There was no dry eye in the crowd as the flames leapt even higher and accompanying with it, the repulsive stench of burning flesh. The smoke tickled their lungs, but they didn't care. All they saw was everyone they love, everyone who had a chance, but lost it, disintegrate before them. Inuyasha and Sango, both unable to bear the consequences of their choice, turned around. Memories of a much more blissful time bombarded their mind. They wanted to imagine themselves happy with this someone, but the scent of tears and smoke wrecked the illusion.
Finally, the dancing flames ceased. The smell evaporated into the air, faint, but not as pungent. For that, everyone was grateful. Though there were still voids that marred their hearts, which could never be filled again, they found peace. At least their dearest found serenity, even if it was through death. As long as no pain could torment them, no more tears, as long as they found peace, then Sango and Inuyasha will too.
Miroku watched their silent exchange of sympathy and smiled sadly. He laid a hand tentatively on Sango's shoulder.
She looked at him and his heart soared at her smile. "I feel sad, yet happy that this is all over."
Miroku nodded. "Yes, and I'm sure Inuyasha is mutual."
Inuyasha only scoffed, then whispered to himself. "Still… I will miss her."
"I know it's hard Inuyasha, but think of what we could have lost?" Sango offered and was pleased as he grunted in confirmation.
"It was hard for Kumiko too."
"I know. Speaking of Kumiko, where is she?"
"She be in the hut, healing the young one's wounds." Kaede intervened, who began to stroll by them after she completed her duty of burying the ashes in their proper graves.
"Are we allowed to come?" Miroku questioned.
Kaede nodded. "Aye, ye may come."
Sango and Inuyasha both followed their friends, hurt but relieved that one good thing survived in the midst of the disaster. Even with having to burden this drastic loss, they found their spirits ascended the closer they reached Kaede's hut, where Kagome laid healed and happy on a futon.
_ _ _
Kumiko was thankful Kaede offered her assistance. When she told the elderly priestess the cure, Kaede was wise enough to know how to begin the process. She taught her and now, Kumiko was taking over as the procession continued outside. Though she was regretful to have lost her chance of saying goodbye to Kohaku, there was one upside to it.
Before they could take him away from her, she kissed his cold lips and smoothed back his tousled hair. The memory of the feel of his skin would forever accompany her and envelope her like a security blanket when her emotions seize her. She glanced down at Kagome's face, which had now gained a beautiful tan and she appeared more lively. In fact, it seemed she was never ill at all.
And when she opened her eyes, Kumiko rejoiced at seeing clear, brown eyes. No longer were they dull and bloodshot. As Kagome sat up in confusion, Kumiko threw herself at the young woman. Kagome hugged her back, but curiosity pestered her to question her state of being.
Kumiko pulled back, wiping her eyes. "Yeah. Sango and Inuyasha were more distraught about you than Kohaku and Kikyo. Turns out also that Kikyo was giving you back hers and Kohaku's soul."
"But, I told her to take it."
Kumiko shrugged, but her grin was fake. "She didn't listen I guess."
Suddenly, a brown blur shot itself into Kagome's arms. Kagome hugged Shippo's little body tightly, a smile instantly crossing her lips. He continued to sob into her shoulder, blubbering on about how worried he was over her. Kagome felt guilt seep in. Why she put this precious little boy through such a traumatizing event after he already lost his parents was beyond her comprehension. She regretted putting Shippo in this position to make Inuyasha and Sango happy.
Then, Inuyasha and her two best friends entered. She cringed at seeing his and Sango's faces, but seeing them smiling was enough to put her heart to rest. She relinquished her grip around Shippo and stood shakily. Before she could sink to the floor however, Sango was on her. Kagome happily embraced her friend, as she wept on her shoulder.
"I'm so sorry Kagome. I was so absorbed into my own loss over Kohaku, that I lost all senses of who I have now in my life. I'll never do that again."
Inuyasha walked up, separating the two girls. His arm wove around Kagome's shoulders, surprising all of them with his openness. "Neither will I."
Kumiko stared at the heartwarming embraces as Kagome was immersed in hugs. Deep inside, she was truly happy for Kagome, but her own soul was in turmoil. She briefly remembered the boy with lips as pale as his sweet face and her heart sank. She discreetly left them all. Only Kagome noticed her leaving the hut in a slow and desolate pace.
_ _ _
Kumiko sat on a rock, staring out at the flowing rivers. She looked into her reflection, recalling the day she confessed to Kohaku she never had a boy to be her friend. She wanted to soar when her insensitive mind showed her an illusion of Kohaku next to her. She blinked, and the image was gone. All that was left, was her. She was alone with no one to accompany her. The only one who ever showed her meaning in life was dead, but at least she seized the chance to tell him she loved him.
She caressed Shinjitsu's fur. The cat purred and pawed around in her lap. "Guess it's you and me huh Shinjitsu?"
Kumiko turned. "Oh, Kagome!"
"Hey, what you doing?" Kagome asked, opting to seat herself next to the distressed girl.
Kagome let the subject slide, understanding Kumiko wished to not talk about Kohaku. "Anyway, I wanted to thank you for saving me."
Kumiko looked downcast. "No, I should be apologizing. I was selfish because I wanted to keep Kohaku with me."
Kagome shook her head. "I already told you before, humans are selfish. We'll do anything to feel comfortable, whether or not it is in our best judgment."
"Still… sorry. I'll be leaving tonight."
"Leaving? So soon?"
"Yeah, to my home."
