I feel like shouting…..out. Ha ha. : )

Jessica T: Your reviews just get longer and longer – love it! Thanks for the suggestions, too!

Pyro: Sticks and stones may break my bones – but death threats will never hurt me * grins*

Djel: * hides in fear* no, not mildewed cabbage! Oh, the cruelty…

Sunbeam1: good guesses, didn't think of the first one actually, hmmm.

Eartha: it was in character, wasn't it? Typical Kagome. As for people being happier….?

Mattielover: still here? Gosh! Glad you like it.

Kitsune hanyou: My lovely shield – who doesn't throw things at me. And I would NEVER not update – oh, yeah, excellent grammar. *frowns * well anyway, I wouldn't.

Zonza: Thanks very much. I wonder if anyone guesses how we hear from Kagome? There was a hint in a previous chapter, if you're interested. See who gets it!

A/N: Hey people! What a rollercoaster ride this has been! Huge, huge thank you to my reviewers…for a virtually unknown writer, this has been awesome! Second fic to date, with 71 reviews at last count…wow. Some people have been holding their breath waiting for this, so I think I'd better get a move on….before they burst! IMPORTANT: Read the A/N at the end of the chappie!!!! Ok.

Disclaimer: I have one word for you….FANfiction. That should be a bit of a giveaway….

Choice and Consequence

Chapter 10: Beloved Voice

Sango stood listlessly, her fingers absently gripping her Hiraikotsu. She had completely forgotten she was holding it. Everything around her was blurry. Only one thing stood out in her mind.

Kagome-chan was gone.

'Gone'. She refused to even think the word 'dead'. That just wasn't possible. Not her dearest friend, the person she had shared secrets with, joked around with, looked up to. 'Gone'. Shaking, she glanced up at the houshi beside her. Rather than the sorrow and grief she had expected to see, his face was filled with a strange mix of anger, resignation and despair. When he noticed her curious gaze, he turned his face away slightly and screwed his eyes shut. He was desperately trying to suppress his feelings, not wanting to burden his remaining friends with something so painful, but his control slipped when he reopened his eyes and saw his right hand. He clenched it into a fist, trembling with the force he exerted. 'If not for this curse…'

"Damn you, Kagome-sama!" he burst out suddenly. "Nothing was worth this, you little fool! Damn you!"

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Miroku found himself dangling in mid-air, held above the ground by a very, very angry Inuyasha. "Shut up, bouzu! Just shut up about Kagome!" He shook the delinquent houshi roughly, then let him fall on the ground. Miroku just stayed there, too wrapped up in his own thoughts to pay attention to what was happening.

Sango watched numbly as Inuyasha slowly made his way over to the spot where Kagome had last stood. He reached out a trembling hand to the ground that was still hot to the touch from the fireball that had consumed his love…and his hate. He cringed slightly when his fingers brushed the soil beneath the place where she had made her stand against Naraku. The aura was still tremendously powerful, despite the fact that the source of the aura was gone. It was so strong, he could almost feel her standing beside him, one small hand resting on his shoulder in comfort. He could almost believe that if he twisted his head just slightly, he would see her smiling at him, laughing in that carefree way she had. He could almost detect her sweet, comfortable scent on the wind.

His chest constricted painfully as harsh sobs shook his body. He fell helplessly to his knees as his last remaining strength left him. He barely even looked up when a shadow appeared in front of him, cast by someone standing just behind him. However, when the owner of the shadow spoke…

"She fought bravely, Inuyasha. Her death is a great loss."

Rage gripped him, pushing him upwards in a blur of movement. Sesshoumaru's eyes widened slightly at the sudden reaction that his words had caused. The fact that Inuyasha's hand was wrapped tightly around his throat was also a worry. The hanyou hadn't shown this kind of strength before.

'I should kill him right now…the bastard kept holding me back, so I couldn't save Kagome!' he thought furiously. 'All those delays…I didn't reach her in time. And Kikyou got her hands on her…' His train of thought broke off abruptly at a sudden idea. He glared at his half-brother, snarling one word at him.


