Disclaimer: Inuyasha belongs to Takahashi Rumiko et al., not me. I just borrow them to have some fun.
A/N: This is the last chapter. I think the story is completed, or rather, this is what I wanted to say about it.
Next thing on my schedule is holidays! I'm going to hang around in Croatia, Germany, France and Italy and have fun.
Thanks to all the readers who have reviewed. You are wonderful!
And thanks to the ever faithful Raijin, who kept beta-reading although she completely forgot what the story was about.
Chapter XI – Returns
Gods do have a cruel way of joking, or so it seems. The last I saw before I lost consciousness was Naraku, ready to strike me with the sword Sesshoumaru, with a cruel shine in his eyes and a smile upon his burned face that was wiped away just before I closed my eyes. Darkness claimed me and left me wandering through a dull grey landscape in which possibilities started popping up like dandelions, drawing my attention here and there. My feverish brain kept me prisoner of imagination, and some part of me provided me with more and more horrible visions of the future in which I was dead and Naraku reigned supreme.
I came to, covered in cold sweat. The moon, her rays unfiltered by curtains, was shining into the room, directly on my pillow. The dreams dispersed as I looked into the semi-darkness of the chamber. My vision was blurred, as if my eyes could not permeate the night any longer. I remembered the burns I had suffered, and then I felt the necklace on my skin, quite tight around my neck, because it had been made for Kagome's delicate form rather than my larger one. No wonder I was not able to see well in the dark. I was turning into a human.
With a soft hush, a servant girl shoved the door aside and entered with a tray that she put beside my bed. On her knees, she poured tea into two cups, touched her forehead to the floor and then left the room in the small, short steps she was forced to take in her kimono. A second after that, Kagome entered, waited until the girl had closed the door and then came to my futon, where she took place on a cushion and looked at me with eyes clouded by darkness. I could not see as well in the darkness as I used to, but my eyes were still good enough to notice that her jaw had settled back into a weaker, human form, and her nails had gone back to the tame roundness they had had before. Without a word, she helped me up and made me lean against the wall and some cushions. As she started to speak, I closed my eyes and let her voice wash over me. At the same time, I felt her remove the covers from my body and bathe my wounds in a cooling balm. My body hurt all over, the burns and the lacerations, but as long as she was touching my skin, the pain of the transformation coming from the necklace was bearable. Her touch made me want to crawl inside her skin, a feeling mixed with unbearable humiliation, for I was not able to move a single finger.
At first she sang quietly, as if to herself. Then, I opened my eyes again, and she started talking quietly, with the corners of her mouth raised slightly.
"One could not say that he died bravely," she said. "The sword Sesshoumaru really is your fang, my Lord. It arrogantly refused to strike someone unconscious and fell from Naraku's hand. Weak as he was – and apparently Naraku never took the time to mend that burned body of Onigumo's inside of him… or perhaps he did not have the means… the body gave out, and with all the injuries he had received along the way, he went to the ground screaming. It was horrible, horrible. I had him taken to the infirmary along with everyone else. The healers refused to touch him before everyone else had been seen to, and even then they could not help him any more than to ease his suffering. So he was dying for fourteen hours, and he looked very small, at least for someone who had been so powerful. I sat there for a while, at the end. He thought I was Kikyo."
She pulled the covers back over my lap as far as modesty commanded and put a hand on the stump of my left arm that had not been hurt as badly as the other arm. Better than anyone else could, she knew how important it was for me to feel her touch on my skin.
"And so he died. He was weeping and laughing, and I knew that this was Onigumo, only Onigumo dying. Naraku died on the battlefield, the very moment the sword refused to obey him."
"What else happened?" I asked. I was shocked to hear my voice. I sounded raspy, tired, hurt, touched by emotion. She seemed to notice it as well, but she said nothing, only reached over for the tea and helped me have another sip.
"Inuyasha recovered very soon after, and has been a great help distracting Shippo and Rin." Both of us imagined Inuyasha at this kind of social work for a moment. Kagome went on: "Kaede had known that this could be her last battle, so she talked with me a few days earlier, and she gave good advice, told me to continue my studies, and all such. We could not help her, although your healers have done their best. She was taken to the village yesterday, and I expect we will be invited to attend her funeral soon." Kagome's hand trembled lightly on my shoulder, but she did not give in to weakness. I had the impression that she preferred to keep her grief to herself for now.
