As the little children of Kaede Village crowded around the Goshinboku with excited smiles on their faces, the elderly man sitting at the base of the tree felt a sense of peace at seeing the happy boys and girls. There were about twelve of them all total; they were just waiting for two more arrivals.
"Jijisama," a tiny little girl dressed in a soft, pink kimono reflecting the spring said as she pulled on the sleeve of his white kimono. "When can we start?"
He placed a slightly withered hand on her soft, brown hair and smiled at her. She almost reminded him of the taijya's older twin daughter shortly after their little brother had been born. She, like many of the other children that surrounded him, didn't fear him. In fact, it was almost as if they were born into the world without fear of him. This made him feel welcome; loved, even.
"Soon, Keiko-chan," He knew the name of ever child that had been born into the village for the past eighty years. "Very soon." †
"Jijisama!" a young boy a little older than Keiko named Daisuke said excitedly as the remaining two finally arrived. "They're here!"
He turned his aging eyes away from the group of children that surrounded him and at the couple that had finally arrived with a child of their own. It always filled his heart with a sense of elation and pride at seeing the young man dressed in the traditional robes of a shrine keeper, very much resembling the red hakama and white kimono she once wore. Of course, the hakama pants he wore were more navy blue, but he could always see traces of her within him, especially with all of that dark hair he had, and the vibrant,mirror-colored eyes he'd inherited.
"Mamoru," he called out to the young man with a voice that reflected his age. "What kept you?" His gentle smile told the priest that he took no ill with his tardiness. It was probably something inherited from his mother. She never could be on time for anything.
"Sorry, dad. Someone," Mamoru included his head to the woman standing beside him, dressed in a lavender kimono with a white butterfly motif and holding a child of exactly five winters in her arms. "Decided to take forever and a year to finish her shopping."
Said someone set the child down so she could have both hands to chastise him for teasing her so. The child rushed over to the elderly man at the base of the blossoming Goshinboku. He opened his eyes and hugged the child tightly. The toddler in his arms was the union of his son's marriage to the woman by his side. Of course, it was no secret that she wasn't a human; quite the opposite, in fact-but no one held it against her that the child of the village guardians chose to marry a demon. The soft, lavender-colored hair and startling azure eyes she had been inherited from her parents-two, powerful and prominent horse demons in the East. As such, his grandson had been born with his grandmother's mirror-colored eyes, but his hair was a deep purple color tinted with midnight blue-the same color of his son's hair. †The elderly man adjusted his grandchild on his lap and stared at the bickering couple with amusement. Mamoru was having quite a time teasing his pregnant wife-just as he had done with Mamoru's mother such a long time ago. Hell, any minute now, he half expected her to say that word and the ground would shake upon him falling face forward in the dirt.
Just like what would happen whenever he'd argued with her.
"Mamoru," he said with a laugh as he adjusted his grandson on his lap. "Leave poor Hatsuyuki alone so I can finish my story. You've already made the rest of us wait...and the hour grows late."
Mamoru looked at his father. Even though his old man was smiling, the meaning of the word "late" tugged at his heart just so. The sun hadn't begun to set in the sky-but it had begun to set in his father's soul. He led Hatsuyuki to her father-in-law where she took a seat by his left, white her husband at his father's right. Everyone watched as the man adjusted himself against the tree before releasing a sigh. The years reflected deeply within his molten amber orbs.
"So!" he began excitedly, getting everyone's attention. "There we were, stuck within the evil Shikon no Tama...!"
The story concluded an hour later, just as the sun in the sky began to set and the smell of dinner began wafting along the wind. Both Hatsuyuki and Mamoru had heard the story many times, but there was something different about how he'd told it. With Mamoru being a quarter demon, and Hatsuyuki being a full demon, they both knew why. The old storyteller remained sitting at the base of the tree with the children still asking many questions about the battle with the "most evil demon of them all". Hatsuyuki glanced side ways at her husband, who was staring intently at his father. She knew that look. Clearing her throat, she grabbed the attention of the village children, including her own son.
