Authors' Note: I was very pleased with the response that this story received. So this shall complete the journey and tie up any loose ends. Thanks again for your wonderful reviews along the way. Take care dear readers!
Epilogue: Because You Live
-We cannot change our past. We can not change the fact that people act in a certain way. We can not change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude—Charles R. Swindoll
They say that just before you die your life flashes before your eyes. It's in that very moment that you are overwhelmed with every wonderful moment within your existence. However, it is also at that time that you realize every regret or disappointment you have ever experienced. And you ask yourself, am I truly meant to die now? Couldn't I be allowed to achieve the things I never had? And the same holds true for an exorcist by the name of Ichinomiya Kantarou…
The exorcist sat, seated upright in the white sheeted bed, staring out the window, his left eye clouded from thought, and the smell of antiseptic in the air as the rising sun's rays created ghastly shadows on the beige walls of the tiny hospital room.
Outside the room he could hear this beloved grandmother speaking with the doctor who had treated him when Haruka and the others had arrived the evening before. His mind registered the words, eye and heart yet the exorcist had already heard it once before.
"Ichinomiya-san," began the doctor as he regarded his patient, holding a medical chart in hand, "You should know that I can see no reason why your vision in your right eye won't fully heal given time; however, the wound that you received created a substantial amount of damage. Not only did you lose a massive amount of blood, but you have two or three fractured ribs, and sustained an even bigger risk to your heart. It would be wise not to over do it, you should—"
The exorcist turned toward his physician, his right eye covered, with traces of dried blood still evident on his cheek and gave a faint smile.
"I appreciate your concern but—"
"Ichinomiya-san, you do not understand. What I am trying to say is that your heart—
"Now it is you who does not understand," the exorcist's voice was firm, "What good is a heart if it is never used?"
He found himself absentmindedly fingering the thick bandages covering his chest. The oni had torn his chest open in almost the same location it had once done before when he was but a child.
His left eye narrowed as he felt a familiar presence and turned his head, the crimson orb in his left eye falling upon a figure hidden in the shadows of a corner in the room.
"So the rumors were true. I had to know before I left this village if you truly had returned from the dead, Ichinomiya."
The exorcist watched as the figure pushed away from the wall, the steps softly echoing on the tile floor as the shadows retracted from her body, her face coming into view.
"You truly are stronger than I had expected. Of course, I realized that in order to control the Onikui Tengu one would have to possess great power. But even Minamoto Raikou couldn't have anticipated that you would kill the priestess and leave yourself dying before he was able to unbind the contract that is in effect."
He watched as the oni gave a smile in what would appear to be appreciation, before being so forward as to take a seat on the edge of the bed.
"You do realize that your control over the Onikui Tengu will eventually end…"
"What do you want, Ibaragi?" responded the exorcist, his eye fixated on her and cutting to the chase after having had quite enough mind games.
She smiled, closing her eyes as she made her comment known, "I want you to know that I enjoyed your performance. I have only witnessed one other mortal fight so strongly for his existence," her smile grew as she continued, "perhaps you two are more alike than you let on."
The exorcist wanted to say that he and his rival were nothing alike; however, how could he when the statement would be a lie? Both strived to be the best within their field, yet while one was seeking power, the other was seeking knowledge.
"Your silence strengthens my point. I won't keep you too much longer for Raikou-sama will be calling and it wouldn't do to have him see me conversing in the room of his enemy."
Kantarou watched as she silently stood, the wrinkles of her dress straightening in the process. Ibaragi's eyes were fixed intently on his face, "I know what I saw and I heard no breath, nor did I sense any life force coming from your motionless body. You had lost far too much blood for any mere mortal to have endured. So tell me, Ichinomiya Kantarou, how it is that you live?"
"I live for the sake of protecting those around me. I would not expect someone like you to fully understand."
She laughed, watching as his gaze returned to the outside world beyond the glass of the small window, "Fair enough," she glided across the room, as if ready to exit through the door, "Oh and exorcist?" she turned her head, catching his eye, "Raikou-sama didn't really want to kill you, he enjoys the competition far too greatly. Having you bare witness to the awaking of the Onikui Tengu would have been more his style."
The exorcist's fingers clenched the bed sheets, "Tell Minamoto that I shall never break my contract with Haruka to further his ambitions!" He pulled himself up from the bed and stood before her, "Tell Minamoto I will—
His strength gave way as a wave of nausea coursed throughout his body; he staggered forward but in the end fell to the floor, the accompanying crash of the stand holding the IV drip and the heart monitor raising the alarm.
The oni arched an eyebrow watching the few drops of blood stain the tiled floor after the exorcist broke out in a series of coughs, "Do try to calm down, it won't do us any good if you die before we have recovered the Onikui Tengu."
