Disclaimer - Of course, I don't own the Inuyasha characters.


One Can Only Wander for So Long

By Alesyira


Chapter Twenty-Three – Awake

"Hello again, Kagome."

The small bedroom fell into silence. Kagome was startled out of her shock when the young boy behind her spoke up suddenly, "Mr. Arun sir, where you come from? Why are you back so soon?"

Arun allowed a half-grin as he held his gaze steady upon Kagome's confused expression. "I'm here to speak with Kagome," he replied softly, giving the boy a deceivingly warm smile. His eyebrow twitched as he shifted slightly to lean against the nightstand beside him. "Kagome, dear," he began, "Wherever did your young hanyou disappear to?" He looked into her eyes and at that moment she knew that he'd planned this from the start.

Her thoughts of diabolical plots and sneaky maneuvers stilled, however, as she noticed the strange color of his eyes-- they were color of rust, or of dried blood... At a passing glance they would look brown, almost, too easily ignored. She found herself staring as the strange shade glimmered and became more vibrant; she could practically feel the dark energy thrumming throughout the room.

Kagome hesitated: should she remained seated and wait for him to make his first move, or should she stand and try to defend against any possible attacks? Her body twitched in preparation of motion, and she clenched the armrests tightly to give herself leverage. Before she could make up her mind, Arun smiled a knowing smile and lift a finger to shake it back and forth in warning.

"Ah-ah, I think that would be an unwise decision, my fair Lady," he said, pushing off from his perch and slowly striding the length of the room. "...The story of my life --to know everything there is to know. Of course, I discovered it was faster to just take the knowledge from others... with this-" Kagome's eyes widened when she saw the knife for the first time. She couldn't help but be mesmerized by the sight of it; she was sure that even without her powers it would be obvious what it was...

The power flowed from it in waves, rippling out from the thin blade like the disturbed surface of a lake. She shivered once, briefly considering the amount of danger she would be putting herself in while trying to destroy this particular relic. She forcefully pushed that information to the back of her mind as she stood to face him. "Whatever you're planning, leave the children out of this." She snuck a glance back at the two behind her; the red haired boy showed signs of blossoming fear and Kiki still looked pale, but at least she no longer seemed to be in a shocked trance.

"Wh-what would Mr. Arun do? He's the nice man that always reads to us, Kagome," the little boy said, trying to sound cheerful, even though his voice wavered in his confusion. Kagome could hear the shifting blankets as he inched his way toward the girl to hold her hand. She had no answer to his question as she stared at Arun, following his measured movements as he leisurely paced back and forth.

"Yes, what would I do, Kagome?" Arun echoed in amusement. The boy obviously had difficulties believing the man before them was capable of any wrongdoing. She glared at him, edging her way back toward the children to shield them from his gaze.

"I'm not sure," she murmured, her eyes narrowing thoughtfully as she tried to pick up any sign of his emotions. 'I wonder what he's doing -- I can't sense anything from him... is he shielding himself somehow?' When they had met earlier that evening, she was at least able to feel a sense of him, of his amusement and relative innocence. Now, there was nothing of the man that had been, only the sense of nearly-suffocating power swelling in the room. It was as though he wasn't even there.

"I've searched my whole life for objects of mystery, anything that could represent and shed light upon the magics hidden within our world. You see, I am capable of so much with my powers, but not every secret is revealed by my powers to watch. I must meet the people I have seen in my mind... to touch and examine the objects to see how they tick; to be sure they're real. Of course, I knew of Kikyo's eventual demise, for the events surrounding her life were most fascinating! ...But when I received a phone call from an old friend about the ancient knife, its apparent relation to such mysterious deaths --especially among a group of close friends-- piqued my interest. Because of my connections and resources, I was able to arrange to have the supposed murder weapon sent to the facility in Nehi, where I would be able to procure access to it.

