Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha and neither intend nor expect any profit from this work other than the pleasure of writing and sharing it.
Author's Note: Happy New Year! As a 2-year-old I know says when she's ready to get down from her highchair: "All done!" A million heartfelt thank yous to all of you who stuck through this story until the end. This final chapter is dedicated to all of you who read, reviewed, and/or favorited this story, and to everyone who might do so in future. You are the greatest!
Higurashi Miroku, newly reborn, thought that he could get used to this. He was happy, if this pleasantly floating sense of …possibility was what happiness actually was. It was odd how it made him feel so solid. And so light at the same time.
Getting Inuyasha out of Hell had been something of an anticlimax. While Kagome recovered, Miroku and Grandfather Higurashi had indeed found a summons in the Nagasaki Commentaries suitable for calling beings out from Hell and had modified it a bit to fit Inuyasha's particular circumstances. The morning after Kagome returned from the hospital, they all sat in a circle in the courtyard at approximately the same spot where Inuyasha had disappeared. When Kagome took her shards from the bottle around her neck and placed them against Naraku's Jewel fragment, they slid together with a ripple of chimes into a perfect, darkly glowing sphere.
As she cupped the restored Jewel in her purifying hands, the darkness faded into a rosy glow that encompassed their entire little group. At a nod from Miroku, Kagome read the summons into that glow, which spread out into the ground in front of them. After a moment, the earth gave a reluctant grumble, shuddered open, and spit out Inuyasha, who arrived singed, disheveled, and royally pissed off.
"Took you long enough!" he snarled. "Am I the only one who knows how to get anything done quickly in this place?"
At that, Miroku and Kagome looked at one another and began to laugh, because Inuyasha was alive, and clearly not overcome by his demon half, and clearly not irrevocably scarred by his ordeal, and clearly, oh so clearly, himself.
"Well, if my ordeal is so amusing to you…" Inuyasha began, but Kagome cut him off by jumping up, throwing her arms around his neck, and bursting into tears. Which instead left him caught, teeth bared, halfway between an irritated grimace and a satisfied smile.
Miroku noticed that there was a strip of something bloody caught between two of Inuyasha's front teeth, but decided that he didn't want to think about that too closely. As Souta, Mrs. Higurashi, and Grandfather converged with congratulations on the restored half-demon, Miroku double-checked that the hole in the earth had closed itself back up without their doing anything more, and wandered away to find someplace to take a nap.
For the next couple of days, Inuyasha celebrated his release from Hell with a great deal of stomping around and second-guessing. What had they been thinking, to risk using up the power of the restored Shikon Jewel on getting him back? When Kagome pointed out that the power of the Jewel still seemed to be perfectly intact, Inuyasha retorted that it still hadn't been necessary at all. He would have easily fought his way out in a few more days, if they'd just given him the chance.
Finally an exasperated Kagome told him that if he wasn't more grateful, she could just send him back.
Inuyasha replied that she had sent him there in the first place.
Miroku just smiled, thinking that Kagome would never entirely understand Inuyasha's need to save face, and drifted off into another nap.
He was napping a lot these days. With the kazaana, Naraku, and the Jewel resolved at last, Miroku found that all he wanted to do was sleep. Futons, floor mats, and sunny corners of the courtyard were becoming his regular haunts. No one seemed to be expecting anything else of him. It was very peaceful.
Sometimes he forgot it was true. The pain in his hand would wake him suddenly, disoriented, old reflexes would take over and he would think it was the kazaana. The Higurashis, Naraku's defeat, the Jewel, all of it, just a complicated dream.
Once, Kagome caught his panicked start into wakefulness, his frightened look at his bandaged hand. He flushed, embarrassed, but she didn't comment. Instead, she said brightly, "Hey! We haven't signed your cast yet. It's a custom, you know–we have to do it." Without asking further permission, she picked up his right hand and firmly drew the characters of her name on the plaster right in the center of his palm. Right where the kazaana had been.
He must not have done a very good job of controlling the expression on his face, because Kagome blushed. But she continued to meet his eyes, shyly and…determined about something. But right then Souta came into the room and pounced on the cast with glee, covering half of it with an elaborate cyborg spaceship design, and the moment passed.
o o o
o o o
On the fourth day after Naraku's defeat, Miroku woke early, full of energy. He kept Souta, Grandfather, and Mrs. Higurashi cheerful company over breakfast until the boy went off to school, then bounded outside to see what he could contribute one-handed to repairing the shambles the kazaana had made of the shrine grounds. He found that even with teams of workmen busy rebuilding the wellhouse and the shrine gate, there was plenty of minor cleaning-up to do.
