Finished! At least this part. There might be an epilogue that needs to be written, but so far, I'm pretty happy with it.

Let's see... I'd like to blame Miroku and Sango's behavior on all the Jennifer Crusie I've been reading, and offer mad props to anybody who recognizes the (fairly obscure) Tori Amos quote that sneaked in.

Disclaimer: Still don't own it.


"See?" Miroku bragged as their forms coalesced at the bottom of the well. "I told you, it'd be no problem at all."

"Uh huh," said Kagome dryly. "You can let go of my hand now." She bit back a smile as Miroku snatched his hand back, flushing to his hairline. "I don't blame you for being a little freaked out," she went on, flexing her fingers. Miroku had a pretty strong grip. "I held my breath the first few times I went through. Well, the first few times I went through when I knew I was going to go through."

He nodded. "Kagome, I've missed you desperately, but I've something to ask you. Please don't ever make me go through that thing again."

"I promise, from now on, I'll come back without having to be fetched." She smiled at him. "Now, let's get out of this well."

"Do you want a hand with that?" Sango poked her head over the side of the well. "I've got a rope; I'm not sure how strong those vines are these days."

"Sango! Love of my life!" Miroku beamed up at her.

"Hmm. On second thought.... Kagome, you climb up. Miroku, you stay down there."

Kagome laughed. "I've missed you, Sango."

Sango grinned. "Give me a second to get everything secured up here."

"Do you want to go first, Miroku?"

"No, I'm fairly certain she was kidding. After you."

Kagome scrambled up the rope. "I'm so glad to see you!" Sango cried. She sat on the ground by the well, the rope looped around her upper body. "I'd hug you but..."

"If you say you're a little tied up," Kagome warned, "I'm jumping back in."

"Sorry. I've been living with Miroku too long."

"I heard that!" echoed out of the well.

Kagome thought her head was going to split from smiling. "Hold on a moment, Miroku, I have to hug Sango."

"Oh, sure, leave me down here during the good part."

Kagome crouched down next to her friend. "I'm so glad to see you," she said quietly. Sango let go of the rope and brushed a lock of hair out of Kagome's eyes.

"Well, you should've come to visit, silly. We would've been more than happy to tie Inuyasha up in the yard until you went home again."

Kagome laughed, but felt tears welling in her eyes anyway. "I missed you... so much...."

"Oh, don't cry," begged Sango. "I'll start and then Miroku will be in the well for who knows how long."

"Yeah, if you're both going to cry, get me out of here first so I can comfort you."

Laughter won over tears, and Kagome grabbed the rope, yanking twice on it. "Why did you marry him again?"

Sango's grin looked almost lecherous. "It turns out he knows how to use his hands for more than just grabbing girls."

Kagome shook her head. "You really have been living with him for too long."

"I don't know why everybody blames me," muttered Miroku, swinging his leg over the side of the well. "You think she'd be grateful for benefiting from all those years of practice, but do I ever get a thank you?" He eyed Sango, who was prettily flushed from supporting Kagome's and his weight. Hmmmm.

"'Practice'?" said Kagome. Sango rolled her eyes.

"'Years of shameless perversity' just doesn't sound as good," she said, trying to get to her feet.

Miroku grinned at Sango, hauling her to her feet. "You know you like it," he said in her ear, untying the rope from around her.

Sango blushed scarlet. Kagome snickered. "Maybe I should head into the village and let you two argue alone for a while?"

Miroku slid an arm around Sango's waist. "We'll catch up with you, Kagome."

"Miroku!" sputtered Sango.

"Don't argue with me, woman, I've got rope."

"I'm definitely leaving," Kagome said. "I'll see you guys in the village."

"Just don't wake the kids," Sango yelled after her.

Kagome shook her head as she headed towards the path out of the woods. It's good to see them happy, even if they are both hopelessly warped. She saw the God Tree towering over the rest of the trees, and her steps slowed. I could go look for him.... No, that's an argument I'd just as soon not bring down on myself. Besides, he probably doesn't even know I'm here.

