To the readers/reviewers: Hey there, guys. Well, this is it. The final update there will ever be for "One for the Ages": a proper epilogue. It was a fun ride, and I appreciate all the support that you guys gave me simply by reading or reviewing. I feel like I've really grown as a writer throughout this process, which makes it all very special for me. Anyway, goodbye for now, and enjoy the ending!
One for the Ages
By Gan Xingba
It was a beautiful day in Kobe. The skies were clear, and the air had that crisp freshness that came just before summer turned into autumn. Kazuma Kuwabara had no time to enjoy any of it, however. He was too busy looking up and down from a map of the Kobe University campus, trying to figure out just where in the hell he was. Studying the air around him, he realized that he barely remembered anything back from when he had visited the campus last fall when applying to colleges. His best guess was that he had somehow found his way back to the main courtyard, judging from the wide open space and masses of students lounging around, playing soccer, or just relaxing in general.
'Geeze, you'd think I'd have gotten used to it by now after that freshman orientation,' Kuwabara thought dismally. 'But I'll be damned if I ever remember where the stupid math building is…'
He looked back down at the map again, still walking, and totally unable to see a flyer of some kind that had been forgotten on the sidewalk. As was his luck, he stepped right on top of the flyer, which slid forward immediately as he stepped on it and caused him to fall but first onto the ground. Growling, he snatched up the offending piece of paper from the ground and read its contents. It was an advertisement for some band that some students from the university had formed, and was practically begging for an audience for their next concert.
"Stupid band. What the hell kind of name is 'Lonely Torment Power'? I bet your music sucks as bad as your name," he grumbled out loud as he crumpled up the note and tossed it away.
"Kuwabara? Is that you?"
As he stood up, Kuwabara turned in the direction of the shocked female voice, positive that he had heard it before, praying that it wasn't one of the irritating girls from high school. Fortunately, he was way off the mark. Instead he found Kagome Higurashi, sitting on a nearby bench and with a now ignored newspaper in her hands.
"Kagome? The time traveling girl?" he responded in bewilderment.
"Oh my god, it really is you! It's been years!" Kagome said excitedly as she set her paper down on the bench and hurriedly walked up next to the large young man. "So you're going to Kobe University too, now?"
"Yeah…I never thought I'd even get in, but I did," answered Kuwabara a little sheepishly, not really used to energetic girls like Kagome, much less ones that were so excited to see him. "They even helped pay for my tuition…"
"Wow, that's great," replied Kagome honestly. "Hey, want to catch up on old times a bit? There's a good coffee shop right around here, and I've got a lot of free time."
"Isn't there some kind of openi-" started Kuwabara before being waved off by Kagome.
"Don't worry about it. No one goes to those after their first year," she dismissed, and then started walking down the sidewalk, motioning for Kuwabara to follow. "Come on, the coffee shop is this way."
The coffee shop was mostly empty, thankfully. Kuwabara felt awkward enough as it is being a freshman, and having to be wary of people overhearing a conversation involving demons and the like would most definitely not help him win any friends. He did not want to be the creepy guy. Kagome, it seemed, did not share his hesitation, and as soon as they had settled in, went right into that subject area.
"Well, in case you couldn't tell, we finally got Naraku," she said before Kuwabara even had the chance to ask. "It took forever, though. That guy just refused to die. Oh! That reminds me! I have to show you something!"
Kuwabara sipped awkwardly on his coffee as Kagome rummaged through her purse, looking for something. On top of his freshman jitters, he also happened to simply not like coffee that much. He had decided to order it anyway, however, because he figured he would look fairly childish ordering a hot chocolate at age eighteen. Fortunately, he didn't have to stand the coffee for long, as it seemed Kagome had finally found what she was looking for: a photograph.
"Guess who that is," she challenged playfully as she pushed the photo across the table towards Kuwabara.
Her finger was pointing towards a very sulky looking youth in the middle of the picture, with long black hair. Of course, it likely was not very long shortly after the picture was taken, as it seemed Kagome was giving him a haircut. Kuwabara scratched his head as he studied the boy's face. For a few moments, he had no idea who it could possibly be, and then at last the pieces clicked together.
"No way! Is that Inuyasha? Dog boy?" he asked in disbelief. "But...he looks…"
"Human," finished Kagome, now blushing. "Remember how he wanted to become a full demon when we completed the Shikon Jewel? Well, he changed his mind. He decided to us it to become a full human instead, and come back to my time with me. It was so sweet of him."