"When the knife finally came to our labs, I immediately knew what I had in my possession, but I was content to leave it in the labs for study. I had wanted to bide my time and study the effects it had on the people it came in contact with. It was not long, the length of the day, really, before it called out to me. It whispered of greatness --offering a source of limitless knowledge!-- that would come if I were to take possession of it. I was terribly captivated to witness it so easily take the life of the young technician that displayed it to me. " As he finished speaking, he pulled a sleek white handkerchief from an inner pocket. He gently dabbed at his forehead, removing any traces of sweat and dirt.

"And to the knife, did it do all it had promised? Did it somehow magically give you all the power you had desired?" Kagome asked, feeling quite nervous. 'Why isn't Inuyasha back yet? Where did he go? Is he all right?' she thought, frantic with growing concern.

"My dear, you mustn't interrupt. I was just getting to that." He looked down to the knife in his left hand, lifting his free hand to his chin to tap it thoughtfully as he tilted the knife backwards and forwards. His lips curved upwards into an amused smile, and he seemed to chuckle at some unknown joke before continuing to speak, "It gave me more than I ever could have dreamed of. But now I'm sure you're wondering, among other things, how it works..." A bright flash appeared at the window across the room, but he paid it no mind as he continued to pace. The walls shuddered under some unseen force, pulling Kagome's attention away from Arun momentarily.

When she looked back, he was no longer there. She whirled around in a panic, a sick feeling twisting in her gut at the sight that met her eyes: he stood behind her, sitting calmly behind the pale girl with a hand lightly set upon her shoulder. "Don't!" Kagome cried, reaching a hand out toward the two of them. She wasn't sure what she'd be able to do to make him move away from her frail form, but she was determined to do anything... Faster than she could blink, he had slipped back and out of her reach with Kiki cradled easily within his arms. He nuzzled the small girl's hair for a moment, smiling warmly.

"Why her?" Kagome asked weakly. She knew that she was outmatched after observing his uncanny speed, and she was so frustrated at her inability to stop him that she couldn't contain the constant tremors of her body. Swallowing nervously at the bait she was about to dangle, she continued to speak. "...Why not me, instead? Inuyasha has yet to return, and..."

His hearty laugh caught her off-guard. "Dear Kagome, do not fret. It will be your turn soon enough," he winked at her, drawing a deep shudder from her already shaking form. While she was sure he had nothing perverted in mind, the look in his eyes was bone-chilling. "This little one has suffered so much," he murmured, looking down at the young girl in his arms with an expression that mimicked concern. "You know, it is far easier to assimilate souls that have lost the will to live, especially in beings that are so young and fresh. Such sadness and despair over her Mommy's predicament, to know that she'll never come home again..."

Kagome heard a choked gasp to her side, and momentarily wondered at her ability to so easily forget the young boy that had sat so near to Kiki before. "But... how could..." he stammered, at a loss for words. The boy looked shocked and appalled, shaking with fear for the welfare of his new friend. His small fists curled at his side as his eyes screwed shut, a growl building deep in his chest. When his eyes opened again, Kagome was shocked to see the red tint of youkai rage replacing the previously brilliant emerald. A sharp snarl ripped through the room, "You get away from her!" And with that, he leapt.

It all happened so fast; the red-haired boy leapt from his position on Kiki's bed toward Arun, his small claws and fangs flashing. He was full of rage and a desire for vengeance against the man that had caused Kiki pain, and Kagome's senses could hardly follow the onslaught of emotion. They were but a blur of motion as they moved; Kiki was suddenly alone, sprawled out on the floor as Arun reappeared in a far corner of the room. Kagome rushed forward to wrap Kiki in a protective embrace as she tried to keep an eye on the other two.

The boy, having missed his target on his first attack, made a small leap and twist midair, using a nearby wall as a springboard to shoot back towards Arun. He didn't care that Arun had been such a nice man before; he had dared harm his new friend, and for that he would pay dearly. Time seemed to slow as he reached his target, but in the blink of an eye, Arun had disappeared once again. He was surprised as a lean arm wrapped around his torso from behind, stilling his forward movement.

Kagome knew the moment their short-lived tussle was over, she saw the slightest flash of the silvery blade before Arun struck, piercing the small boy in his lower back. The cut was shallow and very small, but achieved its goal: the little boy's eyes faded from bright crimson red to their more natural green, dulling slowly to gray as the soul was sucked out of him.

