Kaede never slept anymore, her days and nights were all one and linked by naps. It was, she thought, on one of her awake at night times, as pleasant a way to die as any other. There was nothing as dramatic as having her whole life flash before her eyes, but she was able to reminisce to her heart's content and there was no more time or energy for regrets. She remembered sunny days and snowy nights, safe in the loved childhood she'd had that had ended too soon, she remembered her usefulness to Kikyou and the love and care of her sister for her.
Friends' faces passed in her mind's eye; children she played with who died of sickness or grew to marry and become grandparents in time. She smiled wryly as no twinge of the sadness that used to follow such thoughts happened; even her own self knowledge of her lack of physical charms no longer hurt...too much. Besides she had now outlived all of her immediate contemporaries, those who had looked at her with pity for her one eye or who had whispered about her ungainliness until she had gained the respect as the Miko replacement for her sister.
On the whole her life had been good, useful, fulfilled; she had nothing with which to berate herself and she was surrounded now at the end by those she had loved most in her entire life, with the exception of her missing sister. Of course threading their way through all of her thoughts as he had throughout most of her life was Inuyasha. She could see him now, sleeping lightly, his ears pricked to pick up any sound, especially any from her as they were turned in her direction.
Inuyasha, he had been such a boy when he'd rescued her and they'd struck up their unusual friendship; she recalled the eighteen months or so that he had been around. He had been a strange companion, always alert for danger and seeing things to make him jump hidden in every bush. In fact he had never really changed in all of the time she'd known him, a mixture of anger and gruffness that concealed a large tender and vulnerable heart.
As a child she'd not seen beneath the veneer of her friend, but as she grew older and wiser in the ways of the world she had understood him much more. She had told him her secrets while he was sealed by her sister's arrow, and despite what people said, she had come to love him in the same way as Rin had grown to love her master. Only she'd known what the hanyou was truly like and now she was proud that deep down she had never believed in his cruel betrayal of Kikyou.
Then Kaede remembered with a pang the day she had visited the boy when he was sealed to the tree and realised that she was now older than he, and she had wept bitterly for all the lost chances. However that too was in the past; although, hidden in the dark she could imagine herself to be slimmer and eighteen again quite easily, her desires had not aged nor changed in all of that time. She was comfortable lying under warm fur and with the banked fire adding a cheerful glow, sometimes talking quietly with her golden eyed protector who usually awoke sometime just after she did.
During the day she still wanted to sit outside, and this was managed by propping her with cushions and furs so that if she napped she didn't fall. Kaede had forbidden tears, telling the pups she'd rather see their smiles and hear them laugh; they could weep once she had gone if they so desired. This was forcefully said to the others too and for her sake, in the main, they managed to keep her dictate. Until the night came that she didn't want to go to sleep for fear of not waking again and she had one more thing she wanted to do.
"Inuyasha?" Kaede called softly, knowing he would hear her.
"Yes Brat, what do you want?" His query might have sounded harsh had it not been for the roughness his sadness caused in his voice.
"Will ye take me one last time to the top of our tree?"
"It's too cold for you Kaede, Kagome would have my hide."
"No she won't, and the cold isn't going to matter soon."
"Feh!" With that one expression of Inuyasha's, Kaede smiled knowing she had won, and soon found herself wrapped in the warm firerat jacket, sitting on the highest safe branch and in Inuyasha's lap. She sighed with happiness as Inuyasha tightened his grip against her falling.
"Ah Inuyasha, ye have given me much comfort in my life and I thank ye for sharing thy family with an old lady."
"Hush Brat, save yer strength." Inuyasha could feel her life ebbing and his tears fell and Kaede smiled feeling grateful for the proof of his regard and love of her.
"Nay Inuyasha...it is good for me to think on such goodness that has been in my life."
"It's not as if you didn't deserve it Kaede, you were like an anchor in the shard hunting days to us all." Inuyasha whispered and Kaede nodded, acknowledging the truth of his words. But Inuyasha continued: "And you were so kind to me; you gave me my first hot meal since Mama died, and then again once Kagome freed me. You were my first friend, the person who I have known the longest in my life that has shown me love; I'll never forget that Kaede. You didn't care that I was hanyou, but let me live like someone normal; until I met you no one other than Mama had treated me like that."
"Ye are confusing me with thy Kagome Inuyasha, she never had any preconceived ideas of ye; I wish I could say the same but..."
"I am not confused Brat, I know what Kagome has done for me, but you too, you were being brought up as a Miko to fear and kill youkai, and yet you showed mercy to me."
