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The next few days were quiet. Kagome didn't ask, didn't push and Ronan didn't offer any insight. He retreated deep into himself, thinking, weighting options, considering. The spacecraft became a husk, filled with two almost – ghosts, haunting the space, passing by like ships at night.

It was quiet, yes and it was calm as well but it was the calmness before the storm, it was the stillness of the thick, black shell of dried lava that housed underneath a tumultuous river of molten rocks that needed only a small crevice or a delicate nudge to erupt and destroy. It was reminiscent of the beginning of their journey but in reverse.

Then there was a lot to talk about but little familiarity to bridge the gap and only danger and need nipping at their heels pushed them into meaningful discussions. Now, there was only one topic worth debating and they've shared enough to create a thin film of intimacy but it was too fragile to survive the obvious truths that had to be voiced. So they've anchored themselves in the routines they've developed, the relay like guard duty: one passing to the other with a tap to the shoulder and a nod towards the screen, no words employed; in the morning purification and afternoon dances, criss – crossed by a shared meal enriched by the dwindling supply of fruits.

The resemblance was fitting in some twisted, karmic way for they've been nearing the end of voyage and although non spoke about it, both knew the time was slipping through their fingers like grains of sand, too small to see their passage individually but once enough accumulated, it was impossible to deny.

Kagome didn't know what to expect. One moment she imagined Ronan exploding like a barrel of gun powder while a minute later she leaned towards a clipped monologue. Even so, she didn't foresee, the route he determined to take, the one sentence reverberating like a ricochet in an empty, metal cage.

"We'll arrive in an hour."

"So soon?" she spoke softly, already mourning the loss that will come with the challenge and the change, for before new can come the old needs to go. "Right" she mumbled, taking firm steps with new resolve. Dropping to the seat she teased in a light if a bit fake tone "Hmm, imagine there were days I though we'll never make it and now poof – we'll be there in an hour."

"Finding a planet with water isn't a problem. Finding one with waterfalls, stable and safe environment, with an atmosphere that we can both breath in and no dangerous indigenous life, is a different matter altogether." Ronan expanded as if he felt a need to explain, to justify himself.

"I wouldn't think less of you, if it was due to apprehension." She peeked at him, to gauge the reaction to the veiled question. Do you fear? Noticing the stubborn set of the jaw, his face looking straight, she averted her eyes before there was a chance of getting caught in the process, before an offence could be taken.

"What now?"

"What we meant to do all along." He veered right, the curtness of the tone cutting off further discussion.

Kagome crouched at the bank of the lake, crumbling a piece of rock between her fingers while warily observing the destructive force of nature, spread in front of her. When she mentioned the waterfall she pictured a small one with calm and gentle flow, broken and slowed down by steps and angled bed like Unasawa Mitsugama Falls in Tokyo but this, this was a behemoth, with its jaws wide open, ready to pounce and devour the world beneath it. Torrent reaching to the sky, hit the surface of the water with such a deafening violence, that it was truly awe inspiring and magnificent in its ferociousness.

Directing her attention to Ronan divesting himself of the attire, she worried over his unrepentant mask, a sliver of doubt, for the first time, entering her heart. The differences between them could not be more stark when he stood tall, hard and proud framed by the catastrophic occurrence behind him. Was it a metaphor of his life?

She explained the ritual of purification, the steps and the expected outcome but did she convey the true nature of Harae? The cleansing of sins and taint and guilt.

Her attention was pulled back by the sloshing sound as Ronan ventured forth allowing the water to swallow his ankles, calves, thighs… and an irrational fear suddenly hit her, of him going and going, never stopping until he would be gone. She jumped in, hiss escaping her mouth as the freezing water penetrated her clothes. Just because Ronan saw her naked or half – naked, did not mean she welcomed the intrusion or voyeurism, so she opted for a full attire. Another contrast to add to the growing list. He in a black loincloth hiding only his manhood while she trod behind covered like a nun.

He stopped when the water reached his waist, waiting for Kagome to catch up with him. What now? his eyes seemed to ask.

"Erm" she started hesitantly "now, you lie" she placed a palm on his chest, gently pushing him backwards but it wasn't her strength that forced him to acquiesce but the trust he willingly and freely placed in her. She smiled at this. There is hope still.

"I will not allow you to drown" she assured in a serene voice before unexpectedly pushing him underwater.

