"Let's find the Garden of Amahara," Shiemi says, voice shaking, as she takes Rin's limp hand and follows his gaze over Ikebukuro, in flames. With her other hand, she's clutching the broken Koma Sword like a protection charm. Nee squeaks sadly and covers a bullet wound on Rin's upper arm with a mossy patch; blood pulses on and soaks it through. "Rin." She blinks rapidly but her eyes are dry. "Let's go."
Rin turns to her and rests his forehead on top of her head; his breaths shudder in and out and he smells like ash and rust.
Now that Gehenna and Assiah are one, nobody cares that Rin is the son of Satan; they see another exorcist. Ordinary people, Knights of the True Cross, and Illuminati alike welcome them as allies, feed and shelter them for the night, but don't try too hard to convince them to stay. Rin and Shiemi fight, borrow, and help their way north, then south, then west, then back again.
Nobody's seen Yukio Okumura yet.
Nobody else is looking.
"I want to see Izumo and Konekomaru first," Shiemi admits. She feeds another stick to the fire, although Rin says his blue flames don't need any source of energy except for him. ('You have to sleep sometime,' she'd argued, and he huffed.) "They saved me from the Grigori. I just want to know they're okay." Everyone is always protecting her and Shiemi doesn't count her successes, just her abductions.
Rin bends his wrist and the fire undulates with his movements. "Izumo is in Inari with all of her foxes, and Suguro and Konekomaru are protecting Kyoto with Myodha." He smiles when the flames briefly form a spiral. "Shima is doing whatever he wants, and so is Takara." He closes his fist and the flames flicker down to embers before he releases it and they leap up. "Shura's gotta be kicking ass as we speak."
Shiemi giggles, nods, and scoots closer to him. The woods around are full of shadows and cries of various animals and demons; none of them dare come near the source of the strange blue fire. "Can you make the squid again?"
"It was Kuro!"
Kuro lifts his head at his name, sees Rin and Shiemi are only looking at each other, and goes back to sleep.
When they revisit Sendai, following a rumor that blue flames are flaring up all over the city, they look for Yuki, soothe a colony of disgruntled Hobgoblins and negotiate a truce between them and their terrified human neighbors, and find out that the permanent introduction of demons to their realm won't stop Sendai from holding its annual Pageant of Starlight.
They surge forward with the crowd, following a path of light-covered trees that's beautiful and overwhelming to look at. It's cold and her jacket is falling apart, so Shiemi holds on to his arm and knits herself close to his side because he's always warm. She points out the types of trees they pass; she can make out all of them even when they're covered in thousands of dizzying lights.
They reach the end of one path and step into a quiet sitting area where there's a dozen pairs and nobody is looking at anyone else. Shiemi is still holding on to Rin when he leans heavily against her and says, "Do you think Yukio saw this already and went on ahead?"
"Yeah," she whispers. "He must have."
Snow covers Sendai the day after Christmas and keeps coming down, trapping them in the city for the forseeable future. They squat in an abandoned house they had to rid of Coal Tars and drag in a kerosene heater before it was comfortable enough.
Shiemi and Nee are preparing herbs for New Year's porridge when Rin comes home carrying a bag of combini bentos and oolong tea. In the middle of complaining that he misses having a real kitchen, Shiemi turns her head and kisses his cheek without thinking.
They freeze, Rin's head tilted toward her as if expecting another kiss, and then he hides his face while Shiemi covers her eyes with one hand and Nee with the other.
Another city, another battle, another night of recovery.
Rin's stomach wound is bleeding and re-opening faster than he can heal, and Nee's plants and Shiemi's bandages don't help, so when he's groaning and trying to stagger to his feet for the fourth time that night, Shiemi gets up and retrieves the pocketknife from her jacket.
Without hesitation, she slits the fleshy part of her hand below the thumb and squeezes until beads of blood appear. She puts the wound to his mouth and he whimpers in protest but laps up her ichor. The daughter of Creation itself doesn't differentiate between human or demon; a few gulps of her blood will help anyone.
She pets his hair as he drinks until he's satiated and comfortable. His eyes close and his face relaxes and she kisses him between the eyes. She wipes his mouth with her fingers. "There you go," she whispers.