Yeah, right.

The breeze that always blew over the paddies fluttered Kagome's hair as she left the woods. For the first time in four years, a tight knot of tension? fear? loneliness? loosened in her chest. Maybe I'll just go sit by the water for a while. She slid down the bank, wrapping her arms around her knees. The water lapped quietly at the shore. I'm so glad to be home, she thought, shading her eyes to stare at the horizon. Whatever happens, I'll never stay away again.

It's funny; before, when I thought he was dead, the thought of just being here hurt so much. I couldn't stand to be here, around everything that ever reminded me of him, when I knew he'd never be here again. But now, I know he's alive and it's almost enough.

Almost. She sighed. I miss him. It's not enough to know he's not dead. I need to see him, even if he doesn't need to see me. But what will I say? Why didn't you ever come back for me? Why did you let me think you were dead? Don't you know that I missed you with every breath I took for four years? Would you please stop me asking all these stupid questions and kiss me? She flushed. Apparently Miroku and Sango are contagious. Besides, maybe I'm expecting too much. Maybe he didn't come for me because he's still broken up about Kikyo.

The thought hurt, but not in the desperate immediate way it had before. I can't really hate her now. She's gone, but I'm alive. It doesn't seem fair to keep hating her, somehow. And... she faltered. If she's gone... maybe there's room for me? Kagome shook her head. Don't go there. Anyway, if he is still grieving for Kikyo, he's been grieving by himself for four years. Who knows how badly he's managed to twist himself up by now? Whatever else happens, he's my friend. I have to help him. She sighed. But I wish someday I could think about Inuyasha without pain always being involved. I'm really, really tired of pain.

She curled up on her side, watching the light dance on the water. Maybe someday it won't hurt anymore. She dozed off as the tension in her body seeped out into the soil.

Inuyasha shook his head, watching Kagome fall asleep. She's going to catch cold that way. Girl doesn't come back for more than ten minutes and she already needs me to take care of her. He jumped out of the tree he'd paused in at the edge of the woods when she'd left the shelter of the forest. What do I do? Do I carry her to the village? No, I don't want her to wake up and panic. He crouched next to her. She looks so tired. I wonder if she's okay? He traced a claw over her cheek. Kagome. He inhaled deeply. She smells almost exactly the same. A little more like that stuff she used to treat our wounds. But she's still Kagome. My Kagome. Years of repressed possessiveness surged in his blood. He grinned ferally. Let her be happy in her own time? Fuck that.

"Kikyo saw it before I did," he said to the sleeping girl. "Hell, everybody saw it before I did. I shouldn't have let you go. We've wasted a lot of time, but that stops now." He shrugged out of his haori, tucking it around her. "You're mine, Kagome, and we've got a lot to talk about." He grinned. "I'll wait until you're awake, though." He stood up and stepped back, although a corner of his mind protested, wanting to wrap around her until their scents blended together, until nobody could tell where one ended and the other began, wanting to.... He shook his head. Sit, boy.

No! Mine!

Self-denial is overrated, Inuyasha decided. He sank back down next to her, pulling her against him. She smiled, cuddling closer and his eyes softened. I missed you, Kagome. Whatever else happens, I'll make sure you know that. He buried his face in her hair. And I'm not letting go.


"Look," Sango said, pointing down the embankment as she and Miroku wandered back to the village. "Aren't they cute?"

"I'm just relieved they didn't have a huge argument already, no matter what you told him." Miroku paused, eyeing the entangled couple. "I have to say, I wouldn't have thought Kagome liked public places."

"I can hear you," growled Inuyasha.

Sango bit her lip and Miroku held up his hands. "Merely an observation, my friend, merely an observation."

"She's asleep. Now go away."

"Some things never change," Sango sighed.

Miroku tucked Sango under his arm, resting his other hand on her belly. "Some things do."

"You know," she said as they continued down the path, "I've always wanted to see what a quarter inu-youkai would look like."