Kuwabara just shook his head in disbelief. It had been obvious to even him that Inuyasha and Kagome were an item, or at least well on the way to being one, but he would never have expected this kind of thing from Inuyasha. Still, he had only been with them for a relatively short time, and did not know the full history, and Inuyasha had certainly shown hints of having compassion here and there, so he supposed it made sense. Still, it was quite the shocker.
"So, where is he now? You guys sharin' an apartment or somethin'?" asked Kuwabara, sliding the photo back to Kagome after one last look. "I mean, if he did that, that's pretty much as good as sayin' he wants to get hitched, right?"
"Gah! How can you say something like that so plainly?" chided Kagome as she flushed to an even brighter shade of red. "We do have an apartment, but we're taking this one step at a time, thank you very much! Not like Sango and Miroku, they got married right away after we finally finished Naraku."
Kuwabara nodded slowly. By now, he had forgotten almost completely about the strange things he had noticed between Sango and Hiei. He had dismissed those observations once Sango never returned to the present, as he did not know of Masaruten's fate, and had quickly forgotten all about it. He did, however, Miroku's frequent pursuit of Sango's butt, and therefore had absolutely no mixed feelings upon hearing this news. It made perfect sense.
"Hey, what about the little guy? How'd he end up?" Kuwabara asked suddenly, recalling the group's youngest member.
"Shippou? He couldn't get enough of adventure. He said he was going to travel Japan to become a hero," recalled Kagome with a small laugh. "He probably did, too. I mean, he helped defeat one the most powerful demons in the world when he was just a little kid."
Kuwabara laughed along with Kagome. It was exactly what a little kid would say. Demon or not, Shippou was just a child. He could not be blamed for having such fantastical fantasies and aspirations.
"So, I guess since you're here, that means you aren't a Spirit Detective anymore, huh?" Kagome continued, with Kuwabara nodding an affirmative in response. "When did that all end?"
"Well, a while ago for me, anyway. I figured I can't just fight demons for my entire life, y'know? Urameshi, Hiei and Kurama were doin' some stuff in the Demon World for while, but they're done now, too," Kuwabara answered as he fiddled with his cup of coffee. "We're all doing different things, now."
"Really? Like what?" asked Kagome curiously. "I mean, it's kind of hard seeing Yusuke doing anything normal…"
"Heh, you have no idea. During my last mission, we found something out: it turns out that Urameshi's part demon," Kuwabara replied with a wide grin. "And now, after all that, he's running a ramen shop with Keiko. Can you believe that?"
Kagome looked in a state of absolute shock, which really was not very surprising. You do not exactly expect to hear things like "By the way, he's a demon now" when you ask how someone is doing. Of course, Kuwabara still thought that the idea of Yusuke in a ramen shop was much more out of the ordinary. Having been beaten up by Yusuke an almost uncountable number of times, he had considered the possibility himself, even before he knew demons actually existed. Of course, both Kagome and Kuwabara would be shocked if they knew that Yusuke's practically royal demon blood was what had enabled him to use Kagome's well, but that had been one secret Koenma had managed to keep a lid on.
"Crazy, isn't it? Urameshi and Keiko are even married now," Kuwabara continued, letting out a chuckle. "He goes missing for a few years, then shows up and bam! He's on the straightened arrow. I mean, what the hell, right?"
"Yeah…" agreed Kagome, still hardly able to believe it. "What about the others?"
"Oh, right. Let's see…I think Kurama went to go work for his dad's company, or somethin'," began Kuwabara, scratching the back of his head as he tried to remember. "And Hiei...well, the last I heard, he was still in the demon world. I haven't seen him in years, though."
"That's too bad," Kagome responded, though Kuwabara thought he detected a hint of sarcasm.
"Well, Kurama said he was doin' all right now. Said he seemed to be happy for once," elaborated Kuwabara with a shrug. "It's probably good for him. The guy needs to learn to smile."
An awkward silence followed. Kuwabara, having been oblivious to some of Hiei's actions, had no idea that Kagome bore any ill will towards him at all. While Sango had certainly gotten over the whole affair, Kagome would not be so quick to forgive the fire demon for the damage done.
"So, what are you planning on studying here?" asked Kagome, looking to change the subject.
