily, savoring her taste and delving deeper. She tasted sweet and oh-so-desirable, as always; but it wasn't something he found he could ever get tired of. "Thank you," he informed her mischievously. "You will be taken into serious consideration." And he squeezed again, just to prove his point. She squeaked.

            "H-hey!" she protested. "I didn't-"

            "Said it," he confirmed. "Very clearly, in fact. Not even Inuyasha could fault me."

            And… her lips curled into a tiny smile. "So if I'm going to 'bear you a dozen or so children', doesn't that mean I'd have to marry you first?"

            He froze as the smile widened; Kagome seemed to believe she had caught the upper hand…

            "Is that a serious proposal?" he asked.

            She huffed. "Oh honestly, can't I win just once?"

            And he kissed her again. Harder.

            "You did," he said. "You asked me to marry you and I said yes."

            And Kagome giggled. "Usually the other way around…" Her cheeks flushed from pleasure and absolute happiness and he found himself looking at her slightly parted, slightly swollen lips. "I'll take what I can get," she decided aloud.

            "Kagome-chan!"

            The girl 'eep'd at the female voice from over the hill, scrambling to leap out of the monk's lap. He chuckled, the idea of keeping her back intentionally nagging at his mind; but he knew she was the kind of person to be embarrassed at public displays of affection.

            Exactly the reason he would have to start groping her more. To get her acclimated to the idea, of course. It was all noble and chivalrous and…

            And he was now engaged.

            The idea hit him like a ton of bricks as she went to meet Sango.

            "I'm… engaged," he said slowly. "To Kagome."

            He waited for the fear to overcome him, the adrenaline that represented a 'fight or flight' response. But… there was only a strange pride. A glow.

            Well… we managed to come through it all okay, he mused. So why not?

            He leaned back and rubbed a thumb over his right palm absently, reveling in the smooth, unbroken skin.

            He could live. He could live like this.

**

            "Yes, Sango?" Kagome asked breathlessly as she scrambled up the hill, still flushed.

            The demon hunter smiled sadly from her place against Kirara – she still hadn't recovered from her wounds, for all that they had been recovering in the village for a week. Kagome remembered having to take care of the poor wolf prince as he recovered – but his pride had been hurt more than his body, and he had had to leave soon after the ordeal. "I just wanted to let you know…" the taijiya said. "…before I left."

            Kagome nodded somberly – she'd known the day would come. After all that had happened… they were finally splitting up. But! She smiled. She had already come up with a solution for just such a problem.

            "I'm going to come to visit," she warned Sango. "As often as I can. And… and you better get happy. Or I'll have to force some happiness on you."

            The woman sniffed, her eyes wet as she laughed. "Of course, Kagome-chan," she said. "I'll work on it right away."

            The former school girl laughed helplessly with her and rushed to engulf her in a hug. "I'll miss you," she said. "Even if I do visit…"

            Sango shook her head. "You won't miss me," she said good-naturedly. "I know you won't. You've got people to keep you company."

            Kagome seemed about to respond – but she looked up abruptly, her gaze centered on a point beyond Sango and Kirara.

            The girl smiled brilliantly.

            "Oi."

            Sango turned around, but not before Kagome saw her smile stretch thin. "…come to say goodbye?" the woman asked uncertainly.

            Inuyasha snorted, unable to look her in the eyes. "I'm not saying goodbye," he said roughly. Kagome saw the taijiya's insecure smile falter yet again, but she forced herself to recover.

            "Well… well goodbye anyway," the woman said, her hands clasped nervously before her. "It was… it was good knowing you. Thank you for everything." She swallowed, apparently gathering her courage – and before either could say another word, she moved upward to press her lips against his cheek hesitantly.

            Inuyasha blushed brilliantly, but he looked away again. Kagome frowned. Well this wasn't going good…

            She poked a finger into Kirara's side urgently, and the cat made an amused growl, shifting away slightly.

            Sango let out a surprised noise as her support fell away; Inuyasha instinctively shot out an arm to catch her as she wavered and, ultimately, fell.

            Their eyes locked, for an instant.

            There was silence between them for that second.

            Sango cleared her throat then and let him help her stand again. One of her arms found its way to his arm to hold herself steady against him. "Well… well I'm going to go back now, I suppose." She took a deep breath. "If… if you want to come visit," she said quickly. "You're welcome." With a panicked look, as she realized it hadn't come out quite apathetic enough, she cast a glance at Kagome. "All of you."

            Inuyasha slipped the arm she grasped around her waist quite suddenly, and Sango gasped in surprise.

            He picked her up gently with it and helped her onto Kirara. "Well," the half demon muttered, embarrassed and trying very hard not to show it. "You probably couldn't make it there on your own anyway. I'll have to keep you on the damn cat."

            Kirara bristled at this comment, but realized that it was only for show and held in her indignant meow.

            Sango straightened. "Don't feel you have to come on my account," she said sharply. "I can take care of myself. I was doing it a long time before I joined up with you!"

            Inuyasha went red again. "Well… well you never did such a great job of it, did you?" he shot back. "I'll probably have to help take care of the village again – humans are pretty weak even when they're healthy!"

            Sango's eyes shone with energy again as they tossed comments back and forth, more like normal. Kagome waved, even as Kirara snorted and took off. Sango blinked and looked down at her.

            "Goodbye," Kagome whispered. "I'll see you soon."

            Sango's expression lost some of its luster as she looked down at the girl… but she soon waved back. And, though it could have been her imagination, Kagome thought she might have wiped at her eyes a few times.

            She was still standing there long after they disappeared into the distance.

            Footsteps from behind her alerted her to another presence, but she didn't move.

            "So," Miroku said loudly. "Where shall we go from here?"

            Shippo leapt from his shoulder to put an arm around her leg. "You're not leaving me this time," the fox warned imperatively. "I made him promise!"

            She smiled. And turned to regard them both.

            "Why don't we just see where we end up?"

...and it ended like that.

Wow.

I'm done.

*smile*

…okay, celebration over. Back to work on ALAP. See you there.