"It's truly amazing how easily a youkai will fall while consumed by their rage. Their spirit is so blindly focused on killing or maiming their target of their anger, and not on self-preservation..." he sighed once, wiping the tip of his blade on the clothes of the boy that had slumped to the floor at his feet. Another flash appeared at the window as it had before, the walls shuddering under the force of being struck. "He's trying to get in, you know," Arun said, smirking. "But he cannot..." he muttered, looking down at his knife thoughtfully.

'What is it with all villains? Why did they feel the need to continuously talk about their ultimate goals and infallible plans, instead of just getting down to business and killing everyone?' Kagome bit her lip in annoyance as she waited for his next move. Kiki sniffed once, her fingers clenching in the fabric of Kagome shirt.

"You really should thank yourself, Kagome. When I knew you had discovered my location, I immediately moved into action," he smiled, stepping away from the limp body at his feet to pace across the room once again. "The day has proven very beneficial to my efforts..." he murmured. "I've collected a wide range of abilities from the people I've met today... You have already seen a few examples of what I've gained beyond the simple skill of watching."

'Amazing how he thinks watching is a simple ability...' she thought, as she continued to fight the mounting annoyance. 'God, first it was his great plans, and now he's bragging about how fantastic his victims were?'

"...in a subway. He possessed interesting manipulative powers, allowing him to shift space around his body to allow for impossibly fast movement should the need arise... he was difficult to catch off-guard." It must have been obvious how little she cared about listening to his stories, because he cocked his head at her and smirked knowingly. "You know, one would be wise to listen to the man that one is about to do battle with, even if his stories are boring or conceited."

He stepped closer to the two of them, and Kagome hugged the girl tightly to her chest, trying to quell both their fears. He knelt in front of them, lifting an arm to gently stroke a finger down Kagome's cheek. "Are you in that much of a hurry to meet your demise? You must have realized by now that Inuyasha will not come," he said, standing again to pace across the room. "He is stuck outside, with no way to enter this room, thanks to a power I collected from another woman earlier today."

"It's amazing how many different applications a manipulator's powers can be used for; this particular woman could create barriers using the energies around her." Kagome sighed, trying to accept the idea that she would have to sit and listen to the fool's stories for a little while longer, at least until Inuyasha could figure out a way to break into the room. She had no idea how he would manage to do so, but she had to have faith. "Another one had the gift of fire. While it's an interesting ability, it really holds no practical application in my quest. Besides, I'm not too fond of fire." He held up a hand, carefully rubbing at a small dirty spot from one fingernail.

Kagome had had enough, and her anxiety was eating at her. "While I appreciate your attempts at small talk, instead of the less preferable death by soul-extraction... could you please skip to the point of the story and tell me why you're after us in particular?"

He grinned and waved his hand in a grand gesture, and Kagome had to make a conscious effort not to roll her eyes. "Of course, since you asked so nicely... I chose this girl for her great potential in energy, but I saved her for last because I knew it would draw you here. You, my dear, are very different case. Your empathic abilities are very rare among mystics. To combine that with the skills that I have already acquired would be highly beneficial in my quest. And besides, the knife-" he held up the thin blade to illustrate his point, "-desires to regain the soul it so rightfully owns."

Kagome jerked into motion, leaping to her feet and stepping back away from him. "You cannot own a soul; it should be free to move on to the next life!" Her movement must have been his cue to move, for suddenly he was right in front of her, standing directly behind the little girl. Kagome couldn't see the knife pierce her back, but she heard the gasp and felt when the girl's body went rigid in her arms. She looked down in time to see the girl's bright blue eyes fade to gray as her soul was pulled from her body.

"You see," he spoke so calmly after having taken the girl's spirit, "Kikyo's soul holds great potential for healing, far beyond any other than I've ever come across, and she has such extensive knowledge of dark magics and methods of torture." Kagome tore her gaze from the girl's lifeless eyes, and she shuddered in revulsion at the maniacal gleam in Arun's expression. It quickly faded, though, into his calm look of amusement as he watched the emotions chase across her face.