With some difficulty, Sesshoumaru prised Inuyasha's hands from around his neck. "No, Inuyasha." The hanyou stiffened at the look in the youkai's eyes – was that respect…and regret? "There is no body. With no physical form to hold it, the soul has already departed. Tensaiga will not help you now." He freed himself with one forceful shove, walking over to where he had dropped Toukijin while battling Naraku. "Our business here is finished. You should leave." He ignored the watching humans (they really were quite annoying) and quickly made his way out of the smoke-filled valley. Rin would be waiting for him…and so would Jaken. The latter he could do without, but he would not leave Rin unprotected for any longer than necessary. He looked back once at the scene of destruction, then disappeared.

The four shell-shocked companions were left alone on the charred remains of the battlefield. Kohaku looked around, a confused expression on his face. "Ane-ue, what happened here?" Sango bowed her head, tears flowing silently down her face. "Not yet, Kohaku." She gripped his hand tightly in her own and began to lead him away. "I'll tell you when we're further away from this place." She shuddered. 'I can't say it now…I'll just see it happen all over again if I think about it here.' Miroku, still scowling, pulled himself off of the floor and started to follow her, looking pointedly at Inuyasha. The hanyou looked like he might protest, but then he growled and trailed after them. Slowly, the despondent group departed the area, leaving the reminders of the day's tragedies behind them.

Shippo was inconsolable. When Sango had told her sad story (Miroku and Inuyasha refused to say a word), the little kitsune had started pummelling the ground, wailing as though his world was ending. Which, in a way, it was. His beloved Kagome – who had treated him like a son, loved him completely, protected him from harm, given him treats from her time – had put herself in mortal danger. By choice. He couldn't understand it. "Why did she do it, Sango? Why did she go?"

Sango sighed sadly and ruffled the fur on the youkai's head gently. "It wasn't like that, Shippo. She didn't know what would happen…"

"Oh, yes she did!" She stopped, startled by the barely restrained anger in Miroku's voice. "She knew exactly what would happen. It was deliberate." He raised his clenched fist before his eyes, opening his fingers to gaze at the smooth, unbroken skin of his restored hand. "She knew."

A low growl filled the air. "You'd better explain yourself, bouzu, before I give you a new hole in your hand." Inuyasha had turned to face him, cold anger all over his face. Miroku jumped to his feet, beginning to pace around the clearing they had stopped in. Before he could speak, a different voice cut into the silence.

"Inukkoro, where the hell is Kagome? I didn't leave her with you just to have you lose her!" Before he knew what was happening, Kouga found himself pinned to the ground. "What are you doing here, wolf?" hissed Inuyasha.

"Stupid! I smelt your stench from miles away! Kagome's scent was missing, so I decided to come and see what had happened. Now where is she?" His forceful tone faltered at the pained look in Inuyasha's eyes. "What happened, Inuyasha?" He flinched as a stick hit him in the head.

"Miroku was about to tell us a bit more about it before you barged in, you idiot!" Shippo yelled. He picked up another stick to throw at the intruder, but Sango plucked it out of his hands. "Hush, Shippo, leave him alone." She bundled him gently into her lap and looked expectantly at the houshi. Forgoing the fight in favour of information, the others subsided as well.

Miroku forced himself to stay still, clenching and unclenching his fists with the effort of controlling himself. "I suppose I'd better start from the beginning. I think this whole mess started when Kagome-sama came back to our time a few weeks ago." He glared at Inuyasha. "It was just after you managed to rip her shoulders open."

"You did WHAT?!" Kouga roared. "Why, I ought to – " Wham.

Sango retrieved Hiraikotsu and settled back onto the ground. "Shut up, Kouga. Just listen."

Miroku continued as though the interruption had never happened. "For some reason, she decided to stay with us in this time until all the shards had been found. She felt that it wasn't fair of her to keep escaping back to her time, and so she made the choice not to go back until the quest was done."

Inuyasha was stunned. "She…what? And you knew?!" It was his turn to glare at the houshi. "Why didn't you tell me, you –"

"She asked me not to!" Miroku snapped. His tone softened, and he went on, "She was afraid that you would take advantage of her choice to stay, and regard her as nothing more than a shard detector. A prize that you had won." Inuyasha said nothing to this – he didn't trust his voice at the moment. "Well, to cut a long story short, her choice resulted in her accepting her miko heritage a bit more readily – and so the dreams came. Dreams of herself dying, and of Kikyou. And fire." He flinched. "It seems the dreams were premonitions of the future, in retrospect. As to the consequences - I'm sure you saw it…she grew weaker with each passing day. So when Kagura took her, she was practically defenseless. And judging by the state of her body, Naraku nearly killed her before Inuyasha arrived. She had no energy left."

