"How are you, Momiji?" Kusanagi asked from behind where she trudged downhill through the soft grass next to Midori.
Three-year-old Noa toddled between them, one hand tucked protectively in each woman's hand.
"Kusanagi," Despite her efforts to keep her patience, a slight edge of asperity crept into her voice. "-- How long has it been since you last asked me that?"
"Three minutes," Murakumo responded precisely before Kusanagi could. Unlike Momiji, he didn't bother trying to quell hide his irritation with Kusanagi. In fact he was so disgusted, that he shot a fulminating glance at the green-haired man keeping pace with him as they followed the leisurely pace of Momiji and Midori. "—Not to mention that it was only three minutes from the time before that; oh and then there was the four and a half minutes before that; and somehow he managed a miraculous six minutes before that!"
"Shut up!" Kusanagi snarled, directing a dark look at Murakumo before letting his cat-like eyes slide back to the lumbering figure of his wife, now almost at full term in her pregnancy with their first child. "I still don't understand why we had to come all the way out here now." He grumbled sullenly.
"Because," Momiji responded crisply, turning her head and giving her husband a warning look. "the view from Mount Takao is beautiful this time of year and this is the last time we will be able to come like this before the baby is born."
She let her green gaze linger a moment longer than necessary on her husband, making sure he got the point as he subsided into a discontented silence.
"We're here!" Midori said softly as they came to the edge of the trees.
She motioned to the gently sloping expanse of green grass falling away to a breathtaking view of Tokyo in the distance. Momiji turned her head and drew in an appreciative breath at the crystal clear blue sky and the sunlight sparkling on the city's spires.
"What a deceptive view. It actually looks clean," Murakumo muttered darkly, not surprised when no one said anything.
After a moment, Momiji murmured, "Kusanagi?" and sent him a speaking glance.
"Right," he muttered, and with a curt jerk of his head directed at Murakumo, the two put down the supplies they'd brought with them.
Making quick work of it, they spread out a blanket that had been tucked in one of their knapsacks beneath the shade of the trees, a basket of food and a small cooler they had also carried arranged conveniently at its corner. Momiji and Midori wandered several yards away, drifting slowly along, keeping a watchful eye on Noa as he clambered through the tall grass. The two women bent their heads close together, their conversation pitched low as they watched the little boy's dark head bobbing up and down as he crouched down to watch the sleek and nimble green insect that had captured his attention flit to and fro. After a few moments of just observing, he tried a few joyful leaps of his own.
Great gusts of childish laughter echoed across the hill and he cried, "Papa! Papa! Come see! Lookie, lookie!" Murakumo paused in his job and looked over at his son to see him pointing at the grass that came all the way up to the little boys knees. "Hop! Hop!" he exclaimed brightly, popping up and down with each word, his eyes swinging towards Midori for guidance. "Mama?" he asked querulously, his outstretched finger wiggling a little to emphasize what he wanted to know.
"It's a grasshopper," she told him with a tender smile.
Noa nodded enthusiastically. "Uh-huh, uh huh! Hop, hop!" he agreed in delight, pogo-ing up and down in a circle.
Momiji watched the little exchange between Midori and Noa while rubbing her tummy, an indulgent smile playing at the corners of her mouth until out of the corner of her eye she spied Murakumo leave the shade of the trees and stroll in their direction.
She knew that Midori had seen him too because she'd immediately begun to fidget.
"Here he comes," Midori breathed anxiously.
Trying to ignore the butterflies in her stomach, she turned and feigned interest in the spread out view.
Momiji came up from behind and briefly rested a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
"Don't be scared," Momiji comforted, "you know this is going to make him very happy."
Midori's chin tilted towards her chest and she took a deep breath. "I know. Deep inside, I do know that," she replied shakily, "it's just sometimes I worry because whenever I've tried to broach the subject of another baby, he never wants to talk about it. – He adamantly insists that things are perfect just the way they are…"
"That's only because he knows what the doctors said – about the chance of you being able to conceive – but the doctors didn't take into account the healing powers of Susano-oh," Momiji replied bracingly. "Your dreams weren't wrong," she earnestly insisted, referring to the frequently recurring dreams that Midori had experienced over the past three years in which she was surrounded by a white light, and in the distance, she could hear a soft voice whispering comfortingly to her.