"As Onigumo fell to the ground, I took the Jewel from him. I had forgotten how strong it was. To think that I have had it inside of me for the longest part of my life. As soon as Onigumo was dead, it cleared up a little, and very soon after that it was untainted again. Did you know that, if you look inside it, you can see Midoriko and the demons in everlasting fight? I don't know if this is just an image imprinted on the jewel, or if it really is Midoriko. I used to imagine that eventually, they would grow tired of fighting and maybe have a cup of tea together, and perhaps make up?" She looked at me attentively. "Would you like some more tea, my Lord?"
"Yes," I said. As she turned to pour some more tea into the cup, her hand seemed unable to lift the teapot at first attempt. She seemed to concentrate, and carefully poured some tea and brought the cup to my lips.
"My body still seems to think that it has demon strength. It is quite difficult sometimes to remember to use a little bit more force without the danger of breaking things apart," she sighed. "We can talk about that later." I nodded, and closed my eyes again to listen to her voice.
"My other hint to Naraku's death had been Sango's child. Onigumo was still alive, you see, but when I tried to find out if the baby was in danger, I could hear nothing. I ran to Miroku, and there was no void in his palm." She laughed a bit, cynically. "I swear, if the void had not been gone then, I would have slit his worthless throat myself to put an end to it." I felt Kagome shrug. "Luckily, it was gone. We tried our best to save Sango, Miroku and the child. The baby seemed fine enough, but Sango stopped breathing every now and then, and we had to have healers with them around the clock. Miroku simply would not wake up, and we were quite desperate. In the meantime, Onigumo died, and your brother had the best idea ever."
My eyes did not open, but the remains of my eyebrows went up in question.
"Honestly, he was brilliant! As I came to give him the Jewel – because I didn't really want it – he said, no, he insisted I use it for Sango and Miroku. I think this was the right thing to do, don't you agree?"
To my horror, I felt an uncomfortable urge to throttle Inuyasha – nothing special with regard to my half brother's endearing personality, but unusual for the situation. I decided to stay quiet and think about it later.
"I made a wish then, and although Sango and Miroku are both still weak, the healers are optimistic."
Kagome then slightly touched the necklace that was still around my neck and said quietly: "We have to thank you for so much, my Lord. It was you and your fang who in the end have truly defeated Naraku. Don't you think it is time for you to grant me permission to remove the necklace?" I opened my eyes very slowly to look at her shadowy face, illuminated only by the light of the full moon. If everything had gone according to plan, this would have been the night where Kagome turned demon for me. Instead, she was offering to free me from the necklace, the pain and excess of emotion it brought me. As I said nothing, she continued:
"My lord, the necklace must come off very soon. Even now, you are weakened and your healing is not going very well. You have been badly burned. The healers are not sure if they can save your right eye, and…" She clasped one hand before her mouth. "If you come too close to being human and then have your demon strength returned, you may not be able to get used to it again. Crushing teacups will be your smallest problem, my Lord." We both thought of Rin. Hurting Rin would be something I would not be able to forgive myself.
"Do you think you will never recover fully from your transformation?" I asked. Kagome just nodded. "Perhaps the time for your transformation was not right;" I said, "but I cannot regret the rest. If you would agree…" Kagome put her other hand over my mouth.
"Say no more, my Lord. I am human again, and I will stay human. May I remove the necklace now, please? You must give permission for me to do it." She took the necklace between her fingers and waited for me to signal consent, but I said nothing.
With some effort, Kagome came to her feet, and after one or two failed attempts managed to lift the folds of her dress over her knees in order to be able to stamp out of the room angrily and close the door as loud as it was possible. Bizarrely, at this moment my only thought was that she would have doubtlessly preferred to have hinged doors instead of sliding screens, for those would have made a more satisfying bang to express her feelings.
Two days later, I was able to sit up on my bed without help, and hold my bowl and chopsticks. Seeing myself in the mirror for the first time after the battle was something of a shock. It had been necessary to cut my hair where it had not been burned off, so parts of my skull were an angry, hurting red, and the rest was covered by very short, white fluff. The right side of my body, along with my face, was badly burned, and the rest was covered in cuts and bruises. Luckily, no bones were broken except my nose… which was not a bone at all, as Kagome told me. The wounds were getting better in a human pace, which meant that I would never look like myself again, unless I agreed to have the necklace taken off.
