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Chapter Nineteen

残りける月 The Moon Remains / Epilogue


              When her phone chimed, breaking her concentration, Kagome dropped the snowball she was about to throw at her brother. She didn’t need to check the phone to know who it was or what it said. She tried, furtively, to straighten her clothes and fix her hair, but Souta had a radar for opportunities to tease his older sister. “Is that your boyfriend?”

              “Yes,” she replied lightly. “He just got here, so I’m off.”

              “Wait—what? Are you serious?” He dropped his snowball, mouth gaping at this news.

              “Don’t tell mom. It’s too early for them to meet,” she added over her shoulder as she dashed around the side of the building. She vaguely heard Souta’s voice as he said “Man, I’ve gotta see this,” followed by the sound of his footsteps following her out from behind the house.

              The two of them had been taking a break after a harrowing morning of last-minute preparations and cleaning around the shrine to prepare it for the New Year’s celebrations. As a small shrine, it didn’t get too much foot-traffic during any normal given day, but New Year’s Eve and Hatsumoude, the first Shrine visit of the new year, always drew crowds; there were already at least fifty people on the grounds.

              Kagome had arrived at the shrine two days ago in the evening to help with the preparations and visit with her family. It was so hard to leave her little apartment behind. Since Christmas, she and Sesshoumaru had spent every day together, training during the day and playing around at night. Since coming to the shrine, though, she had been so busy that they hadn’t texted much.

              It was only by chance that it turned out that he was coming today. When she texted him last night, describing all the chores she was doing to help the shrine prepare. Included in this list was dusting off the counter where the Omikuji were kept.

              Of course, the moment she started typing that, it dawned on her. She had forgotten to bring it, hadn’t she? Desperately, she searched her luggage, but it was nowhere to be found.

              Can you do me a favor? When you have time, can you check if that Omikuji fortune is still up on my pinboard? She texted him.

              He took less than ten seconds to reply, and what he said surprised Kagome: It is here.

              Are you at my house right now? She had given him a copy of her apartment key – way too soon for most relationships, but it had seemed the right thing to do when he said that if he ever needed to get in he could just blow the front door down – but she didn’t expect him to actually use it.

              I am, was his reply, followed by, Did you need this for something?

              Kagome wanted to ask him why he was there, but she opted to hold on to that question until the next time she saw him, instead. No, no. It’s fine. I wanted to tie it up to wish it away, just to close the year properly before starting the new one, but it’s fine. He didn’t understand what that meant, so she had to explain the tradition of tying up a bad fortune to be rid of it, and that it’s something you do right when you get the bad fortune, and not a year later. Which meant she also had to explain why she hadn’t tied it up in the first place. And that even though she didn’t think it was really the fortune’s fault, her year had followed it pretty much to the letter, so she thought it best to get rid of it the proper way, even if it was a bit belated.

              To which his response was simply: I will take it to you.

              Kagome, cheeks pink from her sprint, nose red from the cold, crested the edge of the staircase, a breath of anticipation held in her lungs. Sesshoumaru was coming up the steps to the shrine, one hand stuffed in his pocket, the other tapping away at his cellphone. He looked up at her and inclined his head, before his eyes shifted to her right. She looked over.

              Souta was there. “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” the impertinent snotface said. “There’s no way that he’s your boyfriend.”

              “Scram, loser,” she hissed at him, though her eyes were trained on Sesshoumaru. The little twitch of his lips upwards was all the indication she needed to be sure that he’d paid attention to that little exchange.

              Souta walked off, still muttering his disbelief.

              When Sesshoumaru stood before her, Kagome wavered. She wasn’t sure if she should hug him, or kiss him, or even touch him at all. They hadn’t had to greet each other since she let him in to her apartment on Christmas morning.

              To her relief, Sesshoumaru solved that problem for her. “Your little brother, I assume?” he asked, putting his hand to her elbow and drawing her a little closer.

              “Yeah,” she grumbled. “He’s a brat.”

              “He’s still watching,” Sesshoumaru murmured, moving his hand up the back of her arm a little. “How little faith he has in you.”

              Kagome laughed. “Like I said. He’s a brat.”

              “Hn.” He leaned in, crossing the distance between them, and planted a soft kiss on her forehead.

              Kagome’s heart lurched in her chest. “Why were you in my apartment?” she managed to ask, voice breathy, cheeks burning but no longer from the cold, as she placed a hand on the front of his coat.