Instinct kicked in and he panicked, jerking and trashing, trying to escape but the firm grip, the pain of nails biting into his arm cut through the mindless act and he focused on Kagome who hovered above him. Calm and peaceful. Underwater.

He blinked several times wondering if this was some sort of vicious game but quickly discarded the ridiculous notion. Cruelty wasn't in her nature, nor was suicide. Concentrating instead on his body, he jolted back, realizing that he might not be breathing but… he did not quite feel like he had to?

Calming his heart, he relaxed muscles allowing his body to fall even deeper into the blue darkness. His eyes closed to Kagome's nods of approval.

Kagome vividly remembers her only experience with this type of purification. Kikyo's dying corpse, leaking poisonous miasma while the stolen piece of her soul agonizingly screamed for help. Pulled by the raw suffering she jumped in without second thoughts and doubts, catching the grains of grave soil, cleansing them while fighting for her survival, connected by the shared memories. It wasn't a difficult decision and while the process was exhausting it lasted only few minutes.

She never wondered how they survived their time underwater. This was a secondary topic in light of the private images of the past she glanced but as she steadily pumped her powers into Ronan, she started to ponder this topic. Time was a tricky thing to asses while immersed in a lake. Light and sound were either muted or distorted and she could not look up to sky and observe traveling sun but her growing tiredness was an indicator of a kind. She was strong enough that small or short usage of energy did not even register and only a prolonged effort could leave a mark. So as the coldness seeped into her bones and shivers started to rock her frame and she had to reach out to the furthest depths of her well of power, she knew they have been hours at it.

It was a lonely process and for that even more taxing. She put and put and put and she did not know if they were closer to or further away from the goal although Ronan's unguarded expressions proved to be entertaining. For a while she catalogued his angry, sad, tender, hateful, vulnerable faces and many more amazed by the range but the growing fatigue quickly turned into exhaustion and her world narrowed only to this one task: give and give and give.

It could have been seconds, hours, days or months even, before she heard, no, before she felt that it was now or never. Tired beyond comprehension, her heart racing, her mind dizzy she packed everything she had into the last punch. The world exploded around them, blue liquid mingling with the pink sea as the taint dissolved, escaping Ronan's heart and Kagome lost the fight to keep conscious.

In the haziness of her head she giggled incomprehensibly before being taken over by the darkness.

Ronan opened his eyes to the turbulent water and Kagome's sinking silhouette. Shaking his body, he cleared himself of the stillness and confusion. Without thinking he grabbed her hand and swiftly swam pulling her to the surface, to the air and land and safety.

Despise the dead weight and the waterlogged cloths he easily carried her to the ground where he laid her carefully among the brown dirt. Looking in stupor at her stiff body, his mind reeled from the, still raw, emotional journey and the shock that greeted him after he emerged successfully. The cold silence even more unexpected after the supporting, warm burst of acceptance and unconditional love that pushed him over the precipice so he could finally forgive himself. His faults and failures. Discarding his self – hatred.

And now, the one who brought him so far was in front of him, dead. Victory never tasted like ash before.

He looked numbly at the setting sun and disappearing light.

A small cough lit his day, followed by sounds of retched water and grunts of disgust and horror.

Turning his head down in disbelief he felt a rush of heat as he scoped Kagome into a hug. He might not comprehend why she does what she does and how unconditional love he felt in that last moment fits into the equation but the loyalty she displayed through their voyage is a coin he understands. And respects. She could have left at any moment but she stayed helping him go through the debilitating pain, dangerous political landscape, near death experience, illegal trade and military attacks. She was free to go but she stubbornly stood at his side and almost drowned. She wasn't an inconvenient necessity anymore. She was Kagome and he was in her debt.

He jogged to the ship, dread and hope equally fuelling his progress as the tiny figure barely weighting more than nothing shivered in his arms.

First, he will make her well and then they will go home, to Hala, for he needs to make a clean cut there so his people will be safe and then he will pay his debt, somehow.

With a simple and yet clear plan, for the first time since the battle of Xandar, he felt like himself, full of energy and eager to tackle any challenge.

A/N – this one has been writing itself for 18 days. Hmm. This is the end of Part 1. I have planned Part 2 (on Hala and somewhere else) and Part 3 (Earth). I haven't decided if I am going to write Part 2 in chapters (as Part 1) or actually in one long chapter (20k – 30k). Still thinking about this.

Happy to hear your thoughts on the story, this chapter and anything you would like to share or discuss.