Author's final Notes: This story is an accumulation of over three years of my life and for those who were with me from beginning to end, you have the greatest patience in the world and I have no idea how you survived the struggle. Hopefully, the last chapter was not a disappointment. This final bit only serves to conclude the work and tie up things as I see fit.
But before I begin the chapter, I would just like to talk a bit more about what this story has meant to me, and how it, surprisingly, managed to actually end (which, if you haven't noticed, most of my other stories don't seem to).
I began this story junior year of high school, and concluded the final chapters during my Christmas break during freshman year in college. During this time, I traveled to Canada, graduated high school, went to Japan, and survived my first quarter of a college 300 miles away from home. Now that I am done with this fic, I am going to be re-reading the entire thing with a fine tooth comb to try to pick out any mistakes, grammar, etc things. Yet, I couldn't be more proud of this story—grammar mistakes and all. I truly consider this my finest achievement, the greatest thing I have accomplished in my life so far. I only wish it wasn't a fanfiction so I could publish it. It has always been my baby, always in the back of my mind; I thought about it, guilty, knowing full well I should have been working on a chapter rather than doing something else. This story has seen me on lonely and happy days—it has been the result of some of my obsessions (ranging from gardening, to the movie Possession or Last of the Mohicans) as well as bits of inspiration brought on by books that I have read (Too Late for the Festival, Looking for the Lost), and things I have seen (a hot summer night in Japan with the festival lanterns and the goldfish games).
I tried to convey through this story a bit of my personal outlook, how I view the world, and how I think it ought to be viewed. These characters, although Rumiko Takahashi's, became my own, and their personalities formed through how I wished them to be portrayed. Everything you see within the "pages" of this story is a part of me. This story is me.
With those things said, I would like to make the dedication to this story reaffirmed in this final update. This story began in a point of my life when I was extremely lonely, and it was through one person, and one person alone, who inspired me and my outlook on life to such great depths. She has been by my side throughout turbulent storms, although, at times, I am sure I would have wished her washed away. Yet she stayed, and for this I thank her.
This story, and everything that it holds, is for you, Savina.
Shadows Against a Shoji Screen
For some time the country had been utter turmoil. All through the harvest fear had remained in the eyes of the weary peasants, fear of where their allegiances should lie in the time of uncertainty: fear of the war. It seemed impossible, almost incomprehensible, that the war and all its feuds had been cast aside like a child's toy.
Then again, that was war, wasn't it? Something with the attention span of a child; as long as it was interesting, bright, diverting and it kept their attention, it was something to be treasured and adored. At least, this was the attitude taken by most of the nobility of Japan.
Yet, for the peasants, those honey-colored days were filled with mild anticipation. Silence had settled upon the land too quickly in their opinion. The lack of clash, of discussion, of harsh words was a foreign concept to a people whose lives had been based upon the feuds between the two brothers.
Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru had both faced the problem of affirming to their subject matters that the war was over—and for the long run at that. It had been determined that, unless it was utterly unavoidable—or in answer to an invasion—the two countries would not see the like of war as long as the two remained alive. Well, until, Inuyasha pointed out gingerly on their return trip to the separate domains, "Sesshoumaru did something to piss him off."
Sesshoumaru was sure that eventually he would try Inuyasha's short fuse. He didn't voice this suspicion namely for the reason that he believed Miroku would be able to handle his task as royal advisor—now that he had gained some standing and self dignity. As it would turn out, this promise of peace would be carried until the end of their days and into the hazy future.
But returning back to the present…
Inuyasha returned to his domain after spending some time at the shrine of the Shikon no Tama allowing the realties of the past and the present to sink, very heavily, into his tired and war-wrecked body. Much of the news regarding Naraku came as a surprise to his perky ears and often he demonstrated his fiery temper while cursing Naraku beyond the grave. Yes, Naraku and his presence had been damned by more than one member of the party during those first days of mild-tempered autumn.