As he was sweeping twig and bits of broken tile from the front courtyard around midmorning, he noticed Kagome and Inuyasha strolling along the perimeter towards the wellhouse.
Kagome, none the worse for wear from her extra trip to the hospital, was now up and about for short periods. She had progressed to walking slowly around the grounds with Mama or Souta or sometimes Inuyasha at her side.
Today, Inuyasha looked restless. His impatient voice carried quite clearly across the littered gravel.
"I don't understand why I can't just take the Jewel back to the past and kill him then!"
Unrepentantly curious, Miroku drifted closer with his broom.
The conversation must have been going on for some time, because Kagome seemed to be losing her patience. "Because then he wouldn't have been here in the future! Don't you remember the time paradox I explained to you?"
"Keh," Inuyasha conceded. "Well, then what can I do with the Jewel? After all we've gone through to get it, it's stupid to just let it sit there." Miroku wasn't sure that would be such a bad thing at all, but was nevertheless quite pleased that Inuyasha no longer seemed to be considering using the Jewel to become a full demon.
Kagome seemed to be having the same thought, because she smiled proudly at the half-demon. Then cast her eyes down shyly and said so quietly that Miroku had to strain to hear, "Inuyasha, do you ever think you could, you might become human and stay here with…us?"
Inuyasha flushed, looked away, stammered. "Well, I should get back to check on Kikyo…I shouldn't leave her all alone there with Naraku…"
Miroku braced himself for Kagome's inevitable outburst, but it never came. "I see," she said, looking thoughtfully at Inuyasha. Not angry. Not even resigned. Just calm, and …a little relieved?
And as Miroku stood with mouth open and broom stilled, Kagome firmed her jaw, straightened her shoulders, and looked directly up at Inuyasha. "OK, then. When you go back to Kikyo, take the Jewel with you. You have to promise me that as soon as you see her, you will tell her everything that happened in this time. Everything, including there not being any demons around, and Naraku staying in human form, and how we defeated him--everything. Then give her the Jewel and tell her that I trust her to make the right wish. Promise me.""Kagome–"
"All right, all right. I promise."
Miroku was so astonished that he had completely forgotten to pretend he wasn't listening. What was Kagome up to?
"At least stay for lunch," she was saying. "We'll make you some ramen, if you'd like."
And all through the rest of the morning and over steaming bowls of noodles at lunch, Miroku stared bemusedly at Kagome and Inuyasha. It almost made sense if he assumed that Kagome was nobly giving up Inuyasha for both their sakes. But if that were the case, why was she so calm? It was extremely odd.
After lunch there was an uncomfortable moment, as everyone wondered what kind of good-byes were in order. Was Inuyasha planning to return? Seemingly in unison, the Higurashis decided to treat this as one of the half-demon's regular departures.
"See ya!" chirped Souta, running off with his Xbox.
"Safe trip, dear," smiled Mrs. Higurashi, patting him affectionately on the shoulder as she left to do the grocery shopping.
And Grandfather began, "Before you go, let me show you an ancient artifact I've just remembered…" At which point Miroku extracted Inuyasha with a smiling excuse and dragged him out into the yard.
They walked towards the wellhouse in silence for a while, neither sure of what to say. Finally Miroku remembered, "Will you say good-bye to Mushin for me, please?"
"I will. Tough luck you have to stay here."
"Not at all. I am coming to like it. And I gather that this time is full of opportunity for a clever man."
"I don't know how you'll do it. I never could."
"I did say a clever man, Inuyasha," he smiled.
"Keh." There was a pause. "Watch over Kagome while I'm gone, all right?"
"And keep your hands off of her."
And since there was still a part of Miroku that was never going to concede any contest to the half-demon, he laughed. "That I will never promise, Inuyasha."
"Of course." And to Miroku's surprise, instead of threatening him with instant dismemberment Inuyasha let out a loud laugh and clapped him companionably on the shoulder.
They reached the wellhouse and turned to see Kagome hurrying towards them from the other side of the shrine. As she approached, panting, Miroku began to drift away to give them privacy, but Kagome unaccountably gestured for him to stay.
It was very quiet in this corner of the courtyard; the workmen rebuilding the wellhouse seemed to still be on their lunch break. The three of them slipped around the construction barrier and picked their way through wood shavings and bits of lumber to stand beside the Well.
With a grunt that Miroku thought was more for show than anything else, Inuyasha heaved open the Well cover. Then turned back to Kagome. Cleared his throat. "So about that Jewel…"
"Oh! Right," said Kagome, taking it from her neck and putting it in the half-demon's cupped palm. "You will keep your promise, won't you, Inuyasha?"