Sango held perfectly still – she was suddenly afraid that she knew where this was going. Inuyasha and Kouga, on the other hand, showed no understanding at all. 'Typical.'

"Just before he wounded her in the neck, he told her something important About what he had done to me, and Sango…his curses." His anger, which had faded during the first part of his story, was returning as he went on. "You remember, Sango? How even if he died, Naraku's curses on us would stay?" Inuyasha stared. So that was what she had been telling them…

"Kikyou had planned Kagome-sama's death the whole time. She wanted to join with her, to make use of her powers to augment her own. She wanted to use the jewel to kill Naraku." At the mention of Kagome's death, Kouga went ghostly pale. "But…Kagome-sama wouldn't let her. In the end, Kikyou's appearance was completely gone. Kagome-sama was the one in control then. And the wish…" He trailed off, swallowing hard. Sorrow was blending in with the anger, making it hard to speak past the lump in his throat. "The word 'wish' doesn't really describe it – it's more like simply drawing on the power of the shikon no tama. And what she did…she could have just 'wished' for Naraku's destruction, but she remembered the curses. Didn't you see what happened?" He stopped.

Three beams of light.

His hand was whole.

Kohaku was alive.

Inuyasha was free of the rosary.

Miroku bowed his head…this next part was a painful memory. "She got rid of the curses (and the rosary, although I didn't understand why until later) before she attacked Naraku. Purifying the jewel took the last of her strength –she knew…she would have just enough to destroy Naraku completely." His voice shook. "She knew what it would take – she knew she would die." In his mind's eye he could still see the girl bowing in a farewell gesture – sorrow and knowledge of what was to come etched on her face. "She chose to free us instead of keeping her own life."

Understanding hit Inuyasha with the force of a rockslide. He reeled mentally. "The rosary – getting rid of it…was a 'goodbye'?"

Kohaku sat in shock. A girl he didn't know had given him his life back, knowing she would die as a consequence? He hadn't known such people existed.

Sango said nothing. There wasn't really anything left to say.

Kouga had left shortly afterward to return to his pack. His face had been impassive, hiding an intense desire to rip something to pieces. His woman had died – without him there to protect her. He would never forgive himself. He was obviously distracted – he even said 'goodbye' civilly to Inuyasha …calling him by his proper name for the second time.

The rest of the group wandered back along the trail to Kaede's village. The old miko had to be told what had happened. Inuyasha was still stubbornly carrying Kagome's pack, unwilling to leave it behind. Nobody had dared suggest that he abandon it. It was their last visible link to their friend.

As they neared Kaede's hut, the hanyou stopped. "Uh, back soon." He raced off, leaving the pack in Miroku's hands. The houshi's eyes followed the direction that Inuyasha had taken and sighed in understanding. Sango hesitantly took his arm, wordlessly asking what he was doing.

"He's gone to the well. I suppose he is going to see Kagome-sama's family." Oh.

A while later, Inuyasha crawled out of the well. Miroku looked up at his friend, taking care not to disturb Sango (who had fallen asleep on his shoulder while they were waiting). "Well?"

Inuyasha's voice was flat and emotionless. "I told them. I don't think they'll want to see me again." His head was still ringing from the yelling and crying. He shook himself hastily – their tears had nearly set him off, too. How…embarrassing.

He looked around. "Where's the brat?" Miroku answered while gently shaking Sango awake.

"In Kagome-sama's bag – he won't come out." Inuyasha huffed and picked up the bag. When everyone was ready, they started walking toward the hut again.

Tears ran down Kaede's face. "Ah, I was afraid of something like this. The defeat of a powerful foe often requires a sacrifice of equal worth." She looked over to where Shippo had started moving around in the bag. "Child, what are you doing?"