Inuyasha rolled his eyes. Don't they have anything better to do? The breeze carried their scents back to him and he arched an eyebrow. Guess they already did it. Glad I didn't stick around the well. Kagome stirred in his arms and he automatically pulled her closer.

"I was sleeping," Kagome murmured. "But somebody was yelling."

Inuyasha felt his stomach lurch. Okay, I hadn't thought about the waking up part. "Uh. Hi?"

Kagome rolled over to see him better. He looks older somehow. Four years shouldn't have made this much difference. She reached up and brushed her fingertips over his brow and cheekbone. "You're not dead."

Ah, guilt. "No." He hid his face in her hair, unable to meet that level brown gaze in which, even now, there was no condemnation.

Kagome sighed, wrapping her arms around him. "I'm sorry I left you. If I'd known you were alone this whole time, I never would have stayed away. I thought you were with Kikyo." She hugged him harder. "I'm so sorry she's gone. It must've been awful for you."

He pulled back, puzzled. "What're you talking about?"

Now Kagome looked confused. "I thought maybe you still missed her." Isn't that why you didn't come for me?

Inuyasha looked away. "My Kikyo died after she pinned me to the God Tree. She's been gone for a long time. That... thing wasn't her. It never was."

Temper pricked Kagome, and she shoved at his arms. "You say that to me now? You put me through hell, Inuyasha, and now you're telling me you knew the whole time she wasn't what you wanted and you just forgot to tell me?"

"No, damn it." Inuyasha tightened his grasp on her. "I didn't know on that last night. Okay? I thought it was her. I meant to go with her. I did, because I promised her, and you know how I am about that. But she wouldn't take me. She said it was because you were in my head. I didn't understand what she meant, but then when she left and I was alone, I didn't think about her. I only thought about you." Kagome's eyes widened. "So whatever stupid idea you have that I still prefer Kikyo to you, you can just forget it, okay?"

That was almost sweet. Rude, but sweet. "But you didn't come for me."

"I was going to."

When he didn't continue, Kagome tugged on an ear. Inuyasha yelped. "Why didn't you?"

"Because." She glared at him and he growled under his breath. He rolled away from her and sat up, folding his arms. "I was trying to do the best thing for you. You didn't get to have a normal life and do that school thing ever since you got here. But you get to now, right? You're in your time. Are you telling me you wanted me to drag you away from all that again?"

The mild, warm day seemed darker and chillier without him touching her. Kagome pulled the haori around her. "If it meant I could be with you."

He snarled, dropping into a crouch in front of her. She stared back at him. "What does this time have to offer you except more damn demons chasing you, huh? I'm not even human. How could I ask you to leave your family and your friends and live in mortal danger? I'm your damn protector, and I'm going to protect you from everything. Even me."

"Listen, you." Kagome grabbed the hem of his kimono and dragged herself up so they were nose to nose. "You don't get to make that decision. I decide where I'm going to live my life and with whom I'm going to live it. If I want to live it with you, you'll just have to deal with it. If it puts me in mortal danger, that's my choice. If you're my protector, shut up and protect me!"

Expressions flickered in the burned-gold depths of his eyes: irritation, anticipation, triumph. "But who's going to protect you from me?" he purred, half-open eyes gleaming.

Kagome's pulse kicked in her chest. "I don't need to be protected from you."

Inuyasha shrugged. "If you say so."

Kagome opened her mouth, intending to inform him that she meant what she said, but found it rather difficult to do so with his tongue in her mouth. Oh...! She meant to shove him away--you can't just grab me, after all this time, and expect me to like it--but his taste changed from moment to moment, sweet like honey, bitter like tears, and the fine linen texture of his kimono felt like sacking next to his skin and hair, and she found she couldn't bring herself to let him go until she'd memorized all of it. His skin warmed her through the fabric, until only the beads of the rosary were cool around his neck.

Wait... a rosary? He doesn't have his rosary anymore! I broke it, I know I did.

From some corner of her soul she managed to dredge up the willpower to pull away. He blinked at her in bemusement. She sucked in a few ragged breaths before she managed to say, "What do you have around your neck?"