Secretly, all members of the party admitted that Naraku was to be pitied as well, for his tale, although dark and grim, was one that demanded respect nonetheless.
Inevitably, hatred outweighed pity and admiration by a great amount.
Inuyasha, still, remained practically well-behaved at the shrine of the Shikon no Tama although prone to taking long walks in the woods, oftentimes returning slightly dazed from the entire venture—as though eighteen years had never gone by: as though Kagome and the war had never happened, as though his brother was not dwelling temporarily in the same residence.
Yes, Inuyasha chose to overlook the current events whenever he went out on his many walks. It was apparent in his step that he wished Kikyou to accompany him into the mists, however, it would take quite a long period of time before she became physically able to leave the compounds of the Shikon no Tama, and several years after that before she became fully healthy.
No one, not even herself, knew the explanation for her existence, although all had surmised the reason itself. That, of course, was Kagome and what she had chosen to wish upon the jewel. Whatever the reason, as Inuyasha liked to point out when discussing the issue with Kaede or Miroku in the evenings (after Kikyou had retired and Sesshoumaru sought solitude)—Kikyou was alive and well and with them all; so there was no need to question the reasons. The reasons why she was alive, that was. The reasons why she was even there. The reasons why she hadn't vanished beyond the grave.
They all knew the reasons why of course, as Kagome. But this has already been said.
Kagome, for the most part, went unspoken of, though her presence resided on many of the person's mind for quite some time. For one individual in particular, he felt her absence acutely, though regarding the subject he remained the most silent. Her presence was a continual fog lurking in his mind, often times nearly gone—and at others, blinding his vision.
Where the girl had gone no one knew, and although at times Sesshoumaru suspected that Kaede, the priestess, had an inkling as to her location, he said nothing, as did she. It could neither be confirmed if the girl was alive or dead—but to Inuyasha, she might as well have been rotting in a grave. Although the hanyou admitted he had married the girl and did harbor some feelings of regret, only the keenest could determine this conflict within him. Namely, it was Miroku and Kaede who realized his anguish—but this, like to so many matters, remained unspoken of.
Kikyou was alive—and while that remained, she would be the only things appearing in the lord of the eastern land's eyes from this point on.
As for Sesshoumaru, it took him a month to recover from his wounds as a result from the poison which he had suffered due to Naraku's last attempts of revenge. The wound itself had been severe due to the poison but it was of no matter—for the priestess' healing skills were great indeed and he had only been in danger for the first few days.
The rest of the time Sesshoumaru had spent slowly and carefully healing until he was fit to travel. Even Sesshoumaru, the great lord of the western lands, knew his limitations. And what was the point of rushing onward with life? What was there waiting for him at the end of the road? An empty house, filled with objects and items—no nothing more, nothing less.
So, autumn deepened into the rich amber color that it was born to be and the members of the war-torn party continued to live within the shrine's small environment, relying on the help of the villagers and that of birds of prey to relay information to elected officials. It was not until early October, when the first of the frosts had begun to appear on the ground in the early mornings, did the members of the party quietly take their leave.
As anticipated, Miroku accompanied Inuyasha and Kikyou back to his respective domain, with the unexpected of addition of Sango, who's presence had been quite welcomed once the gruesome events of the war had ended. Yes, the female youkai exterminator had been greeted joyously as soon as Naraku's death had been confirmed; she appeared out of the sea of ferns, flushed, her eyes both full of fear and astonishment. Sango spared no time with greetings but instead rushed to her fallen one's side, her lips quivering, drops falling down her face. But these were not raindrops. No, by that time, the rain had stopped. The storm had been over.
As it turned out, much to her delight, Miroku was the first one to recover from his injuries and the two had many days of peace together in the early mild days of autumn. Needless to say, these two individuals were the most cheery in the group.
