Epilogue: (Eight years later…)
Nestled deep within the snow-covered mountains, a village of purest crystalline ice edifices lay, undisturbed for generations. Truthfully, it owed its unpolluted, serene, and uniform nature to the protective barrier that enshrined it, which served to both keep straying foreigners out and to maintain a vibrant aurora permanently in the sky beneath it. On its makeshift streets, really nothing more than semi-paved walkways of firm snow, the denizens of this ice realm contentedly went about their business. The children, though few in number, played rambunctiously in the snow and ice, while their mothers kept wary vigil over them, quietly but fiercely protective.
An almost disturbingly huge percentage of the population was female, and they dressed uniformly in airy white yukata with sky blue sashes at the midsection. Their hair, while worn in different styles, was unvaryingly a light lavender, and they all had cerulean eyes. Every so often a man with identical features could be seen travelling, but always alone, save for an escort of not less than two females, armed with all manner of melee weaponry and with tense, suspicious expressions.
This was the last city of the yuki-onna, the snow maidens. Once a prestigious, numerous people, their population had dwindled to a critical state, due to a genetic trait that left their females barren in the tender years of their early twenties. Still, they were a quiet, proud people, and were convinced that they would one day overcome their tribulations and return to the prosperity they had once enjoyed, many generations ago….
At one modest home, obviously of a powerful family given its location beside the city's main thoroughfare, there was a great deal of commotion from inside.
A child, a young girl to be exact, looking to be no more than seven or eight, ran about the house's corridors, gleefully dodging her mother's exasperated attempts to put the finishing touches on her hair bun. Her sash was missing from her yukata, and as she ran, her lilting laughter ringing out behind her, the light robe flew open and swirled around her. She was a free-spirited child, and her mother heard no end of complaints from the child's teachers about her unruly behavior.
The girl's mother stood at the mouth of a bedroom door, hands on her hips and a tired smile on her face. No doubt she gets it from her father, she thought, her inner monologue echoing the explanation she had given to many a weary teacher and nanny.
She looked at her wrist and gave a slight jump at the reading on her wristwatch. Finally spurred into action, she pursued the youngster with renewed energy. "Michiko…! Shirayuki Michiko you get over here this instant! Your father is going to be here any minute; you don't want him to see you acting and looking like a little heathen and becoming cross with you, do you?"
That did the trick; it always did. Shirayuki Mizore shook her head and sighed when her daughter's face, suddenly wearing a chastised expression, floated into view from around a corner. That man…. I don't know what it is about him and women…. Apparently even his daughter isn't immune to it. The young Michiko moped over to her mother, her face downcast, before casting a hopeful look up at Mizore's face. "You don't think Daddy will really be cross with me, do you?"
Mizore's stern expression melted away in the face of the child's adorable penance. She knelt down and kissed her daughter's forehead as she wrapped the sheer obi around her waist. "Of course not. You know your daddy could never be angry at you. You mean the world to him."
Michiko's tiny face scrunched up thoughtfully at this, and then she finally gave a small giggle and smiled, apparently satisfied by her mother's answer. Then her face became thoughtful again. "How long is Daddy going to be here for this time…?"
Mizore's countenance changed, for just a moment. She quickly masked it with a smile, though. "I think he will be able to stay for a while this time. Your daddy has been very busy lately; he works very hard and always does his best for you; you know that. Don't complain to him when he's here, Michiko, okay? Show him what you've been working on at school; you know he likes to see your projects."
Michiko looked down at her feet and nodded. "Okay, Mommy."
Mizore nodded her appreciation, then moved behind Michiko, kneeling for better access to her unruly hair. As Mizore quietly worked, Michiko droned on about all the things she wanted to talk with her father about. "…and I'm gonna show him my art project, and my science fair project, and I'll show him the ice doll I made with my power. I don't wanna show him any math stuff, though…. I don't like math, and my teacher is really mean, sometimes. She gives lots of homework and quizzes."
The corners of Mizore's mouth twitched upwards. Definitely takes after her father…. Finally, she put the finishing touches on the tight bun high on the back of Michiko's head, and patted her shoulders. "All done now, Michiko. You can play a little while until he gets here, but don't make a mess of your outfit or your hair, okay?"