He gave her a wicked smirk as he curled his fingers into the collar of the girl's shirt, and she barely had time to react before he ripped the small body from her grasp and flung her like a toy across the room. He caught Kagome in a tight embrace as she reacted blindly, reaching out in vain as the child soared through the air.

His voice spoke close to her ear as she watched the girl's limp body roll to a stop on the pale carpet. "And after I've finished with you, your handsome little hanyou will lose his control with the rage of your loss, just as the boy did..." Arun's fingers slid through the fine hairs of her neck as Kagome cried out in confusion and despair for the children. "...And I'll take his soul as well, for his inherent strength of spirit and the ability to connect to the land of dreams will become invaluable tools in my quest for ultimate knowledge."

Kagome barely heard the threats against Inuyasha, but deep down, she knew that he would remain safe from Arun, no matter the cost to herself. 'But I couldn't protect her from him... both children were defenseless against his attack, and I could do nothing to save either of them... Where did my strength go? Why am I such an easy target without Inuyasha at my side?' she thought as she cried, bewildered and lost in her shock as she stood docile in Arun's arms. He tugged on the band that had secured her braid, and it unraveled with little effort as she weakly tried to pull herself free from despair --and his embrace.

Kagome felt a distinct shudder ripple through his body as he held her close. "Ah, one of the children has already given up the struggle to remain... the soul has faded away and passed on its energy to me," he said, speaking into her soft hair. "But I fear that our time together has drawn to a close, and we must move on..."

Kagome tensed at the sensation of something sharp being pressed into her lower back. "As much as I would enjoy keeping you, my dear..." Kagome reacted instinctually, reaching behind her blindly to grasp the object that had barely pierced her skin. She could feel the dark energy tugging at something within her, but it was firm in its place and would not budge.

Warm blood slipped between her fingers as the blade sliced through the palm of her hand, spilling onto the floor behind her. She could feel more than hear the click of metal against metal, and she realized that her relic was in contact with his, bridged by her blood. 'Kikyo said something about this... the blood acts as a medium between magical objects and enhances...' She closed her eyes and dispelled any thoughts of the attempted theft of her soul, guiding her energy through her palm and around the blade at her back.

You're right... Now concentrate!

She could not identify who had spoken to her, for the words entered her mind as more thought than voice.

We'll beat this together... all will be right again.

She had to balance out the evil within the relic before she could destroy it, so she worked on it in small increments, doing her best to ignore the sharp twinges of pain that occasionally ripped through her skin as the dark energy lashed out at her. Piece by piece, section by section, the dark power flowing from the relic was converted to a neutral state, and she, with the help of the two active spirits within her ring, worked carefully and diligently in their task.

Just a little bit farther... We're making ideal progress...

Both she and Arun slipped to the floor, but he continued to hold her tightly within the circle of his embrace as he fought to keep control of the blade pressed into her back.

'Take the knife...' She heard a strange whisper of a thought. It felt cold and dark -- foreign where the others before had been familiar and warm, supporting in their short sentences. Kagome screwed her eyes shut tighter as she poured more focus into the blade, trying to guide the purifying energy into breaking through the first barrier.

'Take the blade, and kill the man...' She heard from another whispering voice, and an image of the overwhelming powers that she could possess flashed through her mind. Something was trying to show her how great she could become if she used both relics together. Her quest to help rid the world of wrongdoers would become immensely easier if she would simply give in to the temptations offered, but she still felt no desire to comply with its suggestions.

'Those children could have been spared had you the power to stop fiends such as this man,' a whispering voice spoke once again, playing on her recent agony at losing the one-sided battle. As though it had discovered her momentary lapse, it pushed the idea forth again... 'The children... you could save so many children if you had the power to stop those that desire to do them harm...'

"Bastard..." she ground out, clenching her hand tightly around the blade. The bite of sharp pain pulled her from the devastating memory of seeing those children's lives fade into nothingness right before her eyes, and she renewed her efforts to overcome the strange barriers within the blade. A surge of power that she recognized as Kikyo's lurched from her ring and slammed into the blade at her back, pushing it away from the spot it had embedded within her muscles. 'Thanks,' she thought, knowing that somehow she'd know the motion was highly appreciated.

