I seriously don't write enough for this pairing. They are so tragic and sad and lovely together.
Sometimes Shippou really hates. He's not sure who, but he knows there's someone out there that really deserves it.
Mostly Shippou wanders, but sometimes he returns and hands out candy to the curious children, flowers to the graves. He makes the head of the village nervous, he knows, but he also knows the head of the village is too uncomfortable with asking a monk to leave to actually do it.
Miroku taught him a lot. Most of it was useless.
It has always been Souten's secret, shameful desire to die in her bed, in her sleep. She does not want the grandeur that the walls of her ancestral home are seeped in, and one day she up and leaves, graves and ghosts and everything.
The next morning she is back, sobbing into stone slabs, begging the forgiveness of those that can not hear her.
Shippou never really appreciated Inuyasha. He realizes that, now, as he struggles to control the boat, that he'd struggled to purchase, down the melted-snow-flooded river. He struggles to control his stomach, as well, which he does, until he docks.
The inhabitants of the closest village give him funny looks, for it is not everyday you see a holy man kneeling in the mud, emptying his stomach into the reeds. They move further upstream to do their laundry.
Souten is asked for, pestered, harassed for atonement. For retribution. For revenge so richly, so obviously and righteously deserved.
All Souten asks for is peace.
Shippou has met this problem before. Not all monks are frauds, after all.
"Why are you wearing the garb of a monk? What mischief do you intend to make?"
"None that could live up to his name, I'm sure."
Shippou has overcome this problem before. Monks are so just, their causes so predictable. He slips past purification with practiced ease.
Sometimes Souten hates. She's not sure why, but she knows there must be a good reason.
She's moved into the courtyard; she can't sleep in the castle anymore. The grinding of the walls keeps her awake; they scrape together, close in.
When Nobunaga makes it too difficult to do otherwise he strips, digs a hole in the earth, and buries the old robes. He stands there for a very long time, looking down at the freshly turned earth, and feels a strange sunken feeling in his lower abdomen. Like emotion has to be torn out of him. He sucks in a short breath, and it whistles between his clenched teeth.
"They're just clothes. Just some god damn clothes."
He doesn't take a souvenir, because that's stupid. That isn't him. Just some god damn clothes.
He goes to a restaurant, but they don't have any ramen. No candy, either. No chips or soda or hot dogs cut up like octopuses. He orders tea and sips it slowly and notices a man in the corner notice him. Nudge his friend and gesture with the slightest dip of the chin.
When he slips out, the man and his friend follow. They grab his wrist, looking at the hips that would have bore a hundred sons, if they'd only gotten the chance. They don't look at the hidden arm-knife until it springs forth and slices their faces open.
Souten believes strongly in the separation of the body and the soul, the life spark. She has to, she can't believe that's how it ends, swallowed up by the earth, food for the worms. Grand kings couldn't rot away. Valiant princes couldn't decay. It couldn't end like that.
It just couldn't.
Shippou moves with the weather; when it is hot he hikes up into the mountains and sleeps in trees. He catches fish and makes small fires to cook them with. He no longer burns them. He finds mushrooms and nuts and berries and eats them straight from the forest floor. Sometimes he makes stew, but it never comes out right. He doesn't know what he's doing wrong.
Once, he saw Sesshoumaru.
In his dreams at night he would tell himself, this is how it should have happened: he should have yelled at him, used every word he'd ever heard Inuyasha use; he should have hated him and menaced him, because it was so much easier to blame the ones who did nothing and accomplished nothing than to blame the ones who did everything and still accomplished nothing.
But this is how it happened:
He froze where he was crouched, bent over the fire, in the mid-motion of removing a fish from a stick. He looked at Sesshoumaru. Sesshoumaru looked at him.
He kept walking. Dimly, fuzzily, as if someone could put vision on mute, Shippou noticed a little woman, gray and wrinkled, bundled up on the dragon. Shippou followed their progress with his eyes, but he did not turn his head. They didn't disappear into the forest so much as the forest just reached out and drew them in.
The feeling came back to his fingers. They'd burned. Shippou ate the fish, but it stuck to his throat.
Once, Souten's mother told her a bedtime story.
It was not a particularly important story - there was no real moral, no real hero, no motivation more powerful than self-preservation. There was no romance, except the sort one might find between man and the world, between one being and the wholeness of everything. It was not a long story. It was, it a fact, a very short one.
One day, her mother said, there was a young boy who went to war, but he didn't want to. In the middle of the fight he ran into the brush, holed up in a trench, and stayed there, breathing dirt through his nose, and just sank in. He stayed there so long, so still, just breathing in the earth, that he himself turned into it.
But Mama, Souten said, didn't anyone miss him? Didn't anyone go looking for him?
No, her mother said. Because, you see, he never existed, dear.
The weather gets warmer, so Shippou collects his things and heads for the valley. He picks some berries and carries them in his fist, popping them into his mouth as he walks. It is easier, traveling this way, because people are more likely to help a lone, pretty woman than a suspicious monk.
He thinks he will visit the graves today.
Sometimes Souten rakes her brain but can not for the life of her remember what happened to Koryuu. She just remembers there was a time when he was around and now there is a time when he is not, but the two seem divided. Like there's nothing connecting them.
Sometimes Souten remembers. And those are the times when she wakes up screaming.
They wanted to be buried under the Goshinboku, but the roots of the tree made it simply impossible.
Shippou doesn't really remember the way they died. He would like to say it was brave - that their deaths mattered, that they did not have their lives stolen but in fact sacrificed them. But he can't be sure. He doesn't remember.