"Okay, Mommy," was the disappointed response. Then, after a short silence, "I love Daddy a whole lot…. I miss him when he's not here."
Mizore lifted a hand to her chest, and her head bowed slightly as she cast a solemn expression at the floor. "Mommy does, too, sweetheart."
Mizore left Michiko to her own devices for a bit, wandering into her bedroom and pulling out a well-worn shoebox. She lifted the lid, and withdrew a weathered three-ring binder, full to bursting with pictures. She opened it to the first page, a series of snapshots in protective laminate. She flipped from page to page, going through each section marked by year. Most of the earlier shots were taken by Gin, and related to the time she'd spent in the Yokai Academy Newspaper Club. She smiled wistfully, her gaze tenderly marking and lingering on one face in particular with each photograph.
She tore her concentration from the scrapbook every so often, to listen for and smile when she heard her daughter's trademark laughter indicating all was well…. It was prolonged silence that she had to worry about. She finally got to the pictures that were taken not by Gin, but by someone much more important to her, the father of her daughter, on the day of her birth. Mizore smiled softly at the pained yet happy expression on her face pre-birth, and then she turned to one particularly dog-eared laminate, which only housed one large image. It was a picture of her, newborn Michiko, and Michiko's father. Michiko had been a remarkably quiet baby; Mizore's expression was one of unadulterated joy, and his face… his face was a mask of pride, love… and a hint of sadness, just in the eyes. She allowed herself the small mercy of putting her fingertips on the image of his face, tracing out his features, as she'd done hundreds of times before.
Her lips parted slightly, trembled, then silently mouthed a word… his name. She swallowed a growing lump in her throat, cleared her throat, and said, in a small unsteady voice, "…Tsu-"
A sudden knock coming from the front door startled her, interrupting her quiet moment of introspection. She hastily shut the scrapbook, placed it back in its shoebox, and reverently returned it to its hiding place. Then, taking a moment to collect herself, she marched into the living room, where Michiko was waiting at the door like an overexcited puppy. Mizore squatted in front of her to give her one final once-over, licked her own thumb and rubbed at a smudge on Michiko's chin, then finally stood, grasped the door handle, and turned it, pulling the door open.
Mother and daughter shared the same excited expression, granted for different reasons, as sunlight flooded the room, his outline appeared, and his face came into view. His chocolate-brown hair and eyes were the same as they'd always been, and he wore a tired smile from the undoubtedly long journey to the village. Mizore smiled warmly at him, and he met her gaze for a split second before he was practically glomped by Michiko. "Daddy!"
He caught her in midair and spun her around, laughing brightly. "Hello, hello, Michiko-chan! Have you been a good girl for your mother?"
Michiko squealed with delight until her father stopped spinning her and finally rested her in the crook of his arm so that they were face-to-face. "Mm-hm! I've been really good; Mommy'll tell you so! So, did you bring me anything?"
He set her down onto her feet, and adopted a playfully thoughtful expression, putting a finger to his lips. "Well…. I do seem to recall getting a present for a certain little girl for if she was good…. But I figured there was no way my little girl would ever be bad, so in fact, I brought you two presents!"
Michiko's eyes lit up with excitement, and she jumped up and down with anticipation. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a small box, and handed it to her. Michiko accepted the gift with a bright smile, but her expression was craftily intelligent as she looked at him sideways. "And where's the other one?"
He looked from her to Mizore with a questioning expression. She nodded affirmatively. "Go ahead, Tsukune…. I didn't tell her."
Aono Tsukune smiled back at his daughter, and spoke in a conspiratorially low tone. "It's right behind me."
Suddenly, a small head peeked out from behind Tsukune, that of a young girl, who appeared to be about three or four years younger than Michiko. Her eyes shone with a curious and mischievous intelligence, but her mouth was drawn in so that her expression was markedly shy as she took in the figures of Mizore and Michiko. Her eyes were a deep purple, and her unruly hair was the same brown as Tsukune's. A field of freckles adorned her nose and cheeks. She studied the mother and daughter for a moment, then said softly into her father's ear, "Daddy, I'm cold…. Can't we go inside now?"