Good girl, ignore him...

Let us help you...

Kikyo's energy redirected and began to carefully patch up the various cuts that continued to form on her skin as Kagome fought with the seemingly sentient blade. A carefully directed spike of ancient energy helped Kagome break through a strange barrier, and suddenly Kagome could feel dozens of souls within the knife pouring throughout the metallic confines of their prison. The evil within the blade writhed in agony as it underwent assault from so many different sources, and it lashed out against those who would rise against it. A young soul vanished in the knife's internal struggle, followed by another, and another.

Kagome could sense the shift in balance as the combined efforts against the evil relic began to work. The dark power that had swirled and thrummed from the metallic object began to flicker and draw inwards. The knife, sensing impending defeat, used its close connection to the man that held possession of its hilt and absorbed his soul. Arun writhed in agony from the searing pain that ripped up his arm to spread quickly through his body, but it all ended quickly as he became yet another victim to the strange coma that had overtaken so many otheThe man's grasp around Kagome's body went limp, and he slid sideways to lay against the carpeted floor, his eyes now lifeless and gray.

The knife remained stuck in Kagome's hand as she battled with the strange energies, but as time wore on, she could feel the internal struggle tilting in favor of the blade. Darkness consumed her as she struggled with the new flow from Arun's energy, and she had the sinking feeling that her time grew short as the familiar chill swept throughout her body.

'Even if I can manage to shift the balance of power, I'll never recover enough energy to survive...' Even the ring's occupants had grown weak by now, unresponsive and unable to assist her anymore. Her grip slackened and the room fell into a deathly silence. She exhaled once, slowly, relaxing back against the floor as she no longer had the strength to sit upright.

The barrier surrounding the room shivered and vanished as the knife sensed her weakening state, allowing for Inuyasha's next attempt to break through the window to go unhindered. Kagome dimly realized that the knife would desire a new host through Inuyasha, but her fears seemed unfounded as he ignored the knife plastered in her palm and instead moved to immediately sweep her into his arms. "Hold on, Kagome! You can beat this..." he yelled, clutching her limp body to his own with a tight grip. Their energies mingled everywhere they touched, and the two connected on a deep level as Inuyasha's inner strength swept throughout her frozen body. Her blood warmed quickly as though it were on fire, giving her the boost she needed to tear through the knife's last defenses.

Kagome's attempts to enter the knife's inner realm as she could her ring finally succeeded, and she fell into a deep, unnatural sleep, cradled within Inuyasha's arms.

Kagome found herself standing uneasily within the bleak landscape, absently noting the similarities and differences between the world of her ring and this more sinister realm within the cursed knife. She could see several forms in the distance, clouded by the dark purple mists that twisted eerily up to her knees, and she moved cautiously toward them. As she approached, she could easily identify a crowd of souls hurling various attacks at a twisting black mass of limbs and faces.

"Fools! It matters not what you do to me now, for I shall soon have a new host with which to rebuild my barriers, and I'll trap you all within once again!" It cackled maniacally, seemingly uncaring of the random damages done to its indistinct form. 'This must be the driving force behind the knife,' she thought, watching it shift and move in wholly unnatural ways. She shuddered as she caught sight of the many faces on its body, opening and closing their mouths in strange succession. Each soul that had surrounded the foul being hurled attack after attack at it, but one by one, they began to flicker and fade as their energies were spent.

'I must free the souls,' Kagome thought, although she was a bit surprised that this sort of action would be occurring within the spiritual confines instead of outside, as she'd discussed with her two spirits before. She clasped her hands in front of her and focused her will on opening pathways back to the living people who needed their souls back, and several shot away in high-speed points of light.

She exhaled and opened her eyes, frowning at the sight of the few spirits remaining. They continued to batter away at the writing being between them, completely ignorant of the idea that she was trying to set them free once and for all. "You must move on! This relic will never be used again, I swear it... Save your fight for the return to your bodies, or accept the fact that you'll have another chance at life! You'll meet nothing but oblivion if you remain here..."