When the time had come, as all felt, for them to depart to their separate domains it was an interesting moment indeed. Some members of the party, namely the females, parted with tears in their eyes—while others, particularly the men, left quietly and with few words as possible towards one another. Most defined in these cases were Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru—although Miroku had been different from the two and had assured Sesshoumaru that their territories' formalized peace agreement (that they had signed while at the shrine) would be shipped off to Edo at the soonest available notice. Miroku ensured, or threatened, as the case may be, that Sesshoumaru may now anticipate regular messages from his neighboring brother's kingdom.
As expected, Sesshoumaru had little to say about that.
And so they parted.
Inuyasha, Miroku, and Kikyou with a trail of attendants set onwards towards the eastern land's, where they met much of the cruelties of war—but braved it as best they could, with full and heavy hearts and consciousness. Kikyou made Inuyasha swear to her, in a moment of privacy while they watered their horses in a small town, that he would never again attempt to do something which caused so great a pain to so many. The hanyou, as he was, agreed heartily to this—for his own conscious, as well for the sake of his beloved.
Sesshoumaru set off towards his own land and for much of the journey was accompanied by the priestess Kaede and although neither spoke, the arrangement was not uncomfortable. The two had personalities which could accept and understand the silence. The two passed quietly from the inky foothills where the shrine was located into the deep fertile valleys that were ripe for the harvest.
Their separation was a muted event and took place at mid afternoon at a point where the road branched in two directions. They spoke few words, for there were none to give. As both saw it, their time for talking and explaining had come to an end. The events were understood, the past untangled from its mysteries, and the only thing that now lay before the two was the future. Whatever would happen, the two could not say—and although both held personal fears neither were voiced.
Yes, the time for talking had indeed ended. The tale was almost over.
As for Kaede, she returned to her respective shrine where her husband Hiroyoshi awaited her arrival with the greatest patience as he continued to care for the wounded soldiers that managed to make their way to the secluded shrine in the tops of the hills. Her arrival was a tearful one for the two; for war was something that even if prepared with the most advanced armaments, was something that could not be expected. Yet, as Hiroyoshi would later tell his wife one night, he "had not doubted her for an instance, a single instance; for if anyone could survive a war it would be her." He never explained his reasoning behind that statement until some ten years when their second child was born.
Hiroyoshi never told his wife of where Kagome had spirited away to—it had merely happened one afternoon while she was waiting for him to return home from the town at the base of the hill with the day's tofu. He had returned, all that remained was a simple hand written note explaining that she had left and not to worry. Of course, Hiroyoshi had done just that, but what more could he have done? Kagome seemed of the nature to go against reason if she believed herself right—and maybe in the end, she had been correct after all. Her presence had been rumored in many a towns for the following months although no one could confirm the legitimacy behind these stories. It was finally believed that she had died, and this tragic end seemed the most logical explanation, especially in the icy cold months of December and January when even well-off peasants were found half-frozen in their homes.
To say that Inuyasha did not search for his wife would be a lie—he sent many of his best men out on the job to recover her location, but, when March arrived and there was no word of her existence he finally sent an order for their return. How could he go against what his men—as well as that of Sesshoumaru, said? With two countries' men on the look out for one girl, raised under the hand of a feudal system—how difficult could it be? How far could she go? With no money? No livelihood?
Her death was confirmed in the first days of April when the plum blossoms had just begun to bloom at the Higurashi residence. Her mother had been taken ill, and her brother had been forced to continue the meeting with Inuyasha, demanding how this could have happened to his wife. Inuyasha was without words and could only regret his mistake in being so blind sighted. He henceforth promised to return her wedding dowry tenfold and ensure that the Higurashi family always had the protection of his country. Souta, like the smart boy that he was, did not believe a word of it, but nearly nodded and accepted the hanyou's terms. What more could be done? What more could be asked of the fool?
And so, it came to be that Kagome Higurashi was generally regarded as dead although her presence and the deeds she had accomplished rapidly grew into local legend and by the time the cherry blossoms had bloomed a monument had been created in her honor: a monument that resided on the borders between the east and western nations. This monument in years to come would become a symbol of peace, and it was for that reason that the sparrow became the figure of happiness in the surrounding country.