When she'd told Momiji about her dreams, Momiji had declared immediately that it was Susano-oh. Momiji had wanted to know what the voice had said, but Midori could never remember the words; only the feelings of reassurance she was left with.
"He's healing you," Momiji had responded with absolute certainty. "I had dreams just like yours right after I was injured," she'd told her. "You wait and see. He'll prove all the doctors wrong. I have no doubt about it!"
Back then, just a few months after the Tengugaki had been defeated, Midori hadn't echoed the same confidence as Momiji. Although she had harbored a secret hope that her friend was right, a hope that sometimes burned so strong that she had tried to talk to Murakumo about the possibility of trying to conceive another child – which is why she was so nervous now.
Working to gather her courage, she vaguely heard Momiji talking to Murakumo and Noa as the young boy babbled excitedly about the fuzzy worm he'd just found.
"Well, it was a long walk here, and I'm a little pooped out," Momiji sighed in the way of an excuse. Her gaze flitted from Murakumo's preoccupied profile to Midori's taught one. "So if you two don't mind, I think I'll ask Noa to walk me back to the blanket where I can sit and be lazy for a while."
With a bright smile, she took the little boy's free hand and walked away, but not without several furtive looks thrown back over her shoulder as she waddled towards where Kusanagi was waiting.
"Nagi, Nagi!" Noa cried, breaking away from Momiji's grasp and galloping full steam towards Kusanagi. "I found a Kitty Pillow!"
Kusanagi gazed blankly at Noa until he saw the fuzzy caterpillar stretched out along Noa's chubby index finger.
"You sure did!" Kusanagi grinned. "I bet he'd really like it if you took him right over there," he pointed to the small sapling just a few paces away. "and if you put him on one of the branches, you can watch him eat!"
Noa's little mouth puckered into an amazed 'oooh' and he immediately scooted towards the small tree where he carefully placed the fuzzy crawler and watched, absorbed as it explored its new surrounding before settling down to munch contentedly on the leaf Noa held steadily in front of it.
After making sure he wasn't going to move from that one spot for a while, Momiji carefully lowered herself onto the blanket, speculatively eyeing the dark-headed couple standing next to each other, their faced turned towards the view.
Momiji heard Kusanagi mumble, "I don't think I've every seen a denser couple…" and she turned, craning her neck to look up at him and give him a reproachful look. He returned her gaze with a shrug, not an ounce of remorse in his expression and she just shook her head as he dropped down on the blanket behind her, stretching his long legs out on either side of her so he could pull her back to lean comfortably against his chest.
"Do you think she's told him yet about the baby yet?" she asked thoughtfully.
"Hmmm," Kusanagi cogitated, letting his chin rest lightly on his wife's shoulders as he wrapped his arms around her. He let his hands rest lightly against her stomach, a slight smile tipping the corners of his mouth when he felt their baby move. "Judging by the way Murakumo's just standing there with his hands in his pockets, my guess would be: no. – But you'd think he'd get a clue," he added dryly.
Momiji's brow wrinkled at that and she sat for a few long minutes trying to decipher exactly what it meant. Unsuccessful, she tipped her head to the right, looking at Kusanagi from the corner of her eye.
"What clue is he supposed to get?" she asked his profile.
Intrigued by how his arms suddenly tensed, she turned her head a little more to look him fully in the face, as he dropped his arms behind him and leaned back in a negligent pose, struggling to maintain a bland expression. He couldn't manage it right away though, and Momiji's sharp eyes quickly noted that his lips had pulled into a tense line: a definite signal that something had happened between Murakumo and himself which he'd much rather not talk about.
Ever since that day when they had become "brothers", their souls entwined within the Eternal Dragon, there had been a bond that had been forged between them – although neither man would admit it. And on the surface, none of the hostility they had for each other had abated in the slightest.
But deep inside, Momiji thought, they had a developed new respect for each other, and even a certain protectiveness that siblings possess despite their constant bickering. She'd made the mistake of actually voicing her opinion regarding this and had nearly had her ear chewed off for her efforts as Kusanagi spent a good twenty minutes vehemently denying it, ending his diatribe by saying, "I NEVER want to get that close to that arrogant bastard ever again!"