The spirits continued to ignore her as they continued their assault upon the creature that had imprisoned and tortured them for so long. Kagome cursed under her breath, clasping her hands in front of her as she focused her energy into forcing the spirits from the ring, one by one. 'They need to move on, back to this life, or onward to the next...'

She fell to her knees in exhaustion as she felt the last spirit depart, but a warm hand on her shoulder gave her the strength to confront the being before her. It looked ragged and torn, panting from the loss of its energy. Inuyasha squeezed her shoulder once before helping her to stand. Once she was steady, he dropped into a slight stance, flexing his claws with barely repressed malice. Here he could fight freely, destroying at whim, because this creature surely deserved to be removed from the plane of existence.

It made a wicked cackling snarl as it turned to face them fully, limbs flailing and mouths gaping. Kagome aimed her open palm toward it as Inuyasha leapt into the air. A sharp blast of her spiritual power ripped through its chest, engulfing the creature in holy flames and knocking it off-balance. Inuyasha's claws followed with a series of blurred slashes and swipes, rending multiple limbs from their twisted positions and splashing the ground with a strange dark liquid.

The creature caught fire, its flesh melting and sizzling even as Inuyasha helped along the process of destruction with several flashy attacks, flinging claw swipes of energy at it from unexpected directions.

It slowly faded into a pile of small pieces and fluttering ash, leaving the two alone in the purplish landscape, panting and dripping with sweat, -and in Inuyasha's case, unidentified remains. Just as he returned to her side to wrap her in a thankful embrace, the environment shifted wildly around them. They grimaced and gripped each other tightly as they were sucked up into a whirlwind of motion and hurled back into their own minds.

Kagome gasped and shot upright, smacking her forehead on Inuyasha's chin as he cradled her body against his. Both grimaced in pain, rubbing their slight injuries with free hands as they looked around the room. The knife lay completely harmless on the carpet at their feet, its energy forever stilled. Her relieved smile faded quickly as they met the sight of the two children still in their unresponsive states.

The reassuring beeps of a heart monitor echoed through the room, the only sign that the prone figure in front of her remained alive. Kagome clutched the small hand tightly, glancing back over her shoulder through the glass window. She released a sad sigh at the sight of the small boy in the next room over. The door opened slowly, and Kagome's heart broke at the sight of a blonde woman peeking around the corner. 'The girl's mother...' she thought, miserably.

Shortly after the knife had been 'deactivated', the Miss Bellos had burst through the bedroom door to find the five of them on the floor. Mr. Arun had simply been unconscious, suffering no ill side effects from the knife and its influences on his mind. He was lucky to have survived his ordeal with nothing more than terrible memories of the things he had done, but both Inuyasha and Kagome were certain he'd be able to return to his life as he'd lived before.

Kagome and Inuyasha had both shown to be fine aside from minor cuts on Kagome's arms and hand, but the children were an entirely different story. An official at the hospital had called the foster home moments later, excitedly informing Miss Bellos of the mother's recovery. Miss Bellos had sighed and requested that they send transportation to pick up the children, for they suffered from the same strange affliction. Kagome's explanation of their souls' departure was terrible news...

An ambulance came to get the children, admitting them to the children's wing to be hooked up to monitors and IVs. The other adults that had fallen victim were to be monitored by the hospital overnight, but none seemed to suffer from any further side-effects. They would be released in the morning.

Kiki's mother stepped quietly into the room, tears running over her cheeks as she looked at her little girl. "Her soul faded too quickly for me to save..." Kagome murmured, feeling terrible. If only she'd been faster...

"No," she said, resting a hand on Kagome's shoulder. "Do not feel bad... We all know what happened, and there was nothing you could have done. Dear, you risked so much to save our lives, and we owe you more than we can say..." Kagome swallowed back more tears that threatened to spill as she looked up at Kiki's mother. "She would have grown up to be a good girl," she murmured, running her fingers through the fine blonde locks on the child's forehead.