It might have been purely a stubborn reaction to Kagome's refusal to become demon, or perhaps simply a means to keep her close by. I had the suspicion that she would leave me the very second I was healthy again. She was spending quite a lot of time with me, all the while drawing in lively colours ghastly mental images of my future human life.
She told me how human society treated those with handicaps, and also those who looked different from the norm. She had no shame at all while trying to convince me to do as was the best for me, reminding me of my honour and duty to the Western Lands.
I was surprised at my own reaction, musing if it had been induced by the necklace itself. If this was the case, then the necklace was a dangerous weapon against demons indeed, and this not only because of the burning pain it induced in my body. I found the changes interesting rather than frightening and observed with fascination as my eyes dulled from golden yellow to a light brown, by no means as dark as Kagome's eyes, but close enough. Soon my fangs would turn into an omnivore set of teeth and my nails would be round, probably only good for scratching mosquito bites.
Rin visited me and sat close by, holding my right hand for a while, trying very hard not to look at my burned face and my broken nose. I saw tears burning in her brown eyes before she left the room, sniffing, on her nurse's hand.
Oddly enough, nothing could change my mind, if it was truly my mind, and nothing could make me have the necklace taken off. If not for Inuyasha, I would have become human out of the pure stubbornness that apparently came with humanity. My obnoxious half brother came in with a suspicious grin on his face and threw himself on the floor next to my bed with a carelessness he would not have employed had I been in full power.
"You look like a pile of rubbish, Your Royal Stubbornness," he opened the conversation. I thought it below my dignity to answer. Inuyasha sighed.
"Kagome asked me to talk to you," he said, "but I told her it would be no good. You've never listened to anyone, have you? Keh." With his nail that was quite unlike my new blunt ones, he scratched 'Sesshoumaru is an idiot' into the black lacquer surface of my low table. Eighteen strokes of my name, and he wrote them perfectly, in reasonably nice calligraphy. "Kagome taught me to write your name, when she told me what you had done… and that's quite disgusting, even for you. Strikes me as primitive. Who would have thought you have it in you to actually carve your stupid name on a girl's back?"
When I said nothing, he went on: "Well, I have nothing to say on this, really. Kagome has told you all this boring stuff about how you have your lands to take care of, and you can't do that as a human, you'll be eaten within a week… well, maybe two, since it's you. You have no-one to take care of them for you. Not me, in any case. And then, the kids, of course. Kagome could take care of them once you're dead, and I'll always take care of Kagome, so that will be alright. And you'll be able to wield the Tetsusaiga for the whole remaining fortnight of your life. If you can lift it. Aren't you happy?" He got up into a lotus sitting position that could not be very comfortable, and continued ruining my table. This time he wrote 'Sesshoumaru has got a tiny…' ... but luckily Kagome had not taught him to write this specific character of our language. "I'll probably have Kagome back in no time once you're gone. I mean, she does fancy you, but since you won't be available, and I'm an old favourite of hers I expect we'll get along pretty well. Too bad you won't be here to see all of it."
"Why are you doing this?" I asked. "Telling me all this will not change my mind. If Kagome will not be with me as demon, I will change into a human to stay with her. It really is not that complicated." Inuyasha gave me a surprised look, and inside me, the demon raged at the humanity threatening the very core of me, burning away the superior being I used to be to make space for the human I was becoming, a being damned to live upon its weak instinct and feeble logic rather than the infallible judgement of a demon.