"What do you take me for?" he snapped. "Don't worry about it."
"OK," she smiled at him. Then her mouth trembled, her eyes grew shiny, and she suddenly threw herself into a fierce hug. "Good-bye, Inuyasha," she sniffled into the folds of his red jacket. "Take care of yourself."
Inuyasha blushed, cleared his throat, and carefully extracted himself from Kagome's embrace. "Don't make such a fuss about it! I'll be back to check on you in a few days." And with that he bounded up onto the lip of the Well, paused for a moment to give them both a sharp-toothed grin, and jumped into an upwelling of pink light.
After a few moments, the light faded and Miroku and Kagome stood quietly in the wood-scented gloom. Then Kagome stirred, sighed and turned serious eyes up to his. "Miroku, can you seal the Well, better than Grandpa could?"
Surprised, Miroku answered automatically, "Yes, I think so." Then, careful not to insult his newly adopted grandfather, he added, "Possibly. He's more of a theorist, really."
"Do it, please."
"Kagome, are you sure?" he warned. "Remember Inuyasha's pride. He will only need to find it blocked against him one time for him to never try it again. Perhaps we should leave it open for now. We can always seal it later."
"No. I'm sure. Seal it please, Miroku."
And too astonished to protest further, he did. Afterwards, Kagome stood for a long moment looking thoughtfully down at the charm-studded Well cover, then turned and began to pick her way out of the building. He followed.
As they began the long walk back to the house, he looked at her sideways, trying to understand what had just happened, but not sure if it was really his place to ask.
They were over halfway across the front courtyard when she finally broke the silence. "He probably wouldn't be able to come through the Well anyway, even if we did leave it open."
He frowned in confusion. And then her strange instructions to Inuyasha suddenly made sense. "You believe that Kikyo will wish that all demons be henceforth trapped in human form?" he speculated.
"Well, it's what I would wish, if I were Kikyo, wanting to control the demons and wanting to have a future with Inuyasha. It would explain how the only evil creatures we meet today are human, and why Naraku never changed shape, even in the final battle." She hesitated, then added "And they will have a future now, together, if they want. A human future."
"So the fact that Naraku did not change shape is proof to you that Kikyo wished as you expect her to. And also the reason that you don't expect that Inuyasha will ever find his way through the Well again."
"I guess so."
As Miroku pondered the implications of this, their wanderings brought them to the Sacred Tree. Kagome stopped, stood for a long time looking up into its branches. Finally she sighed.
Miroku's heart hurt for her. "You are thinking of how this is the place you first met, aren't you?" he asked gently.
"No," she surprised him. "Well, partly. I was thinking about this theory I've got about karma, actually."
"Oh? What kind of a theory?"
Suddenly she was blushing and diffident, peeking up at him from under her lashes. And though on the one hand she was completely adorable (how had that idiot ever left her?), on the other hand he was a little worried. When had Kagome ever hesitated to discuss a theory with him?
Finally she began, tentative. "Miroku, all of this time I've been looking at this Tree and thinking of Inuyasha and Kikyo and believing that it was my destiny to return to the past and repair the anger and betrayal that Naraku caused between them."
"And that you have done, Kagome, by ensuring that they will both become human."
"Right. But that wasn't my point."
He was genuinely puzzled. "If that's wasn't what you were thinking, what then?"
Another adorable, unaccountable blush. "Um, actually, I was thinking about your grandfather."
"My grandfather?" And Miroku thought that what he felt was confused, but for some reason he couldn't quite identify his heart had begun to beat twice as fast as normal. "Why?"
"Listen, you said that your grandfather first met Naraku because he was coming to consult with the miko who guarded the Shikon Jewel, and when he found her dead he went to examine the half-demon tied to the Tree…"
"So, um, I've been thinking." Kagome fidgeted for a moment and then continued on with the air of someone plunging into certain danger. "The only reason that Naraku was able to fool Kikyo was that her powers were weakened because she was in love with Inuyasha. What if that was her mistake that I had to come back to fix, not fighting with Inuyasha but loving him?"
"So you are saying that Naraku never would have grown powerful if Kikyo had lived to wield the Jewel?" Miroku mused, avoiding the part about loving Inuyasha with a strange sense of panic. "But Naraku was powerful even before he began to take possession of Jewel shards. He was powerful enough to curse my grandfather, for instance."
