Kohaku scowled as he brushed aside a rampantly growing bush, feeling the tenseness in his face and relishing in it for a moment, because he made that expression, without any controls or restrictions. Ten years after Naraku's destruction and he still wondered at being free. Even if he'd rather die than continue on living.
Ten years of guilt unceasing, eating away like a cancer in his soul.
Ten years of nightmares plaguing his every night, his every dawn, his every step.
Ten years of seeking redemption and fruitlessly finding only empty feelings.
A branch he shoved aside whipped backwards and struck him, bruising his chest with a rough snap.
He scowled deeper, and irritably hacked the vegetation apart with angry contempt, his swing deadly but vicious.
A nearby village, upon seeing his demon slayer uniform, had promptly begged him to help them deal with a mysterious ghost woman living in the woods. Weary and half dead on the inside, Kohaku agreed.
Pure white, an ethereal beauty who stalks the shadows with a glowing aura of youkai energy...
Knowing my luck, he thought darkly, it's probably just some old hag.
His legs took him deeper, down into the darker areas of the forest where rampant growth had obscured the sun. It fit his rather dark mood this morning.
However, a sudden break in the darkness caused him to flinch reflexively, covering his eyes as he entered a rather tranquil glade. Filled with bright beaming sunlight, it contrasted his still irritated mood.
Standing rather shabbily in the center of the clearing was a lone ramshackle hut, barely held together, with a half gone straw roof that looked as though it had seen endless nights and walls that were darkened with age and rot.
Kohaku couldn't hold back a small smile as he thought that it fit himself quite well. Stepping closer, hand drifting reflexively to his weapon, he called out, "Hello? Is anyone home?"
Only silence and sunlight reigned supreme.
Sighing, he decided that he should at least check in. Unhitching his scythe from his hip, Kohaku slowly, cautiously made his way toward the hut, well aware of any movement around him.
Growing up in the shadow of Naraku had done it's work well.
Or maybe that had been death.
As he put his foot inside the hut, however, a voice spoke unexpectedly from the shadowy void around him.
"Why are you here?"
He knew that voice.
His scythe was already raised before he even realized what was happening. Kohaku's hardened brown eyes met the empty darkness of Kanna's.
"There's no need for that." She said quietly, her tone so soft it may as well have been a whisper in the storm.
"Maybe, maybe not." Kohaku replied tersely, not moving, not striking. Kanna may not have ever caused him harm, but she was still Naraku's incarnation. Naraku's child.
His eyes narrowed and he inwardly seethed. His hands begged him to let them strike, to let them tear the life out of this Naraku spawn and see if she bled.
He didn't move.
"I thought you were dead, like the others." By others, he meant those other Naraku incarnations. Like Naraku. "How did you escape?"
She didn't answer. Kohaku briefly thought back to what he could glean from others who were present at the battle. No mention of the white haired girl.
As he reflected in quiet repose, he allowed his eyes to gauge her- gauge her, not eye her, he affirmed. Her skin was white like death, and her near luminous kimono shimmered in the darkness with ivory. She was a human woman in all senses but the human sense. Everything about her was pure white death, save her eyes, which betrayed themselves with their hungry void.
Kohaku wondered if she would try to dodge his blade.
He wondered if he would even strike.
She stood, and he reflexively stepped back, raising his weapon. He didn't speak, somehow tapping into that mute silence through which he lived his younger days-not his childhood, which had long since been dead- shadowed by Naraku.
Kanna pulled two cups from a battered, broken down makeshift cabinet. They were grungy and dirty and covered with filth.
Kohaku was irritated at her pitiful attempts to pretend she was normal. She was a spawn of Naraku, he wanted to scream, bring his scythe down and split her from white hair to white feet.
"I don't want a drink." He said rudely, coldly, trying to harm her with words alone.
Kanna didn't seem to care either, setting one cup down and picking up the other. She poured herself a small amount of water, and drank, not caring about the light brown mix her water had taken.
He tried to picture Naraku on her face as she did, tried to find that hidden malice.
It was harder than he expected.
He stays around. He wants to watch her.
For the village, of course.
Which proves rather hazardous.
Because being around Kanna feels like being back around Naraku.
So it was in the heat of the fading summer that Kohaku felt himself trapped back in the past. It was comforting in a perverse way.
At least the past had constants.
His sister's face, filled with unshed tears was a constant.
Naraku's face, filled with calculating hatred was a constant.
Death was a constant.
The Shikon shard that had once resided in his back reminded him of it every day.
So did the scar that lay there now.
Lying there like a corpse on his back.
She died for him.
He should have known, really.
Probably would have if he'd known who she was before it happened.
He still tasted the blood in the air from that day. Her throat wept fierce tears of kinsblood that flowed over him, baptizing him into new life as she passed away, slain by Naraku.
The monk was the one who pried the corpse of the one they loved off of Kohaku. Afterward, as though unable to contain an angry beast brewing in him, he struck Kohaku, angrily.
It was once.
But it was enough to break them both.
The monk apologized quietly, as though in counterpoint to his angry fist, his weary face a mask of tears.
Kohaku tried to smile through a broken nose and bloodied teeth to wave it away.
He managed a half dead sort of thing that looked sadder than anything Miroku had ever seen before.
Little by little, Naraku is dying before Kohaku's eyes again.
This time, it's Kanna slaying him.
Kanna who stumbles as she tries to make firewood.
Kanna whose hands bleed from blisters as she strikes rock together.
Kanna who blunders through life like an eternal newborn.
After all, Naraku never bled before him. Naraku didn't have to try to live.
And he never let Kanna try it either.
It was sad, in a way.