"Okay, everyone, it's time to go home!" With help from her husband, Hatsukyuki stood up and began ushering the children back to the village. She turned around for only a second to let her child catch up, smiled at her adoptive father, and left.
With only Mamoru and his father sitting by the base of the tree, the younger of the men gave a great sigh.
"How are you feeling, father?"
"Tired, boy," he answered with something of a serene smile on his face. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. The time must have been drawing nearer, because he could smell her scent. He'd gone so many years without it, but soon, he knew he wouldn't have to go another day without it. "But, I'm fine." Better than fine, he thought. Mamoru leaned his shoulder against his father's, and tried ignoring the pain in his heart when he felt him slide an arm around his shoulder.
"You'll be alright, won't you son?"
Mamoru nodded solemnly. "I guess. It'll just be strange...you know, without you here."
"I've lived a long time," he chuckled. "Much longer than most Hanyou, in fact. But, don't forget, I still have a promise to fulfill to your mother. As long as you promise me that you, Hatsuyuki, and my grandson will be fine, then I can go in peace."
The evening wind rustled the trees, bringing with it something other than the smell of dinner cooking-it brought her voice.
He closed his eyes once more as a smile spread across his face. He removed his arm from around his son's shoulder and inclined his head towards the twilight sky just so.
"I have to go now, Mamoru. Your mother has finally come for me. I've waited a long time."
Mamoru looked at his father once more. Even as a child, he knew his father never loved anyone as much as he loved his mother. They were always together, even when they had disagreements. Even after she passed away from old age, his father had taken it well-all because he knew he would see her again. Every time he asked his father how he could be so strong about losing his wife after so long, his answer was the same: Because, son, your mother and I were born to meet each other. I know that no matter how long we have to be apart, we'll always see each other again.†
Mamoru hugged his father one, final time before standing. No more words were needed as he returned to the village. The old man raised his head, smiling for a brief moment as the final rays of the dying sun reflected a silhouette standing before him. The sun had completely disappeared behind the mountains when the old bone-eater's well appeared in front of him, basked in moonlight. He didn't care how or why; he stood up on knees that were old and weak, but that wouldn't stop him in the least. He walked over to the edge of the well and stuck his hand inside of its dark depths. A soft, familiar hand grasped onto his and as he slowly pulled backwards, he could see her beautiful, glowing form appeared before him out of the well. She looked just like a young woman again and wore not one, token strip of clothing on her beautiful body. Would she even want him now that he was old and withered? Tears slowly began to slide down his cheeks at seeing his beloved once more.
She continued holding his hand and raised the other to wipe away the crystal tears slowly trailing down his cheek.
"Are you ready, Inuyasha?"
He reached out his old, withered hand and placed it gently into hers.
She curled his fingers around his and his old body was filled with a beautiful, tranquil warmth that flowed from her body and into his. The landscape around them melted into nothingness, with only the Goshinboku and old well joining them in the pure, white void. All at once, every wrinkle he ever acquired vanished. His deep, gray hair was returned to its pure, snow-white color and his body became young and strong once more. He could feel the kimono he wore slowly tear away from his body and vanish into nothingness. When he opened his eyes, he could see Kagome smiling at him happily. In her mirror-colored eyes, he could see the reflection belonging to him a long, long time ago. He wrapped his young, strong arms tightly around his wife's body and breathed deeply.
"Wh-what have you been up to?"
He could feel her smiling and embraced her tighter. The blossoms from around the Goshinboku surrounded them in a soft whirlwind as the two as he pulled back just so and kissed her gently. They remained standing there long after the kiss had ended, gazing at one another. She rested her head against his chest and fell into his embrace.
"I'm sorry, Inuyasha. You always seem to be waiting for me."
He placed his hand on the side of her cheek and inclined her head towards him. He wore a smile she'd seen so many times.
"No, not this time. This time, it was me who made you wait." he paused for a moment. "But never again. Let's go, Kagome...we've a lot of time to make up for."
Never letting go of each other's hands, they walked towards the Goshinboku that slowly began to fade along with everything else. Once upon a time, they aimed to walk towards tomorrow.
Now, together, they would walk towards eternity forever more.