              “It smelled of you,” was his answer, but he pointedly ignored Kagome’s head exploding, and didn’t pursue that line of conversation any further. Instead, he lead her by the elbow out of the way of the stairs. Kagome glanced back to see that there were a few people starting the climb up. “He seems to be satisfied that you were telling the truth,” Sesshoumaru intoned, eyes in the distance.

              Kagome turned her head to see Souta standing among the crowd, occasionally glancing back at them and then shaking his head and muttering. She giggled. “What’s he saying?”

              “Any one of a number of variations of ‘no way’.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a familiar, wrinkled piece of paper. “Your fortune.”

              “Thank you so much for bringing it,” she said, smiling as she accepted it from his hands. “I really appreciate you going out of your way to do that.”

              He said nothing, instead ushering them further into the crowd. Kagome was surprised; she didn’t really expect him to want to stay. So when he asked, “Shall we sit?” and directed them to an empty bench, she let her happiness shine through.

              The wooden bench was cold, even through the fabric of her coat, and she shivered a little. Sesshoumaru tucked her into his side, arm over her shoulder. She glanced around and saw that Souta was still spying on them. “Aren’t you laying it on a little thick?” she asked.

              He cocked an eyebrow up at her. “Your brother does not know me. He will not find it excessive.”

              She laughed. “I guess I never asked how you felt about PDA. Now I know.”

              “Hn.” He relaxed against the bench, eyes flitting this way and that, watching the crowd.

              She wasn’t ready. She tucked the fortune into her pocket, and then glanced up at Sesshoumaru. “Will you stay awhile?” she asked.

              He tightened his arm around her marginally. “Such was my intention,” he replied.

              They spent the next hour wandering the shrine, arms touching as they walked. Kagome’s guided tour was given half out of excitement and half out of nervousness, but Sesshoumaru bore it with his trademark patience, remaining perfectly silent throughout the tour.

              When they reached her favorite part of the tour, the Goshinboku, with its sprawling branches and sheer size, the look of tolerance on his face changed, and his silence took a different tone. She did not ask him why, though she was dying to. He would tell her if he wanted to.

              They stood together there, for a long time. “Coincidences seem to abound where you are involved. Perhaps it is too weak a word.” He didn’t seem to want to elaborate, but Kagome couldn’t help the confusion on her face, and seeing it apparently prompted him to speak. “This is the tree to which my half-brother was pinned after his betrayal by his first love. It is where he was married to his second, and where he was buried when he passed.”

              “Oh—” she started, and then closed her lips.

              “But perhaps this is not so great a coincidence,” he said, dismissing his previous comments, “as you are the guardian of the Shikon no Tama, which was kept here, was it not?”

              Kagome shook her head slowly. “No. Well, maybe. If this is the shrine where Inuyasha was buried, then it may have been here for a while—it was kept in Edo until it was burned with the body of a Miko who perished while protecting it.”

              “Kikyou,” Sesshoumaru supplied, “the one who pinned him to the tree.”

              “Oh,” she said, putting the pieces together, remembering the passage she read while hospitalized, which the Miko Kaede had written. She looked through her phone for a picture she had taken of the passage, and read him the salient bits. A young girl, name of Rin, orphaned by the wolf youkai clan of the North, appeared in our humble village. In the morning this day gone past, she was sent to collect some herbs in the vicinity of the Bone-Eaters’ well, and was set upon by a vicious crow demon, who attacked her, gouged through her left side, and in doing so produced the Shikon no Tama itself from her rent flesh. It was by a stroke of luck that the hanyou Inuyasha, who has made the forest near the Bone-Eaters’ Well his domain for the last several hundred years, was nearby – he quelled the beast that attacked the girl Rin and saw to her safe return to the village.

              Kagome knew that theirs was not unique: there had been numerous Bone Eater’s Wells in that time, though few had survived into the present. But still, how had she not made the connection before? “That means that the Bone Eater’s Well in the passage – that when Rin had it torn from her body, she was here when it happened.” She turned that over in her mind. “But I received the Shikon no Tama from my father, who received it from his. His side of the family runs a shrine in Gunma, in the mountains.”

              Sesshoumaru considered. “Again, a coincidence. Rin was born in what would be Gunma today, though it was not commonly known as such in those days. After their marriage, they returned there; I believe she died there as well.”

