Well here it is, the final chapter. I had to do a rather extensive re-write of the waffy scene, but I think it turned out ok. I hope so, anyway, because I'd hate to ruin the buildup with a poorly written piece of fluff. Inuyasha might be a bit OOC here, but I choose to think of it as a sign of Kikyou's influence on him, not to mention the kick-in-the-pants Kagome's absence provided.

As I said before, there is an epilogue available to those who are 17 or older. I will include a more comprehensive author's note after this chapter answering any questions I receive and in that note I will provide you with the URL for that epilogue. Be warned -- it may take a few days.

Here we go...

Releasing Your Heart: Reconciling, In His Arms

by arisu-the-pink

"Kagome..." his whisper, filled with an eclectic mixture of pain, joy, and confusion carried lightly over the evening breeze.

She could do nothing. Nothing but stand before the hanyou and stare into his searching eyes. For seemingly endless seconds they gazed at each other, neither ready to break the silence that fell between them. Both afraid to ruin the one chance at happiness each hoped was there for the taking.

Kagome's courage was spent; Inuyasha made the first move. "You came back," he noted cautiously, seeking an answer from the young woman who stood stock-still only feet away from him.

"Y-yes. I... I needed my d-diary." Her legs, her arms, even her head refused to move. It was as though she were paralyzed by the fear that coursed through her body.

Inuyasha reached into his haori, pulling the small pink book from its resting place. Closing the gap between them slowly he offered it to her. Kagome made no move to take it, so he dropped his hand and backed away to study her again. Had it been so long?

He was so close... Finally winning the battle against her nerves, Kagome found her voice again. "How is Shippou-chan?" she asked meekly. Stupid, stupid baka! she scolded herself. A whole year and all I can ask him is 'how is Shippou'?

"He's fine, growing up fast," Inuyasha answered, his eyes never leaving hers. Does she know? Did Sango tell her?

"And Miroku? Did the curse of the kazaana disappear?" Is it true, Inuyasha? Are you done with Kikyou?

"Yes, almost instantly." Why did you come, Kagome?

"Sango says they'll be marrying soon," Kagome spoke with a plea in her voice. What is that look in in your eyes, Inuyasha?

"Yeah," Inuyasha answered, not hearing her words. The silence fell again.

"I met Kikyou, Inuyasha. She told me... that you are friends."

The intense gaze they were sharing finally became uncomfortable. Inuyasha turned away, casting a look to the ground. So it was Kikyou who told. Was she giving Kagome her blessing? "Hai," he answered, "we are friends."

Before Kagome could question him further, a shriek caught her by surprise. "Kagome, you came back!" Shippou bounded toward her, leapt into her arms, and knocked her over.

"Shippou-chan, you've gotten so big!" She hugged the kitsune, never letting Inuyasha out of her sight.

"Sango makes me eat double now so I can be big and strong, right?"

The demon exterminator nodded, glancing from Kagome to Inuyasha and back. What had she interrupted?

"Sango, I left some rabbit outside, there should be enough for all of us. I -- I need to go wash up," he lied, quickly backing out of the hut.

"Kagome-chan, will you help me with dinner?" There was palpable tension in the small hut, though it held a hint of joy. Perhaps a small distraction would help the younger woman relax.

Kagome nodded, finally dragging her eyes away from the doorway. "Yes, of course."

* * * *

She came back? Inuyasha wondered in awe. Could she have missed me as much as I did her? She must have someone in her world... He was running blindly through the forest, no destination in mind but desperately needing to get away. His heart threatened to burst from his chest at the possibilities before him.

I'm not going to screw this up, he vowed, finally coming to a halt at the Goshinboku tree. The tree where Kikyou had sealed him and Kagome released him so long ago. It seemed as though his fate was intricately linked within its roots. Inuyasha sighed, considering his situation. He would have to talk to her – tonight – before she could run off again. He would finally tell her the things he tried so hard to hide because he was afraid of appearing weak.

A buzz in the forest snapped him into attention. Myouga appeared on his nose, helping himself to dinner. "Inuyasha-sama, what are you doing out here so late alone?"

"Taking some time for myself, baka," he snapped back, swatting at the flea.

"Is something wrong, Lord Inuyasha?" Myouga settled himself onto his master's knee.

"Kagome came back."

"Ah, you must protect your mate from Kagome's jealousy, yes?"

"Baka, I have no mate! Kikyou and I separated several days ago," Inuyasha shot back, earning a stunned expression from his vassal. "When I came home today, Kagome was just -- there."

"What are you going to do?"

Closing his hands into fists, Inuyasha glared at the tree and growled in self-loathing. "What I should have done a year ago."

* * * *

"Just like old times!" Shippou shoveled chopsticks full of rice into his mouth, dripping bits of sauce all over the floor.

"Shippou-chan! Don't talk with your mouth full!" Sango cast a warning glance in his direction, causing the kitsune to shrink back. Turning her attention to the others, she dipped back into the pot besider her. "Seconds anyone?"