He sleeps easy and she lays down next to him and cuddles close.
"Where did you get that idea?" he mumbles in the morning. They're on their sides facing each other, like so long ago in Kyoto, and his face is so close she can focus on his eyes and not much else. It's cold enough to justify the contact, she thinks.
"I used it on Konekomaru once." She flexes the hand she cut but it doesn't hurt a bit. "Rin, will we still be friends if I'm not human?"
"Hey! We were friends before." Then there's a soft, curious pressure on her lips and Shiemi closes her eyes and smiles against his mouth.
Come July, it's been three years since Shiemi lead him by the hand away from Ikebukuro. They're nineteen and still sometimes stop to play with kids who've befriended smaller, mischievous demons.
In Aomori they stay at an inn where the old woman who runs it seems to remember Rin; she asks him where his 'young man' is, and he blinks rapidly before going, "My brother?" The old woman seems as perplexed as Rin but neither explain. She offers them Aomori apples though, which Rin peels and shapes into cute little bunnies and offers them to the young children staying with their parents in the next room over. He labors over the last apple, turning away when Shiemi tries to peek, until he whirls around to reveal he's carved her a blossom out of the fruit.
It's one of the many distractions he comes up with in Aomori. On the last day they walk to an old temple for a god he says he fought with Yuki and Miss Kirigakure. Like most temples, it looks frozen in time and like they shouldn't even whisper on its grounds.
"It sounds like and Yuki worked really well together," she offers, and Rin just looks at one crumbling corner of the roof, shakes his head, and says, "I wish he'd thought so."
That night she crawls into his bed. When she straddles him, he grabs her elbows and gently pulls her down on top of him. The combination of push and pull, hard and soft, and fabric and skin makes her hum with excitement instead of fear.
They only bump heads once; the rest of the night they show each other what feels good and forget that come tomorrow they'll be on the road again.
In October they're sitting under one tree in a row of them along the road, watching a dryad hassle a family picnic until the mother -- an older woman in an apron who looks like she's never even heard of Arias -- sends it away with an articulate ward.
"Do you think we should take a break?" Rin asks as he keeps watching the family. On his lap, Kuro yawns and fully extends his legs in his sleep; Rin scratches behind his ears. Maybe Rin's thinking about what he'd put in bentos for a day like today, maybe he's thinking about something hard and snarled up -- she can't tell by looking at him. It's unusual when she can't read Rin's face.
"We can look for the Garden another time," Shiemi says, pulling her knees up to her chest and wincing.
There's only one place they think of: Futsumaya. Mom abandoned it when the Gehenna-Assiah conflict peaked, but they still have the magic key to get there. It will take some work to repair, Shiemi thinks as she opens the door, but the garden will be back in no time --
Shiemi stops still when the only thing before them is razed, flat earth. The wind pulls at her clothes and hair. Nee whines sadly in her ear. A buzzing noise fills the air, and then a siren sounds as roots violently erupt from the dirt. The world is exploding as she tears it apart with new growth: wood splits the topsoil, vines choke the demons that emerge from underground, poisonous flowers and herbs and other plants bloom and a miasma of pollen spreads so thick she can see Rin and Kuro coughing as they try to beat back the disgruntled nest of demons that emerge from her forest.
This is her land, she thinks. She's Creation, and Shemihaza needed Emptiness before he could build the world, but why does it hurt so much? The world is hushed and the blood in her ears is so loud --
She coughs violently and doubles over, tasting blood and realizing her throat is raw because she was the screaming siren. She crouches down and covers her ears from the ripping and rending of uncontrolled growth before them.
"Shiemi! --have to --emi?"
There's a blast of heat before her, and when she opens her eyes her whole funeral garden is glowing sapphire. Rin's silhouetted by the fire as he stands before her, extending a hand and looking at her sadly when she refuses it. He sits beside her in the dirt and they watch her home burn down to the topsoil.
"It wouldn't stop," Rin says quietly when the only other sound is popping embers. "I couldn't get rid of the demons while everything was still growing."
Shiemi presses her forehead to her knees. She's sore and worn ragged from the inside out. "We can't stay here." She's crying and she hates that she's backsliding like this. She'd just stopped weeping whenever the wind changed directions and now she's back here.