So, out of pity more than anything, he began to show her life. He cut apart the firewood with his scythe. He struck the rocks with practiced ease, and cleaned the cups and hut.
He feels oddly useful while doing it.
Something he hadn't felt slaying demons, saving children and generally being what his father always wanted him to be.
In a way, being useful felt a lot like being dead again.
There were times when he regretted ever pulling himself free, gasping and breathing in harshly empty air, dirt filled mouth spewing earth, sputtering and crawling free, hatched from the breast of the earth itself.
Kohaku missed death. Not the sensation of creeping cold or blood on his lips but the knowledge that one time, he was truly and completely free.
Being useful made him feel free too.
Kohaku decided he would stay for a little while longer.
Summer was dead and gone and autumn was breezing in, slow as you please.
Kanna didn't need to eat or drink, really, Kohaku had come to understand, something he never grasped while existing beside her in the darkness of Naraku.
But she tried.
Because she was trying to live, as though life were some curious new toy that she was poking around with. Her skin had been soft as a newborn, and now she was full of the scrapes and aches and cuts of life.
Yet she persevered, trying to live by some unknown desire.
Kohaku, on the other hand wore the scars of having lived, died, and been reborn.
In short, he was rather tired of life.
The varying shades of red reminded him of blood, and Kohaku preferred now to stay inside and sleep in, or, upon failing that, lay there until other needs demanded his attention
As always, he would lay opposite of Kanna, whose face remained composed and lifeless as if in death.
And he would stare at her, mesmerized by that chilly embrace from which he was once pulled free from.
Some days, she would stare back, and he'd be drawn back in, only to be reminded by his body that he still lived.
He liked and loathed those days the most.
He had been saved by two women he tried to kill.
It was funny, in a cruel, ironic, not funny sort of way.
Kagome had begged and pleaded and shouted and screamed as Sango laid atop Kohaku, in a position that the two had once died in before, her face nothing but tears and redness.
Rin, less prone to such things, tugged on the daiyoukai Sesshomaru's clothing, as if pleading with him to listen to the woman's cries and save the boy.
The demon had stood there for a long time, as if contemplating, weighing, as though he were God, deciding who should live and who should die.
In that moment, he was the closest thing to God there was anyway.
And then, with a single blow, saved Kohaku, ripping him free from the sweet nothingness he had embraced, giving life where it had already been given twice before.
Rin smiled happily, her face young and hopeful, like an angel singing praises.
Kagome sniffled and let out a half smile, expecting the rest, expecting the second strike from this unlikely savior.
It never came.
"This Sesshomaru was asked only to save one mortal, and only one he shall save."
That was the second time Kohaku tried to raise a blade against the demon.
This time, Sesshomaru didn't even give him attention, tugging a shocked Rin away and vanishing.
Behind him, Sango's body finished crying a river of blood.
Winter was almost upon them, whispering itself on the trees and on the land with white words and cold feelings.
If he was ever going to leave this place, leave death, leave Kanna, it had to be today.
The week passes by in barely a blink to him.
Ivory begins to swirl and dance and make its merry way throughout the forest, bringing slumber, rest, and death.
The snow outside seems to make Kanna glow more than usual.
It should, because, after all, Kanna and winter are much the same. Death colored white.
Kohaku rather likes the winter.
The dingy, though more livable hut is cold at nights. So cold that Kohaku curls up and tries his best to ignore the cutting wind by pretending he is dead again.
Kanna doesn't move at all.
Eventually, he gives up and scoots a little closer to Kanna, knowing body heat would make him a warmer. Yet as he moves closer, he feels a burning cold, a freezing heat. The void.
Kanna's eyes open, and she stares at him with unblinking emptiness. Or perhaps she is staring through him, past him, and seeing the end of everything.
Kohaku lets himself be burned and moves closer. Kanna, to his surprise, scoots a tiny bit closer as well, still staring, but he's more certain that she can see him.
They stay there, Kohaku burning in cold fire, and Kanna, simply living.
"Will you teach me to live?" Kanna asks one day, deep in the season of white death, of cold and ivory blackness. She is still radiant death, and still as chillingly beautiful as a winter sunset.
Kohaku doesn't know if he could. He's hated living for a long time. It's a tiring thing, and he's done it more than most.
Except living here hasn't felt so bad. Living in the shadow of death.
Exactly who is teaching whom, Kohaku thought sardonically.
"I think I already am." Kohaku replied, and planted a kiss on her lips, feather soft.
She tastes of snow and death.
And he is happy to be lost in that storm of ivory.
Death has passed, and life renews, as always.
Green, vibrantly defiant as it spreads forth from the white death that has covered it for so long. The sun shines again, pleased to return to a time of renewal.
Animals begin to awaken, and life picks up where it left off, and is reborn.
And the two occupants of a small, barely held together hut began learning to live again.
Kohaku lived in the most basic ways he could, hunting and cleaning and cooking and sewing. Kanna slowly picked up on each skill, each piece of life slowly falling like a puzzle.
They live, and they are happy.
The season passes as it does, growing brighter and brighter, until spring swells and explodes and only summer in all its heat remains.
Kohaku laid down next to Kanna as he always did, no longer cold and already used to the burning.
As he closed his eyes, Kanna spoke, always a rare thing and still as softly cutting as a knife in the dark.
"Will you stay?"
It was quiet, and had the barest traces of humanity struggling to breathe
Could he? Would he?
The burning stopped for a moment when she spoke, he noticed. And her voice had no trace of chains or binding on it.
He was still free.
Free to do whatever he wanted.
Kohaku half smiled something almost happy and pressed his lips to her snow white hair.
Anyone can learn to live.
Even those dead twice over, even those who've never tried.