"That's exactly it!" Her eyes raised eagerly to his. "He was powerful enough to defeat Kikyo alone, but only by using illusions. And he was powerful enough to defeat your grandfather alone, but also only by using illusions. But what if they had been together? If they had met when he came to consult with her, which would have happened if Inuyasha hadn't shown up first. If, if they had…loved one another, so Naraku could not have tricked them with less, um, dependable lovers? If it was their destiny to meet and fall in love…"
"Then Naraku never would have lasted out his first year, and the Shikon would have remained safe." He thought some more, feeling oddly…shaky? "And you would have never had to come back in time to undo Kikyo's errors."
"Exactly. And…and you would have never had to come here to the future to undo his." And Kagome immediately looked at her feet, cheeks coloring again.
His heart was beating wildly now, trying hard to catch up to the logical conclusions his mind was racing to reach. "Kagome, are you trying to say that…?"
She was staring intently at the toes of her shoes. "You probably think I'm being stupid."
"No, not that." Because thinking was pretty completely beyond him at that moment.
"But you still think-- Sango--"
"No! Sango would never-- It's just, why?" And he couldn't keep the incredulity out of his voice. "In all these months, you've barely thought enough of me to mention me to your family."
"Well how could I?" she flared. "If I told Mom that I was wandering through the countryside with a lecherous con man, she never would have let me go back through the Well again!"
"But now you think that you want a lecherous con man?"
"No! I mean yes! I mean I want you. Kind and brave and smart and generous." Her cheeks a red to rival Inuyasha's coat, she clenched her fists at her side and looked at him in a kind of fury. "Oh, this is so completely embarrassing…"
Miroku couldn't keep his mouth from dropping open. She really saw those things in him? That was…Well, in that case…he had no choice, really.
"I'm sorry," he said, seriously.
Her face dropped, shoulders drooped. "I see. You don't--"
He pulled her carefully into his arms. "I have to kiss you again right now."
Her smile was a sunrise. "I'll forgive you again."
He smiled back at her. Bent his head for a gentle brush of lips. And then she was kissing him back. And then they were pressed close together, holding on, alive.
Miroku came up for air to find Kagome's mother standing in front of them, arms full of parcels, glaring. Kagome jumped, and they stepped a bit away from one another. But Miroku kept one arm around the girl, raised his chin a little in defiance, and prepared for the worst.
Mrs. Higurashi glared for a moment. Slowly looked from one to the other for a moment more. Thought. Then: "Absolutely no premarital sex in my house," she dictated. They stared at her in shock. Miroku thought he saw Kagome blush in his peripheral vision but was afraid to look more directly with her mother standing right there.
Mrs. Higurashi looked at her daughter's face thoughtfully for a long moment and amended, "at least until she goes to college. Your word on it, Monk."
"I give my most solemn word," he hastened, throat dry.
"That will do." And with a satisfied little nod, Mrs. Higurashi turned and continued on towards the house.
Stunned by their reprieve, they both stood where they were and watched Mrs. Higurashi walk all the way into the house without moving or saying a word. Then…
"Wow, Miroku," Kagome said half teasing, half…disappointed? "I won't be going to college for at least three more years. How are you going to handle three whole years of celibacy?"
"Celibacy? Hmmm, I don't remember promising that."
"If you dare…! I. Am. Not. Sharing. You. With. Anyone. Deal with it."
"Dealt. But I had no intention of 'sharing,' as you put it."
"Miroku! You are not going to try to break your word to my mother, are you?" She was beginning to get angry. "Or think that I would ever agree…"
And now it really was impossible to keep the grin from spreading completely across his face. "Of course not, my dearest Kagome," he interrupted. "But I distinctly remember that the promise was for no premarital sex in the house. This is a big shrine complex. For instance, there's a very cozy little storage room just off the gift shop…if you would allow me to introduce it to you this afternoon–"
"Pervert! As if!"
And his heart felt so solid, and so light. And so safely home.
"No? Hmmm, I think I will have to work on changing your mind about that." He stepped a little closer and hazarded a quick nibble along the edge of her right earlobe.
"Well, not yet…," she amended, squirming but smiling.
Was it disloyal to Sango to be so happy that this girl didn't automatically hit him every time he touched her? "Yet? That sounds promising," he murmured into her neck, sliding his unbandaged hand down the curve of her hip. "Can you be a bit more specific about the precise timetable you have in mind?"
"You…" she giggled, took his wandering hand firmly in hers, and began to walk them slowly back towards the house. "Stop rushing. We have time."
"So we do," he agreed softly, wondering, happy.
Fingers entwined, they walked close together through the courtyard in companionable silence.
"Do you think that Wacdnald's will suffer business reversals now that Naraku is dead?" asked Miroku.
And the Beginning…