She turned her head, hearing footsteps and sighed, "Until next time Ichinomiya Kantarou."
He heard footsteps quickening and the door knob turn as the last traces of her energy dissipated in the air and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. The look of alarm on the Onikui Tengu's face as he burst into the room stated that he had felt Ibaragi's presence.
The tired exorcist gave a small smile, "Haruka? What brings you here?" Apparently he hadn't lost his sense of humor, as he sat on the cold floor, the rise and fall of his chest indicating how labored his breathing was.
He looked up, his eye falling on Youko standing in the doorway, with a look of fright on her features.
"Kan-chan!" she exclaimed, seeing her master sitting in a heap, the IV stand lying across the floor, the contents of the bag flowing, the front of the loose white kimono had come open baring the bandages on his chest that were now seeping crimson.
"Go get the doctor, Youko!" hollered the tengu, breaking the youkai of her daze and watching as she quickly turned and followed his order.
"Kantarou, did she…"
"If you mean, Ibaragi," he tried to push himself up off the floor yet his strength was lost to him as he faltered, leaning against Haruka's arm he continued his chest heaving, "No she merely told me that she was sent to confirm my survival."
"Kantarou, why do you—
His master closed his left eye and smiled his hand against the tengu's arm that was bracing him, "Because it is why I live. I live to protect my important people. I will protect them until the day I die."
"Kantarou, can't you ever think about yourself for once?"
The tengu could not see the exorcist's visible eye, how the crimson orb had softened when he stated, in that serious voice that rarely shined through, "Oddly enough, I don't believe that I've ever tried."
Kantarou's departure from the village had not happened without an abundance of food from Kaoru and an exclamation of must he be going so soon from her granddaughter. He held his grandmother tightly as they stood at the train stop.
Haruka watched the exchange from his seat on board the train an arched an eyebrow in response.
"Arigato grandmother," his master stated with a bow of respect, "It is because of you that I am who I am. For you are the only one after my father died who ever believed in me."
The elderly woman smiled, tears reflecting in her eyes as took his face in her hands and kissed his cheek.
"It was not hard to do, for I loved you the moment we met. You reminded me so very much of your grandfather so full of energy," she couldn't help but laugh, "My life was never dull because of you. In fact, I still have junk in my closet that you brought home. Keep it for a rainy day I believe is what you said."
Kantarou turned and smiled at Miyu who had remained silently at her grandmother's side, "Miyu-chan?"
"Hai, Kantarou?" replied the girl, her eyes widening as he gently took hold of her shoulders.
"Will you consider it a favor to me, if I ask you to look after Kaoru?"
"Hai, I promise to look after grandmother and—
Her eyes widened as the exorcist kissed her cheek. It was at that moment he thought he heard, we don't know if she's rich, Kan-chan!
He smiled upon the red faced girl, "Arigato Miyu-chan, until next time then."
The train whistle blew signaling their departure, as Kantarou quickly headed for the door.
As he boarded the train he couldn't help but chuckle overhearing his grandmother saying, breathe Miyu, one must remember to breathe and he really IS kawaii.
He would have to make a mental note: Miyu the only girl he had met thus far who didn't have a crush on Haruka. Perhaps things were looking up for the silver haired folklorist.
Kantarou had spent most of the train ride pondering what Minamoto's next move would be. One thing was for sure, as he looked at his companions sleeping faces, was that he would never let any harm come to either.
He looked down with a blink as something moved next to his leg to find a small luggage bag rustling around. When a green head popped out with a Muu he couldn't help but laugh nervously thinking, this won't end well.
To think they were almost home before he and his green companion (lovingly clinging to the side of his face) had been woken up to the accusation of him being a wife stealer.
When they departed from the train station the white tengu was still berating the exorcist who walked onward with a sigh trying to drown out the noise. When his home came into view (he had finally lost the white tengu on the road of life) he found himself stopping for a moment—he never thought that he would see it again.
Youko's voice caught his attention, "Rosary-chan? Hasumi-san?"
When he rounded the corner he found that Rosary was standing in front of Haruka murmuring and Hasumi apologizing for his daughter for he could not understand why she had become so distraught over the folklorist.
"Rosary-chan?" Kantarou called out to her and found a familiar expression on her face, for it had been the same when Suzu had passed on.
She had heard his voice call out to her and she had been overwhelmed with emotion for she was certain that she had felt his death. Her first sight of him caused the lid of the bottle holding her emotions to come off, for his right eye was patched, he had several cuts and bruises visible and the front of the kimono revealed several layers of white bandages across his chest.
He stood perfectly still waiting for the child who had left now Haruka's side and was slowly making her way toward him.
It had been Youko who had taken hold of Hatsumi's arm in an attempt to stop him from pursuing his daughter. She smiled at him with a look of understanding.