Shippo didn't want to answer. What he didn't want to say was that he had been trying to block out the voices that were talking about his mother's death. Again. He didn't want to hear it. A familiar scent wafted by his nose… 'Hm?' Candy? Despite himself, he was interested. Oh, ramen as well. And soap, and – a funny kind of paper? Wait, what was this? Puzzled, he pulled out a sheet of paper, filled with writing. It smelled like Kagome. He hugged it to him, making the paper crackle. The noise drew unwanted attention.

"Oi, brat, what are you doing in Kagome's bag?" Footsteps came stomping over to where he was hiding. No where to run.

He ducked instinctively as a clawed hand reached into the bag to pull him out, holding him upside down in the air. A finger poked at him. "What's that you've got?"

He tried to hide the paper. It was his – he'd found it! That damn hanyou was going to take it off him…"Nothing, dog-boy – leave me alone!" His struggles dislodged the paper from his paws, and it fell to the ground. Sango snatched it up. She glanced at the writing, her eyes widening in wonder. 'I don't believe it…' She remembered that fateful night when Inuyasha had roared at them, demanding to know where Kagome was. That she had been there…and Sango had ignored the rustling sounds coming from the campsite.

It had been Kagome, writing a letter. "Guys, you'd better hear this." Clearing her throat, she began to read.

As she read, the group could almost hear Kagome's voice speaking the words on the page. It was like having her back again. Sango's voice shook as she reached the end, and Miroku reached a comforting arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him, welcoming the support he offered. Shippo curled up in the bag once more, hicupping from all the crying he had done. Inuyasha sat still as a statue. When she had finished, he picked up the letter and dashed out of the hut, leaving his stunned friends without any clue as to where he was going. And he didn't care.

He reached the Goshinboku tree and leaped up into its branches, unfolding the precious letter once more. He read the letter over and over, listening to the beautiful voice that he could still hear in his head. It would stay with him until the end of his days, he knew.

Hello everyone,

I have so much to say, I'm not sure if I can say it in just one letter. But I guess I'll have to try.

Right now you think I'm still with Kouga-kun. It'll probably be easier this way. I have to leave, I'm sure you know why. You won't have any trouble finding the shards with me gone, because Kikyou is much better at that than I could ever be.

Miroku, I want to thank you for all your advice to me lately. I'm sorry things have turned out this way, but it's for the best. I hope you don't regret anything you've done – and don't hide yourself from Sango-chan! You love her, you know it. I wish I could see you as a couple, but I'll just have to use my imagination. I will miss you, hentai.

Sango-chan, I can't say enough in just one letter! You are my dearest friend, no matter what time I am in. I have treasured our friendship, and will still do so even after I'm gone. You are an awesome fighter, but a beautiful woman as well - if you continue to hide that side of you from Miroku, I'll come back just to tell you off! I know you will be reunited with Kohaku someday…I wish I could be there. You deserve every happiness in the world.

Shippo, I am sorry I have to go. You've called me 'mom' a few times, I can't tell you how happy that made me! You are my precious little youkai, and I will miss you so much! Don't annoy Inuyasha too much, I can't protect you from him from my time…I wish I could see the wonderful youkai you will grow up to be in time. I love you more than you'll know.

Inuyasha…this is my last chance to tell you. Because I'm going to seal the well, and you won't be able to follow me. I know Kikyou has your heart – I saw you tonight. I can't say I'm surprised…deep down I guess I knew that would be the result…but it hurts. Because I love you. So much so that I'm going to go, and you won't have to remember all the pain we've put each other through over this. I just want you to be happy. Thank you for protecting me so well, and being my friend. I love you.

I don't regret one minute of my time with you. Sayounara.

Higurashi Kagome.

*Cries uncontrollably * Wahhh! I can't believe what I just wrote! So sad…so did you guess how we would 'hear' from Kagome? Hmm, it was tricky! I am expecting all kinds of reviewer abuse over this one…I'll just go and get my riot armor….

And that, my friends is the end. Of this fic, at least. For my beautiful fans, I am starting a new fic right away. After this tragic conclusion, I think it had better be a happy one, so – a nice fluffy S/M fic, with a bit of I/K thrown in – and a few twists along the way. What is a plot without twists? It won't all be fluff, there'll be a bit of nasty stuff as well…just to keep you interested. See you then!