"Ye were a friend Inuyasha, I loved my friends."
"I know Kaede...and if things had been different..."
"They would never have been different Inuyasha, ye loved my sister as she did ye; and at the last she felt she had become a normal woman in her hanyou's, not her human's arms. I am glad she accepted ye like that, it proved she had grown up in my eyes. But I have always loved ye, although in different ways as I grew older." Kaede chuckled, but it turned into a cough and Inuyasha hushed her once again. They sat in silence watching the night sky and eventually Kaede nodded off, asleep.
Sometime later, Inuyasha who had been lost in his own thoughts, became aware that there was no sound from Kaede. She was no longer breathing and had passed on; contentedly and peacefully in the arms of the only person she had ever unrequitedly loved as a woman loves a man. At first Inuyasha wouldn't accept that Kaede wasn't just napping, he carried on speaking to her and getting more frantic as she refused to answer him.
Tears he didn't know were there fell from his eyes and his chest ached with an almost unbearable grief. After an hour of this behaviour, the branch he was sitting on vibrated slightly under the weight of his brother. He had been waiting at the bottom of the tree since Inuyasha arrived with the elderly Miko. He was greeted with a bare fanged snarl and Inuyasha gripped Kaede, holding her away from Sesshoumaru. Fortunately the greatly experienced Sesshoumaru was not surprised at being greeted thusly, nor by the close to the surface youkai of Inuyasha, evidenced by the glowing eyes changing between gold and red.
It was imperative that Inuyasha came to his senses and released Kaede to those who would prepare her for burial. Indeed if he were not stopped quickly, his youkai might take over and then he might not give up willingly one who he had seen sometimes as a surrogate mother. The full youkai spread his aura and called his younger brother to attend to his alpha sibling and eventually Inuyasha heard him and obeyed. Inuyasha stopped growling at his brother and his eyes reverted back to just their amber gold.
Sesshoumaru was however unprepared for the sheer misery on his brother's face, although he quickly assimilated all that he'd heard when the two had spoken and already knew how much Inuyasha would miss the elderly one. He approached slowly and put one hand on Inuyasha's head petting his ears in a gesture of comfort and with the other he checked that Kaede had no pulse. Inuyasha looked up at him and Sesshoumaru shook his head and spoke softly that she had not suffered. He made no derogatory comment about Inuyasha's visible grief; after all he now had a human mate and hanyou child and understood his brother better.
"She was blessed Inuyasha and loved by you all."
"I was the one blessed, Sessh, Kaede was my first in so many things after Mama died. She was the first to show me any kindness, the first to cook for me, offer me shelter. She smiled at me and she was the first to touch me willingly, gently, without causing me pain. She was funny and witty and took my mind off my sometimes bleak thoughts. She even held me when I wept over Kikyou and then Kagome, during her long absence. She was always giving, despite the fact that she too loved me all the time I pined for another. I relied on her for so much, she was always there; what will we do without her, what will I do?"
"You will remember her wisdom and carry on as she would wish. But now Little Brother, you must take her back that she might be prepared with dignity." His words had the desired effect and Inuyasha wiped his eyes with his sleeve and jumped down, Sesshoumaru by his side to take Kaede back to Kagome and Sango. Then while the necessary things were done by the women, Sesshoumaru accompanied both Inuyasha and Miroku to the headman to announce the news.
The final goodbye was the hardest on them all, but for Inuyasha it was terrible, memories of his mother's funeral were refreshed by Kaede's, mingling into one horrendous image of loss; and when he and Kagome were alone, he broke into tiny pieces. Kagome understood and held him, sharing her own grief with his, until his feelings were so intense they found further release in raw passion. Kagome recognised his need and asked for nothing from him and he eventually slept exhausted. In the morning he was recovering from the cathartic cleansing of his grief, and was able to sit quietly with his family.
Of course time is relentless and days stretched to months, and grass started to grow around the marker stone of Kaede in the same way it had for her sister. Life carried on and Rin's son was born healthy and strong with Kagome acting as midwife for her sister-in law. And on the first anniversary of Kaede's death, Inuyasha took his new daughter with him to speak with the latest woman who had passed from his life.
"We still miss you Kaede, sometimes I think I can hear you laughing, especially with my new pup; she is called Kaede in your memory, she could do worse than to grow up like you. Goodbye again Old Brat; until we meet again someday."
30 Shards Community: Inuyasha and Kaede; shard 29, Anniversary - Story Completed.