Having no desire to relive that lecture, Momiji now kept silent as to why Kusanagi became so sour when he'd held a conversation with Murakumo that did not center on snide remarks and their boyish efforts of trying to out-boast each other.
Now she waited patiently for him to explain and after a few minutes was rewarded when Kusanagi regained enough of his equanimity to reply in an even voice, "Murakumo has been brooding for a while now – more than his normal amount. At first I thought it was because…" he grimaced and trailed off, wishing he'd thought a little more before speaking since he'd just said much more than he'd meant to. He didn't expect that to get by Momiji either and wasn't surprised when as if on cue, she prodded him.
"You thought it was because of what?" she inquired, turning to gaze absently at the two people they were talking about.
"Never mind – that doesn't have anything to do with what we're talking about," he hedged, and then a slight teasing note crept into his voice. "And besides, you ladies aren't the only ones with secrets."
Momiji's discontented grumbling at his remark made him chuckle softly but to keep her from lodging a complaint he tried to sidetrack her with his other explanation.
"Murakumo has been brooding about the absence of his daughter. He hasn't been able to feel her energy for quite some time – my guess is she went missing at around the same time that Midori conceived. I just think that the arrogant blockhead would have made the connection, had he stopped to think about it at all."
"Well, the doctors did say that she wouldn't be able to have children," Momiji pointed out.
"Yeah, but since when has Murakumo really listened to anything any human has to say?" Kusanagi asked derisively.
"He listens to Midori – "
"Of course he does – but that's different," Kusanagi exclaimed impatiently.
"Why is it different?" Momiji mused, slowly sitting up straighter and rubbing at a sudden, mild contraction.
"Because he loves her!" he exclaimed unable to stop himself from gesticulating irritably towards the other couple.
Momiji ignored his crankiness, her smile beaming as their gazes met. "Do you really think so?"
Kusanagi rolled his eyes. "Of course! Why else would he – "
Damn! He was such an idiot!he thought in exacerbation.
"-But never mind about that," he harrumphed dismissively, his brows falling into a heavy frown over his eyes.
"No, no," Momiji protested, shifting on the blanket so that she was half turned in his direction. "There's no 'never mind' now. That's twice you've started to say something, and twice you've refused to tell me. I want to know what it is you're hiding," she demanded firmly, her green eyes pinned to him.
"Nothing," he replied with a shrug, his answer coming just a shade too quickly.
Momiji just gave him a long look. With a soft sigh, she turned back around, her eyes drifting back to Murakumo and Midori who still stood poised on the hillside. At least now, she thought with a small slice of satisfaction, they were finally facing each other, albeit awkwardly.
"No fair, Kusanagi," she murmured over her shoulder to her husband, "I told you my 'secret'," she nodded towards Midori. "You know I don't keep things from you, no matter what they are –" she trailed off waiting for him to relent like she knew he would. If she really wanted to know, he would usually tell her.
It wasn't that he didn't want to tell her, he thought in consternation. But after Murakumo had shocked him by coming to him seeking council and Kusanagi had stiffly given it, the dark and arrogant Aragami had again reverted to his familiar, lofty air and with a cold stare, had proclaimed, "I trust you will keep this conversation just between you and me."
Kusanagi had shrug negligently and replied, "I don't see what you're so worried about. Who am I gonna tell?"
The knowing look on Murakumo's face had been insulting when he'd replied snidely, "Your wife."
Kusanagi had scowled then, and was goaded into saying, "You can relax, your Immenseness. I won't say anything to Momiji."
And up until today, the memory of that conversation had kept "his secret" from being divulged. Somehow, now, though, it felt wrong to have kept it from her. She was right. She kept nothing from him. Why should he let the attitude from someone whose opinion he'd never given a damn about anyway keep him from telling her?
With a resigned sigh, he began, "It's been, I don't know, maybe six weeks – right before Murakumo began worrying about not being able to sense his daughter anymore - but out of the blue he told me that he was concerned with how things were between he and Midori."
Momiji gave her husband a startled look, her eyes flying to the man they were talking about. "He did?"
"Yep," Kusanagi replied shortly, adding ruefully "I know. At the time, I couldn't believe it either. But it's true. He did.