This is what he remembers:
The sun setting, staining the sky pink and orange; Kagome, with a torn and bloody uniform, and thinking back wasn't that a bit sad, trying to force her wardrobe into conformity while her world spun sideways?; Kagome, standing off to the side and just watching and not being able to stop crying; Inuyasha, back bent, trying to dig graves into unyielding earth; Inuyasha, not crying, not talking, not yelling, not making a sound, and in this way being more silent than the two corpses beside him.
This is what he remembers:
Kaede, quietly making funeral arrangements; Kaede, forcing food down Kagome's throat; Kaede, wrapping her arms around Inuyasha's shoulders as they shook and he put his forehead on her chest and made a noise Shippou had never heard a grown man make before; Kaede, holding him when they both fell into the well; Kaede, dying.
She should have had children. That, in his memory-drunk haze, is all he could think. She should have had children. She should have had lots of children. He could picture them, could guess their names. Standing in front of Sango and Miroku and Kaede's graves, he imagined personalities for them - flaws and quirks and habits, and the longer he thought of it the sadder he got, and wasn't that ridiculous? Because he was missing people that had never gotten the chance to exist more than the one's who had lost it.
The head of the village has ambled up, justifiably suspicious. "What are you doing here?"
"The monk," Shippou says, without looking up. "He wanted me to visit for him."
"Houshi-sama?" The head of the village looks surprised. "Then he is-?"
"What killed him?" the head of the village says quickly with no sign of remorse. They are the kind of person that liked hearing the details.
"Life," Shippou says. "Life killed them."
When Souten wants fresh water she puts out buckets and collects the rain. All local water sources dried up long ago, save a single pond. Souten goes there in the summer, but she doesn't like it. Still water tastes old and does nothing to quench her thirst.
She hates the warmer months. She always feels hungry.
Souten looks at the buckets. There are four of them; the bottom two inches of each is full. She knows, because of the sinking feeling in her gut, that this will be the last rainfall of the season. She pours all the water into one bucket and drinks like a drowning man.
Shippou has gone so long out of his own skin that it doesn't feel like his anymore. The tail, the feet, even the hair is all wrong, and it makes him want to scratch at himself until he splits the skin open and shrugs out of it.
He heads in a completely random direction - that is, he thinks, how all great stories begin, isn't it? They start with no direction and find it along the way; it isn't searching so much as it is discovery, plain and simple.
Shippou thinks he's overdue. He could really do with some of that picture-perfect literary ending right now.
She is fishing, out in the pond, for the small wisps of water life that ghost past her feet. Her legs are chilled and her gut feels like it is caving in on itself, and she is stuck with a constant feeling of nausea, as if she would just roll over and vomit it all out of herself, all the sickness.
She is so concentrated on her task that she doesn't notice him for a very long time.
"I know you," he says, surprised, and she really wishes he hadn't, or didn't, because he shouldn't, and it used to be pretending but now it would be willful ignorance, and Souten may be ignorant of many things but she doesn't have much will left.
Her attack is wild, a little desperate. Not unlike herself. Shippou side steps it easily and grabs her wrists, twists her arm, and overpowers her.
It is both a humiliation and a relief.
"I thought you were done with revenge."
"That doesn't mean it's done with me."
Shippou has never seen anything quite so depressing.
The house is destroyed, completely ransacked. It's not just the normal deterioration one would expect. Someone came through and ripped it apart, someone picked up tables and threw them through paper doors, upended night stands and toppled dressers.
Shippou stands in the courtyard and does a whole circle turn. Shippou looks at the destroyed house; Shippou looks at the lean-to Souten has constructed, at the cooking pot propped up against the wall and the bed she pulled out to warm in the sun; and then Shippou looks at Souten.
"You have to leave," he says.
"Yes, you can," he says, and feels angry, or desperate.
She's quiet. Then she's nodding.
They don't take anything. She doesn't want to, though she tries to, and slaps him when he wrenches the broken weapon shaft out of her hands and throws it away.
They walk, and when it gets dark they stop on the side of the road, and when it gets cold they light a fire.
When the moon finally raises above the trees, Souten stands stiffly and begins to move away.
"Where are you going?"
She stops, and her mouth opens, but no sound comes out. She frowns at him and tries again.
"You're not going back."
"I have to."
"You're not going back."
"You don't understand."
He grabs her shoulder; she drives her elbow into his gut. He grunts, doubles over, and she runs.
He trips her, or rather trips himself and takes her down with him. She spits out dirt, coughs it out of her lungs, and tries to roll off of her stomach, tries to shove him off at the same time. But he has the advantage, and when she tries to hit him he grabs her wrists, and when she tries to kick him he sits on her legs, and when she starts to cry he lays on top of her and hisses "Sshh, sshh," into her hair.
In the morning her face is dry, and Shippou rolls over. From his position he can't see the fringes of trees, nor the peaks of mountains. All there is is sky, pressing down on the world.
He licks his lips and thinks that, for such a great big something, it sure feels like nothing. He turns his head to look at Souten, who is mouthing words.
"Everyone keeps saying it's easier to give up, but it isn't." She's crying again, but it's a sophisticated sort, the kind you give when someone had to die, when they were ready to die, but they were still dying. "Why did we end up alone?"
"This isn't the end yet," Shippou protests, swears, and he wants her to stop looking like that.
"I want you to stop looking like that."
Shippou is taken aback.
"Like that," she says, gesturing feebly at his face. "Like you're expecting I'm going to die."
Shippou is silent for a while. Then he says, "You love me, don't you?"
"It comes and goes."
"Yeah," he says. "It does."