During that same year in May, Inuyasha was remarried and it was generally known who his wife of choice had been. This, of course, had been Kikyou. The two had only chosen to remarry so quickly after the "death" of his wife when the rumors of them living together became so unbearable that even Inuyasha became disgusted. This is not to say the two would have never married for it had always been the hanyou's intentions, however, the speed at which they were married was not something the two had predicted. Yet, be that as it may, it was a blessing in disguise, perhaps most of all for Sesshoumaru, whose story remains yet to be ended.
Yes, there are a few stories that need to be finished
It was the sun of midsummer that now shown down upon Sesshoumaru's back as he made his way towards the rear of the house towards Lake Suzuran and the pagoda that rested on the red-colored banks of the fresh-water pond, still rich and cold with the water's of snow melt.
He mumbled a greeting, or perhaps he just grunted, as he passed a servant along the way who was cultivating the gardening and appeared to be attending to some early ripening cucumbers which would, most likely, be gracing the contents of the evening meal. As he continued to inspect the grounds he noticed that the first of the flower beds were beginning to show their true colors in the warming days of June. Sesshoumaru's expression faltered ever so slightly when he saw that not only had many of the pansies gone into bloom, but the zinnias and chrysanthemums as well.
There was a slight alteration in his step, but nevertheless he continued onward towards the pagoda where the tea he had directed was set out. Yes, he could see that it was still very hot with the steam rising slightly in the air, even in the warm weather of a June day.
Sesshoumaru sighed. He was ill at ease. Why the devil had he agreed to give Rin's hand in marriage to the likes of a common fox demon? The prat was well off, to be sure—but it was all so elaborate, the marriage process, and terribly tiresome with all its rituals. The day would soon be upon him, he realized darkly, staring into the sapphire depths of the lake.
The color of her eyes, he mused slightly to himself as he decidedly blocked off his line of vision by shutting his own eyes for the time being and massaging his temples. He had a headache—but then he often did nowadays. He didn't get much sleep as it was…which was why he had taken to mid-afternoon herbal remedies everyday and the solitude and quiet that accompanied the lakeside pagoda.
It was of no matter, though, in the end. It was too soon for him to recover from her presence. This was the way it was supposed to be inexorably, he thought begrudgingly. This was why he hadn't fallen in love sooner, namely for the all the necessarily obligations and emotions that it brought with it. It would have been better, he often supposed, if he had seen her dead corpse in front of him instead of hoping, wishing, believing that someday she might come back. But any such thoughts were ludicrous—he was beginning to go as mad as his half brother, Inuyasha. To believe in ideals and dreams were absurd, and in the daytime he told himself such things and believed it.
It was at night when she came to haunt him though.
"Damn it all," he grumbled irritably to himself, grabbing a cup and pouring himself the tea and drinking it down as though it was sake. Honestly, he would have preferred sake to this; it might have actually helped his headache. Sesshoumaru placed down the cup which had the pattern of wheat blowing in the field etched in light watercolors.
And so, here he was, the once famed lord of the western lands, pining over a girl who was dead, and soon to be living alone on the mountaintop as he had always said he would have preferred. Yes, there had once been a time in which he would have relished such isolation, but now, now that the war had ended, now that he longer desired the sword and the obligations of his country seemed to double in length, he wished for a calming presence to relax his war-shredded nerves.
But there was none.
His hand lifted, but he paused as it reached for his breast pocket of his garments. Sesshoumaru sighed. Why was he even bothering to read the thing—he knew its contents by heart. Nevertheless it was comforting to feel the physical weight in one's hand, to feel the texture of the heavy mulberry paper, to study her writing and the brush strokes. It was amusing, he thought wryly, as he withdrew the contents from his clothes, that sometimes her stroke order of the kanji was wrong. It didn't surprise him; after all, it was she.