"He was concerned about how she recently seemed troubled – almost fearful in a way…" Kusanagi paused trying to remember exactly how he'd put it. "As if she was afraid she'd drive him away with a word or an action. It bothered him, because he thought they had settled that issue long ago. He wanted to know what humans do in a situation like that."
"And what did you tell him," Momiji asked curiously.
"To be perfectly honest, I didn't know what to tell him, Momiji," Kusanagi replied with chagrin. His face assumed an introspective look as he narrowed his eyes against the bright sunshine and looked towards the horizon, his eyes flickering thoughtfully over Midori and Murakumo at the same time.
"I know you've treated her well, that she seems happy when I see her," he remembered telling Murakumo. "But maybe she needs to know that the love she gives you is important. It's hardly likely that you'll ever confess your feelings to her," he'd remarked realistically, a little surprised at the sharp look he'd received for it, "but perhaps you can at least show her that you're committed to her..."
"I told him that if he wanted to show his commitment to her, he should ask her to marry him," Kusanagi said aloud. "If insecurity was the issue, then perhaps that would solve it. And if that didn't work, then the only thing left would be to tell her that he loved her -- if he had the guts for it, that is."
"No!" Momiji gasped incredulously. "You didn't say that?! -- Did you really say that?!"
Bringing his gaze back to her, he grinned roguishly.
"Yep. Really and truly."
"So that was your big secret?" Momiji bubbled with excitement. "He's going to ask her to marry him?"
"Yep. That was it."
"Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!" she gasped putting her hands to her mouth. "What an eventful day this is going to be! Maybe she will even get a confession of love from him too!"
"Well I wouldn't hold my breath for that one, Princess," Kusanagi warned lazily, his demeanor rapidly changing as he heard his wife gasp again her hands dropping away from her face to rest upon her stomach. "Momiji?" he asked, sitting up and leaning towards her in concern.
"Baby! Baby!" Noa's small voice piped as he ran towards them, the mitamas in his hands glowing brightly. "She's ready to say hello!" he cried excitedly, putting his miniature hand with its glowing bead upon Momiji's stomach. "I like her, Miji," the toddler grinned in happiness, "she seems nice, like you!"
"Good god, I knew it," Kusanagi muttered full of dread. "I knew coming up here was a bad idea! You've gone into labor haven't you?"
His voice was so accusing that Momiji laughed.
"What are you laughing at?" he demanded peevishly, waving his hand around "we are nowhere near a hospital!"
"Calm down, Kusanagi," Momiji replied. The laughter was gone, but there was muted amusement in her voice. "We have plenty of time to get to the hospital. The pains just started –"
"We're leaving now," he cut in ill temperedly, turning his head, he shouted, "Midori, Murakumo!" and then scowled when the couple ignored him, caught up in an embrace.
'I think they've come to some sort of agreement," Momiji noted with soft glee.
Kusanagi ground his teeth in frustration as he bent and picked up his wife, ignoring her protest that she could walk. "Well that's just too bad!" he growled marching in their direction, Noa coming up to trail alongside when Kusanagi called his name.
"Kusanagi, I think you're over-reacting," Momiji protested again, "I'm perfectly fine to walk, in fact the doctor said walking helps to speed the labor along –"
His eyes jerked in her direction then and he gave her a meaningful look, "Why do we want to speed it up now? Right this minute, out here in the middle of nowhere, Momiji? And I think you've done enough walking this afternoon, don't you?"
Momiji put up her hands in surrender and gave him an innocuous look, "Okay, Kusanagi." She refrained from telling him that labor could drag on for hours since he probably wasn't going to listen at this point anyway. Instead, she remained meekly quiet as he curtly interrupted Midori and Murakumo. They broke apart immediately and after a clipped explanation, everyone quickly cleaned up the picnic spot and then moved back towards the main trails on the mountain where they could catch the cable car back down to the bottom.
When they finally reached the cable car, Kusanagi finally put Momiji back on her feet, and they all crowded around her. Very conscious of her condition, both Kusanagi and Midori would ask her from time to time if she was doing okay, though Midori was much calmer about it than her husband. Murakumo remained silent the entire time, but Momiji was struck by the fact that he seemed to be keenly interested in her condition.