              “Huh. So my dad just happened to be from the Shrine that inherited its protection after her passing.”

              “As I said. Coincidence might be too weak a word.”

              She looked at him for a long moment. “We’re not related, right?”

              Sesshoumaru snorted. That was a clear enough answer for her. 

              They turned from the tree in unison, walking back toward where the crowd was milling. One of the little pine trees was already beginning to resemble a snow-ball, from all the little white paper fortunes tied to its branches. Kagome reached into her pocket and withdrew her Great Curse.

              Sesshoumaru followed her, watching as she fidgeted with the paper in her hands, realizing that she had never taken the chance to re-read her fortune at the end of the year. She unfolded it, the bolded “Great Curse” at the top immediately catching her eye yet again. She shook her head. This was last year’s fortune.

              She had read through her great curse enough times at this point that she could recite it almost by heart. There was one part that she hadn’t bothered re-reading or committing to memory, though: the waka poem at the beginning, there to augment the meaning of the Omikuji.

              The moon remains

              its shining now unobscured

              by leaves on the trees –

              gone in a storm that has left

              nothing of autumn behind. [1]

              She remembered, last year, reading it several times in a row, and absorbing exactly none of it; she had been so preoccupied by the Great Curse and all its particulars. But as she stood here, breathing in the crisp, snow-flavored air and absorbing the warmth of the man she loved beside her, she felt like maybe she could read some meaning into it, now.

              It could be taken at face value—that the changing seasons had brought new perspective, allowing her to see the world around her, and its beauty, for what it was.

              But, maybe it had to do with her powers, blossoming within her and shining brilliantly, the ties that kept them buried within her having been stripped away with her death.

              Or maybe it had something to do with finally being able to see Sesshoumaru for what he was, the farce of his humanity and his rejection of his feelings no longer standing between them.

              She took a deep breath and then, in a burst of quick movement, tied up the fortune to the end of a lonely branch. Her exhalation was deep and shuddering, and accompanied with a sense of lightness and relief that nearly made her head spin.

              Finally, she turned to him, and with a big smile on her face, said what she had been meaning to say since the moment she saw him on the staircase. “Akemashite Omedetou [2].” Happy new year.

              He did that little huffing thing, as if saying ‘it’s been the new year for a good 12 hours already’, then turned his gaze pointedly to the small line at the counter just beyond the pine.

              She looked over and the nerves fluttered in her stomach anew. “Would you like to draw a new fortune with me?”

              He shook his head. “I’ll wait for you here.”

              Kagome nodded and jogged off to get in line. She didn’t have to wait long.

              When it was her turn, she walked up the counter. May this be the year that brings happiness like no other! she wished, and picked up long octagonal box of Omikuji fortunes. I need it, after the year I’ve had, she added wryly to herself, as she began to jostle it to and fro until a slender, numbered dowel slipped out of the bottom. Twenty four, she thought. Gently, she pushed the dowel back into the box, and turned to the cabinet of numbered drawers.

              Twenty-four, twenty-four. She placed her fingers around the worn wooden knob of the appropriately numbered drawer, and pulled out a sheet of printed paper, precisely folded to conceal the content. She shut the drawer quietly and stepped aside to allow the next person to access the cabinet.

              She sniffled, pulling a handkerchief from her pocket and wiping at her nose. It was cold today, her breath puffing in the air before her. It was cold, but she didn’t mind. Winter was the sign that a new beginning was near. Today – New Year’s Day – her new beginning was in her very hand.

              Sesshoumaru walked up to her and looked at her curiously, maybe noticing the suddenly anxious expression on her face. His eyes went to her fingers, anticipating the big reveal. But Kagome wasn’t ready yet. Like she had last year and every year before, she took a fortifying breath and looked over at the placard posted on the gate beside her.

When you draw good fortune, you should not be careless and arrogant.

Even if bad fortune, have no fear. Try to be modest and gentle.

Whether in good or bad fortune, you should tenaciously do your best.

You can carve out your own fortune.

              “Okay,” she uttered aloud, bracing herself. Slowly – ever so slowly – she opened the parchment. She looked past the paper into the air ahead of her until it was completely unfolded. “Okay,” she said again, before letting out a long breath.

              “What does it say?” his resonant voice beside her shattered her concentration.

              Kagome looked down.

              And gasped.