Bringing it out, he looked down at the sheet of paper, his expression blank, remembering for the hundredth time the first moment in which he had chanced upon the letter in his private study, underneath the chunk of amethyst he used as a paperweight. At the moment he had merely presumed it a stray scrap of parchment, but upon opening it, he knew who had been the writer of the work. At first he had believed that the letter itself was old and out of date, but upon breaking the red-wax seal he had realized that the contents of the letter itself were as unknown to him as her whereabouts at the time.
This was before she had died, however.
His golden eyes turned hard and steely as he began to read the words and the fluid characters flowing seamlessly into another. He knew the letter by heart, he had memorized its contents after a few reads, but it was of no matter.
I'm growing old, he thought wearily, almost sadly, looking up into the sky filled with buttermilk clouds above, realizing that the letter's words still affected him.
But there were other matters at hand for him to be concerned with, other matters indeed.
Sighing, Sesshoumaru poured himself another cup of rapidly cooling jasmine tea, and began to grind some ink to begin the lengthy and most tiresome project of writing out a formal letter, releasing Rin to the guardianship of the fox demon Shippou. Often times he would find himself gazing blankly out into the serene surfaces of the lake and beyond to the opposite banks where the early flowers of summer had begun to bloom; yellow buttercups hidden amongst the dark blues of the cornflowers.
The compound was just as she remembered, a picture of isolation and retreat from the bustling world in the misty countryside. Here, nestled among the dark pine trees and red earth there seemed nothing else more comforting in the world but the stillness of her surroundings, only interrupted by the occasional call of a bird in flight. The beech trees that lined the road leading to the retreat had new leaves sprouting from their branches, yellowish green and fresh, and they glistened prettily in the light of the mid-afternoon. It took her a moment to remember that winter left the mountainous areas much later than that of the valleys, and even on a mild June day, the air had a nip of coolness. Yet it was an enjoyable sensation, nonetheless, it only served to invigorate her senses—which although one edge, were hardly war-wrecked or tired. No, she had taken this trip at her leisure, and had slowly, ever slowly, managed to find her way once more at the base of this hill. What were a few months of quiet traveling—when there was no purpose, point, or fear harping at her from every angle she had found herself quite content and at ease?
The inn in the nearby town had become very well known to her over the past week while she had been visiting, and it had been this morning only that she had finally decided to set out what she had meant to do for so long. That was, of course, to return to someone very precious. Someone who lived at the top of this hill. The fact that it was an ordinary Monday morning in mid-summer did not bother her in the least. What had sparked her decision to return to this abode was that she had found in the neighbor's house that the flowers lining their vegetable gardens had begun to bloom—but they were not the regular flowers, such as cornflowers or the white iris of summer—no, they were those that she had come to know very well indeed during the previous summer: these being zinnias and chrysanthemums.
She had abandoned her horse at the base of the hill, choosing to tie him to a tree with enough tether so that he could graze in the nearby meadow that was fed by a small stream. As soon as she had began that arduous walk, slowly and at her leisure, she felt the sensation of anticipation overwhelm her body.
It had been nearly a year since she had first been spirited away to this mountaintop and it brought a smile to her lips at how unhappy she had been during those initial few weeks. Ah, yes, how she had hated Sesshoumaru—never had she disliked and feared and defied anyone more so than him. It brought an ironic grin to her lips as she plucked at a blade of grass and fiddled with it absently in her hands as she continued her walk. She had presumed to hate Sesshoumaru more than Inuyasha, but as it turned out, destiny had chosen blind her in the end and show her the mistake of her ways.