Inuyasha sighed. "You tend to see things all in black and white, pal." He laughed at my expression. "I know you are a dog sometimes. But what I mean is… You know, if you were an honest guy you'd just take Kagome as she is, and have lots of little half-demon kids, and that would be it. I know Kagome would like that. But you've had this I-hate-my-little-brother-thing in your head for far too long to allow yourself to be with Kagome without forcing her to change everything she is… which isn't very fair, if you ask me, but since she asked me to talk some sense into you…" With a sigh, he pulled a small book from his sleeve and threw it onto my lap. I bit back the pain of the impact on my hurting body and blinked slowly. It read The Admirer's Handbook – Courting for Beginners. My half brother scratched his nose and got up. On his way to the door he said, without turning around:
"It's really easy. Kagome fancies you, and I want Kagome to be happy. She says she won't change again, and I'm not saying that she's ever going to change her mind. But there is a slim chance that someone who is…" he opened the door, "charming and honest in his feelings towards the lady could make her change her mind eventually. Or so it says in the book. It's really ridiculous, but you might have a small chance she'll forgive you, and take you back, and so on, you know how it works. Even if you are an idiot." With that, he closed the door behind him, just to stick his head into the room a second later: "You know, if you became human, and she stayed with you, you'd never know if she did it out of love… or out of pity? Don't worry; no-one is going to think that you're a wimp for giving up because it hurts too much. I, for one, won't condemn you for giving up…" My expression did not change, but Inuyasha must have seen some hidden sign, for he started laughing loudly and laughed all the way down to the courtyard.
I read The Admirer's Handbook within two hours from cover to cover and back, and it was really a ridiculous book, but I also thought about other things, among which the possibility that Kagome could get back together with Inuyasha played no minor role. Surely I was able to bear the pain of transformation, just like Kagome had done, and I did not care for what Inuyasha said, especially since I knew that he had been taunting me. I knew perfectly well that turning into a human was not a very good idea, in fact it was among the more stupid ones I have had in my life. I suffered a moment of embarrassment when I thought of how stubborn I had been, but then, no-one would ever know of this moment, so it did not matter.
In the evening, Kagome visited me.
She noticed with amusement the silly things that Inuyasha had carved on my table and listened in silence as I gave my consent to removing the necklace. She smiled, told me that she had considered refusing to remove it, just to scare me, and then released me from its hold.
It started with light coming into my eyes, and my healing powers coming back, erasing all traces of pain and injury from my body. I felt tiny pinpricks in the stump of my left arm, and long claws growing back on my right hand, hair growing where burns had marred my skin. My right eye that had been badly burned became unblurred, and I blinked. I touched the line of my jaw that had gone back to its more edgy, larger form to accommodate my canine teeth and was the only feature that saved me from looking like a girl. I felt as if I had been born again.
Kagome looked at me with understanding, and then clumsily started pulling at my shirt that fell open on the left shoulder. She looked at the stump that had lengthened beyond my elbow.
"This is marvellous, my Lord. You really have done yourself a favour by turning back." She came closer and touched my hair that had only grown a little, barely enough to cover my skull. "You look like a boy. A golden-eyed boy. Your nose is still a little crooked where it was fractured. It looks good, though," she said quietly and reddened for no apparent reason. My thoughts went to the Handbook. Perhaps there I would find the reason for her blushing. Kagome touched my chin and her eyes grew large.
"You have hair on your chin," she said accusingly.
"This is what is commonly called a beard, Kagome," I said.
"I-I have always thought demons didn't grow beards," she stammered.
I shrugged and felt for the tiny white hairs. "Usually I remove it before showing myself in public," I said. "There is no reason to appear in careless attire before a lady. Or anyone else, for that matter."
She took my hand as if to stop me from touching my chin. "Stop that," she demanded in a hoarse voice. "You look like a Martini commercial." After a moment's thought, she added: "Like a sexy one, though." She blushed again and hurriedly got on her feet, making an attempt to take the necklace with her. I caught the necklace and held Kagome back.
"Are you leaving me, Kagome?" I asked.
She tugged at the necklace with downcast eyes, never meeting my gaze. After a moment, she let go of the silvery metal link between us.
"I will be gone tomorrow," she said. "I must settle things for Shippo, and Miroku and Sango will soon want to go home, so I need to get their house cleaned up. Kaede's funeral is going to be soon, too. I trust I will see you there? I am going to check if the well is working, and if it is, I'll be going home for a day, maybe two, and then return, if the well will let me come back." Without waiting for an answer, she left me alone, in silence. Outside, the rain started tapping a steady beat on the windowsill, and I caught myself caring if she had an umbrella, and if Inuyasha would be the one taking care that she reached the village safe and dry. For some reason, I didn't mind that thought any longer. Smiling at nothing in particular, I thought that I did not mind.