Tsukune patted her head affectionately. "In just a minute, sweetie. First, I want you to be polite, and introduce yourself. This is your aunt, Shirayuki Mizore-san, and your sister, Shirayuki Michiko."
The girl's eyes widened at the mention of the word 'sister', and she looked at Michiko with more reverence. Finally, she stepped out from behind Tsukune and stood in front of Michiko, folded her hands in front of her legs, and bowed at the waist. "Pleased to meet you. My name is Aono Kioko. My name means 'meets the world with happiness'."
Michiko looked downright astounded, but her expression slowly changed to one of quiet jubilation. She mirrored Kioko's movements, bowing, and said, "Pleased to meet you. My name is Shirayuki Michiko. My name means beauty and wisdom."
Having introduced themselves, they stood awkwardly looking at themselves, until Michiko turned to look at Mizore inquisitively. Mizore smiled, and nodded her head. "Michiko-chan, why don't you show Kioko-chan around a little bit? Don't get into anyone's way, and be careful. And be sure to come back if Kioko-chan starts to get cold."
Michiko's face was a mask of happiness as she nodded astutely, grabbed Kioko's hand, and started to pull her away. "C'mon! I know a great place to play! What kind of games do you know?"
Tsukune and Mizore stood, watching the two walk off hand-in-hand, with contented smiles. Tsukune turned to regard Mizore with an apologetic expression. "I'm sorry to trouble you…. I thought maybe Michiko-chan would like someone closer to her age to play with."
Mizore shook her head, dismissing his apology. "No, not at all. I'm really happy you could finally bring her. She's gotten so big…. How's her mother?"
Tsukune smiled. "Oh, Kurumu? You know her; she never changes…."
Mizore chuckled and shook her head. "Oh, I think she's changed quite a bit."
Tsukune tilted his head questioningly. "Really? How so?"
Mizore looked up at the sky wistfully, then back at him. "I think she finally has everything she's always wanted. Usually, when someone gets that… it makes them a different person."
Tsukune nodded slowly, taking her meaning. "Still…. It's really good… to see you again, Mizore-chan."
Mizore smiled sadly. "It's nice to see you, too… Tsukune."
He returned her sad smile. He would never ask her to use his name with an honorific, despite his inability to return the favor for her. But he knew she wouldn't ask him to again, either. She motioned to the front door. "Would you like to come inside…? Catch up a bit? I know you must be tired."
He nodded, sighing gratefully. "I'd love to. Do you have anything warm to drink?"
Mizore nodded, her eyes shining purposefully. "I was thinking about the past recently, and I remembered you and I were once supposed to share a cup of hot chocolate…."
-Well, howdy again, folks! I know a lot of people were pretty unhappy with the way my story ended; even I thought long and hard about some way… to try and bring everything to a close. So, time after time I had tried to put something down on paper (or, word processor), but nothing really came to me, and as time went by, I decided to leave it as-is…. Then, something wild happened. I'd been receiving reviews for this story months since uploading the last chapter, and I try my best to send out thank you notes/PMs of appreciation to most everyone who does so, and in one conversation that ensued from one of these, a fellow by the name of IdiAmeanDada gave me his idea for a possible epilogue, and this was born from that idea. I can't stress enough that this was truly his brainchild; he gave me a two-sentence description, and the whole thing was fleshed out and written 3 hours later. I love the scene; I think it does bring some closure, and I'm overall very happy with how the scene plays out…. Maybe it wasn't the girl you'd hoped would win (sorry all you Moka fans out there; if you want a good Moka/Tsukune fic, I highly recommend "Dreams, Changes, and a Vampire" by Shadowwolf08!), but I hope you enjoyed how everything played out in the end, anyhow. Well, that's my epilogue, and I'm sticking to it! lol-
-P.S., Thanks so much, as always, to everyone for their support over the course of this fic! All the reviews, all the encouragement, all the "constructive" criticism (lol)! Thanks to everyone who read this, whether you reviewed or not. That's the most important thing to me, just that someone actually wrote it. Why write something, except to have it eventually read. Whether that reader is a family member, close friend, husband/wife, child, stranger, or even the writer itself…. We are telling a story; and a story must have an audience. For me, that audience was and always will be you, my Constant Reader. Always you.-
May 28, 2013