"...Yeah. The Garden of Amahara isn't here." When they leave he holds her hand and leads the way.
When they can't find a home they make one. It's a cabin set high enough into the mountains that someone would have to really search to find them, but not so remote they can't get to civilization if they need it. Shiemi cultivates a lot of hardy plants that can withstand rocky topsoil and starts making and selling medicines made of them. Rin and Kuro trek down the mountain every day to the town at its base; Rin's finally found total acceptance as an anonymous line cook and Kuro enjoys the treats passing children stuff him with throughout the day.
Some nights they build a fire just to sit and talk around it, like they did when they were traveling. Rin rests with his head in her lap and sometimes he feels well enough to talk about what it'll be like when Yuki sees their place.
Shiemi dryswallows when he does and pushes down the intrusive thought that something is off-kilter in their picture; she's afraid to admit it's her.
She is Creation. She feels new life inside her.
Shiemi thinks she's hiding it well.
Nee feeds her a steady supply of ginger and she rinses her mouth out with water before she goes to kiss Rin. She pulls her kimono tight against her chest and resorts to a pin when it won't fully close. She just feels chubby and like she overate, even though she eats the same edible flowers and plants Rin does, but the fact is she's way beyond "late."
'Oh no,' she thinks. 'It's not fair.' To her, to him, to Kuro, to Yuki, most of all to their baby.
Bonito flakes are the reason she gives up the ruse. Rin goes to brush her hair off her face one night and his hands smell faintly of them from his job; Shiemi jerks her head away but gags and throws up in her mouth.
Rin blots her mouth and looks puzzled and grossed out simultaneously. "Are you sick?"
"No." She covers her mouth and tastes bile again. She swallows it long enough to get out, "But I'm pregnant."
II. Four-Leaf Clover
The day his daughter's born, Rin searches her eyes until he's satisfied no blue flames smolder in them. That's no guarantee she'll pass for human forever, but she's also part Shiemi, the last daughter of Shemihaza, and he hopes their baby will possess that gentle, life-giving strength. That she'll be happy and safe and free.
They name her Midori, for greenery, and she grows quick as her namesake. Blessedly, she appears completely powerless. Not that she doesn't try to copy Nee when he sprouts plants of all kinds, or Rin when he wills a flickering blue flame to his palm to make shadow puppets for her.
Watching her grin and giggle as he makes Kuro and foxes and flowers and even a kraken, he marvels that she's the first person who's seen his fire and wasn't immediately terrified of him.
When Midori is four, she asks him why they don't move off the mountain? Why do they avoid people except for work and their once-a-month shopping trip?
"Just be patient," he says and realizes he sounds just like his old man. Whenever Rin would throw a tantrum because Yukio got to pick the first slice of birthday cake or took a turn on the swing before him, their old man would tell him that, and when that inevitably didn't work he'd lift him up, shut them in the twins' bedroom, and make Rin recite the Lord's Prayer until he was so bored he couldn't remember why he was angry. For the umpteenth time, Rin's glad Midori is so different from him.
"Let's go tomorow," Midori pleads.
"You gotta get a bit bigger." He lifts her under the arms and tosses her up in the air before catching her and making her giggle. "When I can't do that anymore, you'll be big enough. We'll go all over the world then."
Rin hasn't given up on Yukio. Somewhere he's alive, but either can't or won't come back to them. Rin knows he did his best and wore his feet to the bone trying to find him. He and Shiemi covered vast distances but they won't go any farther, not for lack of love but because of love.
Everyone who needs to find him knows where he is; Yukio knows all of these people. Yukio can see the signal fire Rin makes some nights, when he can't sleep and remembers that when they were kids they had a blue nightlight because Yukio was terrified of the dark.
Rin's waiting, but in the meantime his own life goes on. He finally saved enough money to buy Shiemi a proper ring last year. The roof is leaking and he needs to find the time to fix that. Last night Midori crawled into his lap and demanded he listen while she read to him.
Tonight, Rin lets the fire build slowly, smiles at the memory of Midori, and says out loud, "You'll like it here, Yukio. So hurry up."