Kagome closed her eyes and folded her hands together, rubbing her fingers against the cool metal of her ring. It was terrible, sitting there with the grieving mother and the unresponsive child... She felt a strange tug at her heart and she stilled, cracking an eye open at the sight of the glowing silvery metal around her finger. 'No, ...is that even possible?' she wondered.

Her body can be revived...

"Miss..." Kagome started, feeling terribly awkward and strange at the idea bouncing around in her head. The mother looked up at her, a question in her blue eyes. "I can..." Kagome started, hesitant to continue.

"What?" the mother asked expectantly. There was hope shining in her eyes, hope that the young girl sitting beside her daughter's soulless body would have a way to make things right.

"I could revive her, I think..." she murmured, looking down at her hands. "But I cannot bring back her old soul..." she added, tears leaking from her eyes at that depressing thought. "There is the soul of a woman within my ring... and she..." Kagome stopped, unsure of whether to continue or not. It seemed horribly inappropriate to suggest allowing another soul to take over the body of this woman's only child.

"She has no body to return to, and my child's body is without a soul," the woman finished for her. She knelt at Kagome's side, taking her hands within her own. "My daughter no longer has a chance at life, and with time, I shall be able to accept that. But to give another the hope of life once again..."

Kagome bit her lip as she considered the possibility of what might soon happen.

Do not fret... I have hidden her life's memories, and she shall have the chance to grow as a normal little girl should grow...

"You would accept and care for her, then?" Kagome asked, wonder evident in her voice. The woman nodded, looking toward the child lying so still in the hospital bed. 'Does she want this, simply because she'll have the image of her daughter, even if it isn't truly her daughter?' Kagome frowned slightly, looking toward the small girl. "She won't be the same little girl you remember..." she murmured, trying to feel out the mother's sincerity. The woman nodded, and Kagome could feel nothing but hope pouring from the anxious woman kneeling beside her.

Kagome nodded once in agreement, leaning toward the girl. She clasped her tiny hands within her own, squeezing gently as she guided Kikyo's soul from the confines of her ring into the soulless child. The little girl gasped and woke immediately, looking wildly around the room. Her eyes were a silvery gray instead of their previously vibrant blue, and she sat up with some slight stiffness. "Mother?" she asked quietly, looking toward the blonde woman kneeling beside the bed.

"Oh god," she cried out, flinging her arms around the child's body in unhindered relief.

She has access to Kiki's memories, so she shouldn't feel out of place...

Kagome caressed the ring once in thanks as she watched the tender scene with a soft smile. 'I'm glad for this. Kikyo will have the chance to be loved and raised by a good woman, and she'll have the opportunity to live life like a normal little girl...' Kagome brushed her fingers through the child's hair as she stood, giving the mother space to sit down. "I'll come back in a little while, alright? I'm going to go check on your friend..."

Kagome stepped quietly from the room, moving toward the room where Inuyasha watched over the young red-haired boy. She had an idea in mind as she approached the empty chair next to his bed, and she reached over to grasp his small hands within her own. Inuyasha sighed and frowned as he looked down at the still child. "He has no family to worry over him, you know? His name was Shippo..." he said, tucking a strand of messy hair behind a pointed ear.

The child twitched once before he shot straight up, coughing and looking around frantically. "What the fuck?" he asked, his voice cracking from the unfamiliar vibration. Inuyasha jerked back in shock, and Kagome held a hand to her mouth in amusement as she watched his reaction. A tiny hand shot to his throat after he'd spoken, and he looked around the room in wild confusion. "Where the hell am I?" he squeaked out.

"Calm down, Shippo..." Kagome said with a small smile.

"Holy..." he muttered, looking down at his fingers, running his tongue over his teeth and examining himself.

Inuyasha looked on in confusion as the small boy twist about in the bed in curiosity. "Mind telling me what the hell just happened?" he asked, baffled at the change in atmosphere. "I thought he didn't have a soul?"

"Well, he didn't... and the soul in my ring didn't have a body, so I fixed them both," she replied, watching the young kit's movements.

