Rin and Jaken watched in disappointment and confusion as Sesshomaru flew away, heedless of their calls.
They had been so happy. So happy to be free of Kurokemuri's spell, the spell which had frozen their bodies and trapped their minds in their moments of greatest sorrow. So happy to realize that if they were alive and awake, then Sesshomaru must be too.
But when they ran to him, calling out to him, ready for their joyful reunion after a temporary death, he had fled. He didn't even look in their direction, wouldn't even show them his eyes, wouldn't see for himself their safety. He'd simply fled into the sky, flying far away, out of reach and out of sight.
Rin ran after him, but finally had to stop to catch her breath. Her heartbeat was pounding in her eardrums. Several moments passed before Jaken caught up to her.
"Why, Master Jaken?" she said between gasps of breath. "Why did Lord Sesshomaru leave like that, without even sparing a glance for us? Wasn't he happy to see we're all right?"
"I'm sure he was, Rin," Jaken said. "Lord Sesshomaru does not waste actions. If he left, he has a reason. Perhaps he knows where Kurokemuri is hiding and went to vanquish him for good."
Rin shook her head slowly, still staring at the spot in the horizon where Sesshomaru had disappeared. "No, Master Jaken, Kurokemuri has already been destroyed. I felt it in my dream... in the nightmare he had me trapped in..." Rin hesitated to speak of the horror she had viewed, watching bandits slaughter her family over and over again. "It's over now. Kurokemuri is gone."
Suddenly Kagome ran up to them, panting. She had witnessed Rin wake up and run toward the spot where Sesshomaru had fallen.
"Rin! I'm so glad you're all right!" Then with a glance around, "What happened to Sesshomaru?"
"He's alive," Rin said, "but he left, without even looking back at us. But why?"
Kagome put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "I don't know, but let's not worry about that right now. The important thing is we're all safe. Let's get back to the village and make sure everyone else is okay, too."
So Kagome led the way, and Jaken toddled along after her, but Rin looked back one last time in the direction where Sesshomaru fled before slowly turning back to follow them.
Inuyasha received a welcoming sight when he barged into Miroku and Sango's hut, worried.
"Kagome!" he cried, and she ran into his arms. Kirara jumped off his shoulder and ran over to Sango to be patted while Inuyasha greeted his friends. "Rin, you're all right!" He laid a hand on her shoulder, and his eyes brightened when he spotted Kaede and the young orphan in her care Botan. "Nothing stops you, eh, old woman?" Inuyasha said fondly.
"I'm alive, too," Jaken said to no one in particular.
They were all safe, Miroku, Sango, their children, Shippo... everyone seemed accounted for, except Sesshomaru.
Miroku gave him the once over. "You've retrieved Tessaiga, I see."
Inuyasha patted the sword at his hip. "Thanks to Kirara. Easy to find when you've got a bird's-eye view."
"Inuyasha," Kagome looked at him, concerned. "What happened to Kurokemuri? Did you defeat him?"
"Never got the chance. I'd picked up Tessaiga, and we flew after him as fast as we could. He was already attacking the nearest village. Just as I got close enough to attack, suddenly he just... evaporated into thin air. And the villagers he'd frozen started to wake up! When I saw that they were okay, I rushed over here."
There was a small gust of wind and a dull thud behind him, outside the entrance to the hut.
"I just want to know what the hell is going on," Inuyasha said.
"I think I can answer that!" a creaky voice called from outside.
They all rushed out to look.
"Totosai!" Inuyasha exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
"I came as soon as news of Kurokemuri's return reached my ears."
Inuyasha gave him a sharp bop on the skull. "More likely you thought you'd keep clear until the danger was gone, you old coward!"
Totosai's face turned red as the bump on his head swelled, confirming Inuyasha's suspicions.
"Wait!" Kagome cried. "What do you mean 'Kurokemuri's return'? You mean he's attacked before?"
"Yes," Totosai said, rubbing his head, "a long time ago, Kurokemuri attacked this land, and was vanquished. Kurokemuri draws his power from feeding on the anguish of lonely souls, and it takes a lot of anguish over many years for him to take corporeal form. With this warring era we live in, it was only a matter of time before the anguish of all the orphans and widows brought forth Kurokemuri again."
"So then why did Kurokemuri disappear just now, old man?" Inuyasha asked.
"I suspect it was the same as last time," Totosai said. "You see, Kurokemuri traps his victims in their worst memories of loss. It's nearly impossible for someone to escape from the memory, because as painful as it is, it is the only way they can be again with those who have left them. It is hard to say goodbye..."
Jaken sniffed then, thinking of how he had been trapped in Sesshomaru moment of "death," when Kurokemuri had defeated him.
"The dead hold sway over our lives," Totosai continued. "Someone under Kurokemuri's spell must have been strong enough to accept the death and destroy the image of their loved one. Not an easy thing to do. But once someone does it, Kurokemuri loses all his power—hence why everyone was freed from the spell."
"Then—Lord Sesshomaru must have done it!" Rin cried. "But then why did he run away...?"
Everyone looked around uncomfortably at her outburst.
"So, Sesshomaru fell under Kurokemuri's curse..." Totosai said quietly to himself. The implications were obvious to him. "That just leaves one question. Who did Sesshomaru see in his memory...?
"Who did he have to kill...?"