Kagome shook her head. She couldn't eat a bite, save the small amout she took to be polite. Glancing across the room, she found Inuyasha in a similar state. Since returning from his errand, he'd judiciously stayed as far from her as possible, keeping his eyes low to the ground. Maybe I was imagining things, Kagome started to panic, a feeling of dread invading her stomach. Why won't he look at me?

As dinner ended and she helped Sango clean up for the night, Kagome felt more and more certain she'd made the wrong decision. I shouldn't have come.

A full moon was rising in the eastern sky when Sango and Shippou crawled into their futons, ready for a night's rest. Sango had offered her Miroku's empty futon for the night, which she was now beginning to crawl into. No sooner had she pulled the blanket aside when she felt a hand rest heavily on her shoulder. "Walk with me, Kagome."

Wordlessly, she followed the hanyou out of his home and through the village, stopping finally at the edge of a stream running along its outer borders. Inuyasha hopped onto a boulder and settled into a squat.

"You've changed," Kagome stated carefully, listening to the chirping of crickets along the path.

"Have I?" Inuyasha gazed up at the sky, pondering her words. "Maybe a little. It was a difficult year."

"I wish I could have helped defeat Naraku. I feel like I missed out."

"I don't. I didn't want you there."

Tears formed in Kagome's eyes. Of course not, he had Kikyou. "I suppose I wouldn't have been that useful," she agreed sadly.

After a moment, Inuyasha turned his attention back to the girl -- woman -- beside him. "No, Kagome. I was glad that you were safe.

"If Kikyou'd died at Naraku's hands again, I would have been sad. But Kagome... if something had happened to you, I wouldn't have survived the night." He noticed the glisten of tears on her cheek and cursed himself silently. "I'm sorry, Kagome. I shouldn't be saying these things. I gave up any chance I may have had at a life with you and I'm sure your mate wouldn't appreciate my saying these things to you."

He thought she was taken? Kagome blinked, realizing why he'd been so distant that evening. Before she could say a word, Inuyasha spoke again.

"Kikyou and I met at a time when I was alone in the world. As months passed I came to care for her deeply, and of course some part of me desired her as any seventeen-year-old desires a woman. Thing is, I never questioned what I felt for her. My mother died when I was just a kid and so I didn't really have anyone to ask. All I knew was that we shared a bond of some sort. Both of us were a world apart from the people around us. We were outcasts in our own ways. I guess we understood each other and at the time that was enough."

"And now?" Kagome needed to hear his story, even as Kikyou's name brought pain to her heart.

"There was the Shikon-no-tama to complete, that took up a good deal of our time. Kikyou was so focused on that. As time went on, I realized how different she was from me, and from you. I love Kikyou..."

The tears ran fresh down the young miko's face even as she tried to swallow them back.

"but Kagome, I am *in love* with you."

She felt her heart stop. "You..."

Inuyasha closed his eyes. He had to get it all out before he could hear her rejection. He owed her that much. "Kikyou opened my heart up to emotions I shut out and I wouldn't be who I am today if not for her. But that kind of love isn't enough to last a lifetime. There are things a man needs to feel that were missing. I needed..."

"excitement?" Kagome volunteered, still reeling from his words. Did I really hear him say he loved me?

Inuyasha opened his eyes again and gazed at her, marvelling at how well she understood him. "Yes, excitement. It's stupid, but I really missed the way we would fight. How cute you look when you get angry and start to yell at me, or right before you tell me to sit -- I even missed that." He sighed. "Again, I'm sorry. I really shouldn't be speaking to you like this but I thought you deserved the truth."

Kagome heard the sadness in his voice and took his hands. The hanyou blushed at the contact. "Inuyasha, there is no one else. There could never be another man who makes me feel the way I feel when I'm with you."

Her words sent a jolt of ecstacy through him. "H-How do you feel, Kagome?"

"I feel like I'm one turn away from some thrilling adventure, never knowing where I'll end up. Except..."

"Except what?"

Kagome was frightened by the desire she felt when she pulled Inuyasha off of his perch and threw herself into his arms. He responded instantly, wrapping himself around her and taking in the scent of her hair. "Except when I'm in your arms, Inuyasha. I feel completely safe and at peace. I feel like I've come home."

"Kagome..." It was too good to be true, but maybe... Inuyasha recognized the old fear rising, but pushed it away. I'm going to see this through. The bright moon above surrounded them with an almost ethereal haze. He caught her eyes again, seeking permission from within their brown depths. Permission was granted.

His face descended toward hers and he kissed her, gently at first, then slowly the tension of the evening rushed into his blood like a fever that only Kagome could cure. Their kiss deepened, threatening to steal them away in a monsoon of emotion. There was something he was forgetting...

"Kagome," he whispered her name against her lips, pulling back just enough to look upon her face. She was completely relaxed in his arms, her face soft and pale in the dim night. "Aishiteru, Kagome."

Slowly returning from the heavenly place she'd been, Kagome took in the warmth and joy in his golden eyes as they pierced into her soul. "I love you too, Inu-chan."

A shooting star made its trek across the starlit sky above the embracing couple, and the world around them slept on. At last, two pure and courageous souls were complete.

The End.