"I never thought I'd be in a body again," Shippo muttered. "I take it Kikyo's transfer was such a success you decided to do it to me, too?" he asked, an eyebrow rising in slight mirth.

"Yeah," she agreed, nodding once. She reached out and picked up his small body from the bed, cradling him close. "You really helped us out so much, and you both deserved this chance to escape, to live real lives again. It's the least I could do to repay you both..." He nodded once, curling into the warmth she provided. His body, just as Kiki's, retained the child's life memories, but he was still in possession of the wealth of information and experience he'd accumulated over the centuries of him imprisonment. "I think I'll enjoy living this life," he whispered, nuzzling into the soft fabric of her shirt.

Inuyasha's eye twitched in slight annoyance as he watched the young youkai cuddling so closely with his intended companion, but he repressed his growl in light of the knowledge that it was just a child.

"You are taking me home with you, right?" Shippo asked, looking up at her with well-practiced watery eyes. "I've been living at that foster home for so long, and I'm so terribly lonely for parents who'll care for me..." he blinked up at her, his eyes huge with shining adoration. "And you'd make such a good mommy!" he added on for full effect.

"Oh god, don't pull the innocence act with me, Shippo. I know you're far above that sort of thing..." she winked at him. "But I wouldn't leave you behind after all we've been through," she added, ruffling his bangs in affection.

"Hey, don't I get a say in this? I don't want a little runt running around in..." Inuyasha grumbled out, only to be cut off by a fierce glare from Kagome. "Uh, I mean... He'd better behave..." he amended, running a hand through his hair sheepishly.

The next morning, Kiki and her mother waved goodbye to Kagome, Inuyasha and Shippo as they promised to meet again someday soon. Before they parted ways, Shippo pulled a toy from his pocket, holding it out to the blonde-haired girl. ...It was a small doll sporting bright red hair and dressed in clothes just like the ones he wore. "Remember me, ne? I'll come back for you..." he whispered, kissing her cheek in affection. The little girl blushed and nodded, turning away from them as her mother moved toward the waiting taxi.

"Let's go home," Inuyasha suggested, wrapping an arm around Kagome's waist as she tugged on Shippo's hand.

The three returned to Kagome's home as repairs were finished, staying occasionally with Sango and Miroku. They knew their lives of adventure were far from over, but they took the time to relax and enjoy the momentary quiet. Kagome and Inuyasha still needed to return to the cathedral to assist in their studies of the dark magics they'd encountered, but their work would be highly benefited this time by Shippo's insight in the matter.

He also still had active and well-practiced use of his watcher ability, and was able to keep Kagome and Inuyasha informed about Arun's movements since he'd left the foster home. It seemed as though his life had gone completely back to normal, and his charitable works went unhindered and unfazed by his short time of malicious behavior.

Kiki had settled back into life with her mother, and it was becoming apparent that Kikyo's natural affinity for healing had gone with her soul into the small body. Kiki's mother helped nourish the skill with daily practice, and she was already on the track to living a happy life.

Inuyasha remained close by Kagome's side, spoiling her with attention and care whenever he could. As they fell asleep, curled together in each other's arms one dark night, he sighed happily at the events in his life that had managed to lead to such a satisfying conclusion.

True-- they would have many more adventures together, and they would face untold dangers as they worked toward the goal of stopping the other relics that remained in use, but he knew that he'd found his home, here in her arms. ...For in all truth, one can only wander for so long.

AN – And that's that, guys. :) This storyline is easily is open for (quite a few) further adventures, now, but at least we've come to a conclusion of sorts. God, that ending didn't totally suck, did it:( I suppose I'm going to rub my face in my pillow for a while as I contemplate a possible revision there, lol. But anyways! Before I write anymore to this story, I think it would be a good idea to try to complete revisions on those earlier chapters. Now, my thoughts turn to SatMW part two, as well as the crossover sequel that I've already started for it. The plot bunnies have been giving me serious problems lately! ...Eventually I'd like to write the prequel to this story, but that will come another day. Oh blah, tell me what you think, so I can stop beating myself up over it. ;) Much love, guys. I got this chapter out fast as possible so that you guys weren't left hanging too long.