Sesshomaru was flying quickly, blindly—to what destination he knew not. The wind was whipping past his face, biting him as he soared. The Meidou-seki felt cold and dead on his skin, its secret key unknowable, a heavy weight against his heart.
So heavy... everything felt so heavy...
He let his armor fall to the ground, and flew on. Kurokemuri was gone. Naraku was gone. The biggest battles of his life were behind him. He didn't need it anymore.
Losing the armor didn't make him feel any lighter. It was that damn Meidou-seki he wanted to be rid of. Vaguely, he realized that today was the day his dear Mother required its return. He had failed his Father's final test.
There was no sense in making Mother wait any longer. He resolved to head toward the direction of her realm.
After what seemed like forever, and yet no time at all, he landed, not in a castle in the clouds, but on solid earth, and he felt the Meidou-seki brush free from his robes, coming to rest over them, almost of its own accord. He looked around solemnly and found himself in familiar surroundings. It was the last place he wanted to be, but the only place his heart would take him. It had subconsciously brought him here.
Where she had died.
Where he had failed.
He was standing in a field full of blossoms, light and beautiful. Picturesque. Just as before.
Only Kagura wasn't there this time. Wasn't there with a wound in her heart, looking up at him to save her.
The wind suddenly died all around him, and the flower petals were still. The dying sun beat down on him, and it was incredibly stuffy. Suddenly Sesshomaru felt suffocated and choked, as though some demon curse were still upon him.
But there was nothing, no dark magic at work. No remnant of Kurokemuri's spell. There was only Sesshomaru, a field of flowers, and his memories to choke him.
He thought of her, of how she looked in her last moments. Happy. She knew she was dying, but she was happy. Happy he was there... happy she got to see him one last time...
Sesshomaru closed his eyes, feeling the orange sun on his skin, but never feeling darker, picturing her face as she lay dying.
He had never admitted to himself before today that he had loved her. But Kurokemuri's foul trickery had brought it out of him, and now it bubbled up on the surface in plain view.
I loved her... Sesshomaru thought, and suddenly after centuries of near-solitude with nothing but a lackey by his side and a brief period when two children were under his watch, he never felt more alone in his life.
I love her... he thought, and for a brief moment he felt something glide across his cheek. It trickled down until it reached the end of his pointed chin, and there it clung for a brief moment, glinting in the orange light like a diamond. It was fighting valiantly against gravity in the still air, but like him, Sesshomaru thought bitterly, it too must fail...
The diamond fell and disappeared into the Meidou-seki against his heart. The black surface of the Meidou-seki shone where it had landed, but Sesshomaru did not see it, would not open his eyes to a world so empty.
A light wind began to blow, seeping from the dark stone. It brushed through Sesshomaru's hair and felt cool against his cheeks. Slowly the wind began to grow stronger, dancing around him, picking up flower blossoms in its stream. The air was becoming thicker, denser, engulfing him... he was locked in its soft embrace... a stray petal here and there became trapped in his hair or in the fold of his robes... and as he felt the wind brush lightly past his lips, it seemed to him to begin to form a kiss.
Without knowing what he was doing, it seemed he was kissing the breeze back, and when he opened his eyes, it was no wind but a woman solidifying in his arms. The air came to a standstill, forming her body, her clothes, even the feathers in her hair just as he had remembered them.
"Kagura," he said, breathless.
"Sesshomaru," she said quietly, looking up at him, and he peered deeply into her eyes. They looked just as happy and content as the last time she had gazed up at him.
"I won't fail you again, Kagura," he said softly, and she buried her face against his neck.
"I know," she murmured.
They stood there together like that for a long time. Sesshomaru reached his fingertips lightly to his own cheek. He had possessed the secret key to the Meidou-seki all along.
Sesshomaru's mother stared down bemusedly at the little youkai prostrating himself before her. His steed Ah-Un was nearby. Her son, of course, was nowhere in sight. Off enjoying the spoils of his hard won victory against the Meidou-seki, no doubt, she thought wryly to herself.
Her son had instructed the little youkai to send a scroll in his place, which read as follows:
Here I return to you Father's Meidou-seki in the same flawless condition in which you loaned it to me.
She glanced down at the necklace that rest in the little youkai's hands, the beads twisted and tangled beyond recognition or repair, the Meidou-seki itself reattached to them in a haphazard manner. Did she detect Totosai's shoddy welding work?
If you find anything about it to displease you, please punish my loyal vassal Jaken however you deem appropriate.
I regret that I could not deliver the Meidou-seki to you personally, but I find myself terribly busy and will not be able to visit anytime soon.
I thank you for the loan, though. It has been most useful.
Your loving son
"Hnnn," Sesshomaru's mother said when she finished reading the scroll.
"Most Honorable Mother!" Jaken cried. "Please accept a thousand pardons-oof!"
Sesshomaru's mother had walked past him, unintentionally stepping over his head in the process.
"Little youkai," she said with a glint in her eye. "I do believe it's been far too long since I paid my dear son a visit, don't you think?"
Sesshomaru's mother plucked the mangled necklace from his hands, put it over her head, and daintily sat on top of Ah-Un, leaving room for Jaken in front.
"Really," she said, "does my dear son actually think he can bring a woman home from the afterlife without introducing her to Mother?"
Jaken gulped. Lord Sesshomaru wasn't going to like this.