Her thoughts darkened as she walked beneath the dark shadows of an overhanging red cedar tree and paused. Yes, Inuyasha…in the end he had chosen Kikyou, hadn't he? It came as no surprise, she continued to tell herself; after all she was considered dead. It had been officially reported to her family some time ago in the earlier months of spring. Her brother had been the smartest and most cunning, privately assigning some men to search for her presence in Edo and Kyoto. They hadn't found her in the end, yet she had been impressed with her sibling's persistence. She had then taken pity and privately written him a letter under a false name, for what was the point of causing grief when there was no right to be any?
The wind was cold on her neck in the shadows and she tugged her yukata about her shoulders. It was her favorite piece of clothing that she owned, which were few considering she had depended on no one for her livelihood for the past few months. This had been the first thing she had bought with her own savings, and she had chosen the design at great length, often times nearly submitting to a particularly lovely pattern. In the end, she had found the best print, in her estimation. She had found the print in a small vendor just outside of Kyoto on the outskirts of both the country and city—and this conflict was represented, she ventured to guess, in the design. The cloth itself was dyed so that it looked like watercolors, with soft shades of blue and violets. Across this wet and watery background was a metallic stream of small dots, like a great current of wind, rushing against its form. Compared to many of her former garments, its pattern was to be considered plain, yet its simplicity suited her at this moment of time.
She found her steps growing more rapid as she reached the crest of the steep hill and a giggle burst inside her throat. Yes, Kagome admitted, she had waited for this union for what felt like eternity—she had tortured herself and Sesshoumaru for too long. It had been selfish of her in the end, and she was slightly worried that the youkai would banish her from his domain for such would be his anger towards her.
Yet such was a risk she would have to risk.
The crest was reached and the gravel pavilion laid before her and beyond that the front door to his domain. Suddenly, the rice paper of the shoji screen seemed like three feet of rock, but there was no going back. She could not loose this; she would not allow herself to loose such a thing again.
There was nothing left to do but those last few steps, and without hesitation she set out.
It was true that he had been suffering from lack of sleep, yet even his own foolishness was beginning to grow weak on his own patience. He had made it to the pagoda at the edge of the lake, drank two cups of tea, grinded the ink; only to discover that he had forgotten to bring the document that Shippou had wished him to sign, back in his study, residing under his amethyst paper rest.
But it was of no matter; he had all the time in the world for such passing and trivial matters. So, not bothering to beckon for a servant to fetch him the parchment, he made his way from the rear of his grounds, following the path he had not but walked a few moments previous. Up, onto the outdoor veranda that gleamed after being arduously polished the day before, through the hall that led to the interior of the house.
As he strode through the antechamber that passed by the main dusty entry way there was the distant chime of a bell. A low, deep gong. Sesshoumaru paused and glanced towards where the light was emitting beyond the rice paper of the shoji screens beyond. But who could be calling? Sesshoumaru hesitated. It seemed very unbecoming if the master of the house should open the door like a common servant—then again, it did seem rather a waste of time to leave whoever-it-was out on the front entry way, no doubt Shippou coming for one of his daily visits, or perhaps a merchant from the town below. Yes, he could just see to the matter in a moment and then return back to his study to get the paper and…
But the decision was already made and he was walking towards the vestibule, his steps echoing ever so slightly in the small enclosed space. The bright sun of the midday came streaming in through the door that separated the house from the cold…and then, after that lay the door from whence the person was waiting behind.
Unbeknownst, he slid the wooden door and stepped into the vestibule where a variety of shoes lay quietly tucked beneath the wooden overhanging.
It was then he blinked, and stepped back ever so slightly. It was there, that scent; however distant, however changed, however altered, it greeted him for the first time in months. It was not a stale scent, no, fresh, new and alive. His senses now alert and heightened, Sesshoumaru paused, his hand outreached for the final door, his claws brushing against the wooden surface. A shadow was cast against the shoji screen.
But it could not be her, he thought frantically to himself. It could not be her. She was dead.
Yet the racing of his heart would not calm.
So, against hope, against love, against life, he slid open the door and found himself staring into a pair of eyes he knew, oh, very well indeed.
In the distance a bird sung sweetly in the brush.