And then she realized why: he'd never witnessed the pregnancy of Noa's mother, nor the actual birth, and he'd just learned that Midori was pregnant, so it was understandable for him to be curious. All the way down the mountain and in the car on the way to the hospital, the pains stayed regular, and Momiji was relieved when they finally pulled into the parking lot, because the contractions were getting closer and closer together. They were also becoming sharper.
Everyone was there, waiting inside: her mother and grandmother; Mr. and Mrs. Kunikida; Kome, Yaegashi and their seven month old baby boy; Sugishita, Matsudaira, and even the glamorous Sakura. Kusanagi had called her mother who had been staying with them in Tokyo on the way to hospital and she must have contacted everyone else as well, Momiji thought, offering them a tight smile as another pain hit her.
It wasn't until the light had faded from the windows and most of the city had fallen asleep before Momiji was able to smile easily again. But thirteen hours and fifteen minutes after that, holding her newborn baby girl with her husband at her side, the smile was back, unrestrained and untinged with pain.
"Isn't she the most beautiful thing you've ever seen?" Momiji whispered.
"No," came Kusanagi's murmured reply, his eyes illuminated with tenderness as he tilted his head sideways and lifted his hand to stroke his wife's cheek, "but she comes a close second."
Then he leaned forward, kissing the soft chubby cheek of the chestnut headed cherub in Momiji's arms they had named Mai before moving up to give his wife a soft kiss, whispering against her cheek, "What was that you were saying about an eventful day, Princess?"
"Well I meant for Midori and Murakumo," Momiji grinned tiredly. "I didn't exactly have this in mind when I said it."
"Maybe not, but this was the only part that mattered to me," Kusanagi declared, stretching his arms above his head as he leaned back in his chair. "Although I did find out that you won't have to hold your breath where Midori and Murakumo are concerned."
His tone was lethargic as he spoke but his eyes were still bright as they watched her.
Momiji perked up momentarily at that. "Are you saying what I think you're saying?" she asked incredulously.
"Well, if you think I'm saying that Midori told Murakumo about the baby and that he asked her to marry him after telling her he cared for her, then yes, you are correct."
Her expression fell a little at that. "That's it? He didn't tell her that he loved her? Just that he cared?"
Kusanagi sat a little straighter in his chair at that and exclaimed softly so as to not wake the baby up, "Well, Momiji, it's a start! For someone who abhors humans, I think it's incredible that he's admitted that much! And it seemed to send Midori over the moon! The only reason I know about it is because she was excitedly telling your mother about it out in the hallway earlier this evening," adding with a dry look, "-- while Murakumo was out of earshot, or course."
Momiji smiled after a moment, and nodded her head. "As long as she's happy. That's what I care most about."
"Me too," Kusanagi agreed, "and she seems to be happy."
"What about you?" Momiji asked shooting him a long look. "Are you happy?" She looked down at Mai sleeping in her arms, hesitating a long moment before adding in a neutral way, "your daughter… has mitamas…"
"I'm deliriously happy," Kusanagi interrupted vehemently, reaching out and squeezing his wife's arm reassuringly. "She's beautiful, just like you, and I know that she will grow into a strong, independent, young woman. She's perfect, Momiji," he told her earnestly. "You're perfect! -- In fact, in this one moment, everything feels so frighteningly perfect!"
Momiji gave him a searching look and then bowed her head in grateful acceptance, a smile playing at the corner of her lips at her husband's abashed expression.
"Perfectly frightening, Kusanagi?" she asked with a quirk of her eyebrow.
"Yes!" he baldly agreed, pointing a teasing finger at her, "but, it's the kind of terror I want for the rest of my life!"
Can you believe it!? I FINALLY FINALLY finished it!!! If you stuck around until the end, I bow humbly before you and offer my thanks. It was a long story. I hope it brought some closure for you. If you enjoyed it, let me know. If you didn't enjoy it, let me know. If you're interest in what I'll be writing next, keep an eye out for it - it will be a piece on Inuyasha. If you hate Inuyasha then I offer my condolences to you and point you in the direction of the plethora of stories on just about any anime out there you can find here or at If you have gotten tired of anime altogether and have a taste for something similar yet different at the same time, and want to hang out with me some more, I will eventually be penning original fiction -- once I get my style a little more wrinkle free, that is . Thanks again for spending some time with me!