Rosary broke out in a run while Kantarou braced himself before he felt her arms wrap around his waist in an act of emotion so seldom of the girl.
The exorcist sighed, a smile on his face and his crimson orb softening as she held him in her embrace. He gently rubbed her head, "Rosary-chan, I never knew that your senses were so heightened. You truly are a special girl."
Hasumi was busy looking from his daughter to Haruka who merely gave a look of indifference toward the entire situation. However, it was Youko who smiled and stated, "Rosary-chan rarely shows emotion. She is really starting to open up, Hasumi-san. You should be glad that she obviously cares a great deal about Kan-chan."
The girl's father wasn't sure how to respond to that comment; however, to see his daughter who was normally so withdrawn from others it did give him a different perspective. Perhaps it was what the folklorist had said to him when he had first brought Rosary to Japan?
How had his daughter known that the exorcist would be in such a state?
"You're so hurt," was her muffled reply, her face buried in the folds of his kimono.
"Ne, it's alright, Rosary-chan," he soothingly informed her, gently rubbing her head, "I'll heal."
She looked up at him, her eyes drilling into his soul, "You will heal physically. Have you already healed emotionally?"
The child never ceased to amaze him; she was truly perceptive in various areas. His hand ceased its movement, remaining on top of her head as he contemplated the best answer.
"I believe I have started down the right path. I have learned a great deal of things on this trip, Rosary-chan."
She beckoned him to lean down; he obliged her with only a slight wince escaping before carefully crouching down before her with a smile.
"Hai, Rosary-chan?" he questioned, in a carefree voice, his crimson orb studying her.
"I'm glad that you're alright," she murmured, before leaning forward and kissing the patch covering his right eye.
The exorcist's left eye widened at her gesture, he watched as she straightened and almost embarrassedly whispered, "I thought that I had lost another friend."
It occurred to the exorcist that this girl was truly a kindred spirit for she had experienced loss just as he and had found herself alone in the world without anyone that she could truly trust. Her situation almost mirrored his own in some respect for just as Kaoru had been his savior, Hatsumi had been hers.
And just like the girl, he too normally restrained his inner emotions, yet in this case he took her in his arms and murmured a simple, "Rosary-chan, arigato."
It truly was a nice evening. Of course, having to climb a roof in order to talk to a tengu was a little difficult in his current condition, but no sense in complaining. Apparently, complaining on his end wasn't necessary for the tengu had plenty of complaints about his baka master climbing a stupid ladder to get to the roof.
"I didn't want to disturb you and make you come down, Haruka," he replied, taking a seat next to the tengu, "Mind if I join you?"
Must have been a rhetorical question…
"Haven't you already?"
"I suppose I have," he replied, rubbing the back of his head nervously, before gazing up at the stars, "You know, I haven't sat on a roof looking at the stars since I was a child."
The tengu gave his master a sideways glance, the only thing visible to him was the smile on Kantarou's face for he was sitting on the tengu's left.
"Haruka, tell me…" he trailed of momentarily, his gaze tilted upward, "Do you want to remember your past?"
Haruka's eyes widened as he heard his master's voice continue, "Shall I restore you to your true form? I can do it, if it's what you want." He gave a light chuckle, "I've realized that it wasn't entirely fair of me to force you into a contract with me."
"Oi Kantarou, where is this coming from?" questioned Haruka, staring intently at the exorcist.
"Just a thought, Haruka," he responded with a sigh, "If I do then I haven't really helped Minamoto for it was his desire that you be restored to the tengu you once were. If the desire is yours and it's what makes you happy then I suppose that I will have no choice."
"Kantarou, how would you even go about—
The folklorist's head turned his left eye softening as his gaze locked with the tengu's, "By unbinding my contract with you I could return you to your former state. After all, it was my ancestor who sealed you. Perhaps it was only fitting that I was the one to unlock the seal and restore your memories."
The tengu turned his attention to the stars above, "Baka, I'm perfectly happy how I am now. Don't go thinking that you need to change me just because I'm finally onto this façade of yours."
A smile etched its way onto his master's face and it was apparent that no more words were needed for the tengu had made his decision and accepted the contract.
Come what may, as they say…
That evening after leaving Haruka the exorcist sat next to the pool housing the koi fish. He couldn't help but smile as his hand gently stroked the fur coat of the fox in his lap. It had been many years since she had reverted to her original form and sat with him.
He watched as the fish moved and how it created ripples along the water's surface. His eye softened for looking back was not only his reflection but the reflection of his father smiling with a nod of approval.
"You were right," he informed with a light chuckle, "every life does have meaning, even mine."
"Did you say something, Kan-chan?" came a groggy response from the fox stretching in her sleep.
"No," he murmured, rubbing her head and returning his gaze to the pool, "go back to sleep Youko-chan."
That's a complete work for you!