Inuyasha stared at her like he'd forgotten how to understand human speech. Kagome sighed and slid her hand under his kimono. That got his attention and he seized her wrist. "Hey!" But his reflexes had slowed, because she still managed to part the fabric to see a familiar set of beads gleam dully at her.

"Did Kaede have to subdue you after I left? Honestly, Inuyasha...."

He hunched his shoulders defensively, covering the rosary with the hand not gripping her wrist. "Leave it alone." Confused, Kagome drew her hand back. He let go of her wrist and turned away, pulling his kimono shut.

"Inuyasha?" she said.

He shook his head a few times, ears flicking to and fro, rubbing the beads through the material. "It's stupid. It's nothing."

Kagome bit her lip. Please, don't shut me out now. "I won't think it's stupid, I promise."

She had nearly given up hope of a response when he rasped out, "She didn't have to subdue me. It's the same one I've always had."

The whole world seemed quiet. "Who fixed it?" she said into the hush.

"Me. I didn't have it for a couple of days after you left. Then I went back and found the beads. You never gave me anything else."

"Kaede gave it to you," Kagome said, feeling dizzy.

"But who used it? 'Sit, boy,'" he mimicked. "It's a miracle I can walk; I thought you were going to break my fucking back." Kagome glared at him and he tossed her a half-hearted grin over his shoulder.

"So you put it back together to remind yourself of all the times I almost paralyzed you? I'm really touched."

His smile vanished. "I... You.... Aw, fuck it." He leapt to his feet, kicking at the small stones along the bank. "I told Sango I wasn't any fucking good at this. 'Tell her how you feel,' she says. Bullshit. I should've stayed in the fucking woods."

Kagome propped her chin on her hands, watching him pace and curse. No, this won't do. I want him to talk to me. Hmmmm. "Inuyasha?"

"What, damn it?"

"Sit, boy."

The rosary did absolutely nothing at all, but Inuyasha crashed to the ground anyway. He immediately jumped up again, snarling, but Kagome was already laughing helplessly. "You little--"

"I can't believe you sat yourself," Kagome wheezed.

"Don't ever try that again," he huffed.

"Maybe I can re-enchant it," she began, then squeaked as he bowled her over.

"I don't think so."

"It was a joke."

"Yeah, and you thought I'd laugh because...."

"I wanted you to stop and talk to me, damn it," she blurted. She felt him start with what she assumed was surprise. "You put it back together. Why? I don't understand."

"You want to know the truth, Kagome?" he murmured. His eyes seemed to glow and his breath stroked her neck like a hand, making her shiver. "For months, I couldn't figure out why I put this damn thing back together. I hated it. I hated being sat. I hated being under your control. But you walked away from me. You broke our bond. Eventually I knew I hated that even more."

How can I feel like I'm falling when I know he's holding me down? "I let you go."

He shook his head. "You can't. Me, I tried to let you go, but you came back. Now I can't let go."

"Inuyasha," Kagome breathed.

"You thought you freed me, but it was too late. I wear your collar, Kagome: enchanted, unenchanted, broken, whole, whatever. I belong to you. And you belong to me."

Kagome wound her arms around his neck and held on. "It took you this long to realize it?" He reared back to glare at her, but she was laughing at him through her tears. "I've belonged to you for years, you idiot. I just never thought you belonged to me."

Inuyasha snorted and propped himself on one elbow so he could trace the outlines of her face with a claw. "I never belonged to anyone else." His expression turned thoughtful. "I should get you a collar."

"I came back for this," Kagome muttered. "I must be insane."

"You came back because you love me," Inuyasha said. He paused. "Don't you?"

Kagome tried to suppress the smirk. "Do I?"

"You said--"

She gave in and reached up to run her fingers through his hair so it curtained them from the world. "I do. I always did. It's a life sentence."

He sighed and rested his forehead on hers. He could hear her heart beating, felt her rhythm once more mark counterpoint to his. No, we can't go back from what she decided before. But we can go forward. "Yeah. I love you too."