"I want to learn how to start my own business!" stated Kuwabara excitedly, and then began to rummage through his backpack, pulling out a small, old looking book. "Here, look at this."
Examining the book's cover as Kuwabara placed it on the table in front of her, Kagome couldn't help but look a little puzzled. It looked like some sort of manual. On further inspection, she could tell that it was a training manual for a kendo style.
"I got that when I was in the past, remember? I told you how I got taught real kendo, right?" Kuwabara started to explain, grinning ear to ear. "See, when I quit being a Spirit Detective, I thought I'd stop fighting and all that, but I didn't stop training. It was really good for me, not just to keep me in shape, but it really helped me focus and kind of get away from all the crappy stuff in the world. So, it hit me: if it can help me so much, then maybe it can help other kids who need help getting away from the crappy things in their lives. Not only that, but I realized this style of kendo really has some important stuff to teach people."
"Wait…are you saying you want to open a kendo school?" asked Kagome, a bit bewildered.
"Not just a kendo school," clarified Kuwabara. "But a kendo school that specializes in helping kids that need someplace like that to get away from things, see? I've done a lot of research…"
It took a good ten minutes for Kuwabara to realize that he had launched into a full lecture about the merits of the Kamiya Kasshin Style's affects on developing psyches and on a healthy lifestyle. Learning a proper sales pitch, he explained afterwards, was one of the things that he needed to learn about.
The demon world was peaceful. A few years ago, that may have seemed unusual, but now it seemed like the norm. It was an odd change for Hiei to witness. Up until now, his only memories of the Demon World were bad ones. There was not a single memory of the old Demon World that did not involve violence in some way. Until recently, that is. Until the tournament for the Demon World's crown, that is, and its unexpected victor: Enki.
Really, though, like many changes in Hiei's life recently, one could blame it all on Yusuke Urameshi. It had been he who had proposed the tournament, after all. All the strongest demons had competed, Hiei included, but somehow a kind hearted demon with little acclaim before hand had won, and the Demon World had entered a time of peace. Suddenly, Hiei found himself with little to do in this world. Yet he had stayed, and so here he was: sitting on the ramparts of a castle and taking in the view.
The demon world consisted of mostly dense forest, and after years of subjecting himself to the urban sprawl of the human world, it was an admittedly nice change of pace. Yet, he could never totally enjoy it, for the forest reminded him too much of the mistakes he had made the last time he was in such a forest. They were mistakes, he could see that now. He had refused to admit it at the time, but after it was all said and done, he realized that Kurama had been right: he was only hurting himself. He had sworn to himself that he would not make that mistake again. All he needed was another chance.
"You spend entirely too much time gazing at nothing, Hiei."
And he had been given one.
"I'm thinking," he retorted without turning around, ignoring Mukuro's light laughter that followed from behind him.
"I would hope so," the female demon said as she walked up beside him. "It would generally be a bad sign if a person stops doing so."
"Hn," he scoffed, unable to think of an immediate rebuttal. "And what is it that you are doing that is so much more useful?"
"Point taken," Mukuro replied, gazing down at the view from her castle's rampart for a moment before turning back to Hiei, a small smile on her face. "Since we both seem to be free, perhaps a sparring match is in order."
Hiei glanced at her suspiciously at these words. A "sparring match" with Mukuro could get a little…excessive. She was, after all, undisputedly one of the three most powerful beings in the Demon World, and very possibly the strongest out of them all. Hiei was one of the few who could keep pace with her in a sparring match, but if she went all out, he could not match her. He'd found that out the hard way.
"Hn, if you insist," Hiei replied after a moment's consideration. "I will be down from here in a short while."
"Make it very short," Mukuru said with a smirk before turning and walking away. "I won't be kept waiting."
Subtly, Hiei turned his head to watch her go. The similarities were there, without a doubt. They were still two very different women, but there were certainly traits that Mukuro shared with her. "Her", of course, meaning the one that he had made a mistake with. Yet, that mistake had been necessary, in a way. It had taught him a lesson, and he had learned from it.
'Perhaps if I had not made that mistake with you, then I would not have made the right choice with her,' Hiei thought. 'Perhaps I really owe this all to you.'
In a way, he knew he was right. He had needed her, but not in the classical way. He had needed her to show him what a fool he was, so that he could finally stop being one. And so, it was with no sadness and no regrets, but with genuine and heartfelt thanks, something that he rarely felt, that he whispered out to her before descending from the ramparts.