"Kumiko, do you have family or friends there?"
"No, but it is home. Besides, there's nowhere else I can stay."
"Oh yes there is. You can stay with us!"
Just then, Inuyasha, Sango, and Miroku intervened. The monk and his beloved concurred it would be a suitable idea, but Inuyasha argued. "She can't come with us when we face demons. She'll only be in the way. It's bad enough we have to protect Kagome."
"Sit boy." Kagome stood, glaring at the half demon nestled into his hole. "Give me a chance to speak idiot. I was going to suggest she stay here with Kaede."
"Yes, Kaede could use an assistant." Miroku replied.
"So it's settled. Right Kumiko?"
Kumiko nodded and grinned. The first genuine smile she showed whole heartedly since Kohaku's passing. She wouldn't ever be alone again. She had friends that care about her and a home she was very happy in. It's like the perfect life.
_ _ _
Kagome wandered into the forest she was so acquainted to over the years. Her heavy backpack was slung over her shoulders and she walked uneasily to the well. Once there, she decided a well deserved rest was ideal. She set down her luggage and leaned against the old well, smiling at the huge tree leaning over her.
"So, you going?"
Kagome smiled at him, her eyes held a playful spark. "I'm still mad at you jerk."
Inuyasha nodded. "Fine, I apologize."
"I forgive you. Seems like I'm always forgiving you."
Inuyasha walked over to her, his face apprehensive. "So, you leaving now or what?"
"Yeah. My family must be pretty worried about me and I should let them know I'm alright."
"Then, why are you still here."
"My legs still feel weird and this backpack is heavy."
He scoffed. "Keh. Told ya not to pack too much things didn't I?"
Kagome smiled. "Yeah, but do I ever listen to you?"
"Nope. Just like when I told you something back at the hut."
Kagome felt her body warm as she remembered his confession. "Yeah."
"I meant it you know."
He didn't reply. He only walked over to her, grabbed her hand and hauled her up. Due to her legs being so wobbly, she fell into his arms. He held her tightly and they made eye contact. Brown held gold in a loving gaze and their eyes finally shut. Soon, their lips were melded against each other's, a token of utter devotion for one another.
_ _ _
Sango seated herself in front of a tombstone engraved with the name she held in her heart. Kohaku, her little brother. The same naïve boy who cringed at the sight of blood. He was even apprehensive of becoming a demon slayer and having to deal with the burden of blood staining his pure hands for all eternity. It was so difficult for her to believe that innocent little boy morphed into a killing machine to serve Naraku.
But now, Kohaku didn't have to worry any longer. His body was burned into tiny ashes and buried under the protective soil with a headstone to remember his name. No longer will he have to endure such suffering and be the cause of death. He could rest in peace, and because of that, Sango felt her own will build up.
"I'm not sad anymore Miroku."
Miroku, who glanced at her from a distance and wanted to comfort her, stopped behind her. "Sango?"
"I said I'm not sad anymore. Kohaku's happy, so I should be too."
Miroku planted himself next to her. "You're not just saying that, are you Sango?"
"No. Of course, I will still miss him, but I feel happier now that he doesn't have to go through what Naraku did to him. My little brother can rest in peace. I'm happy about that."
"That makes me very glad Sango. I finally have my woman back."
"You mean your comrade, right?"
Miroku gave her a tender smile, which for once was vacant of any lecherous thoughts. "No."
He kissed her cheek and left, leaving her to contemplate alone.
_ _ _
Nightfall was dawning and since everyone was inside eating, Inuyasha decided to see Kikyo one more time. He stood in front of her grave, his mind assessing memories he shared with her. He remembered when he first met her, how the priestess clothes she wore showed no flattery for her true beauty. And her emotionless face failed to convey how she glowed when times were right.
The woman he loved fifty years ago, was just that woman. The very first to stretch out her hand to him, an invitation to belong with her. He felt he belonged no where, just a pitiful half demon destined to roam these lands alone and die in an unmarked grave, until he fell for her.
The pain, the suffering, all of that was gone. But along with it, was her life. In the end, things did turn out right. She always wanted to be a normal woman, not having a duty to anyone except for those she cared about. Perhaps in death, in another life, she could have that wish fulfilled for her.
He stood still, remembering his past and reminding himself that a better future awaits him. The future with the young woman who's been his valiant protector since day one. Freeing him of the spell and his own reckless heart. He smirked slightly and then felt thin arms meekly wrap around his neck. He touched the arm and smiled as he breathed in Kagome's aroma.
He turned to take her into his arms, laying a kiss on her mouth. She nuzzled into his chest, content to just be with him.
"Hey you two, ready to go?" Sango called over to them.
Inuyasha and Kagome separated to see their friends, including Kumiko, surrounding Kirara.
Kumiko waved. "Have a safe journey you guys and please, come back!"
"Where we going?" Inuyasha asked.
Kagome kissed his cheek. "I felt a jewel shard nearby. We were going to look for it." Then she looked at Kikyo's grave. "Unless of course, you need time."
Inuyasha shook his head. "Nah, I'm ready. Let's go."
Sango and Miroku mounted Kirara who sprung into the sky. Kagome gathered Shippo and climbed on to Inuyasha's back. They all waved cheerfully back at Kumiko as she bid them all a safe return home, where they all belonged and where the key to their happiness truly resided.
A/N: I thank you all so very much for your constant support throughout this story. I hope it was an enjoyable ride for all of you and that I didn't disappoint such awesome people. Hope to see you all again soon!