Inuyasha is owned by Takahashi Rumiko.

The Crucible of Time

By Fujifunmum

Chapter 1

Author's Note: This fanfiction was done for a challenge round robin contest on Iridescent Dreams. It will be posted in chapters every few days with the final chapter and epilogue posted after the contest deadline, January 31, 2003. To read all the entries, go here:

Sorry, the contest has now been extended to February 28, 2003. This entire fic will be posted shortly.

Inuyasha sat high in a tree above the campsite, brooding. He looked up at the half moon above him, surrounded by a sea of stars glistening in the late evening. No danger of his youkai blood waning with the moon tomorrow. No danger of that at all. Whatever choice he made, the moon's power over him would soon be gone.

Had it really been four years? He looked down at the sleeping figure of Kagome in her sleeping bag, her bike not far away. She was sound asleep with one hand held out towards Shippou. The young fox no longer slept with her in her sleeping bag, but he was not so grown up yet that he didn't want to feel the warmth and comfort of his surrogate mother's hand. Sometimes he held her hand in his own paws, sometimes he snuggled beneath it, and sometimes he just slept near her.

Across the campfire Miroku sat in pain. His air void was near collapse. They had increased the pace of their search as the final shards came closer within their grasp. He couldn't last much longer. Naraku's bees had taken their toll, and his longevity with it. If they didn't complete the jewel soon and destroy Naraku their friend would not be alive to see it. But that wasn't going to happen. It was going to be tomorrow.

Kagome had graduated from High School. She no longer did homework or complained about her 'tests'. She only brought a few books with her now when she came through the well. Those were for reading for pleasure, along with a couple of advanced first aid manuals. She had decided to postpone 'college', whatever that was, until the Shikon no Tama was complete. She knew that if she didn't stay here with them and help find the last of the shards that Miroku would die. So she stayed. She rarely went home and didn't stay long when she did go. She had to see her family once in a while, but she lived here now. At least until tomorrow.

Sango slept fitfully a short distance from Miroku. Longer than his reach, but just beyond it. As they searched Inuyasha often caught her looking at Miroku with pain in her eyes; yet her lifeline was her steadfast hope for Kohaku. Her duty required the purification of the jewel, vengeance for her village and her family, but her heart cried out for her brother's return. Once they had gathered all the loose shards they would have to regain the ones from Kouga. That would only leave the shard in her brother's back to complete the jewel. Tomorrow would be the day. Tomorrow they would get Kouga's shards and find Naraku.

To be precise, today they had met with Jaken. Sesshoumaru had found Naraku. He railed against the way Naraku had used him and believed that his self-awarded title of Lord of All the Western Lands gave him jurisdiction over everyone and everything in the Western Lands. He took Naraku's insulting behavior towards him very personally. He had searched out Naraku while the Inuyasha band of friends had searched out the jewel shards.

His brother cared nothing for the Jewel or it's many shards. They were of no importance to him. It was Kagome who had broken through the years of bitterness between the brothers to form this very loose and fleeting alliance. She had approached Rin, now a young lady in Sesshoumaru's keeping. Rin was human and understood the importance of their need for the Tenseiga. Rin had been revived by the Tenseiga. She understood how it could revive Kohaku once the shard had been removed from his back. It was Rin who had approached Sesshoumaru and suggested the trade. He doubted his brother would have listened to anyone else, but he listened with rapt attention to Rin.

Rin begged Sesshoumaru to continue with his search for Naraku. But when that search was complete, she implored him to work with Inuyasha and his friends to destroy him. There were too many other factors not to consider the offer. Inuyasha and his friends would destroy Naraku; in return Sesshoumaru would revive Kohaku with Tenseiga. Inuyasha had another goal in mind, but even Rin could not say whether Tenseiga was capable of such an act. His cold hearted brother had used Tenseiga so rarely that it's true capabilities had never been tested. Sesshoumaru was unconcerned with the lives of humans, and would rather have defeated Naraku himself, but Rin was very convincing with her tears. As Lord of the Western Lands he was willing to let these underlings do his bidding.

Rin and Kagome had discussed the fact that Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru would be on the field of battle at the same time, fighting on the same side, for the first time. While Inuyasha's inner circle would have welcomed help from anyone, including Sesshoumaru in defeating Naraku's daemon hoard, they were more reluctant to have Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru together. Rin agreed to try to delay Sesshoumaru's arrival until the jewel was complete. Kagome agreed to try to draw Inuyasha away. She felt it unlikely he would actually leave, but she might be able to keep him away from Sesshoumaru. Keeping the brothers apart was their only hope for this small respite in their battle with each other, and both Rin and Kagome knew it.

Kagome had explained Sesshoumaru's involvement to Inuyasha very carefully. All of her tact and well-chosen words had helped, but their friends knew that Inuyasha badly needed Tenseiga's help. With Tenseiga, came Sesshoumaru. On one point he was adamant.

"Does my idiot brother know not to bring Toukijin with him? The last thing I need when I am fighting Naraku is for my idiot brother's evil sword to be attacking me!"

"Rin and I discussed it," Kagome said, biting her lip and glancing away from his piercing gaze.

"Tell me, Kagome." Inuyasha demanded.

"Rin did not believe there was any chance that Sesshoumaru would even listen to her if she made such a request. Sesshoumaru will bring what he chooses." She paused, letting the bad news sink in. "It is still our best hope, Inuyasha," she finished quietly.

Inuyasha could only avert his troubled gaze. She was right. They would have to chance it and his brother's duplicity. He would have to somehow trust his brother and focus on defeating Naraku. It was their last desperate chance before the air void would claim Miroku.

So it was agreed, the two brothers would work together at last. Neither trusting the other, but each persuaded by the females they trusted without question.

Still Inuyasha watched the moon. Its phases had dictated his life since birth. He had grown used to watching the heavens for their prediction of his fate. What prediction did they hold for this final battle? Would the heavens thank him for his efforts by releasing him from their hold? Or would the fates demand his defeat again? Naraku had won all of their prior encounters. This was their last and best hope to complete and purify the jewel, save Miroku and restore Sango's brother. If the fates smiled perhaps even more could be accomplished, there was no telling until the battle began.

The moon and stars were beginning to fade. The night was moving across the sky in its ever changing, ever constant aspect. The constellations were waning, the moon driving them off to their daylight sanctuary.

Inuyasha was regretting his decision not to sleep. His actions tomorrow would be critical to their success. His reactions and skills must be excellent. He closed his eyes to block out the evidence of the waning evening and tried to rest.

The breeze brought him wisps of the last embers of the last campfire of their group's journey. It was layered with the scents of his friends' aspirations. Sango's mingled with her hope, trust and hidden fears; Miroku's determination and powerful mystical support; Shippo's childlike trust and belief; and his Kagome. His Kagome's scent brought him only love, faith and trust. She believed in him and supported his decisions, even when she wasn't fully aware of what those decisions were or how they effected her. She gave him her complete trust and support. At his side, she was fearless.

Comforted by the relaxing unwinding of the evening, Inuyasha slept fitfully, high in his tree and dreaming of a day that might never dawn.

Just before dawn, his fleeting rest was disturbed by the strong and unwelcome scent of a familiar intruder. Inuyasha came fully awake and rolled off his branch to land just beyond his circle of friends, defending them from the coming danger.

She approached him with her hand extended.

"Give me the shards, Inuyasha."